Friday, April 25, 2008

Notre Dame: Cubes

There's one final resource to discuss in Notre Dame, and that is cubes. Cubes are a tricky beast to analyze as there's no clear penalty for not having enough of them. With dollars if you run out you can see what you weren't able to bribe. If you get plagued you lose immediate VPs. When you run out of cubes you just have to move some cubes around. In fact, most games even if you were to pick up max cubes you'd still have to move some around at some point, so it's not a game-losing penalty by any stretch of the imagination. Often there's not even any downside to having to move cubes around but sometimes it can be crippling. So, what do cubes do, and how many do we really need?

Cubes have a couple purposes. They...

• Allow the geometric progression of the bank, cube-house, and VP-house to function.
• Let you drive further in your car.
• Operate the hospital and park on an on-going basis.
• Allow you to score VPs by bribing some phase specific guys, especially the phase C guys.

The first group is often expendable. Once you use the bank 3-4 times you don't really need to go back, so the cubes you have sitting there are just waiting to be moved. This can be when you run out of cubes and move one on your standard action or by one of the moving bribes, but a strong strategy often seems to me to be to get 3 cubes into the cube house or bank and then move them out to somewhere else.

The second group is tricky, and often depends on how many other players are driving in their cars. It's pretty easy to get into a situation where your car is stranded if you ever move a cube out of this square. This not only wastes the rest of the cubes in the car square, it also makes the car card uselss. Once you abandon the car, though, you can freely move the rest of the cubes out.

The third group is mission critical. You can very rarely afford to move cubes out of either the hospital or the park. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, but generally speaking once you put a cube in either square you should plan on it staying there. The go-in action of killing a rat is mediocre, those squares are good because of the staying ability they have. The hospital is practically must-have for 2-3 cubes and the park wants an even number.

The fourth group is critical to winning many games. There are three different scoring guys in phase C and you want to consider at least one of them with your cube placement over the course of the game. The three are 1 VP per occupied square, 3 VP per triple occupied square, and 1 VP per cube in your most populated square. Because of the triple occupied guy I tend to try to have 3 guys in the hospital. 2 will sometimes suffice if you work at killing rats in other ways, but the third guy in is worth 3 VPs, so might as well put him in there and worry less about rats as well. (There's also a 2 VP per doubleton guy in phase B who can be big VPs as well.)

Cubes can also be removed from the game a couple of different ways. If you get plagued you lose a cube from the most populated square as well as the 2 VPs. You can get this cube back, but it goes to your bad pile so it's a non-trivial process. Losing from your most populated square can be ok (if you've finished using the square) but often it's brutal. Losing cube 4 from the park is depressing, and losing a cube from the hospital makes you cry. The second way is by going to Notre Dame. At the end of the phase all cubes in Notre Dame are recycled back to bad piles. This is a necessary evil as going to Notre Dame is often how you win, but it is something to keep in mind. Someone who goes to ND early without also picking up some cubes is in trouble as they'll then only have 3 cubes to work with.

How do you get cubes you may be asking. Exactly the same ways as you get gold, oddly enough, with one extra way. That way is the Bishop, one of the guys you can bribe in phase A. He lets you take a cube from your bad section and put it onto any empty square on the board, activating that square. This guy is awesome. Not only does he give you a free cube, he puts it into play and gives you a free action. Even if your best spot is to guesthouse for a cube it still beats bribing the monk, I think, because it gets the cube into play where it can do things and that's worth losing a VP early game. You should always plan for the bishop and try to leave a good square open, bishoping into the hospital or park on turn 2 is amazing.

So, how many cubes do you need? You start the game with 4 and there's a hard limit of 14, so you can only ever pick up 10 plus the number of times you get plagued/go to Notre Dame. If you're trying to maximize the triples card you want all 14 cubes, to try to arrange in 5 groups of 3. (Along with Balki you get 15.) However, that's a little extreme. Putting the 4th in the park seems better at that point, as it'll also boost the max cubes guy as well. More cubes is better, because any stragglers you can leave behind over the course of the game in otherwise empty squares are worth 1 VP.

I think you need three in the hospital. You need to deal with 28 rats over the course of the game and 3 cubes in the hospital is a great start to accomplishing that goal as well as being worth the 3 VPs for a triple. Most people want to load up the park (and I think they're right) so you're looking at wanting at least 2 and probably 4 guys in the park. I had 8 in the park one game and it was as awesome as it sounds. (12 VPs for taking the max cubes guy in phase C!) As well, you need likely 2 guys for Notre Dame, 3 for whatever section you're working on right now (bank/cube house/car/VP house) and one or two to move around on mediocre actions. Minimum then, you're looking at wanting 2+3+4+3+2=14 guys. Note because a couple will recycle from ND and because by game end you don't really need the 3 for whatever you're working on this isn't the maximum that you could have, but it's close. With some forethought and planning you can generally turn most of your extra cubes into VPs with the phase C bribes, so having the extra guys rarely hurts.

Remember, this is a game of finite actions, so getting max cubes does come with the lost opportunity cost of being able to do other things with your time, but you can often turn those extra cubes into enough VPs to make them worthwhile. You can always get away with less (if you only have 5 or 6 cubes you just don't park) and you won't feel like you're losing, but you probably are. On the other hand if you can't bribe or if you get plagued you see the direct result of the misplanning and you feel bad about it.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Notre Dame: Bucks

Bucks. Dollars. Doubloons. Gold. Currency has plenty of names in games, but it all comes down to one thing... Exchanging currency for goods and/or services. In Notre Dame money is used in one of two ways, both revolving around bribery.

First of all, each round you get to bribe a member of town. Doing so costs you one gold and lets you take one action. You can bribe at most one person a round, though you can pass. Now, 3 of the 6 generic bribes are worth a gold plus other things, so bribing tends to be something you really want to do. I have never found myself in a situation where I thought to myself 'Gee, I should just not bribe'.

The second thing you can do is bribe the clergy who live in Notre Dame. While bribing the townsfolk can get you lots of different things bribing Notre Dame is worth one thing and one thing only... Victory Points! However, you can only pay up to 3 gold each time you go to ND, and you can only go to ND if you draft the ND card specifically. On average I'd say people tend to go to ND twice a game though personally I try to go at least 3 times.

So, how much gold do you need for the whole game, and what can you do to make gold? Well, you want to bribe all 9 times, so that's 9 gold. At a minimum if you're going to win I think you're looking at heading to ND at least twice for 1G bribes, so the absolute minimum you need is 11. I think the expected maximum is likely a 1G ND and two 3G NDs, for a total of 16. The last game I played featured 3 3G NDs and a 1G ND for a total of 19 but that requires people to pass a lot of ND cards, and you to generate a lot of money. For now, 11-16 seems like a reasonable range to aim for.

How do you make money?
• The bank card is worth 1G per cube in the bank
• The ghetto is worth 1G
• Driving in your car can get you 1G
• Bribing the wench can get you 1G
• Bribing the moneylender can get you 2G
• You start the game with 3G

It is quite possible to bribe the money lender all 3 times he comes out which with your starting 3G gets you to 9G. Two buggies/wenches can get you to 11G pretty easily, and all without touching the bank. Of course, getting all 3 money lenders means skipping a phase C big-VP bribe and is also very risky when you consider the moneylender could come in phase C3. (Where the extra bucks are worthless.) It's also worth noting that the gold buggy is only 1VP, so while buggying for gold once is slightly better than banking for it, going twice is just worse. (Worst case scenario, the extra gold you gain from the second bank can be cashed in for 2VPs when you would have had a 1G ND.) Of course, if you have a populated park the buggy starts looking better and better.

