Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The World of Tomorrow- edited!

I've had some trouble finding a steady supply of cassingles lately and thought it might be time to upgrade my Walkman to something a bit more convenient. I was very surprised to discover that Apple computers was still in business and sells a Walkman-like device!

Older readers may remember Apple from back in the 1980's. They had a popular advertising on TV and flourished briefly before being swamped by Windows. I had always assumed they had just gone out of business but it seems as though they have struggled onwards by manufacturing music players! I picked up one of these "I-Pods" and fooled around with it a few weekends ago.

I was excited to find that not only can I play my Taylor Dayne and Howard Jones songs but I can also listen to internet broadcasts called Podcasts (which is probably why Apple called their product an I-Pod, kind of riding on the coat-tails...). For gaming purposes I've hit upon Meeples and Miniatures. While most gamers are probably aware of this podcast it's worth mentioning just in case.

Meeples and Miniatures is a series of gaming related podcasts produced by a British fellow named Neil Shuck. He reviews games, talks about his gaming experiences, and discusses the state of the gaming hobby. On occasion he has interviews or guests on the show. Put briefly the podcast is a great source of information regarding the hobby. But there's more to love.

For one, the show is a great chance to listen to British men call each other mates and chaps. I think gaming shines as a social activity and it shines the brightest when it's done with mates and good chaps. The American "dude" just doesn't compare.

Secondly the show is a great source of affirmation. Feeling silly about your insanely huge game or miniature collection? You will feel like a frugal miser when you hear about Neil and his friend's collections- thanks Neil!

Finally, many of the episodes are thought provoking or even heartbreaking. In one episode the two men talk about their inspirations for gaming. They both relate how their dad's built them gaming terrain and equipment by hand. Then they describe specific pieces- certain model planes or a model airfield. Now as a parent you wonder if the things you do for your kids make any impact. How moving to hear how in these men's lives their father's handicrafts remain treasured some fifty years later! Then the bomb drops- editor Henry Hyde's father died when he was eleven. While his father never got a chance to give a speech at his wedding or share a beer on some summer evening, his love will be forever manifest in the things he made for his young son as he shared his bobby! Man, I tear up just thinking about that. Folks- the pastime we enjoy is absolutely a family hobby and whether we're playing boardgames or crafting miniatures or both we can and should involve the kids and share our interests.

That last came from the View From the Veranda episode number three. Look for it and then range through the other episodes for more interesting conversations, news, and gossip.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Huzzah! Shopping Wrapup

Rural New Hampshire has a lot more miniatures gaming resources than you might expect but"lots more" than zero leaves me needing hobby supplies. Huzzah! was a chance to pack up the wagon with furs and head on over the the big city and trade them for some much needed gear.

One thing I noticed at the event was a string of big expensive rule books that actually contain fairly simple systems accompanied by many pages of pretty pictures and chatty text. I picked up a copy of Rick Priestly's Hail Ceasar as one example. The system is an evolution of his Warmaster rules (available free on the interweb btw) and I'm excited to play it but it's quite a switch from Flames of War or Warhammer 40K, both of which are quite rules-dense (and suspiciously similar in a hillbilly-esque fashion as well). Priestly's Black Powder is similar and you might say the same about recent purchases Lasalle and Rank and File. Still, I'm happy to play good rules if they're simple so we shall see how Hail Ceasar fares.

I also jumped further onto the plastics bandwagon with sets of Vikings from Wargames Factory and Gripping Beast. Part way into assembling both sets I'm very happy with how they're coming together. Gripping Beast does great work so that was no surprise. I never felt the love towards Wargames Factory that seemed to grip so many in the hobby and many of their other products did not seem exactly top notch. That being said their Viking bondi are nicely sculpted and are assembling very well. Plastic figures don't carry the satisfying heft that metals do but the price is so very very right. For purposes of throwing together a fast dark ages opfor group to take on my Scots these are just ideal.

Finally I managed to spend so much money on raffle tickets in a wasted attempt to win Command and Colors Napoleonics that I really could have just purchased the game outright. I can't imagine this will sway me from my belief that raffles and scratch-offs are great investments but it does keep my from putting my lovely 10mm Napoleonic miniatures onto the tabletop anytime soon. I'll get you next year Red Baron! And maybe just shell out for the da%$ game this summer. The system is getting great reviews and I think it sounds perfect for miniatures.

Huzzah Wrapup

So the big wargames convention in Maine has come and gone. I have to say that this year's Huzzah! was just as much fun as last year's. Here are a few thoughts in hindsight.

For one, Huzzah! is a great example of how the tenor of an event relies on the people who are in charge. The Maine wargamers are a friendly and efficient bunch and that spirit really permeated the con at all levels. Certainly a good lesson that carries into all aspects of our lives.

In terms of games themselves the event was a good opportunity to try some new systems. I played my second game of Fields of Glory (FoG). FoG is blessed with a fabulous looking rulebook and cursed with forbidding and impenetrable appearing pages of charts. It was a real pleasure to discover how fast moving and intuitive the game turns out to be. At the same time it makes one wish for a better presentation somehow as the FoG rulebook's appearance completely blocked our club from ever trying it.

