Behind the Scenes of Creating a Game

November 11, 2013

A while back I was invited to a game day at a coworker’s house. I played a few good games and had a great time. After that my coworker and I started talking gaming at work. Next thing I knew we were setting up Twilight Struggle in my cube. We got in a few games over the course of many lunch breaks playing a turn or two at a time. I was finally able to make another game day with him and he told me, “We’re going to play Jay’s game this Saturday.” Turns out we weren’t the only gamers around the office. That’s when I first found out about Jay Meyer‘s gaming history and Noble Treachery.

Noble Treachery
This game is a bit of a twist on your traditional trick-taking card game that adds some chaos and enough strategy that it fits in well with today’s board and card game market. The game uses a custom deck of 55 cards with 5 suits (colors), 5 dice and 25 alliance tokens. There are 45 common cards in the deck – 9 each of the 5 colors and 10 cards that are unique. The strength of each card is determine by the value of that card plus the value of the corresponding die color which are rolled at the start of each round. The round is either a War round (highest total strength) or Diplomacy round (lowest total strength) determined by the highest bettor. The player that wins the round gains an alliance token. Each card also has text that can change the game state by re-rolling dice or earning alliance tokens through other means. The game play 4-6 players and finishes in under in hour.

First Play
When I showed up for the game day ready to try this new game I wasn’t expecting much. I figured it would be some cards printed and put in card sleeves, instead what I got blew me away. Jay had already commissioned artists and a local art and design school to produce prototypes for him. This game looked as good as anything on the market. And the game was fun to play. The chaos of the dice changing mid-round kept you rethinking your next play. And the ability to earn alliance tokens without winning the round gave everyone a shot. It was a good game and we played it twice.

Jay Meyer
After hearing about my enjoyment of the game, Jay gave me one of his prototype copies to play with friends and family. I got in a few more plays and reported back to Jay on my playing experiences. In addition to talking about the game I got to know Jay. He’s been playing games for years with his weekly gaming group. But not just any games: his games. He’s been creating his own board games and his weekly game group play tests and refines a game into something good or even great. They’ll play that until he’s got his next game ready to play. So far I’ve gotten to try out 3 of his games: 1) Noble Treachery 2) Labyrinth, a dungeon crawling, take-that deck builder and 3) a questing card game that went from a discussion at my white board to a playable game in a matter of days. After many years creating games (he’s made over 30!) he finally decided to fulfill a dream of publishing one. He, with the help of his game group, chose Noble Treachery as his first game. It’s fairly small (55 cards, 5 dice and some tokens) and seemed like a good manageable project for a first shot.

Game Development
Jay says the game was first created in under a week. He needed a portable game that he could bring along for a camping trip. The first version just used dice and cards and you kept score with pencil and paper and played with 2 teams of 4. It was originally called Ambush. After playing it for a while he thought he had something interesting. A few years back he brought it to GAMA and showed it off. He got a lot of feedback and knew he had to make some changes. First, he couldn’t limit it to just 4 players so he got rid of the partners and allowed up to 6 players. Because of this, each card had to be able to help you individually and couldn’t just help your partner during a round. That’s where the War/Diplomacy option came in. Second, the scoring mechanic was too old school. That’s when he added tokens, but two types: alliances for scoring and money for the betting. It seemed to work, but realized that betting a money token that didn’t change your score wasn’t meaningful. That’s where the switch to betting your alliance tokens came in. You had to risk your scoring tokens to take control of a round. A few refinements later and he had something.

At that point he had a game that was good enough to start working to make real. He contacted the design school and got artists to make this game his own. He finally had 10 copies of his game. He passed this game on to friends to playtest and the results were very positive. The game played well for casual gamers as it was easy to learn and the random cards and dice helped level the playing field with advanced gamers. The strategy gamer could devise plans on when to play certain cards and when to take the bet. But, always wanting feedback he continued to ask how could this game be better. He also started to look at how to launch this game and make it a reality. Those two things forced him to take a deeper look at the game and what really makes you wanting to come back for more. A few minor tweaks to existing cards and the addition of more of the unique cards really spiced up the game. He was ready for primetime.