Now, gold is the one resource where we can clearly define how good extras are. Going from a 1G ND to a 2G ND is worth 2VPs always. From 2 to 3 is worth 3VPs. Ideally, you're better off with a 1G ND and a 3G ND than 2 2G NDs. (+1VP for same gold cost.) As such, I think if there's any question about having enough gold you should err on the side of a 1G ND early.

Another way to turn extra gold into VPs is by taking an extra ND action. This is easier to pull off early than late since late game righty often has the bucks to go himself so he doesn't pass you his ND. Early, if you have the bucks, you can sometimes draft an extra ND and cash it for 1G. How much is that worth?

Assume the ND closes out for N cubes or for N-1 cubes. Then in a 5 player game it's worth 3VPs or 4VPs. In a 4 player game it's worth 3VPs or 4VPs. In a 3 player game it's worth 3VPs or 5VPs. In a 2 player game it's worth 6 or 3 VPs. Also, the extra NDs cost everyone else a small share of the ND pool if they went to ND that round. Finally, you get at least one park proc out of it, maybe two if it's your only ND for the round. Even with no parks an extra ND is always better than spending an extra G on another ND, with one exception...

The extra ND costs you a card play. If that card play would be worth nothing, the extra ND is better. If it's worth something how good it is compared to overloading a different ND depends on your park situation. Evaluating this really requires evaluating how good the other action would be for you, and that's on a pick by pick basis during the drafts. From a strict gold standpoint though, more NDs is better.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Notre Dame thoughts

Turns out... I'm lazy! So many things I kept meaning to post, so many times I just didn't bother. I've now heard of two people who randomly stumbled into this place and I like re-reading it myself, so I should really keep going. So, here's some thoughts on the game Notre Dame.

First things first, this is a very short game in terms of how many decisions you get to make. It's not like PR or SJ where you can spend some time building up resources and then use those resources to power out VPs in late game. There is no late game. There are three different resources you have to juggle in addition to collecting VPs, and you have to take that into account while you're playing. Those resources are cubes, gold, and rats.

Rats: The order of the bribe cards is random, but at the end of the game the same ones will always have come out. As such, there are a finite number of rats. In the first stage (A) there are 12 rats. In the second stage (B) there are 13 rats. In the third stage (C) there are 12 rats. As such, if you don't want to get plagued you will have to deal with 37 rats over the course of the game. Note, you get 9 for free, as your rat marker starts on the 0 space.

Ending the game with the rat marker lower than on the 9 is wasteful. There is no intrinsic benefit to having killed extra rats. (Extra money is a tiebreaker, so it does something. Rats, not so much.) The time you spent killing those rats could have (and likely should have) been spent doing something better. In fact, the only time a low rat count is particularly good is the beggar king, a phase B card that turns rat spaces into VPs.

Now, how do you deal with rats? There are a few ways. (Remember, if you're trying not to get plagued you need to deal with 28 rats over the entire game.)

• Hospital: Every cube in the hospital is worth 1 rat, plus one rat for every turn left in the game. Note:If you are at 0 you don't get the initial benefit of the hospital, so a turn 1 hospital only deals with 9 rats, not 10. A turn 2 hospital also deals with 9 rats, so delaying a turn doesn't hurt, not that you really get that choice.
• Park: Placing a cube here is worth 1 rat. That is all. (And potentially a ton of VPs...)
• Buggy: Not always possible, but often you can get 3VPs and kill 1 rat.
• Guesthouse: Kill 1 rat. Sometimes you could kill 2 rats. I can't imagine you winning with that many cubes in the guesthouse though.
• The Doctah: Score 0 rats for the round. Your hospital still kills rats this turn, so you actually can move backwards. Some games this will be worth 7 rats, some games it will be worth 1. This guy is a general dude, so he can be bribed all 3 phases if you want.
• The Wench: 3VPs and 1 rat for a gold. It's like driving in your car!
• Getting plagued: After you lose 2VPs and a cube from the board you go down to 9 rats. Sometimes this can deal with a lot of rats, if you get a big rat turn with 7+ rats. Of course, in order to have this work you need to be pretty high up in rats as it is. Try not to use this tactic every turn!

In addition, a few of the bribes let you move cubes around. Moving them into the hospital can deal with rats! In particular, the mistrel lets you move 3 cubes without activating the building. This still deals with 3 rats a turn!

I had one game recently where turn 2A had 8 rats. The Minstrel was available to be bribed, and both Josh and I used it to move 3 cubes into the hospital, allowing us to both barely not get ratted. The other two players just got plagued. However, because we'd used up 8 rats on B1 there were only 5 left for B2 and B3, and this meant they were able to recover. Josh and I, with our 5 cubes in the hospital, were going to drop in a hurry. On turn C1 the Mistrel came up again, and I threw 3 cubes back out of the hospital into the park instead of claiming big VPs from whatever the round C bribe was. I ended up ending the game at exactly 9 rats and the extra cubes in the park really came home I think. (I scored The Queen with 8 cubes in the park for 12VPs!)

I won that game, but if the Minstrel hadn't come up in C1 I probably would have lost. Maybe a 33% chance at winning is a good play, but it's not clear and certainly won't be right every time, but it is an example of a less straightforward way to deal with rats.

At any rate... We need to handle 28 rats and the vast majority of our options only kill 1 at a time. We get to take 27 actions total in the entire game. 18 card plays and 9 bribes. It should be painfully clear that taking 1 rat actions can't be good enough. We need to take a couple actions which deal with many rats, and there are really only a couple of those that are ever available. As such, it's pretty important to take advantage of them when they arise.

Visit the doctor if he's going to kill a bunch of rats. Everyone can figure out to take him on a 7 rat phase but what about a 4? The fact that we're even considering a 4 rat doctor should make a phase A hospital look really good. It kills 8-9 rats! Even a phase B hospital kills 5-7 rats.

I strongly believe a phase A hospital is so good that I will first pick it every time. I can't think of a situation where I'd rather have anything else. Even if I know doing so will guarantee my opponent a solo-Notre Dame, I think it has to be done. The alternative is giving him my hospital and his, pretty much dealing with his rat problem for the whole game.

What about Balki? (Good Buddy!) The problem with putting Balki in the hospital is that for a hospital guy to be really good he wants to stay there the entire game. I have a similar problem with Balki and the park. I've put him there early before and always been sad when I have the option to draft future Balki's later in the game. It feels like sticking Balki in the hospital or the park is condemning him to live there forever. (Not always a bad thing, but something to keep in mind!)

One important thing to consider is the Bishop. You can bribe him to put a guy into the hospital for you if you haven't drawn or played your hospital yet. It is quite possible passing your hospital is ok if your plan is to just bribe the bishop, especially in a multi-handed game. (Though you can always play the hospital and then Bishop into anywhere else but ND.) Personally I like bishoping into the park so I can end up with 2 guys in the park and 1 in the hospital, but I could be way off base there. Bishoping into the hospital and then playing your own hospital card the next turn is awesome. That coupled with a couple parks and one doctor should be good enough.

Guesthousing a rat seems horrible. It's like the hospital or the park without any of the upside. Driving your car over a rat is a good number of VPs and can really be worth it in a pinch. If you need that rat dead it's way better than driving into 4 VPs.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Archimonde

I took the night off of playing BSW to raid, and had a pretty good time. I mean, it took over 3 hours to kill a boss we'd killed before, which was frustrating, but I like the fight. I think bad people wipe you a lot on this fight without even knowing it, which is rather annoying, but maybe it's a catalyst for getting rid of bad people. Or maybe I just like healing as a moonkin, I donno.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Brettspielwelt

I took the night off raiding today so I could play on BSW and go to sleep early, and am I ever glad I did. That this is true speaks volumes about my will to raid right now, I think, though that could just be because I've been sick all week and sleep is the thing to do when you're sick.

