Monday, July 31, 2006

Gulf Games 18: Thursday

I didn't get a huge chunk of sleep... but sleep is never really an issue for me at Gulf Games. (I figured I'd make up for it at the end of the weekend - more about that in a few days.) So, I rousted out of bed bright & early.

The hotel layout (as Dale Yu said in his column over on Boardgame News) was absolutely perfect for Gulf Games. And the room I shared with Ted Cheatham (thanks again, Ted!) was centrally located - on the 3rd floor, just a hop/skip/jump to the stairs down to the second floor. Directly across from the stair door was the breakfast room (continental breakfast each morning). Down the hall was a Mexican restaraunt (which was OK enough for me to eat there 3 times) and a sitting area. Make a hard left and go down another long hall and you've reached the gaming area. Total time from room to games: usually less than a minute. Sweet.

Alan Moon (yes, the Alan Moon, designer of personal favorites Union Pacific & Mush, not to mention his Spiel des Jahres winning games Ticket to Ride and Elfenland) was plopped down in an easy chair in the sitting area when I came down. Both of us thought the doors to the game room were locked (where was Greg?!), so we proceeded to talk about... life. I think a game or two got mentioned, but mostly it was about his wife & her schooling & spending time with his folks - normal people conversation. Which, frankly, is one of the beautiful things about Gulf Games... a conversation about the intricacies of Memoir '44 can coexist peacefully with sharing stuff about family life and/or schooling and/or knitting. (Hi, Anye!)

Of course, Greg arrived and let us know that the door was open. (Whoops...) So in we went, and the gaming quickly got underway.

Ted taught four of us Rum & Pirates... OK, I've sat here for a couple of minutes trying to come up with a short description of the game that does it justice and I'm stumped. I'll start with the easy part - I liked the game enough to make it my first prize table pick on Saturday night. Here's some things I like about it:
  • It's a a sophisticated push-your-luck game with a plethora of scoring options.
  • The design of the game is splendid - from the variable board to the tile holder complete with cover.
  • The phrase I used on my BGG comment was "It's light without being lightweight."
  • Played at a nice clip, it's delightful. (However, I can imagine the torture of playing this game with someone slow & ponderous - sigh.)
Ted managed to win over Tim Watson, Michelle Corbin & I (our scores were tightly packed some 15 points behind him)... while Earl evidently lost his dice hand in some sort of pirate accident.

Allison Vander Ark had spotted me earlier, demanding a game - so we jumped into Au Backe next with the assistance of Dale Yu & James Miller. I really like Au Backe (it's a memory game with great Doris M. art - we even have large size reproductions of some of the cards up in Collin's room) but this is the first time I've played it where the game evidenced a kingmaker problem. James & I both had one card left, Dale had 4 cards - and Allison managed to turn over both poops. (Yes, the game has poop cards. Sue me.) That required her to draw four cards from her opponents - meaning that she could hand the game to any of us. We finally did "pick a number" to determine the winner, but even though I won, it was a hollow victory.

I think Jay Bloodworth was the only experienced player in our game of Cleopatra & the Society of Architects... so he taught us the game. As usual, the Days of Wonder production is spectacular - molded plastic bits, easy-to-use reference cards, etc. For lack of a better description, it's a cross between Ticket to Ride (the drawing of cards) and Settlers of Catan (the building of stuff)... with the scoring mechanic from High Society (the person with the most corruption automatically loses) thrown in for good measure. I know that the reviews of this game have been lukewarm, but I think there is more game in the box than people realize. Even with my big win (I was 23 points ahead of Jay), I was just coming to understand more of the things I could do to affect the outcome as we were finishing up: how I positioned the cards for the market, when to buy something out from under another player by watching what they were collecting, taking too many cards so I could pay a single corruption to get rid of high corruption cards, etc.

My next adventure was a particularly Gulf Games experience - playing Ticket To Ride with 4 teenage girls. Kayla Berg (daughter of Invisible Craig), Amanda Tullis (daughter of Scott "sorry I monkeyed up your last name as your e-mail address" Tullis), Ariel Douds (daughter of Ty/Talon Douds, designer of the trick-taking brain-burner Victory & Honor) and Emma LaBranche (daughter of Michael & Shauna) joined me in playing the Spiel des Jahres winner. Kayla pursued what I call "the Southern Pacific" strategy - she managed to create a line from Miami to Portland - while the rest of us fought over Middle America. The results were predictable... Kayla won by 30+ points. Even so, it was fun to get in a game with this group of funny & delightful young ladies.

Somewhere around this time I ate lunch. But I'm not sure. You probably don't care.

Next up: a couple of children's games from the collection of Dale Yu - first was Geistertreppe, which won the SdJ for Kinderspiel (children's games) a year or two back. It's a pretty standard memory game with very nice bits (the wooden ghosts with magnets inside them is nice) but it's not a hoot & holler experience (like Pyramidos, which saw a good bit of play at Gulf Games). Jeanette Vander Ark (aka Little Miss Friendly) beat James Miller, Elaine Lohroff & I at tracking where her ghost child was hidden.

The same crew joined me for the children's game "find" of Gulf Games (for me, at least): Selecta's Gira Gallopo. Appropriately enough (for the GG theme), it's a horse-racing game. Players choose their wooden jockeys and their horse (which are mix'n'match for imaginative play) and a set of 6 numbered cards (1-6). Each turn, players simaltaneously lay down a card & then reveal it. The lowest number player moves 1st, followed by the next lowest... and so on. (Ties are broken by which horse & jockey are farther behind.) If you land on another player, you send them back to the next empty space. If you land on an obstacle, you don't get to move. What ensues is a pretty vicious kid's game - lots of knocking each other around - tempered by the tactical decisions you need to make in order to dodge the 8 obstacles in the game. (5 of those are pieces which are set by the players each game - giving it some nice variablity.) Like I said, this was the niftiest of the new kid's games I played - and, appropriately, it was nominated for the SdJ Kinderspiel this year. (Jeannette won this game as well - so I stopped playing with her. He... not really.)

