This past weekend, something a lot more fun than the Super Bowl took place.  Now, I love me some football from time to time, but a day full of gaming beats the crap out of it almost any time.  And that’s exactly what Tom gave me and several other of his friends on Saturday.

Starting at around 11am and running for a good 12 hours or more, we played lots of boardgames and even got in one block of roleplaying! 

Getting Started

The day started with me setting up Catacombs and getting in a couple of plays with various people as they began to show up.  I won the first game in the second or third room when my Crypt Spider incapacitated everyone, but then restarted and played it out to the end.  Terry, Barry, Kenny, and Tom’s son Zachary joined me for the full game, and once they got going, they took it to me pretty good.  It’s a little weird, but the Dragon is probably the weakest of all the Catacomb Lords, so I actually chose it as my avatar to take it a little easy on them.  But by the end, they didn’t need any “taking it easy”, and it didn’t take them very long to knock me off and win the game.

By then, Tom was involved in a game of Homesteaders with Chris K (aka Dice Hate Me), Cherilyn (Chris’ wife), and Jeff.  They had a little while left to go, so I sort of requested to play Masons, which I have never actually played in person.  I’m in the middle of a game online, but that’s not the best way to learn a game (for me, anyway), so I wanted to actually see it happen in “real life”.  Apparently, I picked up on it pretty quickly and jumped out to an early lead that I never relinquished.  I like a lot of Leo Colovini designs, and this one is both fun and gorgeous, so I’ll probably have to add it to my wishlist.

Roleplaying in the Gamma World

After that, we ate some lunch and set up for the roleplaying segment of our day.  I picked up the new edition of Gamma World a little while back and wanted to try it out, while Tom ran a session of Dread.  Whether it was the game itself or just Tom’s magnetic personality, almost everyone chose to play at his table, and only Terry, Kenny, and Zachary joined me in an adventure through the post-apocalyptic world of the “great mistake.”

I was only going to run the little adventure out of the back of the book, but I also wanted to start with character generation just to see the whole process through.  It’s mostly a random process anyway, which is surprisingly refreshing after years of games with point-buys and other complicated (and very long) chargen mechanics.  You roll up two different origins that form the core of your character and grant you specific ability scores, skill advancements, and other benefits, but then all the other character stats are totally random.  You do get to choose your weapons and armor, but one thing that I thought was really cool was that all of this core equipment was very generic, where you just decided if you wanted a light or heavy, one- or two-handed weapon (which gave you the crunchy numbers you needed for combat), but then could give it whatever flavor you wanted to fit your character concept.

Kenny, for example, was a speedster engineered human named Murphy-11.  He was a clone from a little clone community (named Sweepingville) in the land of the two Pork Kingdoms (which would be Gray-Ham and Durr-Ham, by the way).  I don’t even remember the actual stats for his weapons, but the skin that he put on them was that of a heirloom fishing pole that had semi-religious importance in his “family”.  He would just swing it as a melee weapon, but then set the bail and cast it towards his enemies as his ranged weapon. 

Terry, on the other hand, was an empathic swarm of rats, which would cling together to take on the form of a cloaked, humanoid rat-man.  He described his weapons as merely individual rats being thrown or biting at whoever he attacked (but always with a lot more flair than I just used to describe it). 

Zachary was a speedster hypercognitive, and all he wanted was to have a shotgun and an axe.  So he shot things with his shotgun and hit them with his axe a lot. 

The beginning of our session was pretty awesome and filled with cool and creative brainstorming about the characters and the world around them.  But then we started actually playing, and it got a lot less fun.  Of course, things probably would have gone a little differently if I had personally written out an adventure that did more than just give a series of combat encounters, but then again, that’s pretty much what the whole D&D system is designed to do well.  For me (and Terry and Kenny as well, if I read them right), though the tactical minis game we were playing started to wear out its welcome pretty quickly.  So, when Tom’s table was already finishing up while we were still in the second encounter (of 8), we weren’t too upset when the bad guys got the best of the party and wiped them all out.