At any rate, it turns out Notre Dame is on BSW. It's one of the games I played at WBC last year, the one with the drafting component to it. I played like 9 games tonight and had a blast playing it. I'm getting a decent grasp of at least one strategy, anyway, though it seems like there's probably better ones out there. At least I'm not getting destroyed by the plague very often!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

WBC: Summary?

Overall games played:

Acquire: 1
Battle Line: 5
Can't Stop: 4
Cash-a-Catch: 1
Caylus Magna Carta: 1
El Grande: 1
Guatemala Cafe: 1
If Wished Were Fishes: 2
Liar's Dice: 2
Lost Cities: 4
Manifest Destiny: 2
Notre Dame: 1
Phoenicia: .5
Queen's Gambit: 3
Ra: 1
Risk: 1
Thebes: 1
Tichu: 1
Ticket to Ride: 1
Tigris and Euphrates: 1
Titan: 1
Titan 2 player: 1
Titan: The Arena: 1
Vikings!: 1
Werewolf: 2
Wits & Wagers: 1
Some cool card game?: .5

In closing... That's a lot of games for 4 and a half days! And a lot of fun! You should go this year! Woo!

Monday, January 07, 2008

WBC 'report', Part 2

So you've just stayed up extra late learning a new game and there's nothing good at 9am the next morning... What do you do? If you answered sleep in then you are a wiser man than I, for I chose to get up early and play in the Risk event. Risk is not what I would call a terribly good game. It's also not very fun if you're playing with the wrong kind of person, but that's something I forgot. Plus, Risk is the 'most normal' game at WBC and I kinda wanted to be able to name a game people recognized if they asked me what I'd done. My grandmother knows how to play Risk, she's almost certainly never heard of anything else at WBC.

At any rate, it was a 6 player game and I went first. The way people placed on the board I ended up the only person with a force in South America. There were 2 people in Australia, 2 in Europe, 1 in North America, and 1 in Africa. Having not played the game in years I'd forgotten how brutal the turn-in scheme was, going first I think I probably should have taken a turn off so as not to be forced to turn in for 4...

Personal strategical failures aside, the game was 'interesting' to say the least. The two people in Australia refused to fight. They both had all their armies down there, and they just didn't move. One of the guys in Europe chose to ran away, and attacked Africa. The other guy in Europe just took Europe and no one made any effort to stop him. Finally I used my turn-in to go the long way through Alaska to back door it to stop the carnage but it was a bad plan. Other people cashed in for 10+ armies and took me out before I got to go again. Oh well, on the plus side I was finished (barely) in under 2 hours which gave me time to head for an 11am game.

Pounder was up to play Tigris and Euphrates and I decided to play too. Unfortunately it was an 'A' level event which meant no demo and they expected everyone to know the rules. I'd played a couple times before, but it was 4 years ago... I figured I could pick it back up again, especially if I could glance at the nifty rules placards everyone gets.

Turns out my table was using a German board, so the rules placard was conveniently written in a language I couldn't read. I got a brief run-down of turn order during game setup, and away we went! I had fun but I misremembered one rule about how internal conflicts worked which ended up giving one of my opponents a huge lead. One of the other people in the game then made the same mistake I did a couple turns later, the same guy capitalized on it, and that was pretty much the game.

1pm, and the third Queen's Gambit heat was starting. I'd had a lot of fun the night before playing it, and there wasn't anything I was dying to play scheduled opposite it, so I signed up. I got to play the other side in this game, drawing Darth Maul. It was during this game that I learned how blocking a window didn't actually stop you from jumping from floor to roof. Once my opponent clarified that rule for me I stopped worrying about blocking her. A much better use of my droid cards was just to shoot people. I ended up winning the Jedi battle, but Darth Maul only had 1 health left. I took advantage of a rule that allowed him to run out, kill people, and then run out of line of site which let me kill a large number of her guys without fear of Maul dying. I believe I then drew a healing card for Darth Maul and he went the distance for me. Go evil!

5pm had Acquire on the schedule which Pounder and I wanted to play. Pounder had also played Queen's Gambit and his round went to time, so we couldn't get into a 3pm game if we'd wanted to. We decided an hour and a half break was a good time to go eat, so we went to the Amish diner. We weren't really in the mood for a big meal so we had a slice of pie and a milkshake each. The pie was only ok (lemon merangue but no where near as good as my mother's) but the milkshake was insane. We'd each ordered a strawberry milkshake so they made a bunch in a blender and gave us the 'leavings' in a jug along with our two large glasses. When I say strawberry I actually mean strawberry, and not just pink. There were huge hunks of real strawberries in the milkshake. We finished up our glasses and went to divvy up the rest. Turns out there was enough to fill up both of our glasses with plenty left over! When it was all said and done there was about five and a half full milkshakes in the jug, which made for a really awesome deal. (Of course, a meal of 3 milkshakes in an hour might not be the sanest thing, but it sure was tasty and filling.)

5pm was Acquire, a game of building hotels, buying stock, merging hotels, and selling stock. I got into a 4 player game with a guy who really knew the game, an older lady who kinda knew the rules, and a 13ish year old who also kinda knew the rules. This is a game where having your hotels get merged off the board is very good for you, and having your hotels get merged into large hotels is very good for you... The first merger was the kid joining two hotels he had no part of, which pretty much just gave myself and the other guy a huge lead. The kid realized what he'd done by his next turn, but it was too late to recover. (A feeling I knew all too well from Manifest Destiny the day before!) Ultimately the guy who's game it was pulled out a close victory over me with the other two nowhere near us.

7pm saw the first Puerto Rico round on the schedule. Unfortunately for me, I was completely exhausted. I didn't particularly want to play a thinking game in that state, so I wimped out and went back to the hotel to sleep early. I didn't actually end up playing PR at all over the course of the event. Robb ended up making the semifinals and Pounder lost in the quarterfinals to an annoying ruling. Someone forgot to restock the boat after a mayor phase, so instead of there being 9 on the board when Pounder was to call mayor the next turn there were only 4. They could clearly retrace everything that had happened after that mayor phase but the GM decided the ruling was 1 per player... Oddly enough that game was mentioned in the recap because it was won (barely) by the #2 indigo player who scored 69 points. I watched chunks of the game and I'm pretty sure she benefited pretty hugely from that boat miscue, but what are you going to do?

So I got to sleep by 8pm, which is something I used to do on occasion on a normal day when I work at 3am. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that I ended up waking up around 3am on Friday morning. This time also coincided with everyone else arriving back to the room. I tried to get back to sleep for a few minutes but gave up and decided to just go play DS at the conventional hall.

I wandered around for a bit first, but 4am is a shockingly quiet time. A rowdy werewolf game had just wound down and there didn't seem to be anything going on in any rooms. I went to the wargaming room where there were actually a few people looking in on 'A World at War', which is the 60+ hour long game. They were looking at games and commenting on the positions and such. They sounded knowledgeable, which is pretty crazy... You'd have to put in a lot of time playing a 60 hour game to get good enough at it to comment on board positions. (Not that I'm one to talk, having put who knows how much time into playing Titan for example!)

10am on Friday had the Queen's Gambit single elimination finals scheduled, and with two wins I was in ok position to make the top 16 but sadly wasn't a lock. It turns out the #1 tiebreaker is actually owning a copy of the game! (They need 8 copies to show up in order to actually run the round, and it's been out of print for a long time.) I managed to squeak in at position #15, one of a few people without a game who qualified. I ended up liking the game enough that I bought a copy on eBay for way more money than it originally sold so I won't be in that position next year!

