Tuesday 28 October 2014

boardgaming in photos

3 Oct 2014. The theme at Boardgamecafe.net that day was dice versions of boardgames. Las Vegas was not one, but at least it was a dice game.

The last time I played this was in Kota Kinabalu, and it was a 3-player game. This time I played with five, and I found out that with five, you don't play the neutral dice (the white ones). In fact the fifth player uses the white dice. The game is still fun and competitive without the neutral dice. I wonder whether the game was designed with the neutral dice in mind, and they were removed for the highest player count, or it was designed without the neutral dice, and they were added for the lower player counts. I have previously assumed the former. Now I realise there are two possibilities.

27 Sep 2014. Shee Yun (9) and I continued playing Escape: The Curse of the Temple. This game is well worth what I paid for it by now. We have played quite many games and we have tried all the expansions. This tile at the lower right is a quest tile from the Quests expansion module. The module comes with five different quest tiles, and you can decide to use between one to three in your game. You draw the quest tiles randomly and shuffle them into the deck of tiles. You won't know which quests they are until you draw them, and you won't know when you are going to draw them. To escape the temple, you must complete all quests.

This particular tomb quest in this photo is about bringing the lost ghost back to his coffin. When you discover the tomb tile, you place the grey ghost at the start tile (the grey room with a huge golden disc). You need to lead the ghost (by rolling an extra torch icon for each step) to its coffin in order to complete this quest. In this particular game this turned out to be very easy, since we found the coffin only two steps away from the start tile. The ghost was now back where it belonged, and golden coin next to the coffin was the marker to indicate that we had completed our quest.

This pyramid tile at the centre is yet another quest tile. When you discover it, you may immediately place the quest completion coin on it. You are considered to have already completed it. The twist is you also add three long gems onto the gem tile, which makes exiting the temple harder by three more key icons to be rolled. That is crazy hard. In order to reduce this additional requirement, you need to discover the rooms adjacent to this quest tile. For each that you discover, you get to place one long gem onto this tile. In this photo the rooms on the left and right have been discovered, so two long gems have been placed onto this quest tile.

These two cards on the left are the character cards, from the Characters module. Character cards give you special abilities, so they help you instead of making the game harder. They can be used to fine-tune the balance against other modules which make the game harder. The card on the left means that if all your dice show the black mask, you may teleport to where another player is located to use up all the dice, which means you are unlocking them all. The card on the right means when you get three black masks, you may treat them as three key icons or three torch icons, but only for the purpose of claiming gems from the gem tile. If you are the unlucky type who rolls black masks all the time, this is a must-have. :-)

5 Oct 2014. I brought out Citadels to play with the children. That was the game that made Bruno Faidutti famous. I bought it in the early days I entered the hobby. I never was a big fan of the game (I prefer Castle), but I thought this game would work with the children.

Aaah... the memories. I used to play this with my Taiwanese friends. We had a big group then and we played quite frequently.

The part I dread about this game is sometimes players take a very long time to pick a character card, and everyone else has to wait and twiddle fingers. People really should focus and do the card counting up front, instead of trying to work out all the possibilities only when they get the hand of character cards.

17 Oct 2014. Ivan came to play, and I taught him this slightly older game Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation. The Dark Side was generally easier to play, so I let him play Sauron while I controlled the hobbits and the fellowship.

Gandalf vs Witch King. They are equally strong (and will kill each other off simultaneously if tied in strength), but because of Gandalf's special ability, the Witch King must play his card first. Gandalf can then decide which card to play.

19 Oct 2014. Chen Rui (7) said she wanted to play Ingenious. I don't remember whether she had played before. If she had, she had already forgotten how to play and I had to teach her again.

Ingenious is one of Reiner Knizia's many many designs. It is not his best, not what made him famous, not his magnum opus, but it is what got him the prestigious Spiel des Jahres - the German Game of the Year.

While playing, I also taught Chen Rui tactics - how to block me, how to deny me the points for the colours I needed.

24 Oct 2014. Shee Yun (9) wanted to play At the Gates of Loyang. When she was younger I invented simplified rules in order to be able to play with her. She liked the beautiful components. Now we use the proper rules. She needs time to read and digest the text on the helper cards. In the simplified game I removed all helper cards.

