Monday, 23 January 2012

Here's to many more...

It's been a busy time here at the Castle, which is why there has been precious little posted in the last week or so.  I've been madly trying to restore some of the Frescos in one of our rear facing apartments in preparation for a residential shuffle.

It hasn't been all work and no play here though, we had a wonderful excursion to Phillip Island in the last week.  My wife's itinerary for the trip: do everything.  I think we nearly succeeded, though a hunting party for the rare Banded Sharp-Tooth - a beast with some reputation on account of its enourmous claws - had to be disbanded at the last minute on account of the lad falling asleep.

It's a rather lovely place, Phillip Island, and there is plenty to see and do.  Though much of this is out of doors, so one best travel during clement weather.  We visited several beaches, a heritage farm, a koala sanctuary, a wildlife park, saw penguins parading home after a long day of swimming and catching fish (I presume they were swimming and catching fish, holding a wise council at an underwater round-table between warring factions of the sea kingdom seems unlikely - but I can't be 100% sure).  We also played our share of mini-golf and meandered through a 'house of illusions' - the most enjoyable part of which was a room with an steeply angled floor but built to visually appear horizontal.  One of the most enjoyable sojourns was to wander about the wildlife park hand-feeding wallabies, kangaroos, emus and cassowary.

We did take a big bag of games with us to play, but with an active lad bustling about from the rising of the sun till after dusk we ended each day too tired to get any on the table.

We saw a few other things and wandered about a few other places, but the short of it is: that was our excursion to Phillip Island.  Highly enjoyable all round.

The next big thing to sweep our fair lands here at the Castle is the celebration and general revelry surrounding my dear wife's birthday.  It's been 30 glorious years since she first graced this Earth, 12 of which she has spent studiously teaching me to turn the lights off as a I leave a room and generally pick up after myself.  While these lessons have largely been unsuccessful, she has filled my daily life with love, warmth, laughter and much enjoyment. While the lazy days of sleeping in, or sitting down at midday on a weekend to watch a string of films, have passed, we have the joys of watching the effervescent lad bustle to and fro leaving a happy trail of mayhem, dinosaurs, lego and game pieces in his wake.  With another on the way our personal definitions of 'busy' will undoubtedly morph again.

Here's to many more '12 years' of industrious children, playing games when we can, watching the odd film and love and laughter.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Summer gaming with my dearest love...

The expected fullness of summer has, in all it’s glorious arrival, been something of an anticlimax.  The weather: cool, windy, and a patchwork of occasional rain.  Late January and February will undoubtedly bring the heat and burning sun out of this despicable malaise, not that I wish to hasten it.

There has been much travel, much attending to the grounds, and also quite a bit of gaming - which has been nice.  Now it feels as if that lazy plan of things we’d do in the holidays has reached the critical point of becoming impossible to achieve in the time remaining.  Our ‘tasks’ list has reached a euphemistic event horizon, and the desperate scrambling to cross things off has left little time for blogging and the like - we shall see how things progress over the next two weeks, so please forgive me if I’m sporadic - my radio waves are having a hard time escaping the singularity.

Some of the games we’ve managed to get to the table have been highly enjoyable.  Gaming with my dear love is always nice - a chance for us to relax after a day under the rule of the lad.  A chance for us to chat, laugh, and generally enjoy each others company.  As the sky farewells the sun with a pinky blush, what better way to spend an eve?

The three games we’ve managed to get to the table most recently have been Mondo, Burrows and Fresco.  All Christmas arrivals, it has been nice to be able to see what they offer.

Mondo is probably the most interesting of the three; we’ve played it perhaps 5 or 6 times now.  It’s a puzzling game, where ‘puzzling’ is a verb and a lots of animals and completed terrains is the objective.  Players simultaneously (and with one hand) take whatever tile from the centre of the table they can scrabble into their mit, and then place it on their ‘world’ board.  Of course it is better is all the tiles match up, and there are positive points to be had for every animal, and negative points for those one who ends up with the most volcanoes.  Points are also won for every completed terrain (for every forest, desert and grassland).  It’s basically the first phase of Galaxy Trucker turned into a complete game.  