Jay launched his Kickstarter campaign last week. Sitting in his office today we talked about how it’s been going. There was an initial rush of people pledging their support which was a great feeling. Then, last weekend the backers slowed down: only 1 on Saturday. Thoughts of failure crept in. Fortunately they were quickly dissapated after a play session with a group of Magic players who didn’t know anything about the game. After a wild game that came down to the last round he was confident in his product. This is a game worth playing and more importantly a game that has you coming back for more.

The End?
My post ends here, but this game’s story will continue. The Kickstarter has almost 5 weeks to go yet. If it funds there will be finalizing the added artwork for the new cards and working to get it printed. Then it’s shipping all those games off to the backers. If it doesn’t fund…? We’ll see what the future holds. All I know is, either way I’ve learned a lot from Jay and his experiences with this game. It makes me want to work on that game idea that’s been floating around in my head for while. Until then I’ll continue playing good games, like Noble Treachery, and look forward to Jay’s next creation.

Twilight Struggle Session Report: The American Perspective, the Stunning Conclusion

June 24, 2012

You might remember that a few months ago Rick and I started a game of Twilight Struggle using ACTS and VASSAL (the first post is here and the second post is here). Today I wrap up my commentary. When we last left off, I dropped back a little to a ten point lead, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East were all hotly contested, and I had domination of South America and Africa.

Turn 6

U.S. Hand: 2/Grain Sales to Societs, 3/SALT Negotiations, 4/Muslim Revolution, 1/UN Invervention, 2/Voice of America, 2/Missile Envy, 2/Decolonization, 2/Nixon Plays the China Card, 2/Liberation Theology

This is a pretty mixed hand with a lot of 2 ops cards and some tough Soviet events to get rid of, but at least I’m in the lead at the start. Rick opens with Socialist Governments to pry me out of Italy, and I respond with Grain Sales to Soviets. Interestingly, I grab Central America Scoring, which I promptly hand back to him and use the 2 ops to shore up Italy instead. Now that we both know that Central America is going to be fought over in earnest, Rick plays Junta to take Italy. Thankfully, as I own Guatemala, it’s an easy matter for me to realign Mexico and eliminate Soviet influence there.

I think Rick sees the writing on the wall, so he scores Central America, which drops me from 10 to 9 VP. Then he grabs Chile with Allende, and I promptly follow up by using The Voice of America to eliminate any gains he may have made there. In the meantime, I’m using spare ops here and there to realign and take Zaire and S. Africa. Willy Brandt gives the USSR one more VP, and then Rick follows up with a successful roll on the Space Race Track (U.S. now at 6 VP). I’m seeing my lead slowly draining away, but I keep spamming ops into Africa, realigning to eliminate USSR influence, and the like. By the end of the turn, I’ve got control of Africa, domination in South America and Central America, and beat the Soviets to a draw everywhere else. And I’m feeling lucky…

The conclusion of Turn 6.

Turn 7

I won’t bother recounting my hand, because I pull two critical cards that will let me win the game if I play them right. The first is Duck and Cover! The second is Africa Scoring. I gamble and elect to play Duck and Cover! This is a huge risk. DEFCON is at 3, and this card will degrade it to 2. Also, the Soviet card We Will Bury You! is still in the deck, and if Rick plays it, that will occur first in the headline phase, which will drop DEFCON to 2. Then my card event will occur, and nuclear war will start, which means I’m responsible and lose the game. However, I haven’t seen Rick play many high ops cards for the event yet, and I’m betting that if the card is in his hand, he doesn’t want to play the event and lose the 4 ops. So I go for it.

Truth be told, I don’t quite remember what Rick did on his headline or his first action round, but it didn’t matter. My headline occurred, I picked up 3 VPs, (U.S. now at 9), and then played Africa Scoring. With control of the continent, I pocketed 11 victory points, which brought me to 20 exactly, and I  won the game. 

The end of the game.