There’s the big monster in the process of eating their faces…

Like I said, though, I really enjoyed the setting and character generation in Gamma World, but the combat-driven D&D chassis just didn’t do much for me once we got into the game itself.  With all the flavor and key words on the character sheet, however, I can’t help but wonder if there might be a D&D/FATE hybrid that I could iron out to keep some of what makes Gamma World cool but then also give it a little more breadth of possibilities.  The origins are perfect “high concept” aspects, and just from both Kenny and Terry’s descriptions, we could have easily pulled another 4 or 5 aspects without even trying.  Who knows, though; now that I’ve scratched my itch to try it out, I may not bother much more with it.

Wrapping it Up with Alien Frontiers

Tom was finishing up supper at that point, so we looked for something that most everyone else could play together and came up with 7 Wonders.  Everyone picked up on it pretty well, and the game moved at a decent pace considering that most of the players were new.  In the end, I managed to eke out a victory on the strength of a lot of blue cards and a pulling a 3-military card out of the discard pile using my Mausoleum power.

So, here you have Terry, Barry, Jeff, Chris, Cherilyn, Kenny, and me (behind the camera)…

After missing the chance to play Alien Frontiers with Chris at MACE, it was definitely one of my priorities for this weekend.  I was also a little nervous that I wouldn’t like it (since I’ve already jumped in on the preorder), but I shouldn’t have worried. 

Barry and Terry joined Chris and me to contend for dominance on the alien world before us.  I started off a little slow, having some bad luck in not rolling any doubles for a while, which are needed to add more dice to your fleet.  I focused on getting some resources early, and when the doubles finally started to come, I built my way up to 6 dice before turning my attention more to the planet below.  

On two different turns, Barry had a chance to win the game if he rolled exactly the right thing.  Both were pretty long shots, but he was literally one pip away from rolling the “three of a kind and everything else either a 1 or a 6” that he needed at one point.  After that, however, the rest of us each “made our move” and pushed past him.  I ended up dropping 3 new colonies over 2 turns to get a slight advantage in the endgame, went out by playing my last colony, and won the game.

Yeah, Alien Frontiers is probably as good as you’re heard.  You’ve got the dice rolling (for good or bad), but there’s a lot of chance to either manipulate the rolls (using Alien Tech cards) or pull off all sorts of shenanigans by deciding how to allocate them to different areas around the board.  And while it’s still generally better to roll high, there’s always something that you can do on your turn, and occasionally it’s even better to roll low.  

One thing I don’t get is why so many people compare this to Kingsburg.  I mean, sure, it involves you rolling dice and then assigning them to places on the board, but that’s pretty much it.  So it’s sort of like when people play a game involving a map and saying “this is just like Risk!” or playing a game with, well, a board, and saying, “this is exactly like Monopoly!”  Because otherwise, the feel and really even the structure of the game is not similar to Kingsburg at all.

But I’m definitely glad that I’ll be getting my copy in early April, and can’t to play it again!

After Alien Frontiers, I volunteered to sit out when most everyone else wanted to play Dixit.  I love the game, but I’ve played it a lot and there were a lot of people new to the game.  So I just watched until a little after midnight and then headed home.

It was a great day of gaming and playing with new and old friends, and I can’t wait until the next installment of Gameathonapocaloozafestacon!  By the way, I practiced saying that over and over in the days leading up to the event, but then I don’t think that I actually said even once while there! I’m so stupid!!!  So, just imagine me now as I chant my way out of this article…






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  1. Adam K

    Glad Alien Frontiers hit it off with you, Chris. Can’t wait to see it in your Tuesday night stack soon. I’m calling dibs at a seat at that table!

  2. I too can’t stand it when people say Alien Frontiers is like Kingsburg. I like Alien Frontiers much more, although admittedly I’ve only played the electronic version of Kingsburg once or twice.

  3. tomg

    What an awesome day it was! Thanks Chris for GMing Zachary’s first rpg. He apparently liked it as he hasn’t stopped talking about it. Thanks to everyone who came out.

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