However, as simple as that sounds there are some really neat aspects to it.  The game plays easily, is simple to learn, plays quickly and can be challenging.  There are also a number of variants available that mean you can ratchet up the difficulty to suit.  In fact, the different variants really add a lot of interesting aspects to the game, the demand you to not simply make the best of what you can, but while doing so also consider x, y or z.  

I would recommend this for people who enjoy puzzles, for people who have family members who like puzzles or for those who want a nice easy game that’s a little bit different from the usual Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne.  Of course, I also supply the caveat that there may be some people who’s minds simply do not function well with puzzle building - and for them this game is probably gong to feel very frustrating.  We’ve enjoyed it though.

Burrows was a game we hoped would be a light and easy game in a small box.  Players are building a network of burrows, trying to have a bigger burrow of the various types than other players, and thereby avoiding the penalty notes handed out each scoring round.  It’s an easy game to play, but my feeling with the two-player game is that each scoring round happen in too quick a succession.  The speed between rounds means that players have little opportunity to catch up.  If the lag between scoring rounds was slightly longer this might be a more interesting game.  We’ll play again with with this modification and see if things improve - it might also have been just us of course.  Sadly for us the game seemed simply ok.  Given the size of our game collection that means that it’s unlikely to come off the shelf when other, more interesting, games are clamouring for attention.  We’ll play again and see.

Fresco was the latest game to hit our table.  I really enjoyed some aspects of this game, but felt that the forward planning required was made moot by the potentially chaotic and ever changing state of the scoring tiles (or Fresco tiles).  I also felt that this was one of those games where one was continually swapping bits of this for bits of that.  Lastly, we played two-player and to do so introduces a dummy-player.  I am not a fan of dummy players at all - though having said that the Fresco dummy-player (Leonardo) was relatively easy to implement.

I’ve been informed by the gamer twitterati that playing with the expansions that come in the box really adds to the game - and given that for all my interminable whining I still enjoyed the game, I have hopes that these will lift the game play and make it a game we’ll play regularly - time shall tell, as they say.

In any case, that’s enough from me for now.  It’s late, I have been paring down my book collection - always a sad time, as saying farewell to books is like parting with old friends.  I have much preparation and painting to do in the next few days as we renew one of the rooms here at the Castle to make way for baby number 2.   

Look for me when I am least expected...



Tuesday, 3 January 2012

New Games to kick off the New Year...

The last three days has nearly seen more games played here at the Castle than in the rest of December and November combined.  I don’t have the time at the moment to give more than a quick description of the various games played, but it was great to have a good friend over to see in the New Year, and together with my dear wife, get a bunch of games played.

Circumstance - predominated by official Castle duties and visits of state has meant I have been unable to catch up with my usual gaming mates for some while.  Happily the occasion of the new year provided an opportunity, one that was taken and thoroughly enjoyed.  

Games were the mainstay of the official New Years celebration here at the Castle.  Though the rolling maul of card board conflict was also punctuated by extended water pistol duels, watching the lad tear about the Castle like an agent of chaos, and various fire-work displays - the largest of which was an hour early for the official changing of the guard - years wise.

The gaming was highly enjoyable - games are a fantastic medium for discussion and the general enjoyment of company.  We managed to play some new titles as well as some old favourites.

I wrote about Catacombs in my last post.  It’s a dexterity game of dungeon crawling, treasure collection and battling large spiders and other sundry beasts.  The dexterity element, of flicking the characters and monsters around the dungeon rooms to attack and hide, is woven very well into the fabric of the game.  This particular game saw me in the role of overlord, while the inestimable James, Sage of Greatness, shouldered the role of the heroes.  