This game is all about logistics and supply chain management. You need to match what you produce with customers who demand them, and you need to line up the production schedule with the demand schedule.

The three of us played Halli Galli. Shee Yun dealt cards while Chen Rui inspected the bell.

Sunday 26 October 2014

Templar Intrigue

Plays: 8Px8 rounds.

The Game

Templar Intrigue is a 10-card microgame for 7 to 10 players. It is a hidden identity team game, similar to Bang, The Resistance, Werewolf and The Message: Emissary Crisis, but with one important difference - everyone knows which team everyone is on from the beginning. On the Royalist team you have the king himself and some Benedictine monks, and among the monks there is one Templar archivist, who is secretly on the Templars' side. On the Templars team you have a Grandmaster, some Templar knights and one or two traitors, depending on the number of players. The traitors are, of course, loyal to the king. So this is just like the movies Infernal Affairs and The Departed - both sides have an undercover agent (or two) on the other side.

The objective of the Royalist team is to have the king successfully identify both the Grandmaster and the archivist. The king can only make one guess. The Royalist team wins if he is right. Else the Templars win. At the start of a game round, every player is dealt one card and looks at the card. You can only look at your own card and not those of others. The card backs differ by team, so you already know who's on which side (at least on the surface). The tricky bit is no one knows who the undercover agents are yet. Before the round starts, the king reveals his card to identify himself. His identity is known because he will be the one running the show. Next, the Templars within themselves will learn who the Grandmaster is, without the Royalists knowing. This means the traitors among the Templars know who the Grandmaster is. Finally, the Grandmaster and the archivist identify each other without anyone else knowing. So the Grandmaster is the only person who knows who the archivist is. Once these are done, the round starts.

The card back of the templar cards.

The top row are the Royalist cards. Starting from the left: card back, the king, a monk, and the Templar archivist. The bottom row are the Templar cards - the card back, the Grandmaster, a Templar knight and a traitor.

The game round is very free-form. There are no turns. Everyone can speak and accuse and point fingers at the same time. The king has the right to perform a number of inquisitions. For each monk in the game (including the Templar archivist pretending to be one), the king may, for once only, ask him to look at the card of one other player, and tell him what it is. Naturally the real monks will want to help the king and will want to tell the truth, but the archivist may not be telling the truth, and the king doesn't know yet who the archivist is. Once all inquisitions are completed, the king must make the attempt to identify both the Grandmaster and the archivist. That's basically it.

When a round concludes, players on the winning team gain 1pt. Once someone reaches 3pts, he wins and the game ends. I didn't play with this scoring though. I just played each round as an independent game.

The Play

I played with eight, so on the Royalist team we had one king, two monks and one archivist, while on the Templars team we had one Grandmaster, two Templar knights and one traitor. The king is burdened with an important task, so we took turns playing king. In our games I found that most of the time the Royalists won. I think this was because this faction is easier to play. For the Royalists the important skills are logical thinking and deduction. You can discuss openly and try to work out how to make use of the three inquisitions that the king has at his disposal. You can, as a team, try to catch any suspicious statements or behaviours of other players. The Templars, on the other hand, must rely on lies, deception and misdirection. If you are a poor liar, you will have a hard time. You need to be prepared to lie, in order to lie convincingly without blinking an eye. You need to create misinformation to confuse the king. What's even more challenging is you need to lie in tandem with your teammates. Sometimes you need to tell consistent lies so that it's easier to convince the king. Sometimes you need to tell conflicting stories and pretend to be enemies to further confuse the king.

In our games the traitor tended to speak up early to point out who the Grandmaster was, and the traitor was usually able to convince the king. This made things much easier for the king. In hindsight, the other Templar knights or even the Grandmaster himself should have been more proactive in pretending to be the traitor, and giving the king false information. Due to how things went in our game, three inquisitions was quite sufficient for the king to tell who his targets were. Our archivist had to resort to telling the truth, so that the king could not easily tell who was who. There were two other monks, so from the king's perspective whenever two monks' statements conflicted with that of the third, then the third one was surely the archivist. So the archivist had to be careful with what he said and how he acted. I think despite this danger of making conflicting statements, the archivist still has some manoeuvre space to lie, as long as his lies cannot be easily disputed by the other monks. Also if he is third to get asked to make an inquisition he can consider the statements made by the previous two monks and determine whether, and how, to lie.

