Tuesday, January 27, 2009

CombsCon 2009

Hi all,

Allan, Joshua, Mike, and Scott got together on Saturday to eat bad food and play bad games... er, that is to say, play games badly. We got in five board games, and played exactly *one* of them without blowing at least one major rule. That's right, wicked experienced gamers mess up basic rules and throw the entire session into chaos; film at eleven. Oh well, when will we learn the most often given advice on this blog: "Read the rules!"

Anyhow, our first game was just with Allan, Joshua, and Scott (Mike was on a conference call). We played Caribbean, a light little game where you have pirate ships pick up and then deliver plundered booty. Seemed simple enough, with only a page and a half of rules, so what's to mess up, right? Well, turns out that in addition to getting paid for delivering the booty, you are supposed to get paid for picking it up! I guess that's what we get for being pirates.

It only took an hour, Allan won:

Allan 32
Scott 26
Joshua 24

The three of us promised to play it again by the actual rules. It was the first of many promises to be ignored on the day.

When Mike joined us, we tried The Pillars of the Earth, where you play builders in medieval England, trying to construct the most beautiful cathedral in the world. It started out well, with advice from the most experienced player simply not working out and lots of hilarity at bogus random events and such. Wasn't until the end that we realized that the most precious commodity in the game, metal, *cannot* be purchased at the market. But by then, it was too late -- and Allan had such a store of metal that the rest of us couldn't even benefit when the king decided to hand some out.

The outcome was preordained, and Allan converted that metal store into a four-point victory:

Allan 51
Joshua 47
Scott 45
Mike 44

Having blown a second game, we decided to play The Pillars of the Earth again, this time with the proper rules. Allan got seriously hosed by bad randomness. You don't roll dice in this game, but it was like hitting snake eyes four rounds in a row. Somehow he overcame that to come back strong. But Joshua edged Scott out for the Glassblower, and rode that to a shocking come-from-behind victory:

Joshua 50
Mike 46
Allan 43
Scott 37

Having seen enough of this game, we agreed on Power Grid next, a game of power plants that had us mostly sitting in the dark. You see, there's an auction for new plants, and for most of the game, when the auction ends you move the highest priced plant to the bottom of the deck. This guarantees that you don't get too much power capacity or spend too much money early in the game. Except, of course, when you are us and you forget to do it.

So in our version of the game, Joshua had three permanent plants before we finished a third of the game, and when we realized it, there was just no way to correct it. We concede the game to Joshua, though I am not counting it as a win. It was just too egregious of an error, so sorry Joshua, you'll have to forgo the victory on this one. Maybe we'll give *two* wins to whomever claims victory in our next game of Power Grid... the one where we READ THE RULES before starting :(

Next up, Starfarers of Catan, the space version of the classic Settlers of Catan. Starfarers has some of the coolest bits of any game in existence. Space ships that accept expansion boosters, lasers, freight rings, and fame rings. Very cool looking and very well thought out. So you might ask what mistake we made here. Well, in the very first turn, I was instructed to play without getting my free resource and without rolling for additional resources. So when I had to face a challenge, I decided not to give a resource (since I had so little) and my ships were grounded. They corrected Joshua when he did the same as I had done, but never went back to redo my turn -- which hamstrung me from the beginning.

There is some controversy about whether or not that constitutes a rules violation; but if they'd made Joshua go with his mistake I could have accepted it. But when he got a do-over... well, I vowed to use the blog to get my final say.

The game itself was a lot of fun, and even though he didn't realize it until we pointed it out, Joshua ended up winning:

Joshua 15
Allan 14
Mike 10
Scott 10

So all-in-all that is two victories for Joshua and two for Allan -- and a totally botched game of Power Grid. We never did get back to Caribbean, but who cares. If the rest of the day was any indication, we would have botched that one, too.

Besides, the best part of the day was the food -- that's all that really counted. Allan brought homemade salsa and the planet's best root beer, Capt'n Eli's. Scott brought homemade chocolate cookie dough and cooked it up during Starfarers. And Mike provided dinner. Of course, all Joshua handed out was ass-whippings, but that's about what we expect when playing with him.

A big "thank you" to our hosts, Mike & Anne. I had a great time and hope others did, too.

- Scott

PS. I updated the Overall Victories tote board.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The CombsCon Email that Started it All

In 1997, some of the gaming crew and I considered a trip to the annual AvalonCon board gaming convention in Baltimore. But after reading the game schedule and closely inspecting hotel prices, etc., Mike sent an email, and that is how it alllllll started.
Subject: CombsCon 1997

Does taking 3 days off work and flying to Baltimore for gaming sound fun but hard to justify to your boss?

Were you disappointed to find that in three days at AvalonCon you'd only get to play 5 games you really liked?

Do you have better things to do with your money than pay for airfare and a hotel?

Try the local alternative: CombsCon!

