Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Third and Final Round

Last night was the finale of our Contenders game, and despite my boasts about winning it all, I lost my only match of the game in my final fight for the belt. The last two fights of the game were a study in contrasts, with Christina losing to an NPC in a first-round knockout and with Ted and I slugging it out for a fourteen long, painful rounds. Amazingly, two of us managed to get positive endings, so Ted’s long-suffering fighter retired after finally regaining the championship while my young up-and-comer reconciled with his brother and will likely win his own title in time. This week’s game reinforced the ideas that I posted last week. My character ended up with the most coherent story because I was able to narrate my Connections into every type of scene I did, including fights. I think it’s really important to create Connections that you’re going to be able to do that with. Otherwise, they don’t end up being as central to play as they should be.

So, Contenders is done. Next week we’ll be back to Primetime Adventures. I should try to remember how to play that.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

As Usual, Tiring But Awesome

I’m finally back from Gamex, which took place down in Los Angeles this weekend. Although I’m still involved with running the RPG department, I was much more hands-off during this show, as I had a great staff to handle operations. This meant I got to play games, which was important.

First, I played in the second session of an on-going Lord of the Rings game using HeroQuest for its mechanics. It continues to rock, although this definitely felt like a bridge session in the campaign. We had plenty of room to be indecisive, and we didn’t accomplish anything big (aside from being smacked around by the Witch-King of Angmar). I got be angsty and broody, which was fun. Even more fun was being goaded out of it by Andrew’s character. I can’t wait to see what happens next time.

Second, I finally got to play Sorcerer, specifically Sorcerer & Sword. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, as we’re looking at playing The Dictionary of Mu this summer, and I wanted some experience with the system first. Jesse (the GM) really understands Sorcerer, so it was a great learning experience. I think I got a pretty good handle on the way Sorcerer conflicts work, which is very different than just about anything I’ve played before, so that was definitely useful. It was also a ton of fun. I’ve discovered that I really enjoying playing big, dramatic characters, so when the opportunity to play the half-demon son of a nature goddess whose human lover had just been killed and who had a Humanity score of 1, I jumped at the chance. There are people who claim that if you stand up while you’re roleplaying that you’re LARPing. I went way beyond that. It was awesome.

And speaking of awesome, I got to help playtest Joshua BishopRoby’s next game, Sons of Liberty. Any game in which you get to say, “Alexander Hamilton dons his power armor,” is worth playing. Josh and I talked more about it on what will soon be out as episode 90 of Have Games, Will Travel. We sat down on Monday and did a pretty good wrap-up of the con. And I already can’t wait for the next one.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Domus Romae Aeternae

Tonight Ted, Christina, and I sat down with new recruits Andrew and Teisha to do cell creation for our short-run game of Covenant. I was surprised by how long it took, but looking back, it’s a lot like a pitch session for PTA with more details to flesh out. There’s a lot of front-loading in this game, so we had lots of things to figure out. I found it interesting that we were able to set up the nature of conspiracy relatively easily, but the creation of individual characters and the specific situation took us a long time. It does appear to be a nice tight package, however, with the game’s Conventions and Motifs clearly reflected in the PCs and their situations. I’ve got a lot of good material to work with, and we’re all clearly on the same page, so we’ll see how it plays out next week.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Round Two

Our Contenders game hit a bit of snag tonight, not because it wasn’t good at what it was trying to do, but because we weren’t trying to do that. We’ve got a good handle on the system now, and it’s very clear that the game pushes you into the ring. The reward structure is constructed in such a way that, in general, fighting makes more sense than working (unless your Pain is really high relative to your Hope, in which case you don’t want to accelerate endgame). As such, we’ve been spending a lot of time fighting and training, and not much time working or connecting. The problem is that Ted and Christina’s characters are very involved in non-fighting related issues. As such, they’re not getting addressed very much. That’s definitely something I wish we had realized at the outset. Still, we’re enjoying ourselves, and I’m looking forward to the wrap-up next week.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Round One

Last night we started our brief experiment with Contenders, as a fill-in game while Roy is out of town. I’d been grooving on what the Durham 3 had to say about it, and I was excited to finally get it to the table. We’re playing three-handed, and we decided on a setting that’s loosely Las Vegas in 1960. I think it’s working pretty well. All three of our fighters managed to pull off wins in our first set of bouts, and we’re doing reasonably well on the Hope/Pain scale. Of course, this means we’re setting ourselves up for a big fall. That ought to be fun to watch.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

We'll Never Be Invited Back, I'm Sure

My friend Mark has a new house that turns out to be awesome for big gaming parties. This is unsurprising, considering how much he likes to throw them. Today was the first of those. I had to leave early, as I had an improv performance at 8 PM, but I managed to get in a few plays before I took off. The first was a tossed-together, six-player game of Rise of the Luftwaffe, which I managed to arrange a trade for and had just appeared in the mail as I was walking out of the house. Gwen seemed to enjoy it quite a bit, though that might have been because she got to shoot down Ted. Twice. I do really enjoy the Down in Flames games, and I’m glad I’ve been able to pick them up.