I also had a chance to play a game of Aerodrome. This is a First World War aircraft game and it was just fabulous. I found it simple, quick to learn, but full of potential in terms of actually mastering the play. The team that demonstrated the system has some gorgeous model planes and beautiful wooden control panels that added up to make it a great event. Here's a photo of my plane and control panel, and my medal for shooting down an enemy!

I did find that some of the con's games suffered from being spectacular in theory and just terrible as actual convention events. In a club setting you can relax, chat, drink a beer (or soda!) and potentially spend 6 hours playing a single game with no trouble. In fact, that sort of afternoon is pretty ideal. In a convention setting, however, you really need a game with rules that can be learned in ten minutes and game turns with a scant minimum of player downtime. I do wish that con game masters would consider those factors when deciding which rule sets to use. I feel like a complete heel when I sign up for a game and then start to drift off and look bored when ten minutes pass between moves. Or when the game master is explaining the historical significance of each tree on the map and I start looking around for some sort of way out. I appreciate that level of knowledge and complex games have their role but at a con I want to get started fast and then keep the action going.

None of that is to detract from the overall awesomeness of the event. I would so recommend Huzzah! to any interested gamer in the Northeast, even over bigger events like Historicon. The event is well produced, the games are high quality, and Portland Maine is just a terrific city. I'll be looking forward to next year's event, at which I am hopefully going to be running a game or two myself...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thunderstone- Dominion in the Dungeon

I enjoyed Race for the Galaxy so much that I've spent the last few years trying to find a game that would be its equal in fun and satisfaction. Since Race features cards I've probably unwisely assumed that another card game is the direction to look into and that's taken me through Magic, Dominion, GoSu, and quite a few others. Toy City in Keene had a discounted copy of Thunderstone and since it featured cards I knew that at last I'd located the successor to Race!

Well I was wrong but Thunderstone has some nice qualities and is a decent choice for a family game so let's talk about it. Thunderstone is a deck constructing game. Players start with a few cards and then add new cards to their deck. The desk is repeatedly shuffled and hands are dealt so that the cards you purchase in the last turn may come up to help you in the next turn. Over the course of the game you "construct" a deck of cards and hopefully choose to add cards that will be useful later in the game.

Thunderstone has a fantasy theme and features a "village" location and a "dungeon." Some of the cards you can buy represent items like magic swords or spells. Others represent "heroes" like dwarves or amazons. Over the course of the game you can use hero cards in your hand to kill monsters in the dungeon. You might use a magic sword card to make your hero more powerful or use a torch card to help light their way. Each monster earns you victory points and also has a cash value that can be used to buy more gear.

Thunderstone has enough role playing elements that you might think of it as a role playing game. In reality the winner is the person who can most efficiently slay zillions of monsters and manage their deck well. The challenge isn't necessarily that the creatures are very tough. The challenge is to do the job quickly and make sure your deck remains useful.

I found Thunderstone to be fun but not outstanding. I expect a bit more complexity in my card and deck games and Thunderstone is somehow disappointing. One way to win? I'm spoiled by Dominion and Race for the Galaxy which both seem to feature a multitude of winning strategies. I'm also not struck by a huge variety of action combinations, again a result of being spoiled by other games. On the positive side it is easy to learn and relatively inexpensive, and I've been told that the expansions add some challenge and variety. I'm glad I got my copy on sale and I see this as a game that's appealing without being brilliant. And if you're addicted to deck building games it's certainly worth a look.

Survive- It's fun to Survive...

Triple Play Games in New Hampshire keeps the game nights coming and after a bit of a dry spell we have a game that's really pretty appropriate for almost all ages. In the game of Survive you try and get your play people off a sinking island and across the ocean to safety. The game is fast, simple and fun.

A game of Survive starts with the construction of an island out of several dozen hexagonal pieces. At the center of the island are grouped pieces depicting mountains, then comes a ring of forest pieces, and then beach pieces. The players then place tiny wooden tokens on each island hex representing their poor subjects who have to now escape from the sinking island.

Each player takes a turn removing one hex piece, starting with the beach tiles and moving in. Under each tile is printed some sort of game effect. A shark, whale, or sea creature may appear, a whirlpool may suck everyone in the vicinity down, or the player may get some special ability to use later in the game. The player then has a chance to move their people a limited distance across the island or into the ocean around it. Finally, a sea creature is picked randomly and the player gets to move it.

Over the course of the game the players try to move their people across the ocean while avoiding sharks and whales headed their way. Simultaneously they try and direct the various creatures Towards other player's tokens. Some tiles give you special movement abilities and some allow you to place sea creatures on the board. Finally, you can move one type of creature at the end of you turn but the specific type is picked randomly.

In practice Survive is a pretty light game. You have little chance of picking which sea monster you're going to be able to move so you can't work with any long term strategy. Instead the game devolves into a frantic race across the waters while sea creatures zip hither and yonder knocking over boats and devouring swimmers. In this sense it's a bit random but still fun. A single player may end up with a crushing victory or defeat but it would be as much from luck as skill and thus Survive works well as a game for younger players. There is some thought to the game, and that makes it fun for older folks as well. The game itself is very colorful and the wooden pieces are lots of fun to play with.

I don't see Survive as a game for the ages but I think it fits a nice niche as a filler game for experienced players and a good family game when younger kids are involved. I might think of it as a good choice to bring on vacation.