Tuesday, October 11, 2011

WrightCon 2010

To honor WrightCon 2010, I thought I'd write it up before we have WrightCon 2011 (this weekend).

After a the usual back-and-forth on dates, we chose December 30, 2010 as our last gasp to get in a gaming session before the end of the year.  Just squeezed it in.

We met at Casa Wright, which is close enough to the whole crew while having dual advantages of being in the Land of Cheap Beer and is close to fantastic barbecue (link)!

We started sort of late; 11:15, with a game of Endeavor contested by Alan, Joshua, Mike, Ross, and Scott.

I waited waaaay too long to remember details of this game, except that it has dozens of playing bits that are frankly not that cool. But the game was good, a close contest (as the final scores will attest) where Scott came from behind in the last two turns to pull out a victory in just about 2 hours.

The final tally:

Scott = 55
Joshua = 52
Mike = 51
Ross = 48
Allan = 43

We had to break for lunch then, and IIRC it was subs instead of BBQ -- which has to be a "booooo" even though the sandwiches were very good.

At 2:00, the same five players played the new and improved version of Acquire, Lloyd's Rules with the wild-card pieces.  In this version, each player gets one "wild card" piece to start the game, and it can be played on any open space on the board.  The idea is that it pretty much guarantees every player can cash in on an early merger, which means no one is stock-rich/cash-poor for too long.

It worked out pretty much as expected, and not all of the wild card pieces even got used. Allan and Joshua enriched each other with two mergers, alternating majority and minority shares and both getting the big bonus and the small bonus once each. Ross then gave both of them another merger with minority share, putting them even further in the lead.

No one got cash tight, although there were several complaints about the continual stock trading allowed in Lloyd's Rules. It seems to give players incentive to calculate how to skim out another $100 or $200 a round, while they wait for the right time to merge and get the big payoff. This rule was intended to make sure no one got stuck with all shares and no cash, and thus nothing to do for most of the game -- but somehow in our hands it became another game strategy.

Anyhow, as we hit mid-game, Scott locked the majority in what would become the game behemoth, and Mike had the minority share mostly protected. Then Ross and Scott happened to pull off the same "Allan/Joshua majority/minority" gambit three times in two turns. Scott was the beneficiary, holding the majority stake two of those times. And he combined that with the majority in the largest company to scoot by for the win at 3:45.

The final tally:

Scott = $48,800
Joshua = $44,800
Allan = $42,300
Ross = $37,300
Mike = $30,500

Ross had to leave, so Allan, Joshua, Mike, and Scott played Pandemic, which was really the game that made it all worth while. We played it four times and the game beat us every time... that's what made it worth the trouble. It was hysterical to play, as the game continually kicked our ass and we theorized on how to play better the next time, only to start up and get pummeled again in minutes.

Here is the tally, with Panedmic winning every time:

Started at 4:00, lost at 4:15
Started at 4:15, lost at 4:35
Started at 8:45, lost at 8:48
Started at 9:00, lost at 9:50

All told, we played four games in 88 minutes and the uber-experienced gamers couldn't win a single time.

But the funny part was Mike told us his kids beat the game more than 60% of the time. In fact, we were playing the easiest rules, and his children beat the game on both easy and medium, and almost beat it on hard. We all thought he was misplaying it at home, missing some crucial rule that was kicking our ass. Joshua made the argument that the game was mathematically impossible to win, and the company should be paying us for play-testing it.

Allan didn't want to play it any more because it was clear we sucked at it. And Scott said the game constituted false advertising because it said "takes 45 minutes to play" and we averaged just 22 minutes a game.

But the bottom line is that Mike has played over a dozen games since then, and his children continue to win on a regular basis. So maybe if he brings it up we can try it again -- with a little tutoring from the kiddies.

In between the second and third games of Pandemic, we took a break with a nice relaxing game of 1830, which is a fantastic game, but it's one we played to death years ago. Joshua called for the game, because he wasn't in the group when we played it before, and we agreed only if we played the short version.

Again, it was Allan, Joshua, Mike, and Scott, and the game of 1830 started at 5:00. I confess it has been too long for me to remember the game in the kind of detail I'd like to give, but here's my best shot.

In a four-player game everyone should be able to start their own railroads on the first turn, but that did not come to pass. Allan bought the Pennsie small railroad, but then started the B&M, which meant he couldn't get it fully started until the third time we came back to the stock round. Once he had the B&M, he ran it like a champ, getting into New York and paying huge dividends. His was the stock to own; but that initial mistake cost him too dearly.

Scott got the small stuff to start the CanPac (or as we like to call it, the "Hopes and Dreams" railroad). He ran it well, paid out nice early dividends and even got some additional investors. But his fateful mistake was forgetting to sell in his small stuff at the end of an operating round, and thus having to wait until the next turn to start his next railroad. And Mike beat him to the New York Central, leaving Scott with the Erie, which languished for a few turns and never really paid much.

Joshua started the B&O and had the southern side of NYC all to himself for a long time. But his second railroad was the C&O, which was just too far away in the short game to do him much good. He made a good run of it, combining to further hold down Allan after he finally started the Pennsylvania, but in the end, he came up short of the juggernaut.

That would leave Mike, who started with the New York New Haven, ran it for good money and sold in his small stuff at the right time, and then combined it with the New York Central. With all those railheads and the early lead in combining railroads in high-priced real estate, it was almost certain that he'd win.

But just for fun, he spend one stock round buying up shares of our stock and dumping them just to pound the price. And when Scott tried to swing into NYC for a last-gasp, of course Mike was there to thwart him with a carefully placed railhead. I guess when you're the king you can beat up whomever you want -- even if it's everybody! He wrapped up the win at 8:30 -- just 3.5 hours, not too shabby.

(Not bad recall for something that happened months ago, eh?)

