It’s been a busy, game-playing couple of weeks! In addition to my regular game nights, I also headed off to Charlotte for my 13th visit to MACE this past weekend. But I’ll get around to talking about that a little bit later, so for now, let me get into what I’ve been playing right around here with the Hypermind Boardgamers…
After the week before, I was a little worried that Kenny might be losing interest in Netrunner, but then he came back this time with his core-only decks in hand asking to play. I was more than happy to oblige him, of course, so we got in a couple of games. We started with me playing my HB corp deck while he pulled out his Noise (Anarch) runner deck. Things were going really well for me and I had gotten up to a 5-0 lead as we neared the end of the game. But then, he pulled out an amazing glory run on my R&D using Maker’s Eye and a 2-token Medium, letting him see 5 cards from my deck. The first couple were misses, but then he hit a Priority Requisition and some other 2-point agenda, tying me at 5 points with one more card left to access. Thankfully, it wasn’t the agenda he needed, so I was able to score my last two points on my next turn to take the 7-5 win.
We then switched sides and I took on his NBN corp deck with my Kate (Shaper) runner deck. Unfortunately for him, his deck is all about tagging the runner, mostly using traces in one way or another, and on turn one I played out two Rabbit Holes, giving me 3 total Link, which gave me a huge advantage in all traces for the whole game. I was also pretty careful, played out my whole rig pretty quickly, and was eventually (once the Magnum Opus hit the table) able to get into any server at will that I wanted to check.
It’s no surprise, but I love Netrunner. And there’s a lot of talk going around right now about the new rotation policy that’s just been announced, the cost of new players buying into the game, and it’s long-term health. But playing more and more of this Core-set-only limited environment has me totally convinced that it’s a really great way for new people to get into Netrunner. So much of what makes Netrunner cool is about the choices of both players during the game; how they use their clicks and put pressure on their opponent through play. Yes, of course, more advanced deck construction is important and fun and gives an almost infinite space for creativity and variety. But there’s also a lot of player skill and nuance to the game that can be discovered, developed, and mastered just at the Core Set level, certainly enough to let new players know if it’s the kind of game that they might want to really “buy in” to and get competitive with. And still, when you compare it to how expensive it is to buy into something like Standard Magic (which rotates half its cards every year), there’s no comparison in how much money you’re talking about.
But anyway, then Kenny went off to play Ogre with Keith, so I joined Stacy and James to play one of my favorite new games lately, Five Tribes. Right from the start, I decided to rush the game as quickly as I could by dropping my camels to claim tiles every chance I got. I aggressively used the assassins power to pick off single meeples elsewhere as well, sometimes even picking up two tiles on a single turn. But on the other hand, I wasn’t necessarily getting the most valuable tiles each time, and I bidding pretty liberally to get the actions I wanted. Still, though, I thought I was in pretty good shape until we started counting up points. In addition to having a few points here and there in each category, Stacy had over 40 more points than I did left in coins (mostly from being very conservative in his bidding), and he managed to edge me out by just 2 measly points!
Time: 38 minutes
Score: Stacy 132, Norton 130, James D 105
Ratings: Stacy 8, Norton 8, James D 8
Yep, just 38 minutes. Take that, all you people who complain about the Analysis Paralysis rampant in Five Tribes!
I just love how wide open this game is, where you can choose from so many options where you want to get your points. It’s very tactical for the most part, but there are also some definite strategic paths you can take (particularly when you pick up a Djinn or two that point you in a particular direction). But it’s also not so limiting that you get locked into one particular path and lose the ability to be opportunistic and jump on a cool move that you see, even if it has nothing to do with the rest of your plan.
But with all this, it’s still a pretty light game overall. I understand how some people can get locked up looking at all the options, but it’s really not that complicated. You decide what sort of actions you need on your turn, find the 2 or 3 spots on the board that will do that for you, and then run a quick calculation or two to see which is best. If you’re paying attention, you might also see some other option that another player left you that’s just too good to ignore, but that’s just one or two more options to consider. It’s just not that hard of a thing to do.
