Tabletop Game Day: Play List

While I write this, Empire Strikes Back plays in the background, coffee in a cup near at hand, my dog asleep on her bed, and my cat battering some enrichment object around.

TABLETOP GAME DAY 2017

So that happened. It was completely consequently that a friend and I ended up playing games today, but so much the better.

We roped in my buddy’s partner for a few games of Battle Sheep, and then two games of Kemet, followed by a game of Spyrium. By then it was too hot to continue thinking.

KEMET WITH THE TA-SETI EXPANSION

Highlight of the day was Kemet with the Ta-Seti expansion (we had the black pyramids and divine intervention and combat cards included, but we left out the priest track). Both of us love the base game and have often played two back to back games of Kemet on days we get together to clash.

The Ta-Seti pyramid and associated ‘tech’ cards are a great compliment to any of the three basic colors (red, blue, white), with great new agency and new synergy available. I played twice with white/black/red, and enjoyed both passes on the new tech tree.

The new combat cards added a lot of fun new yomi strategy, and both of us saw the value in using the new 5 Strength card (even though it hurts you when you use it, but after the fight).

The new divine intervention cards added great new agency, and didn’t feel like power creep at all. In fact, all of it felt really well balanced, and I didn’t feel like it was a necessary thing to take the black pyramid powers, but they were a fun new addition to the gamescape.

SPYRIUM

This was my first pass at Spyrium, and I have to say, as ‘euro’ games go, this wasn’t terrible. It had some good player interaction with the placement of workers, and the timing of pulling them up for cash or game effects. It is a race to get points game, not a lot of direct interaction, but we were able to rope in a third player which made the placement more interesting (and lucrative). Overall, I enjoyed it enough to maybe play it again, but its not my 10th choice.

BATTLE SHEEP

I have played this one a few times before, but it was enjoyable start to the day to play three, back-to-back games of this very quick and easy turn-based placement game. If you’re not careful, you can get cut off quickly. Loads of fun. Lots of fuckery. Definitely worth playing, and possibly an easy game to play while trashed (could be a plus/minus, depending on how you look at it).

For the second map, we ended up colluding to create it, but did the normal map creation for the first and third games. Having narrow choke points is very interesting ‘terrain’ for the game, and the empty spaces made it a much more interesting experience.

 

Designing a Card Game

Alright. Wow. That’s about all I can say with respect to the current US political situation. Wow. WE have some serious problems. Most of them are in congress and senate. There’s a loud one in the white house. So toxic and loud.

A FEW YEARS AGO IN A STRANGE PLACE CALLED *COUGH*

I have been working on a card game on and off for about 2 years. The first idea of this hit me when I was reading The Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell. Campbell’s descriptions of the space combat were engaging and provoked a creative response – I instantly started filling quadrille composition notebooks with diagrams and relationship structures for a card-based game that would simulate two fleets passing, or at least in my head it did. I had a good outline of something. Not a game. But a concept to build a game around. Sort of like bones that needed to become a skeleton to actually function together. I spent several months drawing different ideas. I had at the time no working title (I called it the Very Lost Fleet game as a joke). It has since been named Clash. We’ll see how long that sticks, and its probably already copyrighted. Might have to spell it funny, like Klash, or Claash, or Clasch, or something even more stupid. I’ll have to work at it.

HIT A SNAG, START ANOTHER PROJECT

SO, I had pages of notes. I distilled what I had to a few pages of diagrams and relationships, values, ideas I wanted to include, and put it aside for a time.

Then I started a big board game project that I am affectionately calling TUCA (Total Utter Complete Annihilation) which is basically a 4X game in a fantasy setting at the dawn of the discovery of a powerful new fuel: Slick (heavy handed much?). The game has a lot of stuff I want to include. The combat is card driven, with a rock-paper-scissor structure at its core. And there is a set amount of slick in the game world, and after set amounts of Slick is used to do things in the game, an Apocalypse strikes, and radically shifts the game rules and environment. All while you are fighting over territory, setting up mining operations, building forts, and other stuff in the terrain between city-states.

So yeah, another project entirely. Then I got to a point where it needs a big shift in thinking to get to the next playtest phase. TUCA is as of this writing about 30% something like a board game that I might want to play, which is basically the baseline for my even creating a game.