The final score:

Mike = $3,020
Allan = $2,866
Joshua = $2,124
Scott = $1,989

Last game of the day/night was Dominion, with the same four players, starting at 10:10. This is a card game, and this was our first time playing, so I won't have any of the terms right. But it sort of went this way.

Allan pulled to an early lead, developing a strategy that converted gold into VP, and Scott followed a similar one, converting something else into VP. Mike and Joshua were lost at first, with Mike collecting too many cards to protect him from things that didn't happen very often, and Joshua immediately stocking up in one area instead of being diversified.

Scott noticed that Joshua's "hoarding two items" strategy allowed for an early game-end scenario, so he started buying the same thing once a round. And after he and Joshua emptied that pile, the game was over at 11:15, and Scott had correctly calculated that he was slightly ahead of Allan.

The final score:

Scott = 21
Allan = 18
Joshua = 7
Mike = 5

Scott was declared the WrightCon 2010 Champion, with three victories to Mike's one -- although there was some joking that Pandemic beat us four times, which should make it the Grand Prize Winner :)

The victories did allow Scott to eke past Joshua in the "Overall Victories" tote board (check it out at the top-right of the page). And that is about it.

Hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as we did playing!

Monday, December 27, 2010

CombsCon 2010

It all started with an email from Allan, pointing out that some weblog said we hadn't gamed in over six months.  He was right, of course, that blog is meticulously kept by yours truly, and it had been quite some time since we sat down as friends and beat the crapola out of each other.

And so it was decided, we'd meet at the board of battle on August 14, 2010, and make sure no one left without questioning their own game skills after getting at least one sound beating for the day.  It almost worked out that way.  I am a little bit fuzzy on the details of the day, but read on for what I can remember and don't forget to check the comments below for corrections from the aggrieved parties.

It started innocently enough; a game of Smallworld with Allan, Mike, Joshua, and Scott.  We started at 9:30... and at 9:35 Scott said, "I've blown it already."  Luckily for him, we had to undo the first two moves since we misread the rules -- which is our own Classic Blunder.  So we reset the game and started again.

Not that it helped; Scott chose Haflings and then put their hidey holes in places that were already difficult to attack -- leaving his other forces easier to defeat.  To compound his problems, he hammered Mike for a few rounds, convinced that Mike was a close second; only to find out Mike was way behind.  Oh, and Scott also rolled like Allan... er, that is he rolled poorly, all of which sealed his fate as a third-place finish.

Mike put his Elves into a different set of mountains and declined them, and then ate up two races from the southern edge of the board.  But between mediocre payoff from the Elves and the beating he took from Scott, he finished a distant fourth.

Joshua made better use of his restart, moving his first race into the mountains and declining them immediately.  And those guys went on and on; just piling up points the whole game.  He paid dearly for his next race (I think it was Orcs), but it was worth it as they dominated the west side of the board for a long time.

Allan used the classic deflection strategy, continually complaining that he was DFL (dead fucking last) while all the time building on a solid base.  He took a race with 6 bucks on it, used them and then declined them for another race the next round.  It was a solid play, and almost got him there.  But in the end, Joshua eked out a victory over Allan.  The game ended at 11:45:

Joshua = 97
Allan = 93
Scott = 91
Mike = 75

Scott had the quote of the game, when he was trying to figure out which race to take in the mid-game: "It's better to be *bad* at math in this game."

After licking our wounds for 15 minutes, we cranked up a game of Acquire, adding Tom to the mix, and playing with "Lloyd's Rules" (a variant Allan bought online).  We started at noon, and by 12:40, Scott found a rule we'd forgotten was "in old print, in *both* sets of rules!"  It didn't affect play at that time, so we didn't have to undo anything.

Lloyd's Rules allow for selling stock back in if you are cash tight, and as per usual under these rules, all 8 companies were started and active within a few rounds.  No risk in starting a new company, you can always sell out later, so there were companies all over the board, including in all four corners.

America started in the lower-middle, and Scott was the unchallenged king of that stock.  Unfortunately, Joshua had the two tiles that would merge it, and he sat on them almost the entire game.  Most of the action took place up top of the board, with Quantum taking over Hydra, and Saxon looking like it would become too big before Quantum ate it up, too.

Tom was the merge person for several of the early acquisitions, and even though Joshua and Mike benefited from them, he was in the minority position most of the time so he was flush with cash.  Allan and Mike had a strange little back-and-forth for a few rounds, buying mirrored shares of Zeta and Saxon, and in the end being the top two dogs in only Saxon.

It was too late for Scott and Allan by the time they got their first mergers (America and Saxon, respectively), and so they were out of the running.  But oddly, even though Tom wasn't the top stakeholder very often, he rode stock appreciation and some minority stakes to the win.  It wasn't pretty, but in his first game, Tom came out with the victory:

Tom = $39,100
Joshua = $37,000
Mike = $31,600
Allan = $28,400
Scott = $24,600

We followed that up with a game of Smallworld again, given that everyone except Tom was well versed in the rules.  That would also give us a great chance to come back from that lashing Tom gave us in his first game with the group.  Or so we thought.

Scott hopscotched around the central lake, putting his race in positions that were difficult to attack.  Mike went for the southern strategy, putting his Dwarves in the mountains and declining them, only to start another race that didn't quite pan out.  Allan brought out one of the gobbling races and slogged his way through Joshua's minions from northwest to southwest, before chomping through Mike's guys in the south.

Mike changed strategies by bringing in the Wizards and packing away the points in Allan's abandoned northwest.  However, Scott was nearby and decided to take them out, so they didn't last long in decline; though in the end the decision to hammer Mike was another blunder.

In the meantime, Tom brought out the Humans and ran them toward the north, getting double points multiple times along the way.  Scott beat him up pretty good, but even with only three men left, Tom stuck to his guns and didn't decline them.  He scored 5 points a round by double-pointing two of them, and despite advice to decline them, he played them to the bitter end and pulled out the victory.  It also earned him a promise that we wouldn't help him as much in the future; although we all advised him to decline the Humans and he rode them to victory, so what do we know?