Wai Yan (left) was the king - her character card was face-up, and everyone else was trying to confuse her.

Jeff thinks better with one hand on his head.

I have not yet tried to mathematically work out whether the number of inquisitions the king gets is definitely enough for him to identify his targets. If it is, then the game becomes pointless. You just need to follow logic and a fixed strategy. My gut feeling is the Templars can create enough conflicting possibilities to force the king to use his inquisitions inefficiently, provided that they are smart enough in lying and in putting ideas in the king's mind.

Lying convincingly is a job requirement for the Templars. In one game, Wai Yan was the archivist pretending to be a monk, while I was the traitor on the Templars team. Ivan was the king. I loudly proclaimed who the Grandmaster was, urging Ivan to mark him as such. Wai Yan disputed my claim, so Ivan knew that likely one of us was on his side and not the other. So he asked Wai Yan to execute an inquisition on me. She looked at my card, and then paused. And then we all started laughing. That short moment of pause had let the cat out of the bag. She needed to lie, but was caught unprepared. Ivan successfully identified her as the archivist.

The Thoughts

Templar Intrigue is a fun party game. It's a good filler too for game nights, since it's so short. Rules are minimal. It's all about the psychology among the players - the lying, the misleading, the misinformation, all trying to confuse the logical deduction that the king needs to do. You need to be prepared to lie. There is a technique to it. You have to be clever about it. It's a bit more challenging to play the Templars when you are new to the game, but once you grasp the logic and the tactics the two sides should be quite balanced. This game will work with casual players in a party setting. Since the game is so short, players and easily swap in and out so everyone will have a chance to play drama queen.

Friday 24 October 2014

no lack of games

I am long past the point where I own more games than I can play regularly. If my records at BGG are accurate, I own 275 games (including 51 expansions). This is a tiny collection compared to the record holders at BGG, but to muggles this is a crazy number. I know there are plenty among my games which I have not played for more than a year. If I don't buy any new game starting from now (heh heh... don't laugh please), there are still many games in my collection that I'm keen to play, and it will take a long time before I get bored with all of them and need a new game. So in theory, I don't really need to be still reading about the many new games that are released every year. Boardgame articles, blogs and discussions are mostly about new games. People don't really write about experiences with older games much, which is a pity. But I still read boardgame articles. And I still buy a new game now and then, just not as frequently as I used to. Not many new games excite me. I mostly skim the descriptions and then move on. I still get to try new games regularly, because the friends I play with often bring new games to the table. I'm perfectly happy with that. What's important is playing and having fun. Doesn't really matter which game.

There is fun to be had in trying out new games. New experiences can be eye-opening. The process of learning something new and understanding how a game works is satisfying. Currently I don't need new games, but I certainly don't mind trying them. I still enjoy being a game taster, although I put little effort in pursuing the new and shiny.

Boardgame makers and boardgame retailers won't be happy with boardgamers like me - the jaded old gamers who complain that most new games are boring and thus rarely buy new games. If every gamer thinks this way the boardgame industry would crumble. Thankfully the industry continues to grow healthily, with more new gamers joining our ranks, and more game designers coming up with new ideas. Two new games that I have my eyes on now are Alchemists and Tragedy Looper. I hope to be able to try them when they hit the Malaysian shores.

There is one game in my collection which I know can last me many plays if I get sick of all the others - Android: Netrunner. I have the base game and all expansions from the first expansion cycle. I like it, and even with just what I have now, I believe it already provides a lot of replayability. My problem is this is a lifestyle game, like Chess and Magic: The Gathering, i.e. something you need to commit to and play in depth to fully appreciate. I simply don't have the discipline and the focus to do this yet. I think Spartan Games Arena still does weekly (Wednesdays) Netrunning.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Coin Age

Plays: 2Px4.

The Game

Coin Age is a microgame that can be played using just one card and some pocket change. It is a two player wargame. Seriously. My copy was a gift from Allen. It comes with cardboard coins which are silver on one side and gold on the other. Silver and gold are the player colours. If you play using normal coins, you play heads vs tails instead of gold vs silver.

