Sunday, March 25, 2007

Noble Men of Hawkshold

Mike and I got together this afternoon to play some Battleground: Fantasy Warfare, the "miniatures game on cards," as people often describe it. It's true, the units are cards. The game has a lot more going for it than that, however. I'll be talking about it in more depth on next podcast, but my high-level assessment is that it's very much about command and maneuver. The system rewards effective planning, and you can create very interesting problems for your opponent by presenting unforeseen obstacles. The rules are a bit unclear at times, but we still had a good time. I'm hoping this one gets to the table often.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Little Undercooked, But Tasty

With Roy in Australia, we weren't planning on doing any roleplaying this week, but Game Chef intervened. We spent several hours last night playtesting the first draft of my entry, A Penny For My Thoughts. I had two primary inspirations in mind when I wrote it, 1001 Nights and Impro, and I think I managed to correctly steal the bits I wanted from each. I'm reasonably pleased with the results of the playtest. As I said as people were leaving, I feel like the game is largely doing what I want, but that there are a number of details that I need to fix. That's certainly better than the other way around.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Breaking Ground

Tuesday was the pilot episode of Terrior, our Primetime Adventures game about wine and magic in Santa Barbara County. If the rest of the season is half as fun as this session was, we’re in for a great ride.

The episode opened with the basic ingredients we’d agreed upon: Ted’s character’s wife (who had been cheating on him with the tasting room manager) died, leaving him controlling interest in the family winery. The twist was that she’d been murdered, as some unknown magician had left a charmed bottle of wine under the seat of her car, causing her to become intoxicated and to drive off the road. Because there were no player characters in this scene (which was effectively the teaser before the main titles), I decided to actually script the scene in Final Draft. I printed out several copies and had Roy and Christina read the parts of the doomed lovers while I read the action. I was a little worried it wasn’t going to work, but everyone said that it helped set the mood really well. It was only five pages long, so that probably helped.

The rest of the episode introduced to our protagonists. Steve (played by Ted) is the winemaker from and now majority owner of the Caire Winery. He’s also the most magically-inclined of the three. Andy (played by Roy) is his brother-in-law, who turned his back on the family business to make his own way. Despite his tremendous business successes, it’s gone badly for him recently, and he got the call notifying him of his sister’s death just as he was about to complete the paperwork finalizing his separation from his wife. Finally, Lena (played by Christina) is the young, new-promoted tasting room manager, who is trying to make sense of post-college life. She’s the only one of the three that doesn’t know about the magic yet, but she’s beginning to suspect something.

Overall, things went really well. We seem to have caught right on to the scene-framing style and to the basic mechanics. There weren’t that many conflicts in the session, primarily because we were still establishing who the characters were. There was plenty of fan mail getting tossed around, which is definitely good. And we also had some brilliant scenes, my favorite being the cross-cut flashback scene in which we learned why Andy hasn’t wanted anything to do with the winery and the lengths to which Steve is willing to go to ensure it carries on. We also got some clues as to who the murder is, but nothing conclusive.

The only unfortunate part is that we can’t play next week, which means I have to wait two weeks to get my fix.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Birthday Quick Hits

My gaming group has a tendency to get together for birthdays and play lots of games. Saturday was Sarah’s birthday (observed), and we decided to keep up the fine tradition, meeting at noon and continuing late into the night.

I started off with a three-player game of Thurn and Taxis. Despite getting completely destroyed by Sarah (who has played it a lot and managed to set down seven houses on a single seven card route), I still enjoyed it. I do think that Thurn and Taxis is one of the best sixty-minute games out there right now, and it’s probably the strongest Spiel des Jahres winner since El Grande. I’ll play this one anytime. Now I just have to find the time.

We followed that up with a game of Blokus Trigon. I love Blokus, and while Trigon breaks my brain, with three players the original just doesn’t work. During the game I figured out that there’s an important difference between the two. In the original, your choice of places to play is determined by the pieces on the board, because you need corners to play off of. In Trigon, it’s determined largely by the piece you’re going to play, as the off-board pieces provide their own corners. That’s a potentially important insight, I think.

After those two lighter games I joined in a five-player session of Arkham Horror (using the Dunwich Horror expansion for good measure). My first character got munched by a Star Vampire, but after a rocky start we managed to be quite well equipped by the time the Ancient One awoke. Ithaqua went down in a hail of shotgun blasts. Despite that, I’m not sure that I’m going to play Arkham Horror again. To me, it’s not so much a game as it is an experience. While that’s fine, it’s also an experience that takes longer than I want it to.

Sadly, I feel much the same way about the next game we played, Caylus. I’ve played it five times now, and I just can’t seem to grasp it. I’m perpetually two turns behind, which is the kiss of death in that game. I had the same problem when I started playing Puerto Rico, but I grew out of it. I’m not sure if that’s going to happen with Caylus.

Fortunately, at that point we changed pace with a game of Pit. I’m glad we picked it up in a trade, as I’m enjoying it. I’m starting to be able to keep track of which people might have the commodity I want, which helps.

I finished up the evening with a game of Alhambra. I’m not sure how I managed to go this long without ever playing it, but I’m glad that I finally did. It seems like a nice, light, little game, though I need to give it another play to know for sure, as I only really figured it out halfway through (as is typical for me).

All in all, it was a good day. Combine that with two games I played on Wednesday night (Louis XIV and R-Eco), and I’ve not nothing to complain about. And the next birthday in the group is coming up in May. Woot.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Best. Show. Evar.

The Tuesday RPG group has decided to shuffle its schedule of upcoming games around, so next up on our list is Primetime Adventures. Last night was our pitch session, and, man, did it rock. I’m more excited about this game than I think I’ve ever been about any other campaign. Why?

Well, we chose to keep it close to home and to do something that we know. (The latter is why we decided against most procedurals. We didn’t think we knew enough about any of the appropriate fields to get them right). So, our game is set in the Santa Ynez Valley. At a winery. With wizards. It’s going to be a tight family drama with all sorts of viticultural symbolism and subtle but creepy magic. I can’t wait.

I may need to re-read Earthquake Weather before next week’s pilot.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Week In Review

This week, I played a few more games of Memoir ’44 at work, as we’re slowly working out way through all of the scenarios. I’m definitely learning how to play the game better. Instead developing a strategy and then seeing how I can pull it off with the cards in my hand (an endeavor that often ends in frustration), I’m focusing more on what sort of strategy I can formulate with the cards I have. I think I first stumbled on this idea when I was playing Combat Commander at OrcCon, but it applies equally well to Memoir. I’m not entirely certain that it’s effective, but it’s certainly less stressful. I also finished another online game of Hacienda, and I’ve concluded that I do prefer it with four players. Five is a little too tight for my tastes.

Today we got together with a small crew to do a little board gaming and eat some sushi. There was more sushi eating than gaming, but we did fit in a quick game of Betrayal at House on the Hill and an even quicker game of Metro. I’ve confirmed my feelings about the former: it’s a perfectly good atmospheric game so long as no one takes it too seriously. The latter has quickly become one of my favorite fillers, as it plays really well with a wide range of player numbers (two to six) and it moves right along. For some reason, it just works for me.