The final tally:

Tom = 84
Scott = 79
Mike = 71
Allan = 78
Joshua = 68

Determined to restore our honor, we brought out old standby Taj Mahal, kind of a fun card-and-board interaction game with cool pieces.  Frankly I waited too long to write this update to remember, but I recall it seemed close until the last three rounds, when Tom shot out to a big victory.  He wasted us again:

Tom = 50
Mike = 37
Scott = 36
Allan = 33

Joshua begged out, claiming he had tickets to some concert or something as he whimpered in the corner.  We all knew he just couldn't take the beating; but at least he escaped without having to face Tom the Juggernaut again.

We tried a classic Liars Poker variant, Caribbean.  Allan and Mike fought to a stalemate the first round, and Tom and Scott picked up and delivered one cargo each.  Mike said, "How did we miss that one?"  The second round was the same, except Scott got two cargoes in the southwest quadrant.  Mike repeated, "How did we miss *that* one?"

By that point it was a Scott and Tom battle, with Scott picking up enough rum to take the lead and Tom delivering enough to stay close behind.  But less than a half-hour in, Scott was just inches away, so he picked up two he couldn't deliver to get to 29, and then delivered one next turn to end it.

Scott = 34
Tom = 27
Allan = 20
Mike = 4 (that's right, 4)

And so in the end it was Tom winning 3 of 4 games he played, and emerging as the CombsCon 2010 Grand Champion.  Of course, that left us all licking our wounds and wondering how the hell it happened.  He beat us by flying under the radar, but listening to our advice, and by ignoring our advice.  Maybe he's just good at this board game thing.

Congratulations to Tom and thanks to all for playing.  It was a lot of fun; sorry the update took so long.

- Scott

Saturday, January 9, 2010

WrightCon 2010

We started the 'Cons early in 2010, meeting at Allan's the second day of the year for a Saturday of gaming destruction and overall merriment. Here are the results of the first 'Con of the new year.

The snow slowed the commute for some participants, so we started our first game at 10:00, a five-player Small World, with Allan, Joshua, Phil, Ross, and Scott. The game has you competing for terriroty with existing and declining races, and it has an interesting game mechanic. Each race has special abilities and each is joined with a "type" that adds its own extra abilities. So identifying the most potent combinations is key.

Phil and Ross jetted out to early leads, scoring 12 - 17 points a turn through the early rounds. Ross got the Merchant Skeletons, a race that regenerated itself and paid double for each land section; Phil played several races, and continued to score on his declining one for a while. And of course, given that they were the dreaded "game leaders" the other players hammered those two to bring them back to the pack. It worked on Phil, but Scott and Allan weren't fully coordinated and let Ross' Skeletons survive far too long. Allan said: "I did my part," and Scott replied: "Ummm... I didn't know I had a part?"

Allan started with the Dwarves, which he said was the losing move when he made it. And of course, that proved prophetic, as he held three mountain spaces with them for much of the game but it didn't add a lot to his score. Scott wasted the first few rounds, then used the Flying Giants to get back in the game, before sending them into decline too quickly. He eventually got the Humans and played them to great effect on four farming territories for 8 points a round (plus his declining Giants).

Joshua got the Ghouls about halfway through the game, a race that plays like a living race even in decline. He did okay with them but didn't decline his other races quickly enough to take full advantage of having an extra race to score. And by the time he knew that Wizards weren't Sorcerers... well, it was time for him to complain that it threw off his strategy (just kidding, sort of).

Late in the game, Phil was obviously toast, having lost his early mojo to legions of doom from multiple other players. Joshua never made the Ghouls really pay. And though it looked like Al and Scott were also-rans, each was scoring 10-15 points in the late rounds to close the gap. But in the end, they couldn't catch Ross and his wire-to-wire Skeletons, who went on to victory even though they are undead flesh-eaters that you'd never invite to a party. Er, I meant the Skeletons are the undead flesh-eaters... not Ross, he was a pretty decent guy. The final tally:

Ross 97
Allan 92
Scott 90
Phil 78
Joshua 73

When the game was over, Joshua noted: "I was wrong; it's 1:00 and Mike still isn't here." Mike arrived 3 minutes later :)

We went for lunch before returning for a six-player Power Grid: France/Italy (with the new Power Plant Cards). As a group, we highly recommend the Power Plant Cards (they fix some of the big problems of the original deck) and also suggest the France/Italy variant -- new maps are always good.

It all started as one would expect. Phil got the lowest numbered power plant and so he took all three spots in Paris. The players stuck with high numbered power plants had to build last and that led to some complaints about where people had to build (your ears burning, Allan?). The first round had Phil at 3 cities and rest of the crew at 2. Ross and Joshua competed north and west of Paris and Mike and Scott shared the south and east. Allan was on his own in the expensive area near the Swiss border.

Because of the adjusted rules, there were some seriously good plants coming out. Heavy bidding led to some semi-expensive plants; a green 3 plant and some flex-fuel 3 and 4 plants went for 50% above face value. Ross and Scott mostly stayed out of the big bids, both using position to wait until the rest of the players were out of the auctions. Allan went fifth or sixth in the auctions, but was hamstrung by waiting for the 39 plant (a green 5) to come to market. So he was short on plant capacity for much of the game and definitely in the end game.

On the board, Ross spilled over to Allan's area, giving Al both competition and expensive builds. Scott and Mike had their sections mostly to themselves, though late in the game Scott built quickly north to ace Joshua out of some cheap builds and extend the game. Phil didn't quite get his plant buys right, and on the board he was surrounded, with expensive builds to the south and three players to his west, east, and north. You might guess from that that he ended up in last, which is correct, three cities behind the fifth place player.

Back to the front-runners. Joshua fell behind the pack when Scott boxed him in, and thus got his choice of plants and very cheap fuel. Mike was one city behind the two leaders, having built all the cities he could in his area, but he had plenty of plant capacity, His next building area was north, toward expensive cities and in competition with Allan and Ross, so he sort of needed Phase 3 to come, which it never did.