I drew evil in my quarterfinal match, and the single elimination rounds played by a different rule... If no one has won after 2 hours, evil wins. This was to make sure the game actually progresses and they could play all 4 rounds in time. (Also, a pretty solid Naboo strategy is to ignore Anakin I think, assuming that if you get a stable palace position you will eventually win.) This actually came close to coming up in my game, as the game ended with 3 Naboo characters alive and like 1 minute on the clock when Anakin finally blew up the mother ship. I quite possibly lost because of not knowing a rule, I thought a deck of cards reshuffled when it didn't. Oh well, live and learn! The one thing that bothered me was a spectator who knew my opponent accused me of cheating by intentionally playing slowly to try to time the game out. Having only played twice before it did take me time to read some of the cards, but I was going as fast as I could. Perhaps more importantly my opponent actually played very slowly for the first hour or so. We were playing beside another friend of his, and they were chatting a fair bit and not playing quickly. If winning was more of a priority for me I guarantee I would have won that game, either by killing 1 more guy by taking my time planning out turns or by timing him out. That's not how I am though, and I'm rather cheezed that I was accused of cheating. At any rate, I was out in the quarterfinals by the slimmest of margins. Frowns.

I've lost track of time, and I don't know what I did until 5pm. I might have played a game of Titan, but I don't think I did. I browsed the vendor area I think, and possibly attended some demos. At 5pm was a Lost Cities draw. I hadn't played that game in at least a year, and only ever on BSW. I used to play a fair bit with Tom Gannon on there, I think. Anyway, it seemed like a fun thing to do. I sat down with my opponent, had her give me a brief rules refresher, and then off we went. Lost Cities is a card game where you play 3 hands, summing the scores over all 3 hands. After our 3 hands... We were tied! Apparently this doesn't come up very often, from the GM report it sounds like it's happened 4 times in 3 years. The tiebreaker is to play a 4th hand... In that single hand I ended up outscoring the total from the previous three... (I had a triple bonus tiled excavation with enough cards to get the 8 card bonus.) This was the 3rd heat of 4 and I seem to recall they used a weird scoring system so because I started in round 3 it was unlikely I'd make the cut to the finals... So I didn't even think about it!

7pm was the start of the single elimination Battle Line tournament. Battle Line is another card game, this one a game where you play 3 card poker on many different fronts. The way they ran this tournament was to put people into pods of 4, and have you play round robin in your pod. Overall winner of the pod advances to the next round. I was actually mentioned in the GM breakdown despite not winning my first pod, but he misspelled my name! It seems so easy, what with only having 8 letters and all, but he stuck an i into Page. Grr! I believe I finished 2-1 in my pod, but someone went 3-0 so he advanced and I didn't. (I might have been 1-2, I don't remember. Not that it matters!) It was pretty fun, and the round robin format is a pretty fair one I think. It makes sure you get 3 games in at least for signing up, which is good since it can be a pretty fast game.

Friday night has a lot of finals on it, which I wasn't a part of, so I didn't have much to do until later in the evening. I don't remember what exactly I did but I know I skipped playing the 10pm Acquire game for fear it wouldn't end by 11pm. Why does 11pm matter? Because at 11pm the single most important tournament at the convention was held. I am, of course, refering to crowning the LIARS DICE WORLD CHAMPION!!! Liar's Dice had 195 people show up, and they claim to have been the most attended event. Ticket to Ride made that same claim, and had 191 distinct people show up, but they had multiple rounds so maybe they're both right. At any rate, that's a lot of people! They had enough copies of the game to get everyone seated at once, and they made sure no one started until everyone was ready... Then in one fell swoop 975 dice were rolled and slammed onto tables in unison. That, my friends, is a lot of dice.

Now, I'd told people before I left that I was going to be the LIARS DICE WORLD CHAMPION!!! so I had my work cut out for me. Remember, I'd woken up at 3am that morning, so I was up for over 20 hours at this point. Regardless, my first round was a cake walk, I was clearly the most skilled player at my table and I'm sure I won handily despite not remembering how many dice I had left. I do remember I won pretty fast as I had what seemed like a looooong wait before the next round.

The semi-finals made me rue the creation of the exacta rule. You see, if someone calls a bluff and the bid makes exactly not just the caller loses... Everyone at the table loses a die. Three straight times around the table went bid from the girl on my right (my Queen's Gambit opponent from my second game) huge raise by me, raise by 1 by the girl to my left, call... Exacta! Everyone lose a die. After the third one of these the girl on my left (who was 14 years old and playing with a Pirates of the Carribean cup) had 5 dice left and everyone else had 1 or 2. I've blocked the rest of the game out of my mind but suffice it to say she didn't find a way to Bung up that position and won handily. And thus, my dreams of being the LIARS DICE WORLD CHAMPION!!! were crushed.

A word of warning to all... Next year I will back, and next year I will fulfill my destiny. I will prevail. I will be victorious. I will be the LIARS DICE WORLD CHAMPION!

Pounder, Robb, and Lin had gone out to a nearby 24/7 breakfast diner and had picked me up some bacon to eat after my disappointing loss. At this point I'd been up almost 24 hours... So we sat down and played one of the demo games set up in the hall. I believe this time we played a coffee plantation game where Pounder shipped a ton of white coffee on a ton of white boats with a ton of white slaves for big bucks. I remember not particularly liking the game but that may just be because we didn't know what we were doing. I know Robb and I tried to collude at one point by selling brown coffee together but colluding with someone else just seemed worse than playing for yourself as Pounder crushed us.

The Settlers of Catan tournament started at 9am Saturday morning. Robb had won this event in 2005 but I don't think he had any interest in playing in it. I know I sure didn't! It turns out they expect Settlers to be a big draw (132 people played) and most of the other games on Saturday are finals from other events. I didn't want to play Settlers and was exhausted... So I just didn't get up. Around noon I finally got up, and headed over to the site. 11am had a Puerto Rico round that I would have played in if I'd been up, but oh well. 12pm had nothing to do.

1pm saw the start of the Carcassone single elimination event along with another Risk round, a Saint Petersburgh round and a Titan:The Arena round. I kinda wanted to play both of the last two games and decided to go with the Titan spinoff. It doesn't actually have anything to do with Titan other than it uses some of the characters from that game on the cards. I ended up in an ok position, but was forced to reveal my hidden bet at a bad time in order to not lose. That put a bullseye on my head which everyone but one guy took aim at. I had to work with that guy to keep from losing, but it turned out he also had a hidden bet on the same monster and had better overall position so I ended up just helping him win... Or so I thought. Our opponents finally pulled off a coup, killing our dragon, and thus we were both screwed. Oh well, still a pretty fun card game and I really wasn't expecting to win.

3pm had either another round of Lost Cities, or another round of Manifest Destiny, or a round of Monsters Ravage which is a game where you control a monster and a branch of the military and you try to use your tanks to kill other monsters or something. I wanted to play it, but I'd missed the demos and didn't really feel like trying to pick it up on the fly. (Also, as a B event, they don't really let that happen. Attend the demo!) Lost Cities lasts an hour, Manifest Destiny lasts four, and I had nothing I wanted to do for five hours so I went with Manifest Destiny. I was kinda bitter at myself for getting blown out of my previous game and I wanted to vindicate myself.

I think the GM was happy to see me come back. (He's also the game designer.) Having someone come back for more means good things for your game, I would think! I don't remember much about this game other than that it was a lot closer than the last one and I ended up cheating to my disadvantage by not knowing the rules. (You reshuffle decks of cards, but you're supposed to leave some out. I got one of those cards which was useless at that point in the game, but didn't know I wasn't supposed to get it. Oh well!)