Then, Chris pulled out another of his Pairs decks (the Goblin deck this time) and taught a few new variants. We started with the “standard” way to play (called the Continuous game). But then, we went into the “Port” variant that turned it around and had players trying to get points in a blackjack sort of way. And finally, we tried out one of the gambling variants (Goblin Poker, since that’s the deck we were using). It went on a little too long, but at the same time, I could see that the options for choice, bluffing, and pushing your luck were similar in most ways to the level of play that you get in “real” poker version (even Texas Hold’em).
Time: 4, 15, and 36 minutes
Game 1 (“Continuous” game): James D* 8, Chris 9, Norton 22
Game 2 (“Port” game): Norton 21, James D 19, Chris 11
Game 3 (Goblin Poker): Chris – Win, James D – 1st loser, Norton – Big Loser
Ratings: James D 6.5, Norton 7, Chris 6.5
Pairs is definitely on my wishlist, and will show up on my Gift Guide this year as well. All the versions I’ve seen are attractive, and I really like how many solid little games have been developed around the “pairs” theme to make use of this new “deck of cards”.
To finish up last week, I taught Darren Star Realms and played my first-ever “real” game using physical cards. But I probably don’t need to talk much about it, since many of you have (like me) probably already played somewhere around 954 games of it on your phone or tablet. It’s fun and quick, but also very random. It’s very similar to Ascension, but seems to me to be a little slicker/smoother but also a little more luck-dependent. And I’m not really convinced that the factions are really all that balanced either.
What’s been your experience with it so far?
Time: 18 minutes
Score: Norton 58, Darren* 0 (dead)
Ratings: Norton 6
Over the weekend at MACE, I picked up a few small games here and there. On the way down, actually, I stopped by the Books-a-Million at Concord Mills and found that they had a suprisingly amazing game section. Among the many cool titles, I found (and bought) Pandemic: Contagion, which I’ve been looking forward to trying ever since I heard about it. Now, Contagion has very little to do with the original Pandemic other than its theme, which in this case has been turned around so that the players are the diseases trying to compete to kill the most people and destroy the most cities.
The way it plays is that there are a number of cities in the middle of the table, and on each of the 12 turns in the game, players will use their 2 actions to either draw cards, use those cards to infect cities, or use them to increase their abilities to draw more cards or infect more effectively. Each city has a capacity for a certain number of disease cubes, and when it’s met or exceeded, it pops and scores points based on majorities for the players present on it. What’s cool is that the person who put the last cube(s) on the card to put it over the edge also gets a small ability (like drawing a card or two, or putting a disease cube into another city), so sometimes you might help someone else finish off a city that they are winning just to get the extra ability.
In our game, we spread out way too much. Instead of jumping into each others’ cities to share points and snipe special abilities, we each kept to ourselves, and as we entered the last couple of turns, only 2 or 3 cities had popped so far. I was out of cubes to place at one time, but by being opportunistic with the interim scoring that can happen, I had a pretty decent lead. Chip made a good surge late by using a completion power a time or two, but both he and James came up a little short in trying to overtake me.
I’ve really been enjoying Pandemic: Contagion so far. It’s extremely quick and easy to teach, but I feel like it still has a decent level of decision-making and a reasonable depth of play. You’ve essentially got 24 actions each game to use, and have to spread those out over increasing your abilities, drawing cards, and actually infecting cities. There may be some basic strategies that are almost always a good idea (like increasing your drawing power at least once at the beginning of the game), but beyond that, there also seems to be a good variety of approaches that you can make strategically. But then the event revealed each turn also does a good job of throwing you curveballs (sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad) that you have to adjust for as you take your actions as well. And of course, you may also want to keep an eye open for opportunities to glom onto another player’s city to pick up a few points and essentially add to that 24-action economy that you have.
Like I said, it’s pretty light and really fast, so while it’s not the deepest or most revolutionary game in the world, the bang I get for my buck (time-investment-wise, anyway) has been really great so far.
At MACE, I signed up for a game of Firefly that turned out to just be the game organizer and myself. But I still had a really great time with it and was left wanting more. So I made a point of pushing it a little bit at game night and got Chip and Keith to bite, even though Keith hadn’t ever played before. But both are fans of the show, so I figured it would go well.