BACK TO CLASH

After getting through a few playtests of TUCA’s combat card mechanic, I had the ideas needed to make Clash a possibility. So I went to work. About 10 revisions and 4 months later, I have two working prototypes. It plays in the manner I envisioned it, and has a variety interwoven structures all in a rock-paper-scissor style format. The game revolves around forcing your opponent to discard cards until they don’t have enough to play the next round. It is possible to have both players lose.

Game Structure

The fleet cards are double valued, and are spun 180-degrees to change their ‘facing’ value which is the side of the card facing your opponent’s fleet card. Each player will have 12 cards (6 sets of pairs) for a basic game, or 18 cards (1 additional advanced card per pair) for an advanced game. Both game modes are encouraged to use Leader and Location cards, but its not necessary.

Game Play

Each round starts with both players (its a two player game) choosing and laying out four cards from their hand, face-down, in a row along the game placard. Then players reveal their first card, enact any card text if applicable, and make adjustments to your formation cards as per the rules in play. After all cards are revealed, the fleets “pass” each other for their attack run, and you deal damage to each other’s formation cards, and any tactics in play may or may not deal damage to your opponent’s hand of cards directly. Each move has a counter. Each counter, an exception. Every hit to your hand makes you lose a card. Every Formation card with a losing value (rock beats scissors, or bigger rock beats smaller rock) is also discarded. As you lose cards, you lose access to your tactics and your fleet’s ability to fight shifts, pushing you closer to defeat.

The game play should feel tense as you start losing things. New players should feel

TAKING IT FOR A SPIN

I will be heading to a FLGS to playtest this in a couple Wednesdays, and get some feedback. I know it needs refinement, but I need minds outside mine to see it and play with the system I’ve assembled to expose its weaknesses to me. And whether its even fun or not, which may depend entirely on taste. This is a direct conflict game, as best as I can manage to make right now, and that doesn’t always appeal to everyone’s sensibilities, especially with board gaming as diverse as it is. I have a particular taste in games, and most board games don’t come close to modeling that experience. They model different ones, but not what I enjoy burning my brain on (Quantum and Kemet and Inis to name a few).

I hope it works as its suppose to, or maybe works in a really different way (which would be very cool as well). Hopefully folks will show up to try it out.

On Need v. Want, and Creating Good Adversaries

WEEK IN REVIEW

Another round of delicious gaming last week. Lots of Uchronia, MagBlast, NexusOps, Citadels, Small World, Quirridors, Thurn & Taxis, and of course, Ascending Empires. Taught a couple games, including Citadels and NexusOps. If you haven’t played Citadels, you really should try it out. A great 2- or 3-player game. And NexusOps is a great skirmish/dudes-on-a-board style game.

High on my list of good things from last week was being beaten by a new player to Ascending Empires. I was very happy to see such leaps and bounds in his game play. I shall have to play harder against him next time, and perhaps focus on knee-capping him as early as possible.

BEING DEFEATED IS A GREAT FEELING

First, there’s nothing finer than a player that wins a game, and that player isn’t you. They were able to read into, thwart, or outright ignore your strategy. That is key to moving forward – recognizing you didn’t make good decisions for the context. And being beaten is a clear way to acquire that knowledge – one would hope your adversaries would exploit your move.

Second, I am not angry when another player wins. If anything, I try to thank the player for revealing a better set of decisions within the context of the game environment, learn what I can, and move on. Of course, sometimes games are intense, and a trip into some fresh air and a chat is always a good way to disconnect with any frustration you’re having towards yourself or others.

THE SECOND CONCEPT OF COMPETITIVE GAMES

          Take what you need, not what you want.

In the throes of defeat, ask yourself: Did you take what you needed, or what you wanted?

In most direct competition games, you fight over stuff. Resources, territory, fake money, etc. The only fight that matters is the fight where you lose less stuff than your opponents. That is the core of ‘need’ driving game play. If you take actions that put you behind your adversaries in terms of points or position, stop and ask if this is what you need to achieve another step towards victory, or are you simply getting emotional and want to teach a lesson (I am totally guilty of this from time to time).

Wants are things of ego, and in my experience, they have no place in a competitive game environment as they are tainted by that ego and the drive to protect the ego. Fuck ego. All that matters is playing to win, and driving yourself and your adversaries into a deeper, more nuanced play.