A game starts with the board (i.e. the card) completely unoccupied. There are ten territories, and they are grouped into four regions of different sizes. Each player starts with four size #1 coins (the smallest, but also the most powerful), three #2 coins, two #3 coins and one #4 coin. On your turn, you take one coin of each size from whatever you still have before you, shake them in your cupped hands, and then slam them down onto the table to see how many land with your colour face-up. The number of coins in your colour determine what action(s) you can do that turn. There are only three types of actions. Firstly, placing a coin means putting one (of your colour) in an empty territory or on top of another coin of a larger size. Secondly, moving a stack means moving one stack of coins (which can be a stack of just one coin) to an empty adjacent territory. Thirdly, capturing a coin means removing one coin from the top of a stack and taking it into your hand.

The rulebook is tiny. This table in the rulebook shows what you can do depending on how many coins match your colour.

The objective of the game is to score the most points, and you do this mainly by controlling territories. You stake your claim using coins, and the coin size is your point value. If you have majority in a region, your coins double in value. The game ends when the board is full, or when one player uses up all his coins. Leftover coins in hand are 1VP each.

Silver has 12VP - The two 2's at the top right are doubled because silver has majority. The two 1's in the centre are doubled too because silver also has majority in this central three-territory region. Gold has 21VP. All coins are doubled, except for the 1 at the bottom right.

The Play

I have played two games against Michelle, and later on two against Han. The games were quick, so quick that I felt the end was rather abrupt. Probably I was poorly prepared for it. When I read the rules, I felt there were some tricky bits to this game. You need to think about how many different coin types you will have for your next turn, because they determine your possible action types. You need to think about end-game scoring. You need to think about the number of different coins your opponent has and the possible outcomes of his next turn. The rules may be simple, but there seem to be some nuances. The problem I have is I can't quite grasp the nuances. The game is over before I can see the strategy. I wonder whether the game is mostly tactical, and there is not much long-term strategy. Well, "long-term" is a strange term to use given that this is a five-minute-or-so game.

In the fourth game I played, which was against Han, I started to see some variety. Previous games all ended quite suddenly, at least to me, probably because I was ill-prepared for the end. In the fourth game the capture action came into play more, because at the late stage we had few different coin types, and we had zero matches more frequently. Which coin to capture is not always straightforward. Naturally the first tendency is to capture an opponent coin which would reveal your own higher valued coin. However the value of the captured coin can be a consideration too if you want to plan for the number of different coins on your next turn. Also even if you reveal one of your own higher valued coin, will it be vulnerable and be easily covered up again?

Despite the small ruleset, there are many such little tactical considerations in Coin Age. Another example is when do you place those valuable #3 and #4 coins. They tend to be easily neutered, so ideally you want to plop them down as the last action of the game to fill up the board, but that's easier said than done. I try to think of the various tactics to apply when playing, but somehow they don't quite work out. I've lost every game I've played, and often by wide margins. I'm not sure what I did wrong. The game was over very quickly and I didn't really have much time to reflect. Or maybe I am overthinking this game? Maybe it's just a simple and very short-term, tactical contest?

Silver has lost terribly.

The Thoughts

I am not sure what I think of Coin Age. It is tantalising in that the strategy seems to be just beyond reach. I am still confused and feeling lost. I can often grasp the strategy of 1 to 2 hour games after one play, but somehow this 5-minute game got me puzzled. Perhaps I need to play it 12 times to make up 1 hour before I fully understand it.

Alternative maps.

Monday 20 October 2014

spending my time

How do you actually spend your boardgame hobby time?

I started asking this question when one day I realised I might be spending more time blogging about boardgames than actually playing boardgames. That's sounds sad, but when I think further, I realise it should not be that surprising. My only regular weekly gaming time is Friday nights. Sometimes I play with the children on weekends. You need to find time and people to sit down together to play a boardgame. But blogging? It's an alone-time activity. I can do it any time I like, as long as I have a computer handy. I do enjoy my blogging. I enjoy writing down my experiences and thoughts. It's like reliving an enjoyable experience. And keeping records is something I find satisfying. So time spent blogging is time well spent too.