At both 7pm and 10pm there was a 'Wits & Wagers' game show being held. It's a party game where the host names a category and everyone writes down a numerical guess. The guesses are given odds and then you bet chips on which answer you think is closest without going over. You win chips for giving the right answer and chips for betting correctly. We wanted to play at the same time and both Robb and Pounder had a Puerto Rico semi-final at 7 so we decided to try for the 10pm session. A grand total of one event started at 8 or 9pm for me to play in (I ate leading up to 7pm so missed that start time) and it was Ticket to Ride and 8pm. Ticket to Ride was fun the first time and being the only option helped, so away I went! I played a different variant than the first time but the end result was the same. Just building long routes preferentially gave me a pretty large victory. I think the game is probably a pretty good strategy game when everyone is on the same page but man are the early rounds ever soft.

10pm and both Robb and Pounder were ready for Wits & Wagers. They had a TON of people show up, so they had everyone play on large teams if possible. Robb, Pounder, Lin and myself picked up Rick Atwater (the Titan GM) and someone else Lin met during the week and formed team Canadian Bacon. The way the game works is they ask questions that have an exact numerical answer and everyone guesses what the right answer is. For example, one of the questions asked for what year the Queen first sent an email. Another asked how many pounds the world's largest lobster was. On the lobster question in particular we thought differently than the rest of the room. Our answer was laughed at for being so small compared to everyone else's, and Robb made a joke about how we're from Canada and don't know what a pound is. Of course, it turned out we were way closer than anyone else and had bet all our chips on the 'long-shot' that it was, giving us a massive chip lead. On the final round the question asked what percentage of the US population had voted in the last election, which supposedly had a big turnout. Being mostly Canadians we had no clue, but Rich had a pretty good idea. Of course, our answer depended on if the question counted people who lived in the US but couldn't vote for citizenship/age reasons. The GM said it was complete population so us, along with everyone else in the room but one team, were way wrong with our bets. We answered the question asked, but not the question they wanted an answer to it turns out. Oh well, it was a silly event with no real prize, not even a plaque, so it didn't really matter. We still think we won though!

Unfortunately this event went beyond 11pm so we missed the silly game for the night which was Slapshot. I don't know much about the game but from listening to people talk about it it sounds a LOT like Bloodbowl on ice. I know you build teams and play people and your goons could permanently injure the other team, which sounds like the Bloodbowl I knew and loved! (Ken Rootsevear going to crush your head!) We ended up learning a really complex game in the foyer that eventually was abandoned due to Lin not liking the game and everyone being hungry. We went out to the breakfast diner which I gather is the only thing open at that hour and had a decent meal. We came back, Lin went to bed, and Robb, Pounder and I met up with a guy they'd met earlier to play a game of Notre Dame.

I don't remember his name, sadly, but he was a really nice guy. He was on his way to bed when we came back from food but all it took was the question 'game?' and he aborted sleep to play Notre Dame. He even went up to his room to get it! (Mental note: staying at the center itself means you can store games there without needing to cross a highway and spend 20 minutes getting them!) Notre Dame is a pretty fun game with a draft component to it, where you draft roles and then perform the actions you drafted. It's a euro-game so you're trying to score victory points while managing the resources that will let you score more victory points later. A unique aspect of the game is that there is a 'rat count' in your segment of town and if you let it get too high you get plagued. You can draft cards that let you reduce the rat count... But then you're not making moneys or scoring points! It's a delicate balance, as all good euro-games are, and was a lot of fun.

After that Pounder went to be claiming something about having to drive home the next day. Robb and I had slept in that morning and as such had NO interest is sleeping. There was a werewolf game in progress that we watched and then tagged into. Apparently this group had been playing every night all week and the game was getting a little inbred as it seemed like the same people were yelling at each other the whole time. I've played the game a few times in online forums but never in person before. I must say it's kinda fun but I'm really horrible at it. I'm much better at keeping cool under fire and debating online than in person. Oh well, it was still fun and there really wasn't any other options at that hour of the day. Eventually the game broke up so Robb and I went and had breakfast at the hotel (yay still being up at 7am?) and then passed out. There were only 5 non-final games being run on Sunday and while I've played 3 of them before I didn't feel like not-sleeping to play them. (They were Diplomacy, Ticket to Ride, and Transamerica.) At 11am was the Ticket to Ride final which I was qualified for I'm sure due to winning the first two rounds but Pounder wasn't terribly interested in staying until 3pm while I won that event and I didn't really want to play in it either. I'd had to solo pack the hotel room on not much sleep before checkout time since Robb and Pounder were playing in finals and Lin just talked on the phone and watched as I packed everything. *frowns* At any rate... No gaming on Sunday but still fun times.

As far as things I know I did but forgot when they happened...

I attended multiple demos for games I wasn't interested in playing after seeing them in action. I watched demos for 3 stock-car racing games... 2 of which were designed so you couldn't get too far behind which ultimately meant the first N-1 turns of the game were irrelevant and the third of which was basically just a math game in a formula-1 disguise. I kinda wanted to play that one, liking math as much as I do, but it conflicted with something else I think.

I also attended the GANGSTERS! demo, which was a game I'd read about beforehand and was trying to convince Robb and Pounder to play. The demo convinced us that there's no way we wanted to play it in an event though. I kinda still wanted to play it for fun with just people I know though. For some reason I'm think Dave would have a lot of fun with that game.

There were two different fishing games in the demo area and I know I played both of them with Robb, Pounder, and random people who were passing by as I read the rules. None of them were very good.

I saw some people playing World of Warcraft: The Board Game! I think one team had both warrior and druid on it and hence was completely dominant.

Rich Atwater taught us to play a weird trick taking game at some point. Basically you deal out the cards and then there's a round of bidding. When you bid you play cards from your hand face up on the table, going in a circle having to pass or beat the previous bid. Eventually everyone but one person passes and they are declarer. They have to call a trump suit from the cards they played as their bid. They name either colour or rank as trump. (So all the 4s could be trump!) Then the person who was #2 in bidding names one of their bid cards as second trump. Second trump beats normal cards, Main trump beats second trump. Then declarer picks someone (not the second bidder) to be their partner. Those two play against everyone else, with the goal being to take the most 'points' worth of cards very similar to TICHU and 200. It was fun but we only got to play a couple hands.

Speaking of Tichu, I also played a few hands of that with some Titan players while waiting for a Titan game to start at some point. Fun game. Must play more of it on BSW!

Lin, Robb, Pounder and I also played an archaelogy game where you move around the board spending time researching to become 'good' at digging, and then go to dig sites. Once there you can spend turns 'digging', which means reach into the bag for that site and pull out X items. The items are either points, stat boosts, or nothing. After you finish digging keep all the stuff, put the nothing back in the bag, and pass the turn. So there's a delicate balance in trying to get a lot of pulls from the bag but also making sure you get there before someone takes all the treasure. It was an interesting mechanic though Robb was pretty bitter at how much rubble he kept pulling out. He'd focused on a couple different colour ruins and Lin and I cleaned them out before he got there I think. Meanwhile Pounder just hung around in Europe giving lectures about things while the rest of us actually did dirty work digging... I enjoyed the game but didn't think it was terribly good. I would play it again though!

Summary to follow tomorrow...

Sunday, January 06, 2008

WBC 'report', Part 1

This all happened five months ago and the only notes I have are little pencil marks in my guide book indicating what events I thought I wanted to go to so this won't be an incredibly detailed report. It should, however, serve to demonstrate just how much gaming there is to be had at WBC.

We drove down to Lancaster on Tuesday morning, stopping to pick Robb and Lin up in Cambridge and then at a diner in some small town in rural PA, but beyond that it was straight through. It took something like 8 hours all told, and we ended up in Lancaster around 4-5pm. Our hotel ended up directly across the street from the convention center which was convenient. However, it is a major highway so crossing it was exciting to say the least. We didn't bother to pack any games so we didn't have to cart anything across the street ever, just cut and run when the coast looked clear.