Need, however, is complicated to understand, and can be confusing depending on what’s at play. I would define need, then, by saying it is the single best action you can take now that will move you closer to victory, and/or move your opponents further from victory. Hopefully, you can achieve both in same act.

MIRRORING STRATEGY

When you’ve shown an adversary how to pull off some kick ass move, or explained a synergy of rules, you should expect them to use those mechanisms against you, in game. This is the essence of creating good adversaries. And you as the experienced player should thank them when they pull off that awesome move, or make that awesome shot, and it directly changes your next move. The moment that that happens is when you can sit back and put a big grin on your face – for you have helped to create a better adversary.

There is a flip side to this coin: I’ve had players get pissed off when I use their tactics against them. Mirroring/copying is a great way to learn how to play a game. Your adversaries should be ready for any in-kind reply. If they are not, then your reply should encourage them to think about you as a more dangerous adversary.

AE Cult Talk – Aggressive Ramming

Speaking of mirroring strategy, I had a 3-player match last week where I rammed 10 ships off the board with only four of mine (over the course of several rounds). It was a tactic employed against me to great effect a few weeks back. So I took it and made it part of my toolbox of strategies. Using a pair of constantly in-orbit ships stationed within striking distance of my adversary’s home world, I was effectively able to negate ships launched into formation (2+ ships launched into orbit touching) from that home world with ramming and superior position. (see diagram)

From the positions shown, with two flicks, you could 1) align your ship to maximize the ram, 2) knock multiple ships off the board. It was a hugely successful tool that game, but only because my adversary continued putting ships into orbit. I don’t expect the same results next time we play.

DO NOT LOSE THE LESSONS OF FAILURE

In any direct competition game, implementing the same strategy over and over that didn’t work is a great way to lose. But its a clear advertisement for what is not working. Learn what didn’t work. Use that against your adversaries by not making the same exploitable mistake.

I have been incredibly guilty of stubborn-borne game play – continuing to repeat the move only to watch it continue to fail. Its in those times I need to remember to LET GO.

In fact, its in this very vulnerable place, to remember that it is not the time to get angry. Its a time to move yourself closer to victory – even if that means closer to victory in the NEXT game, because you have learned the hard lesson now. When you’re pissed off and you’re beaten into a corner, start asking questions about the game environment, and start learning where your strategy went astray. While losing a game, you have a great opportunity to try something different, even risky. What have you to lose if you’ve already lost? Luck doesn’t always favor the bold, but it doesn’t hurt to learn your limits in the risk-free environment of losing.

Often times, we put our anger on the other players, especially the player clearly winning. Instead, start watching what they are doing, and attack their flow. Screw with their plan, and you force them to think in smaller cycles/increments. Making moves that force your opponent to think short term will take their attention away from mid- to long-term strategies being employed, and this is especially useful in games that allow direct interference (or politics, unfortunately).

NEXT WEEK

More to come, hopefully a review/analysis of Citadels, and more nuances of gameplay.

Peace and good gaming!

Stressed out Bitching, and some stuff about Games

SUMMARY OF THE PAST TWO WEEKS

Life’s treadmill has been set at a brisk, full out Zombies!-Run-for-your-life! pace since two weeks ago, hence the absence of any game-related nonsense. As it stands, the whole concept of writing anything, other than this pathetic explanation for a complex set of relationships and emotional ties, and all that blah blah blah blah, [This is seriously boring the shit out of me.]

FUCK IT, WHERE’S THE SHIT ABOUT GAMING

This is where my internal producer has stepped in, gone to commercial where you see some fancy faced man getting an orgasmic shave from the MACH 3 OMEGA! Now with NEW WORMHOLE MICRO ABRASION HAIR REMOVAL technology!!!!

Its epic, but I don’t care. Moving on.

ON TO THE BIT ABOUT GAMING

Yes, the gaming. I have been expanding the Cult of Ascending Empires since last I had the gall or grit to write. I think grit. ANY way, back to the CULT.

I have a couple players that came back for more Ascending Empires last week, from the previous week’s teaching game.

I started the initiates off with a demonstration of a great opening flick – a double strike (your first ship hits your second ship) and sends both into the orbits of two separate planets. A beautiful, and completely doable opening shot, even for initiates. I showed one player how to perform the strike. He started practicing, then the rest of the table started practicing. I stepped out back to have a word with the store owner, and after about 10 minutes, I stepped back in to find them still practicing. (loved seeing that)

So we started the game.