Here's how I think I'm spending my boardgame hobby time:

  • Blogging: This includes a bit of managing the photos I take. Time spent blogging is split between my two boardgame blogs - both this one and the Chinese version.
  • Playing games - in person: Mostly with the folks at Boardgamecafe.net or with Allen.
  • Playing games - electronic platform: I still continue to play Ascension almost everyday, with Han and Allen.
  • Reading games news / blogs: I use Feedly to subscribe to boardgame news feeds. I seldom search for new feeds to subscribe to nowadays. The ones I follow are more than enough for me. I still visit BGG, but not as often as before, and I don't read as much as before.
  • Reading rules and making summaries: To me, making those one-page rules summaries is almost inseparable from reading rules, unless I only intend to skim the rules to get a feel for the game, and do not intend to teach or to play the game yet.
  • Organising / maintaining games: This includes sleeving cards, bagging components, laminating reference sheets and so on. I generally don't sleeve my cards, and I don't buy many games lately anyway, so I don't spend much time on this.
  • Hand-crafting games: I rarely do this now, but this year I did self-make that Adventure Time themed version of Love Letter, which I thought was cute.

I don't hunt for the next new game to play as eagerly as before, but I still get to play many new games, many suggested by friends I play with.

Other than the boardgame related activities listed above, here are what I imagine other boardgame hobbyists do too. What else should I add?

  1. Shopping for games
  2. Selling / trading games
  3. Playing boardgames - against AI's
  4. Playing boardgames - solo
  5. Traveling to play games
  6. Making print-and-play games
  7. Pimping up games / customising games, including painting miniatures
  8. Organising game sessions / activities
  9. Boardgame photography
  10. Watching videos
  11. Making videos
  12. Listening to podcasts
  13. Making podcasts
  14. Designing boardgames
  15. Playtesting boardgames
  16. Deck-building (e.g. Magic: The Gathering and Android: Netrunner players)

Saturday 18 October 2014

Level 7: Omega Protocol

Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

Level 7: Omega Protocol is part of a series of games by Privateer Press which share a same backstory. The individual games have different mechanisms and are about different parts of the story. An alien race fleeing an enemy race has sought refuge on earth. They made a secret pact with the American government, sharing their alien technology in exchange for human test subjects for their experiments. In Omega Protocol, something has gone wrong at the alien lab, and the government now wants to destroy it and all evidence of its existence along with it. So a team of elite soldiers is sent in to get the job done.

This is a dungeon crawl type game, similar to Space Hulk, Claustrophobia, Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Earth Reborn and Castle Ravenloft. One player plays the dungeon master (called the overseer here), and the rest are part of the same team trying to fulfill the objective of the scenario, killing monsters and exploring the map along the way. The game is scenario based, and the map, the mission, the types and number of monsters, and the events differ by scenario.

The monsters in the game, mostly the results of experiments on human subjects performed by the alien scientists.

Every round the soldiers decide their turn order and then take actions, e.g. moving, shooting, melee-attacking, opening doors, healing. Each action has an adrenaline cost - you take adrenaline tokens - and depending on the Stance card you've picked for your character that round, there is a limit to the number of adrenaline tokens you can take. The Stance card you pick (out of three) determines your walking speed, defense values and special abilities for the round. All the adrenaline tokens you collect when executing actions are eventually handed over to the overseer, and the overseer later spends them to take actions, e.g. activating monsters to attack the soldiers, and triggering his special abilities allowed by the scenario. This is very much like Stronghold - the more actions you take as the soldiers, the more actions the overseer gets to do too.

This is a character board. The two sections on the left are the basic ranged and melee weapons, the cubes indicating what type of dice you roll when attacking. The three icons at the top right indicate your max health level, intelligence and strength. The right section is actually a Stance card placed onto the character board. The Stance card determines movement speed, ranged defense and melee defense. It also determines your special ability for the round, and the maximum number of adrenaline tokens you can take. The four blue cards at the top right are skills that I have picked for the game. The two orange cards on the right are items I picked up during the game.

This grid is the overseer's special actions, and the types of actions is determined by the scenario. When the overseer executes an action, he places the required number of adrenaline tokens into the appropriate square. At the end of every round, some tokens are removed. After all are removed, the action can be executed again.