In the end, I think this was a very interesting game. With so many scoring cards being played in turn 4, we both felt rather free to place ops wherever, knowing that there were few scoring cards to bite us. Per usual, however, the U.S. won by playing hard in the Third World.

Rick commented that while he felt the game was helpful, nothing beats face to face play, and I’d have to agree. At the same time, if there is a game I’d like to play again via PBEM, it’s Twilight Struggle. With so many decisions to be and card interactions, it’s nice to slow down, use ACTS’ game journal function to keep track of what’s been played, etc.

In the end, I guess the world decided designer jeans and cheap fast food were preferable to a worker’s paradise…


Twilight Struggle Session Report: The American Perspective, Mid War

March 26, 2012

You might remember that a few months ago Rick and I started a game of Twilight Struggle using ACTS and VASSAL (the first post is here). Today I continue my commentary on the mid war. When we last left off, I had amassed a 12 point lead, but the Soviets were thick as thieves in Western Germany and the Americas.

Turn 4
U.S. Hand: 2/Decolonization, 2/Defectors, 4/Red Scare or Purge, 2/Formosan Resolution, South America Scoring, 3/U2 Incident, 2/Latin American Death Squads, Europe Scoring, 1/Kitchen Debates

Not a great hand. I’m still holding onto Decolonization because there’s been no breathing room with which to send it to the space race, and now there are two scoring cards to deal with. Crap.

Well, it’s still obvious that it’s time to headline Defectors (nothing like twice in one game!). Luckily, I stop Vietnam Revolts and southest Asia remains American for now. Amazingly, Rick doesn’t coup anywhere on the first action round, opting instead to spread influence in the Middle East, so I take my shot and drop my only 4 op card on Venezuela. I achieve success and manage to match the Soviets in South America. Rick answers with Middle East Scoring, which nets him 3 VPs (US now at +9). Confident that there’s not much I can do in that area, I spread more influence in Africa and score South America, netting no gain to either side. Meanwhile, Rick takes Pakistan and scores Asia, again resulting in no gain for either side. However, late scoring in Europe gets him 2 VPs (US now at 7).

With four scoring cards on the first turn of the mid-war, we both know that Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia will be the focus for the next few turns. This turn I’ve picked up four of five African battleground countries, but things look pretty grim in Central America and Europe teeters on the brink!

The end of Turn 4

Turn 5
U.S. Hand: 2/Decolonization, Southeast Asia Scoring, 2/NORAD, 2/John Paul II Elected Pope, 3/Quagmire,  1/OAS, 2/Cambridge 5, 2/Liberation Theology, 3/Breznev Doctrine, China Card

Again, not a great hand, mainly because of all the low ops. Quagmire is going to be a bear to get rid of (no pun intended). I take a gamble, knowing that at least Vietnam Revolts is out of play, and headline Southeast Asia Scoring. Rick picks Lone Gunman and successfully coups Zaire. I get 3 VP in SE Asia (US now at +10).

During the action rounds, we spend a lot of influence for control of West Germany…and yes, I’m still kicking myself for letting Blockade happen. I realize far too late that the Soviets just have more ops, and eventually focus my attention elsewhere. (By the end of the turn, West Germany will have 11 Soviet influence points and 7 US points. Rookie mistake on my part.) Thankfully, Rick plays Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You, and I get rid of Quagmire in favor of Brush War. While the war I ignite in Mexico fails, I later place influence in there to get to Guatemala. This sets me up for some sweet (and rare!) realignment rolls at the end of the turn, which leads to an early Soviet exit from Mexico. Booyah! The Americans also catch a lucky break as the Soviets have to Bear Trap themselves. As the turn comes to a close, I’ve made Central America a fair fight, and South America and Africa are under US domination.

The end of turn 5.

Next up…the stunning conclusion!

Twilight Struggle Session Report: The American Perspective, Early War

February 13, 2012

A few months after Rick and I concluded our Washington’s War play-by-email showdown, I got the itch to match wits once more. But flintlocks weren’t enough; ICBMs were needed. So we started a game of Twilight Struggle using ACTS and VASSAL in early January. And while I won’t give every last gory detail, I will be providing some commentary about our play styles and what we learned.