In the last round it was obvious that Joshua and Scott would end the game with at least 14 cities. Joshua spent some money on fuel so he could run his plants for the cash tie-breaker. Scott was building second-to-last, so he skipped the fuel because he couldn't guarantee his city builds. And that was the deciding factor. Both of them got to 15 cities, but when Joshua ran his plants he had more cash and that won him the game. The final score:

Joshua 15 cities ($115)
Scott 15 ($41)
Mike 14
Ross 12 ($220)
Allan 12 ($120)
Phil 9

We discussed the ending for a bit, before deciding on a six-player Acquire, with a modified rule set that Al bought. The new rules have a way to trade in stock if you are cash tight and do away with two-for-one stock trades when mergers happen. There are also some rules about tile placement at the end of the game, but that didn't change the game this time.

Hydra started early on the edge of the board, and Saxon started dead center. When Phoenix and Quantum (with Scott noting once again: "Quantum never crashed!") started above and below Saxon there was a run on Saxon stock. But Phil had some tiles that merged it and some that made it bigger, so while Al and Scott fought over the majority stake, Phil was growing Saxon and eventually it was too large to be acquired.

Once that was over, the stock trading rules came in. Joshua and Mike were buying more expensive stock, and when they were out of money they traded their Saxon to buy more Phoenix and America. That meant Scott and Al had to keep an eye on their Saxon holdings, as more stock became available on a regular basis. Mike traded his Saxon to load up on Phoenix and Quantum, even as they got more expensive.

Joshua thought the rule didn't help very much. Since most of the majority/minority stakes were decided and you couldn't two-for-one, he thought it was just a way to chase stock appreciation, which is questionable proposition, especially in a six-player game. That makes sense; even if you have tiles to grow your stock value, no guarantee you'll get to play them before someone merges the company.

Phil developed this odd habit of merging companies in which he had no stake, enriching Allan once, Joshua twice, and Mike three times. Ross and Scott wondered when their turn would come, but it never did. (Setting up a likely "Ross and Scott gang up to hammer Phil" at the next game session. Nothing personal, Phil.) But with Mike, Joshua, and Allan newly flush with cash, and most of the companies now active, the buying frenzy left the stock market nearly empty.

Allan still had to protect his Saxon position (as Saxon grew and grew), so he didn't get as much Zeta or Quantum as Mike. He had some Hydra, but that didn't merge until very late in the game, and by then Scott had beaten him to the minority share. But again, the majority bonus went to Mike, and it was clear he was the game leader. But Saxon was taking over everything in sight, and Mike didn't own much if any, so his victory was not assured.

When Joshua merged a late-starting America, the majority stake was shared by Phil and Scott. We went a full round where everyone placed a tile and bought as much Fusion as they could, as it was their only play (no room for new companies, no other stock to be had). And once Fusion was merged it was time to count up the carnage.

Scott was the Saxon majority share-holder by one over Allan, which was a $6,000 swing. And the bank actually ran out of money. But in the end, the Saxon effect wasn't enough to overcome Mike's advantage of being in so many acquisitions, which gave Mike a $400 win. The final score:

Mike $38,200
Scott $37,800
Joshua $32,700
Allan $30,100
Phil $27,400
Ross $23,800

Ross went home at that point, leaving Mike, Allan, Scott, Phil, and Joshua to play finish the day with a five-player Small World. This one was strange. Allan took the Skeletons to start, but they weren't Merchants so they didn't pay like they did in the first game. Nonetheless, Phil hammered Al on turn 3, after two rounds of bad scores by Al. Allan took it personally, and he and Phil got into a mutually-assured-destruction deathmatch in one corner of the board.

Meanwhile, Joshua got the Ghouls earlier and made them pay by keeping them in the mountains and skimming off three of four points a turn the entire game. He quickly brought the Wizards into play and sent them into decline so he could play a third one. Scott took Elves that could live in the water and marched across the board to hold all three water spaces, after which he put them into decline. Mike used the Tritons to clean up some of the Wizards, and then he put the Tritons into decline.

Phil finally pulled a "no mas" in the fight and brought out the Rats, taking large chunks of the board near Joshua's Ghouls. And Scott scooped up 5 victory points on the Orcs and had a big round with 8 more points from them and 5 from his declining Elves. He was also near the Ghouls, but Joshua kept them stacked up in the mountains and they paid through the end of the game. Allan continued to play the Skeletons, marching around the board picking up easy kills to grow his group and score well.

Mike started another race (can't recall which one), and he cleaned up Joshua's declining Wizards and some of Scott's declining Elves. Joshua's third race was the Dragonmaster Haflings, who have hidey holes that make specific spaces nearly undefeatable, and their Dragon control meant they could destroy one stack of someone else's pieces per turn... and trust me, Joshua took full advantage of that.

The game sort of played like the board was too big; what with Allan and Phil battling to the death in one sector and three other players moving around mostly unencumbered. The end game had Scott foolishly holding on to the Orcs, Mike ending Joshua's run with the Wizards, and Joshua holding on for the victory. Mike complained that other players advised him to take on Joshua for the possible win, when he could have been hammering Scott and come in second. So in the future we have to remind Mike that he would rather come in second. Often. I personally pledge to do it as much as possible :)

The final score:

Joshua 89
Scott 84
Mike 82
Phil 66
Allan 57

On the whole it was a lot of fun -- called "the best snow day ever" by many involved. Thanks to Allan for hosting, and to the rest of you for slogging through the bad weather. Next time we have to do a six-player Dune; and hit Goody Coles for sure!

See you in the sand... or the snow,

- Second Place Scott :(

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Overall Victories Updated!

I went through all the recorded games we played but that aren't yet summarized, and came up with the definitive "Overall Victories" list. The current running total is at the right, but as a basis for comparison, I took screen shots of the before and after totals.