A scenario is set up with each room having some event cards. The event cards are predetermined, but the overseer gets to decide which ones to be placed in which rooms. The doors which the soldiers need to open may contain events too, e.g. being unusually hard to open or having traps. The soldiers have some options too as part of setup. They get to pick which special abilities and weapons to use. Some are unique for their characters, some are generic.

Trying to explain all the rules details will be a long and boring exercise. Let's talk story.

The Play

Ivan had read the rules, and taught Jeff, Dith, Sinbad and I the game. Naturally, Ivan played the overseer, and the rest of us played the soldiers. Jeff very innocently and conveniently slipped the team leader role to me, while he claimed the support role. Wait, what...?! Little did he know that the team leader was not necessary the one to do all the hard work, and the support guy was not necessarily the one to leisurely stay behind at a safe distance from the monsters...

The character I played.

This was the scenario we played. The soldiers (dark grey) started at the entrance on the left (the larger middle room). Our mission was to find the ventilation control room, turn on the ventilation for a few rounds to purge the toxic air in the lab, and then turn it off. We did not know the exact location of the control room yet. It was either at the top right corner of the map, or the bottom right corner. We had to make a guess. The red cards in the unexplored rooms are the event cards.

At the start of the game, we decided to head towards the right. The first door had just been opened, and now we were waiting to see what events Ivan had placed there. Monsters, of course!

We were quickly surrounded by monsters. Jeff (the guy in the middle in heavy armour) had strong firepower, and Ivan decided he was the biggest threat. Ivan focused his attacks on Jeff, ignoring Dith who was in front.

As the game progressed, we found that we were quite bogged down by the wave after wave of monsters. We spent too much effort swatting these pesky flies, and we were not moving swiftly enough. The more effort (i.e. adrenaline tokens) we spent on killing monsters, the more resources Ivan would have in sending more monsters at us and doing bad things to us. We decided we had better start running and ignore some of the monsters. These were small ones anyway and did not always attack successfully. An opening had just been created at the top left, right next to us, and four fresh monsters popped out. We had opened the door to this corner room on the right, but the control room we needed to find was not here. We now had to head to the other corner room.

Now Dith had sprinted ahead and taken up a defensive position in the control room, at the lower left. The rest of us were on the way. As dictated by the scenario rules, both of Ivan's big monsters were on the board now. One came in through the opening at the upper right. The other came in through the main entrance. Both were heading towards us. Imagine the Jaws theme music. We needed to turn on the ventilation as soon as possible. One annoying thing for Ivan was he had a bunch of small monsters at the top left blocking the way of his big monster. He had to spend adrenaline tokens to get them to step aside to let the boss through.

Now imagine the music of the Star Wars Imperial March. The little monsters had stepped aside to let the big one through. The green tokens are poisonous gas. They were triggered by Ivan's big monster, so we the soldiers were not affected. We didn't come through this way. The poisonous gas did not affect monsters, so no harm to Ivan's minions.

Jeff the slow and heavy had to spend effort healing himself and had not caught up with the rest of us. He was feeling the pressure now, especially when the group of monsters on the right started dancing to Michael Jackson's Thriller.

Now I had reached Dith's side, and the few monsters near the control room had been shot to pieces. Dith had deployed his sentry - an automatic machine gun that shot at any enemy that moved.

Our formation was almost complete. We just needed Jeff to take his place. The ventilation was now on. We needed to hold on for a few rounds, and then turn it off, and then we would win. Turning the ventilation on or off required a die roll, and it was not exactly easy. My character only had an intelligence of 2 (don't ask my why the team leader is dumber than his team members), which meant I could only roll two dice if I were to attemp turning the ventilation on or off. We needed someone with intelligence 3 to do this to have a better chance.

Our formation was now complete. I stood at the corner at the top, touching four monsters. I had a Stance card which prevented monsters from attacking me as long as I was adjacent to another soldier. They must attack him instead. This effectively made me an unbreakable shield. It's legal, but it's rather gamey. In this particular situation it was very handy. The two large monsters were almost upon us. Ivan could afford to let a row of small monsters surround us. The big monsters could stand behind the small ones and still attack, because they had a melee attack range of two. Normally the melee attack range is one.