This turned out to be an excellent game session, both the Sage and myself have a great fondness for flicking games.  The battles were tactical, with much use of cover, items, spells and special powers - all of which add just enough of a tweak to the game to add interest with minimum complication.  It was a close fought thing too, the Sage and I faced each other across the final board and it came down to the very last flick.  He, with one remaining hero close to death, and myself, as the evil Sorcerer, also a bees wing away from death.  The heroes won the day, and there was much rejoicing from the Sage.  All in all a great little game, uncomplicated, variable and fun.  The Sage suggested we perhaps attempt a game using the large glass outdoor table instead of the small boards that come with the game - but this hope didn’t materialise this time - nonetheless, an over-sized game of Catacombs would be a lot of fun we think.

I was interested to see what this game was like - it seemed to have been popularly received among the gaming faithful.  All in all I found the game to be a neat twist on the deck building mechanism.  I felt that it was often the case, that the winner was known quite a few turns before the end, but since the game takes very little time to play, this didn’t detract from what is otherwise a fun little game.  I wouldn’t rush out to buy the expansions, but the base game is certainly interesting and quick enough to warrant owning and playing.

A game of dog-fights and battles between two opposing forces of space fighters.  I had played this game once before, and was generally underwhelmed considering how excited I was initially to get it to the table.  This play improved my view of it somewhat, but I find the game straddles an uncomfortable line - it feels like it should be more complex, like your choices should impact the game more significantly, and it isn’t overly quick.  I could handle one of those two issues, if the other was mitigated - if the game was more involved I could handle the play length, or if the game was quicker and easier I could handle the simplicity.  

All in all there is a lot of things happening - you have a currency of energy to manage and spend on buying cards, deploying ships, activating ships and equipment and so forth.  You have cards to play, ships to move, a universe to master... and yet it feels for all that stuff, like the game isn’t significantly impacted by what you choose to do.  Perhaps it was the scenario we played, perhaps it was the way we played it, but when all is said and done I feel there is a game there to like, it’s just obfuscated at the moment by the minutia of the play experience.  Perhaps more plays will have me running to the confessional to beg my pardon, but I’m not overly inspired to get it to the table considering what else I have on the shelf.  Shame.

If a game about the rock cycle, about the uplifting of mountains, the erosion of the various rock layers that make it up and the fluvial process doesn’t sound interesting to you, you may not enjoy this game.  I find the game a very interesting glance at this geological process, and more than that, it’s a fun game with lots of choices to make.  In many ways it feels like a heavy game, but ultimately there is also a significant element of chaos.  I have to be honest and say that I really do love this game though - and while fickle fate may cause me to lose, I’ll still have had a blast trying to achieve the best I can.  This one is well worth a look if you ask me - don’t expect a game of perfect information, but don’t expect a simple luck fest - it’s a great little card game.

Photo by in inestimable Sage of Greatness...

An old favourite.  The international or Indian Carrom is still one of the very best games I own - a sort of flicking cross between snooker and Crokinole, it is a game of skill (something I lack) and is highly enjoyable.  I also had the pleasure of the lad taking my every second turn - hurling the striker across the board with glee and sinking more Carrom-men than I did even - though wantonly and without discrimination for colour (he’ll learn eventually).

A Song of Blades and Heroes is the flagship game that I’m using to get myself back into the hobby of painting miniatures and playing miniatures games.  I began my early gaming career playing much Warhammer and Warhammer 40K, we moved from there into many more miniature game systems such as DBA, DBM, Hordes of the Things, Full Thrust, Stargrunt and a variety of others.  Eventually we moved away from miniature gaming and into role playing, finally, as I started a new career, found my dear love, I moved away from RPGs and into board games.  As the Lion King testaments - life can be circular... and I find myself now wanting to get back to painting miniatures and moving them around a table top.  A Song of Blades and Heroes is the perfect game to experiment with this resurgence of interest - it’s cheap, easy to play, plays quickly, doesn’t take up too much space, and importantly - doesn’t require too many miniatures to play.