Joshua just maintained his lead, but the gap closed, from 4.5 games over Allan to a razor-thin 1.5 games over Scott. Note that between them Joshua and Scott have more victories than all the other combatants combined (103.5 to 97.5). Allan slipped to third, but he and Mike C. have a solid toe-hold in the second pack. Anne is a surprising fifth (and looks likely to keep that position for some time), though Lori W. still games once in a while.

As for the rest of the names, I have no idea who Eric, Tony, and Kevin are. Lori K. and Mike B. don't game much any more, and Christine and Vishal are long gone. Though Vishal will always remain in our hearts -- stopped by to play two games and skunked us both times, then went out on top like John Elway.

Anyhow, this update is based on games from the following Conventions:
CombsCon 1998
CombsCon 1999
WrightCon 2000
CombsCon 2000
CombsCon 2001
WrightCon 2002
CombsCon 2002
WrightCon 2003
and WrightCon 2004.

The "Overall Victories" do not include any video game wins. Tie games with no tie-breaker (or no notation of who won the tie-breaker) are 1/2 win for each player, and communal wins (e.g. an allied win in Dune) count as a win for each player in the group that won.

Enjoy the update; I will enjoy the belly-aching at my methodology, the crying about how a Guillotine win shouldn't count as much as a solo Dune win, and the trash-talking.

Let the jockeying for "head boot-licker" begin!

- Scott

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

CombsCon 2009, Part III

Allan, Mike, and Scott convened on 11/28/2009 for a quick day of gaming, and it was a very interesting and enjoyable gaming session to be sure. But there seemed to be a theme running through the day: "Never throw in the towel." At least two games were marked by players not giving up in the face of overwhelming odds and coming out on top. More in the the updates, but the lesson of the day seemed to be that as long as the game continues you have a chance to come back. To wit...

We started with an 11:00 game of Taj Mahal, an enjoyable card and property game Allan found at a gaming convention. After a practice round, we got started, and Scott jumped to an early lead, getting three senators to Mike's one, while Al got the city. Al continued building cities and extra "goodies" to get the matches that meant more victory points, and Mike tried building a chain of properties that would connect and re-connect for extra VP.

All of us learned the lesson that sometimes it's better to pass early and get better cards for the next round. In fact, during the game, Allan said that you should always keep an eye on turn order so you have enough cards to play when you are the first to go. And of course, even though he said it, Scott had to learn the lesson on his own -- twice! Mike always had lots of cards, so he seemed to understand from the beginning.

The game was close, with all three players playing the role of "game leader" from time to time. But turn 9 or 10, Allan used almost all his cards to dominate a round, and he powered to a commanding lead. The scores were something like: Allan 45, Mike 30, Scott 28, and it looked like a blowout.

At that point, Mike actually said out loud that he was trying to decide if he should go after Allan or hammer Scott to solidify his own second place position. In the end, he played the last rounds to win, and it paid off. Allan was out of cards, so Mike mostly won the next round, with Scott keeping pace. So now rather than a 15-point lead, Allan led Mike by about 7 or 8 points.

In the last round, Allan tried to win some things with his five-card hand, but couldn't do much of anything. (Afterward, he said he would have scored eight points if he'd just passed, but he ended up with only three.) Scott was a non-factor -- just too much ground to cover -- so it came down to Mike's huge stack of cards and Al trying to squeeze out some points and hold on. In the end, Mike came through, winning by five points with an inside chain that surrounded the main city and had most of an outer ring, too.

The game notes say he "chain-ganged us to death" and that's how it felt. Again, Allan might have won if he'd dropped out first in the final round, but tried in vain to get something going only to get shut out after using up his hand.

The spoils of not turning on your fellow gamer and trying to win outright:

Mike 56
Allan 51
Scott 51

The game only took about 90 minutes, and would go even faster if we replayed it. Highly recommended as a three- or four-player game. Five-players might be interesting, too, as you'd have to compete for the five decent things you can win every round.

Next was a quick game of Caribbean, with the same cast and crew, Allan, Mike, and Scott. Most of the action took place up north, with Allan and Scott butting heads over some ships early on. Mike was the game leader after two rounds, and it appeared that it might become a runaway. All this despite his apologetic assertion: "I'm sorry guys; there are three rules and I can only remember two of them."

When the southern booty showed up (no, not Gisele B√ľndchen -- Cartagena and Caracas!), Allan got back in the game with a nifty steal and delivery. Scott was back close a few rounds later, and all of a sudden it was a dead heat to the finish. Mike and Al blocked each other for an entire round -- and by that, I mean they had the exact same tiles in every single position. Scott sneaked by to hold the lead for just a moment. But he was out of moves, and Allan won with a right-side of the board delivery and a pick up in the lower left.

Final Score:

Allan 42
Scott 34
Mike 34

(Our second tie for head boot-licker.)

We broke for lunch and then Allan, Mike, and Scott came back to play Power Grid. This was a fascinating game. Al got semi-hosed by ending up first (thus getting the worst plant), and Scott jetted out to an early lead by placing his cities in an advantageous building area and powering two in the first round. Mike was close behind, and Scott went third for a while by keeping his bad plants but paying through the nose for of fuel.

Allan got a "green" plant and wasn't paying much for fuel. And he espoused the strategy that if you can't power a city, then don't build it. That led him into last place, but it was a very strategic move because last is best in the mid-game (you get to buy fuel and build cities first). Mike and Scott had more cities than Allan for a while, and the cost of coal and oil was through the roof. We even ran out of coal one round.

About the time we got to 10 cities, Allan moved back into the lead. He just couldn't help building, and Mike had no money because he spent $150 for the 25 plant. It was a bargain, as he ran it until almost the end of the game, but he was hamstrung when it came to building cities. At 12 cities, Scott could have won the game with a 5-city round, but he would have had to not buy any fuel in order to build those cities, and he was sure that would have been noticed. Unfortunately, that missed opportunity left him with the most cities but lousy plants.