Dith's character was replaced with a token now, because he was heavily injured and had passed out. One more hit and he'd be dead. Ivan was very close to killing him. Ivan focused his attacks on Dith, using not only the big monster, but also the gunner at the far right. In this game soldiers and monsters do no block line of sight for ranged attacks. Dith could not do anything now. One of us would need to revive him first, and only then he could start healing himself. We were surrounded and trapped, but the toxic air was almost fully vented. Eventually we managed to hang on until the air was clear, and we succeeded in making the roll to shut down the ventilation. It was a difficult roll, and all of us (well, except Ivan I guess) stood up and cheered when we made the roll.

It was a very enjoyable game. It's partly because I didn't have to read or remember the rules, so I could fully immerse into the story. It was also fun to be able to discuss the tactics openly while playing, since I was on the soldier team. It was fun to work on a problem together. We watched one another's backs, we reminded each other about dangers. I hope I don't make this sound like some silly corporate team-building activity. It's much much better than that.

The Thoughts

If you ask me what's different about Level 7: Omega Protocol compared to other similar games, I would say not much. It does have some interesting mechanisms, e.g. more actions by the soldiers translates to more actions by the overseer too, the overseer's grid of special actions, and the soldiers' Stance cards, but I think the overall feel when playing is not significantly different from other games of this type. I can say it is well crafted and it works. I certainly had a lot of fun.

The scenario setup allows variations. The overseer has some flexibility in how to place the doors and the event cards. The soldiers can also customise their abilities before the scenario starts. They can try to come up with a strategy specific for the scenario, and pick skills and weapons appropriate for that strategy.

Monday 13 October 2014

family outing to Meeples Cafe

It had been quite a while since my last visit to Meeples Cafe. The outing before this was last year! We were planning to spend about two hours, but we ended up playing for four hours. Just nice for an early dinner at Burgertory which is nearby. As usual, I read up quite a few sets of rules beforehand, hoping to introduce the children to more new games. We have plenty of games at home. Visits to Meeples Cafe are always for trying out new stuff (at least new for the kids).

This is Baker's Dozen, a game by Reiner Knizia. There have been many versions published. I think the first version was Poison. The latest version is Friday the 13th. There are three donut flavours - chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. At the start of a round, all cards (donuts) are dealt out to all players. Then you take turns playing a card to the centre of the table. Cards of the same flavour must be played to the same group. If your card will push a group's total value over 13, you must claim all donuts in the group into your face-down eaten pile before playing your card into the now empty group. Donuts you've eaten are -1VP each at the end of the round, unless you have eaten the most donuts of a particular flavour. You are exempted from the penalty for such flavours. So you either want to eat the most of a flavour, or none at all. The green donuts are rotten donuts. They are jokers and can be played into any group, but if eaten, they are always -2VP each, no exemptions.

Michelle and Chen Rui (7). At this point all three groups had one rotten donut, so none of them look appetising now.

The round cards look good, but are not practical. They are a pain to shuffle.

Chen Rui applied a simple strategy called nom-nom-nom. She tried to eat the most donuts of all flavours, so that she could completely avoid all penalty points (of the normal flavours). She was going against the flow. She kept telling us not to take "her" cards from the table. Michelle, Shee Yun and I played in a more conventional way, so Chen Rui ate a lot of donuts. Her strategy didn't quite work, because she was not trying to force some of us to eat some donuts and get penalised. Also she wasn't trying hard enough to avoid the rotten donuts. She was more keen to collect as many donuts as she could than to avoid the rotten ones. She was having more fun doing that than trying to win. So she came last, and she had a great time.

No more strawberry flavoured donuts in my hand, so I was safe from taking any strawberry flavoured donuts.

Every player needs to manage many cards at the start of a round, and Shee Yun (9) had to resort to sorting her cards into piles. This was not a good idea, because Michelle and I could easily guess which was which, and what flavours she was short on.

Chen Rui ate so many donuts that Michelle had to help her count at the end of the round.

The packaging is nicely done. The game box (bottom right) is like a real donut carry box.