A coin toss determined sides; I settled into the virtual Oval Office as President Ron Jojers, while Chairman Rickatov moved his family to the Kremlin. We elected to play with the optional cards included in the third edition, but not with the “Chinese Civil War” variant. The initial card draw yielded the following hand:

U.S. Hand: 4/US & Japan Mutual Defense Pact*, 3/Warsaw Pact Formed*, 3/Duck and Cover, 1/Captured Nazi Scientist*, 2/Korean War*, 1/CIA Created*, 2/Defectors, 2/Olympic Games

Not bad! I like getting one-time Soviet cards out of the way early if possible.

Rick’s initial placement is standard: 3 influence points (ip) into both Finland and Poland. I counter with my standard placement: 4 ip into West Germany and 3 in Italy.

Turn 1
Man, I love Defectors as a headline. I immediately cancel Socialist Governments, which I think takes the wind out of the Soviet sails right away. We see the usual successful coup in Iran, but Rick uses Marshal Plan to do that, so I get early influence in Europe. I gamble and make my coup attempt in Iran, and actually manage to eliminate Rick’s influence there. He keeps placing influence around the Middle East, so I engage in more regime change and take Iran back for good. I am also lucky enough to get into Libya (this can be shut down by the play of Nasser, and it will get me in the back door in Africa later). Rick does have Middle East Scoring, and I use some Captured Nazi Scientist[s] to get ahead in the space race. Turn 1 ends with the US up by 5 victory points (VP).

The board at the end of turn 1 (click for a larger image).

Turn 2
U.S. Hand: 
2/ Formosan Resolution*, 2/Decolonization, 4/Red Scare/Purge, 2/Cambridge Five, 3/NORAD, 0/Asia Scoring, 1/Nasser, 2/Korean War, 4/China Card

Again, I’m feeling pretty good. The China Card got passed to me in turn 1, and I have Asia scoring. I held onto Korean War last turn, and I’m hoping to play it once I mitigate its effects by taking some of the nearby countries. The turn starts with Rick driving hard for Western Europe; he headlines DeGaulle Leads France, follows it up with influence to gain control, and seals the deal with Europe Scoring. We’re now at US +4 VP. Meanwhile, I try to mask my intentions by playing ip into Europe and Asia, splitting each card. I pick up India and Thailand before playing Asia Scoring. This nets me 6 more VP, for a total of US +10. Rick starts a weak coup in Thailand after I score the region, and I start a successful coup in Iraq, thinking ahead to the next turn’s reshuffle. Unfortunately, Fidel shows up and the Russians are now in Central America.

The board at the end of turn 2 (click for a larger image).

Turn 3
U.S. Hand: 
4/NATO*, 2/Olympic Games, 4/US & Japan Mutual Defense Pact*, 3/Eastern European Unrest, 2/Decolonization, 1/Nasser*, 2/Special Relationship, 3/De-Stalinization*

This is the turn where you shuffle the discards back in, and unfortunately, I received no scoring cards so I have little idea of what’s coming. Rick sees his chance and headlines Indo-Pakistani War, which fails, while I incite some Eastern European Unrest. I gamble again with a phase one coup, trying to drive Fidel out of Cuba, but it fails miserably! (Maybe I would have been better to re-align.) We each spread influence around the world; I get into Africa via Libya, while Rick starts uses De-Stalinzation to get influence into Mexico and Venezuela. We see no more scoring cards, but…gosh, I’m embarassed to admit this, but…Rick plays Blockade and I don’t have anything to counter. Whoops. Guess the Berliners starve, the President backs down, and the Soviets are all up in West Germany. Hmm…that’s a problem. However, the only VP change goes my way (“We have a Special Relationship with the Brits, don’tcha know”), and I get out of the Early War with a comfortable 12 point lead.

The board at the end of turn 3 (click for a larger image).