Once we'd finally crossed the street we had to go register. Robb and Pounder had been to WBC a couple years earlier so they didn't have to have their pictures taken, but Lin and I had to so we got to wait around for a bit while that happened.
(I look like a farmer in mine!)

5pm is the start of demos, but 6pm is the start of actual events. 22 different games had rounds start at 6pm, many of which I wanted to play but I didn't really know my way around and didn't particularly want to try something new for my first event. Robb and Pounder were going to play El Grande and I don't detest that game so I followed along and gave it a spin. I almost won my game, finishing a close second, but I believe both Robb and Pounder won their games. Robb ended up winning the entire event!

They only had 2 hour rounds for El Grande which is a little tight, and we ended up missing the 8pm start time for other events. 9pm didn't have any games we wanted to play but did have the Titan demo so we wandered over to that. We'd met quite a few of the main Titan players a couple years ago when we stormed US Nationals down in Maryland, which Robb also won. Every night at 11pm they have a less serious game which tends to have a large turnout due to nothing else going on, and these games often lend themselves to drinking. The 11pm game on Tuesday was Win, Place & Show which was a horse racing game that didn't sound very interesting so we played the 10pm Ra round instead. Now, Ra is a pretty fun game but I'm abysmally bad at it. I have this real problem with wanting to play "Can't Stop", getting all the other players out so I can pull tiles against the sun clock. I've had games where I didn't purchase a lot in the first 2 rounds! I think I scored positive at WBC but I could be wrong, I certainly know I came last in my game. It was fun though!

We'd gotten up pretty early to drive down (I think Pounder and I got up at 7am) and at the time I worked the graveyard shift so I was _really_ tired. So we went to the demo lounge and taught ourselves to play the Caylus spin-off they had set up. Yeah, we're smart guys alright...

Wednesday started off with a bang as the single elimination 2-player Titan event kicked off at 9am. With our 4 person hotel room we got 2 free breakfasts, and all three of Robb, Pounder, and myself were up in time to eat so we ended up having to buy an extra breakfast. This was the last day that would happen as people started sleeping in longer... Or staying up later? At any rate, off to the wargaming room which is where Titan was set up in the back. Most of a ginormous room was filled with wargames, many of which stayed set up overnight. One of the games had a 60 hour round! Two of the five games actually finished last year which I gather is a larger than normal number. (The game simulates WW2 on both the European and Pacific fronts.)

At any rate, TITAN! I honestly don't remember my 2 player game very well at all. I lost, and I remember being unsatisfied, but I don't know why. Oh well. With so many people having just lost 2 player Titan games they had a main Titan round kicking off an hour later. Titan-2 was single elimination but Titan-N is a Multiple Entry Swiss Elimination variant which basically means you can play as many rounds as you want but only your first 6 count for points or something. (I may be mixing up the rules from Titan nationals and WBC.) For scheduling they basically let you start a game whenever you have 4 people who want to play, with 'expected' starting times 3 times a day.

My game featured a young boy who was pretty new to the game but clearly having a blast and a couple of seasoned veterans. Eventually the kid got into a completely unwinnable position and was quite bored so he withdrew from the game rather than wait for elimination. Hopefully he doesn't get discouraged and keeps on gaming. I followed soon thereafter, though I went down kicking and screaming. I have a philosophical issue with withdrawing from a game of Titan when you're about to die. I think the person who hunted you should get the points for killing you!

At any rate, I hadn't really played Titan much in the previous year and was more interested in playing other games than more Titan. I added to the attendance figures for Titan (to try to ensure it stays an event) and had fun, but it was time to move on. 1pm was approaching, and I again had multiple choices. I could go play Empire Builder (a game I'd like to think I'm pretty good at), or I could play Power Grid (a game I'd like to think I can pronounce the German name for), or I could go to a demo for a 4 hour game I'd never heard of. There wasn't anything I really wanted to do for the next 5 hours, and I like to learn new games, so demo time!

Manifest Destiny is a Civ style game centered on North America dealing with the period of time from the colonization of the US until modern time. It has tech trees you research with money ala Advanced Civ, it has wonders you can try to build by rolling dice, it has city building on the map, attacking other players, cards you can play to make special events and payouts happen... Tons of cool, complicated things that all work together. The hour long demo restarted a couple times as stragglers showed up so really there was about 25 minutes of rules explanation and then we took off to the wargaming room to play. I didn't really know what was going on but I wanted to try and they didn't seem to mind that I didn't know what was going on, so away we went!

I ended up getting demolished (unsurprisingly) and lost by a very large margin. I picked up some strategies by watching the other players take their turns and decided it was at least an ok game. I basically butchered my position on the first turn when I didn't build enough settlers to do anything, so my income was about 60% of everyone else's for the entire game. I didn't really have a chance to win but I played to maximize my own score, which made for some sketchy plays later in the game in order to secure a wonder for bonus points. One of the other players seemed a little annoyed that I'd made that play but it was the only way I saw to score points from my position and it worked, woo!

The other players at my table were pretty fast, and I ended up playing quickly by virtue of having no money, so my game ended before the 4 hours were up giving me enough time to make it to a 6pm event if I wanted. Titan:The Arena was the only game I knew the rules to at 6pm but Robb convinced me I could learn how to play Queen's Gambit in the 10 minutes before the round started, so I signed up for that and borrowed a rule book to start reading. I gathered this was a pretty popular game amongst the Titan players in previous years and they said the Jedi battle was the only thing that mattered...

So, knowing kinda how the pieces moved and the ultimate goal of the game, it was time to play. Queen's Gambit is a game that simulates the final battle of Star Wars Episode One, and takes place on four fronts. You have Anakin flying through space trying to blow up the mother ship, you have the gungans getting killed en masse by droids, you have Amadala storming the palace, and you have Darth Maul fighting Obiwan and Quigon. The Naboo win if Anakin blows up the mother ship and you get a majority in the throne room at the top of the palace. Evil wins by killing all but 2 Naboo people in the palace.

With the strategy of 'play Jedi cards' I set out to play my first game. I was the Naboo, and my opponent told me a rule that it turns out doesn't exist that at the time really seemed like it screwed me. (You can jump up floors in the palace with the Naboo people on some cards, he said one droid on the middle floor could block jumping up to the top.) This prevented me from running guys to the top floor which was something I wanted to do. After all, I have cards that let me do it, so I should, right? Wrong! Having played the game a few times now I don't think you should go up to the top without a good reason to do so, and I really didn't when I tried to. Luckily, my opponent took actions with 'prevented' me from doing so, which were pretty much wastes of time. If I don't want to do something, and you take turns to stop me from doing it... I profit!

At any rate, by focusing on playing Jedi cards, and cards that dug me to more Jedi cards, I ended up winning the Jedi battle. From there I ended up winning the game, having learned to play not 10 minutes before the game. My opponent didn't seem too unhappy though. We did have fun, which is the main thing.

There wasn't anything we wanted to play for a couple hours which made it the perfect time to go get food. Next door to the convention center was an Amish diner that had pretty good food. The four of us went out and ate, with plans to come back for 9pm and another round of El Grande.

I wasn't really feeling up for El Grande, but there was another game being played in the same room at the same time, Ticket to Ride. Pounder convinced me over supper that it was easy to learn and promised to explain it to me before the round. He gave me a rough overview, and said the winning strategy was to ignore making your routes and just buy long stretches of track, but didn't explain specifics of the game.

I signed up, got assigned to a table, and during setup asked if I could read the rules. Ticket to Ride if a 'C' level event, so you don't need to know the game or attend a demo to play. (Supposedly they were supposed to teach me how to play during sign-ups but there were a TON of people and the GM was swamped.) So, I again asked to see the rules as the game was being set up. It turns out the game is really simple. You have two types of cards, routes and cars. A route lists two cities and at game end if you own track between those cities you get bonus points. If you don't you get negative bonus points. The further apart the cities are the more points you get or lose. The second type of card is train cars, which all have a colour.