Although I wanted to get the children to experience new games, sometimes they requested to play games which they have played before and liked, like GIFTtrap. This is a game about picking gifts for your fellow players. You need to know what they like, and you also hope they know what you like. Giving and receiving appropriate gifts both allow you to score points, but if you give or receive a gift which is not appreciated, you lose points.

Shee Yun's (blue) recipient score marker (in the shape of an opened box) has already reached the goal, which means the rest of us have been giving her the gifts she likes. We know her well. Her giver score marker (shape of unopened gift) is still at 0pts, which means she is horrible at picking gifts for the rest of us. At the moment I (green) am the most successful in picking the right gifts for my family.

Michelle (purple) is currently closest to winning. Both her score markers are near the goal. You need both to reach the goal to win.

Michelle (purple) is just one step away from winning.

Take It Easy!, a game I have heard about for a long time, but only now played it for the first time. Every player has his own board and an identical set of tiles. One player takes the role of coordinator, and randomly draws a tile. He announces what tile it is, and everyone else looks for the same tile from their respective sets. Then everyone adds his own tile to his own board. This repeats until you fill up your board. The objective is to complete lines with a single colour. E.g. so far I have completed a yellow line and a green line. The yellow line gives me 9x4=36pts. The green line gives me 7x4=28pts. It's a simple multiplayer-solitaire game, like FITS. I'd avoid likening it to Bingo, because Bingo doesn't require much strategy or planning. Take It Easy! is more challenging.

I have played Hare & Tortoise before, but this was the first time for the children. This was the 1979 Spiel des Jahres winner, and I think it is a very good family strategy game.

It is a race game, but you are not rolling dice to move. The dice are only used when you land on a specific space, to determine whether you encounter good luck or bad luck. It is mostly up to you where you want to move, just that you need to pay carrots (the currency in the game) depending on how far you move. The game is more about managing your carrots (how to earn them, how to spend them) than about blindly rushing forward.

Look how serious Chen Rui is. This game is mostly open information, the only hidden information being cards in hand, so Michelle and I could give the children advice on what good moves were available.

Shee Yun and I.

These are cards from Dragon Parade, a game by Reiner Knizia.

In Dragon Parade, the dragon dance troupe starts a round at the palace (centre of the board). Players then play cards to move the troupe towards either the yellow gate (on the left) or the red gate (on the right). After each card you play, you also place one of your hawkers on an empty space on the board, hoping to guess where the troupe will stop at the end of the round.

At the end of a round, if the dragon dance troupe stops exactly where your hawker is, that hawker earns 5pts. If the troupe stops near a hawker, he earns 3pts. If the troupe stops on the same half of the board (yellow or red) as a hawker, he earns 1pt. For a complete game, you play the same number of rounds as the number of players. The game has a little stock market feel. You have partial information and partial control, and you need to read the group's thinking. You need to guess where your opponents will try to push the troupe, and you have to take into account your bit of control over its movement too.

You start with six cards every round, but you will only get to play four. The surplus two are important, because they are useful information, and they give you options. After playing the first three cards and placing your hawkers, everyone pauses to discard two cards, i.e. you need to decide which one is going to be your last card. Only after that everyone plays his last card to see where the troupe finally lands.

Hamsterrolle was another game we have played before and the children wanted to play again. It's a dexterity game of adding wooden pieces to the wheel and hoping you don't cause other pieces of fall off.

Bananagrams was new to all of us. It's a real-time game. Everyone starts with a certain number of tiles depending on the player count. There will be leftover face-down tiles at the centre of the table. Your goal is to use up all your tiles to make interconnected words. Once someone achieves this, he announces so, and then everyone must draw one more tile from the central pool. This new tile must be added to your network of words. Sometimes it means taking apart your network and rebuilding it.

If you get stuck with a particular letter, you can decide to pass and return it to the pool face-down, but the price is you need to draw three more tiles from the pool. When there are fewer tiles in the pool than the number of players, the game enters the end stage. Whoever uses up all his tiles wins immediately.

Chen Rui was youngest, so we let her team up with Michelle. Shee Yun and I played individually. The game is fun, portable, and easy-to-teach, but I think it doesn't work very well when there is a big gap in English skills among players, e.g. parents and young children. I took a time penalty in our game, but still managed to win rather easily. Maybe I need to find a better way to handicap myself.