If you looked at how my game actually played out, though, I don’t know if “well” is how you would describe it. Without exaggeration, I believe that I was stopped by the Alliance cruiser every single time I tried to cross Alliance space. And the sad thing is that the only illegal thing on my ship pretty much every time was my pilot (Jesse), who just happened to have an unjust warrant for her arrest. They never found her hidden away in my extra-secret cargo area, but it was very annoying to get stopped at least once each time I tried to cross the center of the board. Sure, she was driving the ship, but maybe I should have just spaced her at some point to avoid the entanglements, but I also figured that my luck would turn around at some point. It didn’t.
With Keith being new, my bad luck with the Alliance, and then just having not played the game much lately, we were pretty darn slow going. We were doing the “Niska’s Holiday” story card, which basically meant that we all had to be really good at fighting, do illegal and immoral things for Adelai Niska, and get together a big wad of cash by the end of the game. As 11pm neared (the closing time of our FLGS), we didn’t think we’d be able to finish. But then, at the very last minute, Chip managed to complete his fourth job for Niska, get to Aesir and undermine Niska’s nephew, and have the 12,000 credits he needed to win!
Time: 139 minutes
Score: Chip – Win (3 goals), Keith* – 1 goal (+2), Norton – 1 goal (+1)
Ratings: Chip 8, Norton 8, Keith 8
There are definitely better games than Firefly. As a space-based mercantile/pick-up-and-deliver game, I’d say that Merchant of Venus is definitely superior. But the thing is, amazing gameplay is not the reason to play Firefly. What it’s going to give you is a truly immersive, thematic Firefly experience, and it does it better than almost any other media-tie-in game has ever done before. Every little thing in the game is there because it serves the theme, and even when the whims of chance work against you in the game, you can still feel fulfilled because your misfortune is completely in line with all the bad crap that happened to the Serenity and others around the ‘Verse.
But I also don’t want to give the impression that the gameplay is actually bad in any way. Quite on the contrary, I find it to be very intuitive and fun to play even on a mechanical level. However, every mechanical thing in the game is there to support the theme and the thematic experience it brings, so to me anyway, I can’t imagine that it would be nearly as good an experience for someone not at least somewhat involved in the background material. When Reavers showed up that one time and ate all the colonists I had ferried all the way across the galaxy to their new home that I was now orbiting, I wasn’t upset because freaking Reavers showed up and ate all my colonists! Woo hoo! How awesome! Yes, I lost that game, but I got a cool moment and a great story to tell out of the deal, which was good enough for me at the moment.
So while it’s not something that I’ll pull out all that frequently (for time reasons if nothing else), Firefly is definitely a game that I’m always going to be looking forward to the next time I get to play it.
Other Games Played
Ra: The Dice Game
Time: 16 minutes
Score: Chris 74, Ray 64
Ratings: Chris 8
Tiny Epic Kingdoms
Time: 23 minutes
Score: Ray (Orcs) 14, Darren* (Dark Elves) 12, Chris (Merfolk) 11
Ratings: Ray 8, Chris 8
Time: 76 minutes
Score: Loopers (Chris* & Stacy*) – Win; James D – Lose
Ratings: Chris 8.5, James D 9.5
Time: 34 minutes
Score: Stacy 29, Chris 11, John* 3
Ratings: Stacy 8, Chris 7.5, John 6.5
The Hare & The Tortoise
Time: 16, 15, and 12 minutes
Game 1: Ray* 10, John* 7, Darren* 5, Stacy 3, Chris* 0
Game 2: Ray 10, Stacy 8, John 5, Chris 2
Game 3: John 10, Chris 8, Ray 0, Stacy 0
Ratings: Ray ?, John 8, Stacy 8, Chris 6.5
Time: 52 minutes
Score: Stacy* 20, Chris 15, Darren* 11, Ray* 10, John 5
Ratings: Stacy 8, Chris 8, John 9
LotR The Confrontation (Classic)
Time: 16 minutes
Score: Chris – Win; James D – Lose
Ratings: Chris 8.5
Time: 49 minutes
Score: Chris* – Win; Darren* & Ray* – Lose
Ratings: Chris 8.5
Tiny Epic Kingdoms
Time: 16 minutes
Score: Ray (Undead) 14++, James D* (Satyrs?) 14+, Chris (Valkyries) 12
Ratings: Chris 8
* First play for that Person