Conveniently located in Cambridge, CombsCon 1997 offers more!
-- More gaming time
-- Less time away
-- More of the games you want to play
-- Less expensive (no fee, no travel time)
-- Gaming celebrities, including:
---- Scott O'Neil, star of the infomercial "Make a million with the
Canadian Pacific RR"
---- Allan "I never rolled a 6, unless it was bad" Wright
---- Mike Combs, master of lose-lose negotiating

Friday, August 1st at 9am through Saturday, at midnight. 39 Hours!

Games! Each attendee gets to name the games they want to play for a 4 hour period.
LaserTag! We'll go Friday AM for the discount rate, and longer play times.
Bolo! Bring your Mac for a massive network Bolo session.
Food! Lori has offered to create a special treat.

Tell your boss now that you're taking next Friday off.
Send everyone on this list an email to confirm.
Let me know if you want to stay the night.
Bring a six-pack of your favorite beer.

See you there!
Mike Combs
When replying with great enthusiasm for CombsCon, some of us showed off our ultra-geeky signature files.

"How will it end?" -- Centauri Emperor
"In fire" -- Ambassador Kosh
==== don't miss babylon 5 ====

You fell victim to one of the 'classic' blunders!

"WE must play some time."
"Certainly we must -- by POST!"
- Live from the Green Dome...

Then began a debate over whether to play certain games.
Joshua: I'm in (as long as we try to get at least some sleep).
PS. So are we going to play a few Dune games a few Railroad games and Bolo or are we going to try to squeeze in one game of Civilization?

Mike: If your requirement is that we get some sleep, then we probably can't play Civilization. CombsCon 1997 is only 39 hours long, you know. Actually, Scott has a new game, Age of Renaisance (sp), which is supposed to be Civilization with the rules improved.

I'd also like to play a game of Republic of Rome. Every time I go to a
game shop and tell them which kind of games we like to play, they
recommend RoR. The game deserves another chance.

Scott: This would be a great opportunity to play Age of Wren-Uh-Sance (sp?), if anyone wants to set aside 4 hours to try it out. It'll probably take longer than that to play, but if it's any good, we could just continue with it. I'll bring it, in any case.

Allan: I've seen Age of Renaissance played at a con - I'm interested in trying it.

Mike: I bought Air Baron today. Here's a list of games we own, that we haven't played much, that are worth revisiting:
* Air Baron
* Age of Renuhsawnce
* Ransom
* Mediteranian
* Republic of Rome
* Lords of the Sierra Madres (Just like RoR, people keep recommending this highly. With the rules clarifications Allan found, we should try it again sometime.)
* Speed Circuit (well, i thought i'd try to sneak this in)

Allan: Don't forget Eurorails!

Then the celebrity guests chimed in.
I'm proud to be one of the celebrity guests at the inaugural CombsCon, and even prouder to announce that I've chosen CombsCon 1997 to preview my new 1830 book: "Why It's Called 'The Erie': Strategies that Win You Praise When You Lose the Game." Program note: during the autograph sessions, I do NOT sign body parts.
Scott "Make a million with the Canadian Pacific RR" O'Neil
Well, I went to HistoriCon, gamed for three days straight with 'normal' luck (instead of my usual bad luck), wow what a great three days... The van I rented for the trip died in the middle of the Tappan-Zee bridge at 5:00 in the middle on Sunday rush hour traffic. We had to get three rental cars and leave the heap in NY. I was supposed to get home at 8:00 p.m. but instead got in at 3:00 a.m. the next day. Looks like my Karma is back in balance now.
- Allan "I never rolled a 6, unless it was bad" Wright

The first deal of the 'Con was struck.
Mike: Allan, please bring me two six-packs of Oregon IPA at NH prices. I'll reimburse you. (Unless you'd like to die roll for it.)

I'll gladly do that and import additional beer at NH prices upon request.

One of the core crew bailed out, but still made a contribution.

Mike B: Mike, It's wonderful you're doing this. I must, reluctantly, stay away and work. I hope to hear stories. I have Republic of Rome here. If you need it, just let me know and I'll drop it by on Thursday evening or Friday.

Mike: Yes, can I get RoR from you? Drop it off whenever is convenient. If you pick Thursday evening and we're not home, put it on the back porch. Do not try to slide it through the mail slot. The SlobberDog thinks that everything that comes through the slot should be treated as food.

And with all that, we were off and running. IIRC, I was less than three weeks away from a new job, so taking that Friday meant saying I was too sick to work -- though I wanted to say I was too *well* to work :) -- and then giving my notice less than a week later.

Over the years, we not only learned how to spell "
Renaissance", but the group morphed from gaming every other weekend to occasional mini-convention style gaming. CombsCon 1997 was the first of many of these, and I'll post what information I have about them, including who won the 'Con and updates to the Overall Victories tally.