You start the game with a few route cards and some cars. The board is set up with a bunch of cities (we played in the US) and track between cities. The tracks all have distinct colours and number of cars. (New York to Boston might have 2 pink cars, for example, and Los Angeles to Denver might have 6 black ones.) On your turn you either draw more route cards, or draw 2 cars, or build a section of track. To build track you play the number of cards that are on the segment from your hand, so I'd have to play 2 pink to build New York to Boston. Once I build it I put my cars on top of it and then no one else can build it.

Scoring is done with routes at end game, some bonus points for longest track and most routes done, and then points for building track. You get points via the triangle method, so a 1-length piece of track is worth 1 point, 2 is worth 3, 3 is worth 6 and so on. Note, it takes a full turn to build track if it's size 1 or size 6. Also, you only get 1 or 2 cards a turn. (When you draw cars there's a pool of face-up cards. You can draw a face-up, or from the deck. If you draw a wild-card face-up you only get the one card, otherwise you get two.) So at worst you could be turning 2 turns into 1 point (draw a wild and play it for a length 1 track) and at best you couls turn 4 turns into 21 points (draw 6 of a kind over 3 turns and build a size 6 track). It doesn't take a math degree to figure out that 5.25 points a turn is better than .5 points a turn... And yet many people were drawing wilds to build short pieces of track.

Now, depending on the routes you have this might seem like a good idea. I had one route that was worth 20 points, so the difference between building it or not is a 40 point swing. That's worth a couple mediocre building turns to pull off, to be sure. The trick, though, is that there's actually lots of ways to get from New York to Los Angeles. Someone might build the 2 pink from New York to Boston, but there's still a 2 orange from New York to Boston... Or I could go via Philadelphia or Portland instead of Boston...

In all it seemed like a pretty good game, you have to balance taking turns to score points with taking turns to secure your routes, and you have to know when you need to build the short routes that other people want. Ultimately though it seemed like the optimal strategy was to just draw 2 cards every turn building up a huge hand to give yourself the most options, only building when it looked like someone else wanted something. (Or when you could score 21 points with 6 of a kind.) It was actually pretty easy, having never played the game before, to work out what other people wanted. The other people in my game were picking up cards to build specific routes, sometimes from both ends, and building the tracks as soon as they could. So if someone build up to both ends of a given piece of track... They probably want the middle one and I should take it first if I wanted it. This is what I did, eventually connecting things up with smaller, less desired tracks to get my 20 point bonus at game end. I ended up with over 150 points with the next closest person being just under 100... Not bad for not knowing how to play before I sat down! (Ticket to Ride was the most attended game at WBC last year, it attracts a lot of people who aren't gamers.)

The 11pm silly game for Wednesday was... Can't Stop! WOO! This is a game you can play on Brettspielwelt and believe me, I have! Dave Nicholson and I used to play several times a day one month when he was trying to win a medal. All told I've played it 156 times on BSW, and I suspect I had the most experience in the game of anyone at WBC. That said, it is still a dice game and you do need to not get unlucky in order to win! I ended up finishing second overall, losing in the finals to someone who took a gamble and it paid off for him. I had closed out 2 numbers, and he had closed out 1. Chances are reasonable good if I get another turn I win, so when he completed a number he didn't stop. He had to go up a couple more on the other number with no leeway... And pulled it off. It was fun, but I did have one gripe... The GM said during the finals that the game is all luck and that he'd be surprised to ever see repeat winners in the event if he ran it for many years. That's hogwash I think! There's a fair amount of skill to the game and while it's certainly hard for someone to win a 100+ person event multiple times it won't be because there's no skill involved! If I have a single goal for this coming year it's to at least make the finals again to try to show him wrong! (Setting out to win Can't Stop of all games seems a little silly, but I'm going to do it!)

The finals didn't end until around 1-2ish, but Pounder and Robb were still around so we did the only thing you should do after playing games for 17 straight hours... We went to the open gaming area and taught ourselves to play Vikings! (A game which sadly didn't involve raping or pillaging. There were diplomat vikings, and canoerowing vikings... All in all, a pretty disappointing theme for such a great title. It was an ok game though.)

More to follow at a later date...

Desktop Tower Defence

I had a third person send me the link to this game so I finally snapped and played a few games. And by a few games I mean like 16 hours worth. I still haven't beaten the 100 level mode, only made it to 76 last try, but it's fun times.

I also tried playing on PartyGammon yesterday at the encouragement of my brother. Unfortunately I don't think I can possibly use their interface. I cannot find a way to make it display the previous moves in the match which is a huge problem for me. I guess it makes it more like 'real life', but I'm a firm believer in taking advantage of technology. I will continue my search for a gambling Backgammon site.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Quirky Backgammon Game

I was playing a match to 5 points against the computer earlier today and ran into an interesting board position. I had 11 of my checkers back in my opponent's home board, and had made my own 5 and 3 points. I was getting the program (gnubg) to tell me the optimal move, and it said the best thing to do was to play off the 5 and 3 points giving myself 4 blots in my home base with 1 enemy checker on the bar.

It didn't make a lot of sense, but I went with it, and eventually figured out what the plan was. (I ended up winning the game despite being down 230 pips at one point.) 2 points, even in my home board, are useless on their own. Even when I managed to get 3 of his checkers hit and had the rest of his guys stacked on his 4 and 5 points, there was no way I was going to get enough of my checkers forward to build a wall with those points. I had to take a long term approach to the game, and start by building a wall far back where I could easily get new guys. I had to still leave enough guys in his base to keep him stuck on 2 or 3 points (enabling easy reentry when I got hit) so I needed as many guys back as possible. Through rolling of doubles he did eventually save 2 of his 3 lost guys but I managed to build a wall back far enough to contain the last one. Then it was a simple matter of slowly moving the wall forward while he was stuck unable to move any guys.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

WoW stuffs

So I spent most of my time after work yesterday futzing around with the DKP site for my World of Warcraft guild. In a true display of laziness I decided to use a closed source free site instead of taking the time to write my own which has resulted in having to spend 6-12 hours every month to delete people who have left the guild for various reasons. I could definitely have spent that time writing a better system myself and probably would have learned something in the process, but oh well.

I also played a dozen 2v2 arena games with my warrior and Tom's shaman. We're still getting used to playing together but we posted a winning record on the night and had fun. We even managed to kill warlock/resto druid in our final fight.

Tonight is our first raid since the 17th of December. (We took a break for the holidays.) Part of me is looking forward to raiding again, the other part of me just wants to go to sleep. I feel obligated to go, so I'm going to, but I'll probably be grumpy.

In parting I want to share a pearl of wisdom I found on a backgammon website the other day...

"Luck determines if you win or lose. Skill determines how much luck is needed."

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

WBC: An Overview

The World Boardgaming Championships is an annual week-long event held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania during the summer. I attended it last year with a few friends and I think a lot of other people I know would really enjoy it. As such in an attempt to interest more people into going down this year I'm going to make a few posts about the event in general and last year in particular to try to get people thinking about going,

The main event runs from 6pm on Tuesday August 5th, 2008 until sometime in the afternoon on Sunday August 10th, 2008. A full schedule has not been released for this coming year but last year there was a precon that started at 2pm on the previous Sunday and ran until the start of the main event. Two of the games I wanted to play took place during the precon, as did the games auction, so it's definitely possible to want to go for the precon.