This was the second time a player faced the "tank it or keep trying" dilemma. It looked like Allan was a lock to win, only one city behind Scott and lots of plant power. Scott even pondered aloud, "I guess I could just build to 17 cities and let Allan win so we can move on to another game." But for the second time, the player decided to keep trying, and in fact, Scott used the uncertainty of whether or not he would end the game to make the other players work to one-up each other whenever they could.

In any event, it was then that we hit the inevitable three-player Power Plant Lull. The plants available for auction sucked and would have done nothing for any of us, so we passed for three rounds. In another round there was just one plant bought, and Step 3 hadn't appeared, so our city-building opportunities were limited. We were in stasis with Scott at 16 cities, Allan at 15, and Mike at 12.

The last round before Step 3 the power plant logjam broke and all three players got new plants. At that point, it didn't make sense for Mike or Scott to end the game, and Allan spent all his dough on plants, so we went one more round. Then Step 3 arrived. Allan kept just enough cash to build two cities to get to 17, and he bought more plant power than the other players could match. Mike got the 50 plant (for $50, BTW) -- the first time that plant had ever been in a game of ours -- and Scott bought all the plant power he could but it only added up to 17.

But in a twist of fate, the last round went like this:

Allan could only build 17 cities, even though he could power 18, so his final score was 17.
Mike could only build 17 cities even though he could power 18, so *his* final score was 17.
And Scott could have built many cities, but could only *power* 17, so his final score was 17.

That's right, folks, a three-way tie for first. And with Allan and Mike lower in cash, Scott skated by for the win he might have gotten 8 turns earlier. The final tally:

Scott 17 cities (242,000 in Elektro -- i.e. cash)
Mike 17 cities (125,000 in Elektro)
Allan 17 cities (0 in Elektro)

It was another example of not giving in to the temptation to end the game prematurely. Scott could have tanked it, but ended up winning by staying the course.

Our final game was a quick one of Acquire, with Allan, Mike, and Scott playing again. Apparently this is an old game, going back to 1962, but we have a more modern copy (link). The game started okay, with no new companies for about five rounds. But once they started coming, it was fast and furious. We were out of companies quickly, and waited quite a few rounds to get our first merger.

Allan loaded up on America and Hydra, whereas Mike bought up Quantum and small amounts of three other companies, and Scott went with America, a minority in Quantum, and two other small companies. Unfortunately for Al, America would never merge and Hydra went most of the game without buying or being bought by anything.

Quantum swallowed three companies in succession (Phoenix, and two others), with Mike and Scott trading majority/minority status. Allan was left out in the cold, and since he was cash tight he would never get back in the game. Mike and Scott continued to restart companies, and soon we were corporation tight again. And that was sort of interesting, as players tried in vain to place tiles that wouldn't start companies and wouldn't add to companies they wanted to have acquired.

Scott broke the corporate logjam by having Quantum take over Saxson and Zeta in successive turns, and Allan owned some Zeta so he got a little cash to play with. America was takeover-proof by then, with Scott now the majority shareholder, and when America finally acquired Hydra, Mike was majority owner in *that* too.

If you hadn't picked up on it by now, Mike was in on all the mergers and was the clear majority owner in the Quantum behemoth. And so it is written; the rich got richer and the game ended thusly:

Mike $60,100
Scott $48,900
Allan $34,600

We discussed whether there should be some mechanism for feeding money to players who are out but don't get in on mergers. It seems like a game flaw that if you happen to buy three companies early and they all get too big to be acquired, you are not only out of the game, but it is extremely boring to continue playing.

The best plans we came up with to remedy this were:

1. Give an $500 extra to each player when a merger happens. This would not imbalance the game, since everyone would get the same extra money. And with this rule, if you are out of the merger and out of money, you can get back in the game -- or at least *play* the game.

2. When a player is about to buy stock, if s/he has less cash on hand than it costs to buy a single share of stock, that player would get a set amount of money (perhaps $500). This might imbalance things, since one player could get thousands of extra dollars in a game. But honestly if you are out of cash and sitting on mountains of un-acquriable stock, you are basically in last place no matter what else happens.

3. There was another plan, but I can't remember it. Perhaps one of the players will post it if he remembers was we discussed.

It was a very close day of gaming, as evidenced by the two ties for second place and the three-way tie for first in Power Grid. But in the end, the Grand Champion of CombsCon 2009, Part III is Mike with the final wins tally looking like this:

Mike 2
Allan 1
Scott 1

With his two victories, Mike vaulted over Scott for third place on the Overall Victories tote board. But I think I'll go through all the gaming sessions that aren't counted yet and get that total *really* up to date.

Congratulations on both victories, Mike, and on your new status as Assistant to the Head Boot-licker on the Overall Victories list.

And thank you for hosting -- it was a lot of fun!

- The Eye in the Sky

PS. As always, I look forward to everyone's corrections and amplifications of what *really* happened.

Monday, August 3, 2009

WrightCon 2009

After a scheduling mishap early in the month, we finally worked it all out for a day-long session on July 26 up in the land of cheap beer (New Hampshire). Al hosted, so the day bears his name as the 'Con of the moment.

The usual suspects, Al, Joshua, Mike C., and Scott (Four Horsemen of the "Awww... I Just Missed!") attended, along with the most famous Phil Collins I'm ever likely to meet. So we had five players, which was great; though sadly we didn't take real advantage with a game of Dune.

In fact, we started the day with Railroad Tycoon, which has a game board as large as its payouts are small. My bad luck started the night before when my car battery died, so we didn't get started until 11:00 am (Mike kindly drove an extra hour to pick me up). All five played this game.

With 13 advantage cards to start, you'd expect the two-operations card to show, and of course it did right away. Joshua realized the value from the practice round they'd played earlier, so he bid high and won the right to go first. He took full advantage, connecting two cities in the northeast and delivering a good before the rest of us realized what happened. By the end of the first round, he had about nine victory points to second place's two or three.