We’re in the thick of the mid-war turns now, so expect an update in a few weeks!

A Sense of Complacency

April 18, 2011

I had an excellent time playing Joe in Twilight Struggle last week. We talked about how we hadn’t played it nearly as much as we would like as of late. Today I’m looking back at my records and realizing I only played Twilight Struggle three times in 2010. More surprising, however, is the following:

Twilight Struggle, Dec. 2008-Mar. 2011
Total games played: 19 (14-5)
As U.S. player: 13 (11-2)
As U.S.S.R player: 6 (3-3)

What I like about these numbers is the percentage of U.S. wins! They are generally considered a bit more challenging to play, and this used to be even more true with the older version of the game, which is what we played up until late last year. On the other hand, it’s quite clear that I am not so hot playing the U.S.S.R. Another note on this is that most of my Russian wins came when I was playing against a less experienced player.

This brings us back to last night’s game. When we sat down, I specifically requested to play the forces of Communism, as I wanted to learn more about how to play them. With the exception of a few bonehead plays, I thought during the game that I wasn’t doing too poorly. However, it still wasn’t enough to stop Joe from winning on turn 9 after locking up Asia. Once we ended, we started talking over the game and then it dawned on me: I had been playing the wrong side. I  let several key opportunities to coup on the first action round and deny Joe military ops slide by. I  scattered my influence in several non-battleground countries. Worst of all, I  got into a few fights in which I threw more and more influence at a region, hoping to outspend my opponent, not realizing he had far more high-value cards. Lulled into a sense of complacency by my previous successes as a U.S. player, I played like the other side (though the board and the cards were screaming otherwise) and lost.

The lessons for the evening? First, when playing a game with asymmetric sides, try to play them an equal number of times so you’re competent at all of them. Second, have a clear idea about the strengths, weaknesses, and common strategies for the side you’re playing so you don’t look like a fool out there.

Third (humorous) lesson: Take the opportunity to ditch CIA Created when you can. I had a shot, did something else, and spent turns 3-9 holding onto that baby. Man I hate the CIA.

Not All Card Driven War Games Are Created Equal

November 8, 2010

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that not all Card Driven War Games are created equal, that they are endowed by their Designer with certain unalienable Mechanics, that among these are Operations, Events and the pursuit of Victory Points. — That to secure these mechanics, Games are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the players, — That whenever any Form of Game becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the Players to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Games , laying their foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Hand Management and Victory.

Whew! Working board games into the Declaration of Independence was getting a little tough there. But did you like the part about “Operations, Events and the pursuit of Victory Points”? I’m quite fond of that one.

I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering Washington’s War and whether I really like it as a game. Or if I just keep playing it and saying to myself, “That was fun,” it will one day come true.

Card-driven war games seem to fall into two camps with card design. In one camp is the likes of Washington’s War and Wilderness Wars (despite overwhelming evidence, you do not need to have two words starting with W in your title to fall into this camp). In the other are the likes of Twilight Struggle and Here I Stand. In the former, card are either event cards or operations cards, we’ll call these isolated cards. In the latter, cards are both event cards and operations cards, we’ll call these combination cards.

Decks made of isolated cards usually consist of half or more operations cards. The idea being that in any given hand a player  will have enough operations cards to do something. So, even the player gets poor events or the opponents events, the turn won’t be fruitless. However, experience has shown otherwise. And memory seems to latch on to the really bad hands even if they are a small minority of all hands played.

Contrasted with combination cards, even bad hands can be managed or turned out good. Twilight Struggle uses this idea to its fullest. Opponent events must occur, but you get the operations points to manage the situation before or after the event, your choice. Cards with your event may be played for the event or the operations points.

From my play experience, I favor games with combination cards over isolated cards. I prefer the decision making and hand management that comes from combination cards. Every hand, no matter how bad, seems playable. Every hand can build on the last to create a strategy for winning. Isolated cards feel like they take that decision making power away from me. Too much is dictated on the specific hand I am dealt and strategy seems like it doesn’t last much beyond a single hand of cards.