Once everyone arrived, we broke up into smaller groups, and I found myself teach and then playing Carcassonne: The City. We were very aggressive about wall-building, and we actually finished the game before getting to the third stack of tiles. This is my favorite Carcassonne variant, and this game demonstrated that I’m definitely getting better at it.

Before I left, I fit in a game of Winds of Plunder, which was also fresh from the mail. I did substantially less well than in my first play of the game, but I still think it’s excellent. I was somewhat strategy-less for the first two or three turns, which didn’t help. There are multiple paths to victory in this game, but you need to actually choose one.

It ended up being a shorter day of gaming than I would have liked, but it was still fun. Hopefully, given the suitability of his new house, Mark will invite us back again.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Somewhat Of A Break

No game last night, though we did watch Raging Bull in preparation for playing Contenders next week. We also had a long discussion over dinner about the social space around our game, inspired by Christina's post over here.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Waiting For June Sweeps

Tuesday was the midpoint of our Primetime Adventures season and the last episode before our three week break. It was also Roy’s character’s spotlight episode. I felt like it went pretty well, as his character pretty clearly resolved a major story arc, though his Issue remains unchanged. We spent a lot of time dealing with how creepy magic is in this show, and a good bit of the drama came from people finding out about it. That seems pretty played out, though, so I suspect that it will largely be a non-issue in the future. I also felt like I might have pushed for conflicts too much and perhaps over things that didn’t matter. I did end up winning a lot, though. It was interesting to see how the game felt different when the players had less Fan Mail. I think what makes sense is for me to hold back while people are building up Fan Mail and then to go whole hog for folks with a big stack.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Twilight Struggle Was Not The Long One

Ted and I spent this past weekend at the GMT Weekend, sponsored by renowned war game manufacturer GMT Games. I’ve been drifting more and more in the war gaming direction over the last year, and I was looking forward to digging into it a bit more.

Friday evening was relatively light, as my only two plays were games from the Down in Flames series. These are really a single game about WWII-era dogfighting with lots of supplements that add new planes and theaters. At it’s core, it’s a card game in which you control a leader and a wingman. It’s very quick to learn, and it plays quickly with between two and eight players. What makes is very cool is the campaign system. If your pilots survive, you get to run them again in latter missions. As you accumulate experience and kills, they get better equipment and special abilities. If your pilots are shot down, however, that’s it for them. Mike Lam runs this event all weekend, and it’s very well-done. He posts pilot records for each theater, so by looking at the wall you can see how people are doing. This carries over from convention to convention, and if you make Ace (five kills) get a T-shirt. It was a lot of fun to play, and I’m thinking about doing something similar at PaulCon this year. To that end, I picked up Zero! and Corsairs & Hellcats, the two in-print games in the series.

On Saturday, I played one game, but it was worth it. We threw down on a four-player game of The Napoleonic Wars, which Ted and I had been itching to play for a long time. If we were looking for a chance to learn how the game works, this was certainly it. One of the major features of the game is that is has the possibility of ending after any of the five turns. It didn’t. We ended up going the distance, playing five turns over the course of about ten hours. As the Austrians, I was mostly a passenger, especially for the first three turns. I knew that was likely to happen, which is why I volunteered to play them. After nearly being conquered by the French at the end of turn three, I actually switched camps and improved my position quite a bit in turn four. Sadly, the French fell apart in the final turn, and as their support eroded, the Russians and their Prussian allies reversed my prior gains. I can see how the praise and criticism that gets applied to this game makes sense, and I can’t imagine playing it very often, but I had a great time. It was a crazy and epic game. I’ve got the second edition on pre-order, and I’m looking forward to having it appear.

Sunday, I actually played a non-war game: Winds of Plunder. This is a very solid game about piracy, and I’m not just saying that because I won. I’ll be talking about it on a future show, but I think it’s best described as a thematic experience that uses modern, elegant mechanics (which is different than saying it’s a Euro game about pirates).

Ted and I headed home after that, but we still had one game left in us. We finished off the weekend with a game of Twilight Struggle, and it confirmed the opinions I developed after Wednesday night’s play. This one turned out to be nail-biter, as it lasted a full ten turns and ended with a single-point victory for the Soviets (controlled, this time, by me). I’d heard concerns that the USSR doesn’t have much of a chance in the Late War phase, but that’s clearly not true, as Ted is hardly an inexperienced US player. Certainly, the pendulum does swing in favor of the Americans, but the Soviets can hold out long enough to take the victory. I suspect this one will be coming to the table a fair bit, as I like the feel of the game, and we were able to play out the whole thing in about four hours.

I predicted I’d get four games in this weekend, while Gwen picked three. I guess I won the bet. I certainly had fun, and I’d love do it again in the fall.