When I say two of the games took place during the precon, what did I mean? Well, they hold tournaments for approximately 150ish games each year. Last year there were 104 main tournaments and 43 trial events. Main tournaments tend to have prizes extending beyond first place and have generally proven themselves to be popular enough games to have a good turn-out. The prizes themselves are generally 'just' plaques and bragging rights though a few game companies do give out coupons for discounts on their games to winners. Trial events just have one plaque for first and generally are trying to show that they're popular enough to deserve status as a main event. I suspect scheduling gives preference to main events but I have nothing to really back that up.

At any rate, with 147 games holding tournaments over the week there's a need for scheduling so things can proceed in a somewhat orderly fashion. (Not to mention that scheduling events ensures table space to play the games!) Many games are run in a swiss elimination style which basically means they have a number of heats and you can play in as many as you'd like, and then they cut to a top 16 or whatever for a semi-finals and a finals. You advance based on criteria set out for that event but generally winning heats is the most important thing. Other events run single elimination from the get-go, which is harder to plan ahead for. If you lose your first game of Carcassone, for example, you're done after an hour. Keep winning and you could be playing all day.

Of course, tournaments aren't the only way to play games at WBC. For most of the tournament games they hold a demo before the tournament so you can learn the game and see if you want to play it. Last year they also had some games set up in the main hall for 24/7 demos. Someone from the game company was there to teach those games, I think, though we learned them at 2 in the morning by reading the rules. As well there is an 'open gaming' room with a game library that anyone can use at any time of the day. Finally, you can always bring whatever games you may want to play and find a place to play them. Chances are pretty good that you can find someone interested in playing it at any time of day. (I was taught to play Notre Dame randomly at 4 in the morning.)

Lancaster itself is a convention town, so they have lots of other things to do if you want to take a day off of gaming for some bizarre reason. The resort the convention is held at has a pool and a golf course, for example. I'm sure there are other things to do too, though I for one just played games, slept, and ate.

One thing you could do as a day off is just not go to the event until later in the week. Saturday in particular was stacked with popular games so that people who only want to go for the weekend have a good shot at playing what they want to play. Settlers, Carcassone, Puerto Rico, Ticket to Ride, Diplomacy and Risk all had part or all of their tournaments on Saturday.

Booking a major resort for over a week isn't cheap, so the event does have an entry fee. \$70 for the main event if you register by mid-July, \$80 after that. \$100 if you want to go to the precon. For a partial signup it's \$10 + \$10 per day by mid-July, \$20 + \$10 per day otherwise. Entry to the convention brings with it free entry to all tournaments. In addition you need to find a place to sleep. The resort itself is a hotel which sadly fills up way before the event. Last year we stayed across the street (and by street I mean highway) which wasn't awful but I highly recommend trying to get a room at the actual hotel if possible.

I think that's it for a 'brief' overview. If anyone has any questions at all feel free to email me or post a comment and I'll try to help. Also, you could check out the event website.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Handlebar Gaming

Speaking of New Year's resolutions I have one more that stems from the frustration of trying to eat a bowl of soul or a bag of chips with hair in one's mouth. Get your mind out of the gutter, I am refering to my moustache. It started back in April during the NHL playoffs when I didn't shave while the Wings were still around. By the time they got knocked out I decided to keep the 'stache around and get rid of the beard, with the plan of growing a handlebar. I had no clue how to do that at the time, of course, but it seemed like the thing to do.

It turns out it's not as easy as it sounds. Gravity makes it so hair just doesn't grow like that naturally, so you tend to need some sort of method to force it into place. Moustache wax is the typical way to do it, but it's not like there's a moustache wax store downtown. I've made a couple purchases online, one from a company in California and one from a fireman and his wife in Mississippi but neither really did the trick for me. The first one wouldn't even hold for 45 minutes before it started drooping into my mouth. The second one fared a bit better, keeping the moustache out of my mouth for 4-5 hours, but it failed to keep it in a nice handlebar shape for more than a couple hours. Great for a first impression (I think I almost killed Josh yesterday when he saw it) but gets rather unsightly after a bit.

So, the options become to continue the search for a better wax, or resign myself to rewaxxing every few hours, or give up and shave. Maybe not so much give up as end an experiment... How many people can say they've grown a handlebar moustache? My gnome warrior can! Ultimately I've decided that my hair is just too spindly, it doesn't look like a moustache so much as a bunch of random hairs when it isn't nicely waxxed, and I keep chewing on them accidentally and ripping them out by the root. So, I resolve to not have facial hair this year, woo?

To get things back on topic yesterday a bunch of my old University friends got together at Aidan's place for a New Year's Eve's Eve party, Comfy style. By which I mean there were chips, and drinks, and many board games. Sadly we didn't start until the evening and some of us (like myself) had to work at 8am this morning so there wasn't nearly enough games playing, but I'll recant a bit about what there was.

We started with a variant of Cranium, with everyone who was willing to play involved. We started out with Snuggles and Justyna against Adam, Tom, and Dee against Jer, Lindsay, and myself. My brain doesn't quite work the same as most people's (handlebar?) so I'm not terribly good at this game. We had 3 more people show up and join the game in progress, with Sara joining the first team, a second Dee joining the second team, and Andrew joining my team. Unfortunately for us Andrew is the only person in the world worse than I am at Cranium so we ended up not moving after he joined us. Ultimately the team of two Dee's ended up winning despite Mr. Hurd's best efforts to sabotage them from the inside. It was fun times, though certainly not what I would call a good game.

As this was going on I think a game of Ra had broken out in the basement. Rather than go check that out I stayed upstairs to play Can't Stop. (A game in which I came 2nd at the World Boardgaming Championships which I will be writing more about soon.) Anyway, aparently Andrew is convinced the game title isn't merely a suggestion but a requirement as he decided to keep rolling after he'd finished a row off. It might have been the 'right' choice since he didn't get another turn after that, but he still fell off which is sweet justice as far as I'm concerned. This game isn;t as fun in person as it is online, I think mainly because you don't get an awesome scream when you fall off the mountain. (I try to fill in, but my scream isn't good enough.)

With Can't Stop over and done a game of Apples to Apples broke out. This is another game that is fun enough, but is not a good game. Party games are good and all, but I prefer real games, so I stepped aside and went downstairs to kibitz the second Ra game. I didn't catch the whole game but Adam managed to bamboozle the table somehow, ending up with a dozen rivers along with a ton of other tiles and ended up with a huge lead. Jer and Josh combined barely caught third place which was Tmiv. Tom P was a solid second, but no one was anywhere near Adam.

People were starting to want to leave, but Apples to Apples wasn't done, so we busted out San Juan for a quick four-man. I could say I had a grand strategy for the game but I really didn't. I ended up drawing a Zumfthall and going the tried and true method of Poor House, Smithy, money building, 8 production buildings. Everyone else was doing fancy things with chapels and councilor huts and whatnot but they just couldn't generate enough points to compete with 5 point silver smelters for 3 cards. It's really not fair. Tmiv drew the second Guild Hall, and had a Palace, but had built a bunch of normal buildings to start the game off, which sadly for him wasn't good enough. It's one of the two real problems I have with San Juan, the Guild Hall is too powerful when you draw it early enough to craft a strategy around it. (The other is that the stupid Gold Mine is so swingy, but that's another story...)

At any rate, it was then midnight so we all took off in various directions for sleep. I ended up only getting like 4 hours of sleep which made for a bit of a painful day at work, but playing games with good people is worth some exhaustion any day.

Heck, playing games with bad people is sometimes worth exhaustion, as I am about to proove to myself by starting a game of DotA.

Coming up soon... An attempt to recruit people for WBC!

(Oh, as an aside, I couldn't find my post on Gleemax so who knows what the deal with that is. I may dig into that site in more detail later, but for now I'm just going to use this place.)