So, will I ever like Washington’s War? I think so. I just need to adjust my play style to account for isolated cards. But, it won’t be knocking Twilight Struggle from it’s throne. And knowing that not all card driven war games are create equal will help when buying future board games.

Disagree? Like isolated cards better? Let me hear about it in the comments.

Edit: It has been pointed out to me that Wilderness War may not fit in the first camp. Until I can verify my original statement, it has been struck out.

Board Gaming over the Internet

May 12, 2010

Getting 6 people together to sit down and play through a full game of Here I Stand is difficult. With most people working during the week, the weekends are the only option that would allow enough time to fit in a game. But these often fill up fast with family, religious and other obligations.

However, technology allows some new options. There is real-time online play of games through websites, on gaming consoles or other devices. There is also the option is to play a game long distance by sending each move by email. Previous generations may have played a game of chess with their pen-pal by sending each move in a letter through snail mail. Now moves can be sent through email to speed up that process. Having played a few games with a couple of these systems, each has it’s own strengths and weaknesses.

The most obvious advantage is that the games can be played from your own living room. No need to get everyone together in the same place. This will save on travel time and gets you right into gaming. For better or worse, the session is more focused on playing the game. I feel more comfortable playing with strangers over the internet than inviting random people to my house. But when I want to play my with my normal gaming group, the social enjoyment I get out of gaming suffers.

I’m sure we’ve all done this with our board games: set-up up the board on the table and play through the game in multi-night sessions. I recently played a game of Twilight Struggle with my wife. We just left the board on the dining room table for a couple of nights. However, with small children in the house we ran the risk of the board getting changed between plays. Usually these online systems allow a way to save the game progress so that you can start where you left off at a later time. A full play through of a long war game can be broken into a few shorter sessions over a longer time period. That huge time commitment is now broken into bite sized chunks that are easier to manage. It may allow you to brush up on rules or rethink strategies before your next play. However, the game can also drag out to weeks or even months before it is finished.

Real Time
Russ has a good post on his experience with Settler of Catan on the XBox. I have played a dozen games using the website Wargameroom. One advantage of playing on a computer is that the rules are all programmed into the system. Only your available options are shown or are allowed to be carried out. This means no cheating, but more importantly it is a great way to help you learn the rules. Usually though you learn them the hard way. You think you are about to assault that fortress when the option to assault isn’t available because you haven’t met all of the requirements. A turn is wasted, but the next time you play you’ll remember that rule.

The real time aspect allows for a quick fix of a game. The board is set-up for you. Calculating dice requirements, card shuffling and rule checking is done instantly. There is very little down time that allows a longer game to be played much more quickly. It is a good option to get some gaming in on a tight time budget. Opponents can be found quickly through a chat room or even instantly with the use of AI opponents. The social aspect of gaming is mostly gone and a game that involves negotiations is greatly hindered. How do you convince or bluff a pre-programmed response?

Play By EMail has also been a mostly good experience. Each player has a copy of the board on their own computer and a move file is sent as each person plays. Probably the most common program used is Cyberboard to track the board and generate move files and the website ACTS to track the play of cards and handles the random stuff: card shuffling and dice rolls. Each player checks their email at least daily and takes their turn. In a game that involves a diplomacy aspect, this is also handled by exchanging emails.

The huge advantage of this system is the long time between turns. For someone learning a game, they can check the rules or even ask for help on forums between moves to better understand the strategies and intricacies of a game. I’ve found that my understanding of the 40+ page Here I Stand rulebook has vastly improved. Diplomacy can be fun because is can be done simultaneously and in secret. No one has to know you sent an email to one power where in a Face-to-Face (FtF) play everyone saw you leave the room together.

Of course, the major disadvantage of this system is the long time between turns. Once the diplomacy phase is over, carrying out those plans for just one turn could take months. Waiting for a person to take their move isn’t fun. In a FtF game a minute can seem like an eternity. Try waiting 10 days for your opponent to take his turn because he was on vacation and then got stuck in Europe because of a volcano (actually happened).