And of course, that meant more income for Joshua which meant more track which meant more points which meant more income which meant more bonuses which meant... sigh, which meant that it looked like a runaway after about 15 minutes. Which, if you read this blog sounds about right for this group. But things don't usually stay that way for long.

The second round of bidding for pole position got a lot more interesting when Scott blurted out that a bonus was easily available to the first player. And Joshua's long-winded explanation of how valuable the bonus was brought about the quote of the day, courtesy of Mike: "Josh, you put the 'agony' in agonizing every move." Trust me, that was not the last time we heard *that* quote on the day -- and it probably won't be the last time we ever hear it, either.

Allan won that bid and completed a link that put him in a solid second. But the bidding cost him a bit too much so he had to borrow an extra $5,000 from the bank... and gave us our next quote of the day: "No, it *wasn't* worth the buck!"

As the game progressed, Joshua was in the mid-Atlantic, with Mike down south and Allan up north. Track was built and rebuilt to avoid using any else's rails. Scott had an east-then-midwest strategy and Phil strictly midwest (with a nice run through the center of the country). In fact, going west looked good for a while, as Phil and Scott kept their debt to a minimum and still made significant inroads. But there was too much "red" to deliver out there and too many tiles to build to Chicago (the only "red" city in the area) and those two butted heads ended up canceling each other out.

For a while it looked like it would be Joshua or Allan for the championship, though Joshua maintained his lead. But Mike made a lot of hay in the south and kept delivering and delivering among three cities. And a late push by Phil made a possible track bonus a big deal. However, even with Mike's late surge, it was Joshua who kept racking up the bonus points (first to use a three-train, first to buy a four-train, etc.), and he did end up with the win. After a two-hour game, here were the results:

Joshua = 49
Mike = 40
Phil = 34
Allan = 28
Scott = did not finish (actually, an embarrassing 21 points -- yuck!)

We broke for lunch at a great local rib joint (Goody Cole's Smokehouse -- try the frito dish; it's outstanding!) before heading back to beat each other into the ground.

Next up was a five player game of Caylus, one that we'd tried before but thought was unnecessarily complex. But Joshua arrived second so by tradition he got to call second game.

It started out simply enough, with Scott building three tiles and heading out to a commanding lead (about 18 to 8, I think). Mike got screwed by a few rules that he didn't think were made entirely clear -- you know, little things like not pissing off the King... TWICE! All the while, Phil and Allan built some stone and green buildings for decent VP and mounted their comeback.

Al passed Scott about halfway through by taking chances necessary to get some gold for large buildings and used very strategic placement of "the provost" (and late "passes" for good position on the bridge). Phil kept building small stuff, while Al and Joshua started converting pink buildings to VP-laden ones. VP for them, that is... naturally. And Joshua and Mike were still very far back, but Joshua hording goods, stacking them in sets of threes that looked destined to build the King's castle. But that wasn't his strategy, as you'll soon find out.

Turns out some of what Joshua was hording was gold, and on the very last turn, he went first and built the 25-VP building, which vaulted him from waaaaayyyyyy back into first. In fact, between that play and some other stuff, he scored at least 29 of his 69 total points on that turn alone! Which means he scored at least 42% of his points on one turn in a game with 15 or 16 turns.

So how did it all end up? Well, Scott did his best but couldn't overcome the combination Karama/Guild Hall/Emperor for Life scam that Joshua sniffed out. And so the final standings showed yet another victory for Joshua. "Curse you, Red Baron!"

Joshua = 69 (victory points)
Scott = 65
Mike = 56
Allan = 55
Phil = 52

Phil had to leave, so we finished up with a four-player Starfarer's of Catan, which might have some of the coolest pieces of any game ever. And let me say up front that Joshua's luck finally ran out -- he was dead last from the get-go. Of course, my luck hadn't changed since the dead battery, so I had high hopes for this one.

We started at 6:30, and by 6:35 Mike bemoaned not following his *own* strategy. He thought you should have a spaceport in the front row to enable easier ship launching, and then ended up with none there. He did okay, though, getting two trade ships out and landed (though with a bad event card one ended up taking forever). Joshua puttered around with lasers and boosters, as the resources just wouldn't come to help him build ships.

Allan and Scott were tooling around the universe, looking for decent places to land. And then it happened -- the oh-so-friendly Travellers gave space-jumps to Mike and Joshua. Josh's was lame, giving him a trade ship that he couldn't land. But Mike leveraged his to a landed trade ship (just ahead of Joshua), and before you knew it he had three of the "friend" disks (worth 2-VP each), and had vaulted out of the charity area to the lead.

Scott was sort of middle of the pack, using a space jump and spaceport strategically to enable ship launching from the middle of the board. But in the end, he didn't have the freight rings to land trade ships, and his strategy petered out. Maybe he was there just to make Joshua not feel entirely lame; I think Joshua was actually in VP deficit at one point :)

But Al mounted a furious comeback, building a laser-and-freight ring laden ship that blasted through "red" planets, getting VP for it. He even got a space jump (after much wailing at the cruel universe), and appeared poised to take the game.

However, in the end, Mike's lead was just too great, and when he bought the fame ring to end the game, Al thought he was two turns away. Final standings looked like this:

Mike = 15
Allan = 14
Scott = 10
Joshua = 9

So that was WrightCon 2009. Only three games, but still a heck of a lot of fun. Thanks to Al for hosting, to Mike for driving me up, and to Joshua for driving me home.

Be well, and I'll see you in the sand,

- Scott

Monday, May 25, 2009

CombsCon 2009, Redux

After months of planning and a few fits and starts, we finally got a game session together for last Saturday. Mike and Anne were our gracious hosts, and we played two three-player games and three four-player games.

