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 :(