Overall Impressions
I think using technology to play your favorite board game is a great idea. There are certainly some great advantages for new players and people who can’t make big time commitments. However, nothing beats staring down your opponent in a good ol’ face-to-face play of any game.

Holiday Gaming Binge

January 6, 2010

This year I took off work between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays to spend time with family and friends. As a result, I got a lot of board gaming in. From the 23rd to the 28th I played 26 games (4.3 games per day). On the 31st I hosted a game day to ring in 2010 and racked up 7 more plays. I thought I’d share some of the highlights of the gaming binge:

Tobago: I first saw pictures of this game on BoardGameGeek and instantly knew I had to learn more. The pieces are amazing (an “Inside the Box” should be coming shortly) and the reviews stressed the “fun” of the game. The highlight of my plays so far was the surprise curse! We had divvied out 1 treasure (5 cards big) and then a second was found (7 cards big). The first 12 treasure cards can’t be cursed so I was explaining to everyone (while we were examining our potential share) that this treasure was still “safe” but after that it may be cursed. As soon as a finished speaking I flipped the first card up and it was a curse! My mouth dropped. How could that be? Then I realized the first treasure was 6 cards – not 5! I’m sure my face was red.

Small World: I also received this as a Christmas gift along with the Cursed and Grand Dames expansions. Fortunately, all the games of this played out much better than my last play. There were two SmallWorld highlights in one game:
1 – My frugal brother-in-law is always getting great deals on things because of his bargaining prowess. It was funny to see him predictably always pick the “cheapest” special power/race combination – especially when it gave him a few coins along with it.
2 – We also had one combination randomly occur that gave everyone a laugh: Wealthy White Ladies

Twilight Struggle: Russ brought along his newly acquired copy of TwiStrug and I helped my little brother, Brad, play a game against him. Brad got consistently good hands – a rarity in this game. Russ got consistently poor hands often hindered by 1 or 2 scoring cards. Brad also had the dice gods on his side as he hit every roll and Russ had miss after miss. I think it was only turn 5 (or maybe 6) that Brad won a automatic victory with 20 points. He was ready for another easy victory. The next game was more typical and I taught him a lesson: beating him by 10VP in final scoring.

Texas Hold’em: Our family played two games of Texas Hold’em. The first with no money that I was skilled enough to win. For the second game we all threw in $5. I was unlucky and was knocked out in 4th place. (Notice how I was “skilled” when I won and “unlucky” when I lost.) My wife went on to beat Brad for 1st place – he didn’t catch the ace he needed. While we cleaned up, I put was putting the cards back in the pack. That’s when I noticed the Ace of Spades still in the pack. We had played the entire game a card short! Needless to say, we all took our money back.

New Year’s Eve: This was our first ever “Day of Gaming.” We started playing the first game at 10:00 AM and the last one finished a little over 12 hours later. Over a dozen people playing a wide variety of games and as many as three games going on simultaneously. We also made up a scoring system to keep track of plays: each game played got you 1 point + 1 for each person you defeated. Of course this was criticized harshly as it was completely unfair to everyone: coming in 2nd or 3rd place in a large group game win netted you 5 or 6 points while a hard earned 2+hr war game win only got you 2. But there was no prize for first place so in the end no one cared too much. Although I will say I ended up on top with 18.5 points in 7 games!

Looking back 2009 was a good start to my board gaming hobby. What are your highlights of 2009?

Holiday Haul

January 4, 2010

Between Christmas, my birthday, and a preorder, my board game collection was bound to grow. Here’s a quick run down of what I got:

Twilight Struggle Deluxe Edition – The MoV favorite and popular two-player card driven war game get’s GMT’s deluxe treatment. This means a beautiful new cardboard board, 7 new cards, and a heavier constructed box. I preordered this when it was first announced, so to finally have it arrive on my doorstep was a nice early Christmas gift. Look for thoughts on the Chinese Civil War rules in the future.