We started at 10:00 with Allan, Mike C., and Scott playing Power Grid, though the start was interrupted when the CEO of Scott's company lost email access. But we got rolling quickly enough, vowing to play by the actual rules this time. Which somehow we did.

Even with the correct plant replacement rules, Mike scored an early 7-city plant and Scott snagged an early 6-city plant. Allan missed out on those, but ran three wind-power plants for much of the game. This had a curious effect -- it was a boon for all. Allan didn't have to buy fuel, so he had more money on hand, and Mike and Scott got to buy *cheaper* fuel because there was one player out of the fuel market.

Anyhow, Allan initially had the second-most cities and try as he might he could not fall behind Scott, so Al got railheaded out of cities and that cost him any chance for a victory. Scott couldn't keep up with Mike's powering capacity; just too many 2- and 3-city plants available and nothing he could upgrade. So in the end, Mike squeezed out a victory in a very quick game (by our standards). The game was 2.5 hours, and the final standings went like this:

Mike 15 (powering capacity)
Scott 14
Allan 12
Note: Joshua called to say he'd be there by 2:30. There were some skeptical eye rolls, but I'm not at liberty to say who's eyeballs were rolling.
Our second game was Puerto Rico, which we highly recommend, as it plays great at three-, four-, or five-players. It was a strange one, with Mike bolting to a big lead in victory points and looking for all the world like he'd run away with a second win. He produced lots of different types of goods and had a Factory to take advantage of it. But in the mid-game, his lack of a Warehouse cost him lots of goods during shipment phases, and that probably cost him the game. Lots and lots of tobacco was lost -- and that is a very valuable commodity.

Meanwhile, Allan produced lots of corn and he and Scott used Quarries to build, build, and build. Unfortunately for Al, his corn wasn't worth anything with the Trader, whereas Scott was trading of coffee at four-ducats a throw. And Scott had an Office to boot, so he could always trade Coffee no matter what.
Note: at 2:30 Joshua called to say he'd be there at 3:30. More updates as they become available.
Riding the money from all that coffee (and his Quarries), Scott got three of the 10-ducat buildings and nearly got a fourth -- Al just edged him out. That made the score closer, but Scott eked out a win at the 90-minute mark:

Scott 57 (victory points)
Allan 54
Mike 44
Note: Joshua showed up just as this game ended at 3:30. He then claimed that he could have been there at 3:00. And even though we prefer to be charitable, we can't think of any reason why you'd put off getting to the game table. Perhaps Joshua will post his reason in the comments area.
After a 15 minute set-up, we started Pillars of the Earth at 3:45 -- all four of us: Allan, Joshua, Mike C., and Scott. Not that it mattered much; it was a runaway most of the game, with Mike hitting a big lead around the third turn. Others might remember this one better, but Mike had some huge Victory Point machine; it depended on Stone but he had plenty of it.

Allan went for some metal but never made it really pay in the end, though he ended up with a very good showing. Joshua avoided some *very* bad news early on, but his strategy got bunged up when Al edged him out of two things he needed. Scott had a money-making machine, but took too long to optimize it for Victory Point production.

Mike rode his big early lead to a comfortable win. And even though Al and Scott were closing the gap, it would have taken at least two more turns, and that's a lot in a six-turn game. The final standings:

Mike 49 (victory points)
Allan 45
Scott 45
Joshua 42
Note: If you haven't figured it out, Joshua was at the game table by this point, so there will be no more updates on his whereabouts.
Next up was another round of Power Grid, and I'd like to reiterate that it is *so* much better when you play by the rules. Scott waited to buy his first power plant and ended up with the best one, which of course meant he went last in all the important phases. That lasted two rounds and cost him dearly (missed an early build round by a BUCK). He never recovered and was only a factor in how he could screw other players.

Speaking of which, he screwed Mike in a build phase and then helped Mike screw Joshua that same round. Never got around to Al, but I'm sure he had his eye on him. And when Mike aced Joshua out on that build, it set Joshua back and he never really recovered. So it became a two-man race: Mike and Allan.

Al chose the best spot on the board, with seven cheap cities he could build with no interference. And he used that to get us to Phase 2 quickly. Then he slowed his building and let Mike catch up, which gave him cheaper fuel and a shot at better plants in the auction. And he used that strategy to stockpile money and wait until he had more plant capacity than anyone else -- at which point he built 5 cities (getting to 17) and ended the game with an impressive win (though it did come in a tie-breaker):

Allan 12 (plant capacity), and $25 cash
Mike 12 (plant capacity), and $21 in cash (the tie-breaker)
Scott 11
Joshua 10

We started our last game at 7:45, a "quick game" of Merchants of Amsterdam. Everyone started with a strategy of not overpaying for auction items. That lasted until the first auction went for $160,000. Just something about the possibility that others might win the auction rubs us the wrong way. It's the same reason we never made any money in Ransom; but that's a story for another day.

This game was dominated by those who had actual strategies: Joshua and Mike. Both got multiple bonus payments, both played their cards just right before payoffs, and both ended up at the top of the leader board. Joshua had spots sewn up on the commodity market, and first or second in just a few other places. Mike had some commodities, but was more dominant in the world market. Allan was probably most dominant in the warehouse strategy. And Scott... ummm, he brought Girl Scout cookies, so I guess that's something.

Anyhow, time moved too quickly for Allan several times, and Mike took an early loan that was costly to repay later (though he said it was totally worth it). And though it was tough to give up some of the perks in the later rounds, Joshua managed a fairly comfortable win, joining the $500 club three times over:

Joshua 1,650 (Guilders)
Mike 1,480
Allan 1,290
Scott 1,070 (and Thin Mints!)

The final tally (which has been added to the Overall Wins tote board) was as follows:

Mike C. 2 wins
Allan 1 win
Joshua 1 win
Scott 1 win

In any event, a good time was definitely had by all. In fact, it was so much fun that we're gonna try that whole "playing by the rules" more often. Pinky Promise!

- Scott