Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Gaming Highlights: Memorial Day Weekend 2014 (Sunday)

Sunday was a very full day of gaming, thanks to the addition of two great friends of my boys, Bryce & Rece. (Their stay & sleepover included board games, pizza, hitting each with Nerf weapons, and a late night showing of Errol Flynn's THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD.)

Descent: Journeys in the Dark - Labyrinth of Ruin

We began by continuing our adventures through the Labyrinth of Ruin campaign... Braeden (my oldest) is taking on the role of the Overlord this time around and is using Bol'golreth as his lieutenant. (Though this will mean nothing to those of you who haven't played the game, he's following an Infector track as the Overlord & using the Basic II Overlord cards.)

So far, it's been pretty much of a cakewalk for our intrepid band of adventurers - the Stalker, the Beastmaster & the Runemaster have managed to make an ally of the silent Healer, Serena... and we've proceeded to wade through hordes of goblins without taking on much in the way of wounds and/or infections. 

While Collin & I have played a lot of Descent over the past year, this was Bryce's first time - but he jumped in like a trooper, running the Beastmaster & her wolf brilliantly. 

BTW, Descent 2.0 was my #1 new (to me!) game of 2013:
In the summer of 2006, I had a really neat opportunity fall into my lap: at KublaCon, I was asked to be an Overlord for the demo of the original Descent: Journeys in the Dark. Scott Alden (Aldie of BGG fame) and I sat back-to-back, each of us of acting as the nemesis Ifor a table of eager heroes. (If you want to hear more of that story, you can read Stay Out Of Range Of The Giant: Descent – Journeys in the Dark.)

The early promise of that first wonderful game withered with repeated plays… it took so long to get the game going, the campaign system was clunky, and an adventure took 4+ hours with a full complement of players. My desire to own a copy myself went the way of the dodo… and about the only reference I made to the game was in reviews of Catacombs. (“Catacombs = Descent + Carabande – 3 hours”)

So when I saw that Fantasy Flight Games was rebooting Descent, I was both intrigued and wary. And, for a variety of reasons, I didn’t choose to pick it up… and I didn’t get an opportunity to play it.

Fast forward to the summer of 2013… and while visiting with friends in Texas (hi, Ed!, hi, Susan!), my boys & I joined them in one of the early Descent 2.0 scenarios just to see how it would compare to the original.

I was blown away… and so were my boys (ages 8 & 12). All of the design ideas I’d loved from the original game were still there – one roll combat, customizable characters, great miniatures & artwork. At the same time, FFG had managed to knock off the “rough edges” – simplifying the Overlord system, losing the silly transport glyphs, etc. Most importantly, they’d broken adventures down into bite-size (read: playable in 60-90 minutes) pieces… and then connected them via a simplified campaign system that works like a charm.

So, I used some of my birthday money and bought the base game & the first expansion in July… and in the intervening 8 months, we’ve played 19 times. 
Cosa Nostra

The biggest problem with Cosa Nostra (also known as Vendetta) is that it really only works well with 4 players. However, if you've got four players and 30 minutes... and a hankering for a ruthless backgammon variant with a giant mob drive-by execution spinner in the middle of the board, this is your game.

Braeden managed to sneak his Godfather around the board with more skill than the rest of us - and our last minute attempts to stop him fell short.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Deck-Building Game

You may or may not like Cryptozoic's "Cerebus" deck-building system - which I first played last fall with their DC Heroes game - but I can't argue with how popular it has been both with gamer friends and with my boys. Yes, it's simple compared to Ascension (which it most closely resembles) or Dominion (the granddaddy of all deck-builders), but the simplicity means that you can simply plop the game down on the table and begin playing.

Playing well is another story. Each version of the game has some peculiarities in the deck composition - in LOTR: Fellowship, for example, you need to know about the power of the Moria Orc cards - that only reveal themselves over multiple plays.

That said, the game system is easy to teach, plays quickly, and does a nice job with theme. This is the first of the Lord of the Rings series and adds some interesting wrinkles that don't appear in the DC Heroes games:

  • rather than a special power on the Hero card, each player gets a unique card that goes into their initial deck
  • when some Enemy cards show up in "The Path" (card buying line), they trigger an attack on the next player... this makes defense cards even more important 
  • the Archenemy deck is divided into difficulty levels - the first and last cards are always the same, while the middle cards vary with 3 out of 5 cards of each level
  • there are cards that let you help other players
There is also a set of "Impossible" Archenemy cards that frankly look ridiculously hard & unbalancing - but my sons have already broken them out & played with them.

We played with five players... and I managed to turn the Moria Orcs into one big score after another for the win.

As should be painfully obvious to anyone who reads this blog, I am a huge fan of Richard Borg's Memoir '44 game system... and one of the many reasons I love it is how well it scales for different numbers of players (depending, of course, on having expansions and/or extra sets). It is my #1 game from my top 100 games!

At the core, this is a two-player one map battle game... but with the addition of the Overlord rules, you can play with 4-8 players in a team battle. (And with the upcoming D-Day Landings expansion maps, you can actually fight with a full compliment of 12 players.)

On Sunday evening, Braeden lead the Germans (Bryce & Rece) against myself & Collin as the Americans in an Overlord scenario from the Equipment PackHigh Stakes at Bruyères. We did well in the early going, lunging out to what looked like an insurmountable lead... then the tide turned and our left and center flanks broke down. A final push on the right flank proved to be the game changer as we won 12-11!

Ascending Empires

To end our evening, I pulled out this wonderful oddball Starcraft-ian game of space empire building... with flicking for movement and combat. Look, just go and click the link above to my full review - here's a sample:
This is a well-balanced & fast-playing space empire-building game that isn’t quite like anything else you’ve ever played… and is worthy of time on your gaming table & a place on your game room shelf.
Now, it's become ridiculously expensive to acquire a copy - according to the BGG market, the cheapest copy available is $75 for a used one! (It's $155 new on Amazon - sheesh.) I'm just glad I have my own copy.

Braeden started down his usual "build a battleship" path... but having played my son multiple times before, I knew I had to work to get my defensive capabilities up & rolling. Bryce pushed out nicely and built up all of his cities, while Rece ended up stuck between Braeden and I. My advanced technology won the day... 

Read about Friday's games here... and Saturday's games here!

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