Ghost Stories – This was a bit of a gamble and a self-bought birthday present. Ghost Stories is a kung-fu horror themed beat-the-box game. The art and production values of the game are fantastic. I’m really happy with board game producers getting in on new printing technologies and turning out better looking games. I’ve played a few sample turns and the game looks interesting. I’ll be putting together an “Inside the Box” for this game and hope to post play experiences soon.

Dominion: Intrigue – Dominion is quickly becoming the game I get to the table the most, so it was nice to unwrap this present from my little sister. Intrigue introduces some new interesting new card combination and can be combined with Dominion to allow for 5-6 player play.

So how’d I fair? Or more importantly, how’d you fair?

Twilight Struggle: Optional Cards in Play

December 16, 2009

GMT Games just put out the deluxe edition of Twilight Struggle with a new board, counters, and deck which included seven optional cards. Since I already own the game, I just picked up the upgrade kit. On Saturday Rick and I sat down to play; it was my seventeenth game and his fourth, but our first with the optional cards. In an effort to see if the new optional cards really balanced play, we decided not to bid. I took the US; he took the USSR. (I won in turn ten scoring.)

The Cambridge Five, early war (USSR): This card forces the US player to expose all his scoring cards. Then the USSR player gets to add one influence in any region named on one of the scoring cards. This was played twice by me (US), but it never benefited Rick. It seems like a relatively harmless card in most situations.

Special Relationship, early war (US): If the US controls the UK before NATO is played, the US gets one influence in any country adjacent to the UK. If it is played after NATO, he gets to add two influence to any Western European country and two VP for his trouble. We saw this come out once in the late war, and it provided a much-needed boost to me at the time. I can see how if this came out on multiple occasions, it could really wreck the USSR’s day! It’s just another way for the US player to chip away at an early USSR lead, and it gives you more reason to play NATO too.

They don't just track Santa!

NORAD, early war (US): Holy cow. What a card. I played this early on, and it gave me reason to want to see that DEFCON track drop to two. If the US controls Canada and the DEFCON track drops to two, the US player gets to place one influence in any country that already has US influence. This is an excellent way to shore up your defenses in light of an aggressive USSR player. Throughout the game, I was able to place three influence through this effect until Quagmire canceled it.

Ché, mid war (USSR): The USSR player gets to make a coup attempt against a non-battleground country in Central America, South America, or Africa. If the coup is successful in removing any influence, he gets another coup attempt. After asking about this on Board Game Geek, it seems both coups count as military ops (they’re not “free” attempts), which fulfills a requirement for the turn. This came out once, and it was a great way for Rick to make headway in Africa and Central American when he was lagging a bit. This is a powerful card for sure.

Our Man In Tehran, mid war (US): Heck, it’s just fun to say the title out loud five times fast. If the US controls one country in the Middle East, the US player may take the top five cards from the discard pile and discard any of them (the others are reshuffled back into the deck). When I played this in the Late War, it let me get rid of four USSR events which never came back (no more reshuffles). I’d suggest saving this card if at all possible until you can permanently dodge a few bullets.

Yuri and Samantha, late war (USSR): The USSR receives 1 vp for each US coup attempt made during the rest of the current turn. This was played in turn 10 after I had made my military ops requirements, so it didn’t do any damage. I could see how this might matter in a very tight game, however.

AWACS Sale to Saudis, late war (US): The US player gets two influence in Saudi Arabia, and Muslim Revolution may no longer be used as an event. If the US player can get this out early in the late war phase, it will probably stop the play of Muslim Revolution once.

All in all, the new additions are welcome. The cards are definitely in the US player’s favor (four to the USSR’s three) in terms of events and ops value (2.8 to the USSR’s 2.3). As the US player, I felt I had a bit more breathing space, and not so terribly screwed by Rick driving that early war DEFCON track down to two. My only complaint is that these cards have some pretty serious errata issues already, but it sounds like GMT will be shipping out fixed versions of the affected cards by February (for now, you can check out the errata in this pdf).

I’d love to hear your experiences with these new cards. How have they affected play?