I had previously played this game several times with my long-suffering wife and brother.  While my wife gave the ringing endorsement that she didn’t dislike it as much as she thought she might, my brother seems to enjoy it.  So I was excited to see what the Great Sage would make of the game.  We proxied miniatures using my vast collection of everything Battlelore as substitutes - the Sage creating a warband of lion-folk, while I stuck with my largely useless Goblins.

One of the great things about A Song of Blades and Heroes is that it is a very simple set of rules.  Figures have two ratings - ‘quality’ and ‘combat’, some may also have special abilities, each of which breaks the game rules in a small but useful way.  There is an interesting system of push-your-luck in action in this game - you roll dice to activate figures, more dice means potentially more actions - but if you roll two fails you hand your turn over to the opponent.  High ‘quality’ figures are easier to activate than lower ‘quality’ ones, and of course - the in-game situation often means you want to take multiple actions - meaning more dice, and therefore the potential of unexpectedly handing the turn over prematurely.

All in all it’s a fun game with plenty of spin-off rules sets that allow for a vast number of additions - not just new units, but full campaign systems, dungeon crawling, highly detailed (but not complex) weather and terrain, as well as a huge variety of settings.  This is a fun little skirmish style game - and one I’d recommend to anyone interested in trying a miniatures game, but who doesn’t want one too complex, too expensive, or that takes too long to play.

One of my presents this Christmas past was a bundle of 15mm miniatures from Splintered Light.  These anthropomorphic warriors will shoulder the burden of my renewed interest.  And I greatly look forward to painting them - but hopefully more about that in future blogs.

I have written and podcasted more about this game than perhaps any other.  This is my go-to filler card game.  Playing it is like putting on an old and comfortable pair of slippers.  It’s a game of building card combinations from a drafted hand, and interactions and effects both have an impact on what you’ll score.  Games last around 15 minutes, and it manages to squeeze in a pleasant amount of choices in that short time.  A great game.

Players collect cards and buy routes around Scandinavia in order to score points and satisfy tickets.  This game feels like there are more choke points in the board than in vanilla Ticket to Ride.  The rules for Ferries and Tunnels add some interesting aspects, and the game generally feels more tense.  I bought it for a two-player Ticket to Ride experience my wife and I could enjoy - and I think it’ll work well in this regard.  I got thumped in this game, but still enjoyed it (in retrospect).

One of Fantasy Flight Games’ living card games, Lord of the Rings: The Card Game sets you as a group of adventurous types attempting to solve quests and generally become a thorn in the side of the Necromancer.

I had high hopes for this game, as I was slightly underwhelmed by Middle Earth Quest.  Sadly this game also failed to excite my interest, despite me being a huge Lord of the Rings fan.  I simply feel that there are too many processes throughout this game, and the act of playing the game gets in the way of the enjoyment of it.  As a co-operative game it also feels a little like you can be hosed by a bad draw of cards.  In some co-ops the build up to destruction comes like a rising tide - you can see it approaching.  In some of the games of Lord of the Rings: The Card Game it has simply felt like everything was sailing smoothly before a sudden swell has you drowning with no hope of recovery.  I’m probably being overly harsh - as I have quite enjoyed some of the games of this I’ve played, but ultimately I don’t think the LCG style of game is one that overly enamours me.  I can’t place a finger on it, but I was more than happy to jump into both Warhammer Invasion and this one, and have felt uninspired by both.

I will definitely play this game more though - and I really hope that something clicks and that my luke-warm feelings toward it change.  As it stands though, I like some aspects of the game, and sometimes the games can be exciting and interesting, but other times it just feels like I’m following a 200 step process turn in turn out while being beaten with a metal rod.  This is a ‘we’ll wait and see’ game - I hope to find something in it I really like - as it stands it’ll remain an every now and then affair.

Well, if you’re still reading you’ve done well.  Those are some quick descriptions of the games we played while seeing in the new year.  I hope you had an equally enjoyable time, surrounded by friends and family!  

‘Ha!’ to the Mayans.  I’m as unsurprised by the world not ending as I am every year when our own Gregorian Calander ‘ends’ every 365 and 1/4 days.

Oh - and happy New Years to one and all!