I've long been a fan of Diceball!, so it didn't surprise me at all when I fell in love with Pizza Box Football - so much so that it was my 2nd pick off the prize table. (Now I've got to order the expansion pack - and track down the rumors of the 2nd expansion pack with 2005-6 teams!) It has the same clunky wonderfulness as Diceball! - too much dice rolling that translates into a pretty realistic sports game. Warren Madden (no relation to John, I assume?) was partnered with me against Hans und Franz (aka Craig Berg & Chris Lohroff) in a four player game. (To make this two player game work with four players, we simply alternated playing defensive & offensive coordinator... the team member not playing helped keep track of downs, time & yardage. It works like a charm, btw!)

It was the Seattle Seahawks (boo!) against the Tennessee Titans (yeah!)... and while the Titans went out to an early lead (10-7 at the end of the 1st quarter, any good Titans fan knows what happened next. That's right, absolutely nothing. Hans & Franze went on to score 30 unanswered points to leave Warren & I in the dust, 37-10. Sigh. (Still, I had a great time.)

My next game was the Essen 2005 release Big Kini - which has an odd theme (in fact, I'm not sure I could explain it thematically) and only so-so gameplay. I did OK at it (just 4 points out of 1st place) but the game was notable primarily for the company (Sheldon & Regina Smith, Greg Schloesser & David Vander Ark) rather than the game itself. Sheldon won, btw.

Somewhere in here I went to dinner at the Mexican place down the hall... after making my only excursion outside of the hotel building until Sunday afternoon. (A large group of us went over to Rocky's to eat dinner - then, told we'd have to wait 45 minutes, split into two groups.)

An hour plus of fine conversation later, I began playing games again - this time, it was Knizia's Through The Desert, which is not my favorite game. (Still, I haven't managed to trade my Kosmos copy away yet - it's right on the keep/trade line for me.) Peter McCarthey smoked us with professional level camel-herding, leaving his wife Kim, Leon Hembee & Tessa Samuelson in the dust.

Another game of Gira Gallopo followed, this time with Sarah Lohroff, Kyle Berg, Warren Madden & his wife Sharon... and me. Experience did not prove to be helpful - Warren took off & won big.

Warren then really took off (taking Sharon with him), leaving Kyle & Sarah & I to join Elaine for another Selecta bit-happy children's game: Piratissimo. The production is gorgeous - ships with plastic sails, a wicker basket for the gold pieces, great artwork. Too bad there isn't much of a game here. While it was fun for a short period of time, it overstayed its' welcome by about 10 minutes (which can be an eternity in kid's games.) Look, I'm not just moaning about a loss, either - I won this thing by getting my pirate gold first.

Over the weeks prior to Gulf Games, a group of us had chatted over e-mail about a Memoir '44 rematch... in New Orleans last summer, my Young Guns (Timothy, Paul Cortazzo & my nephew, William) were beaten at the Battle of the Bulge (the Ardennes scenario) by Hans, Franz, and their cousin Heinrich (Craig, Chris & Eddie Bonet). Their commander was Ed Rozmiarek. I asked for (and received) their blessings to recruit a more experienced group of generals - and what I ended up with was Sheldon Smith, David Vander Ark & Alan Moon. (What with Eddie going AWOL, James Miller joined the Axis side.)

Not to talk bad about any of them - because we stomped the Axis menace into the sandy shores of the Sword Beach scenario. (The final score, 10-6, makes it sound closer than it was.) My vindication about my superior field command skills was tempered a bit by the unbelievable hand of cards I had... we managed to jump off the beaches with two Assault & one Attack card, followed by another similar round, followed by "Their Finest Hour". (One of the key issues in any Memoir landing scenario is to get into firing position quickly - with that accomplished, the rest was a piece of cake.) The German far left held (under the leadership of Herr Miller) but there was a gap between each German commander that allowed us to begin exiting units for the win.

I roped Timothy McCarthy into trying one of my newest acquisitions - the beautiful & odd Du Balai from Asmodee Games. It's a dice-rolling/memory/real-time/action card mishmash where sorcerers race around the board attempting to win first place in the race while doing hot dog manuevers. While I have questions about the scoring (it seems to break down in a 2 player game), the idea of the game is wonderful. And it comes packaged in a book-shaped box that is actually a part of the game - nifty.

Warren, having discovered a kindred spirit when it comes to sports gaming, grabbed me again late in the evening & taught me how to play Dynasty League Baseball. Like I said earlier, I like Diceball!... which is a pretty abstract baseball game. Dynasty League, OTOH, is a detailed sports sim - each player has his own card chockful of ratings & percentages based on his actual stats for a particular year. The level of detail even extends to the weather, the size of the ballpark, and the umpire crew.

With games like this, it's helpful to play with someone experienced who can quickly reference the appropriate charts & rulings... heck, it's darn vital for your first playing. IMHO, Warren (or at least his clone, so Sharon wouldn't be lonely) should come packaged in every box - not only would it be easier to play... but you also wouldn't have to worry about finding an opponent!

It was in the 60's - unseasonably cold weather for a July night game at Pico Rivera. Oral Herschieser started on the mound for the Dodgers (my team!) and John Smoltz started for Atlanta (Warren's team). Both pitchers were sent to the showers after the run-fest that was the second inning (7-6), so both teams went through a procession of relief pitchers. The Atlanta bullpen turned out to be walk-happy (7 walks) and late game surge by the Dodger bats sealed the game for the good guys, 18-8.

And with that, I was off to bed. Man, what an excellent day.

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