ON MAINTAINING THAT VULNERABLE COMPETITIVE SPACE

When playing competitive games, we can forget that we are consenting to enter and help create a vulnerable play space with our adversaries. When we make it about just ourselves, we forget its an interplay of multiple people. In order to grow as a player, you both need to show your adversaries no mercy (as the rules permit) and request that they do the same with you.

That assertion means you have consented to not being angry and not being a dick to other players. You can get angry with yourself, that’s cool, but not really towards the other players. These are your friends and fellow gamers. Be nice, but don’t forget to turn their worlds to ash!!!

THE ONLY RULE IN A COMPETITIVE GAME

With that said, there is really only ONE rule for competitive gaming:

If you can do it, do it.

Said another way, the onus of defense is upon the defender, not the attacker. Its the brutal truth of most competitive games. If you leave a weakness to be exploited, you are obligated not to get pissed off about it (unless you’re pissed at yourself).

A Note About Scrubs

I know exactly the kind of adversary who cannot handle a particular level of aggression. They are the type to get a sour look on their face when you attack them, or when you do something unexpected in the game environment that forces them to think differently. Then they complain about it, cry unfair, force you to get the rule book out. Its a disaster of bullshit whining.0

Make no mistake, this is lazy, rigid thinking. I have totally been guilty of that type of thinking. Whatever you want to call it, its a transitional state of mind for new gamers. And hopefully when they are done complaining about how unfair it is to play the rules to your advantage, they will realize their mistakes, and fix them. Otherwise, don’t play with those types – they will only move you away from better play, and into some bullshit system of honor that isn’t even remotely in demanded in the rules.

The rules don’t say “BE GENTLE”. They say, “THIS IS HOW YOU BLOW SHIT UP.”

I have run into the most rigid, scrub thinking in resource management games. A great attack strategy in a resource management game is to take something to stop another player from advancing, and planning on using it the next round to gain points yourself.

Holding someone back IS a form of attack. Sometimes just over-consumption is a form of attack. They are terrible tactics to employ in life, but amazing tactics within a game environment.

Ascending Empires is a game of managing failure – you WILL miss shots, and they WILL be crucial. By becoming more efficient in other ways, you can negate the impact of such failures, but at the end of the game, its the players that failed the least, and managed their rules/technology bonuses the best, who are in the best position to win.

In many ways, Ascending Empires demands certain principles of play. If you can stall or prevent another player’s growth activities, do it. Its a brutal lesson, and Ascending Empires specifically allows that level of interference by your adversaries. That means that the game is just as much about keeping what you have as it is taking from others.

MAINTAINING THE VULNERABLE SPACE

There was some heated moments in the last game. E. preyed upon the opponent that could least resist him, A. in this case. A. really bit back, called unfair. I reminded her that she must defend her worlds in order to keep them. Then I showed A. how to ram more than one ship off the board at once. Which she proceeded to do several times against E.

A. came back to the game, if nothing but to cause havoc for her assailant. And E. (who is a long time player, and protege/annoying younger brother to myself) was given another complication to flow around.

The other two players, JP and S., got into a crazy turf war. Many rounds of fighting and posturing and launching and attacks. There was a moment where JP verbally jabbed at S. for missing a crucial shot. It was harsh. S. was fumed, and I agreed – it was time to say something about why this space is important to keep vulnerable. So I did, and JP apologized, and it was full on kick ass time until game’s end.

Great fun on my part, hopefully everyone felt the same. Definitely was intense.

CRITICAL OBSERVATIONS

Two in total.

First, S. missed her crucial shot (mentioned above) by about a 1/16th of the length – it was a LONG shot, and she was very accurate in a critical moment. Precision comes with practice, but this was by no means anything other than tight, competitive game play. Again, a reason to maintain that vulnerable play space.

Second, everyone at that table missed out on the extended run of the JP vs S. turf battle. We all know what missing a shot like that entails – the world in contest goes BOOM. What we don’t know is how much more stretching of the strategy there would have been as JP and S. continued to fight over it. There’s a loss for everyone when something like that happens. That’s why its so intense, and why we must remain cool about it.

It was a rewarding teaching session. I am very much looking forward to a couple of very dangerously minded adversaries in the future.

I am looking at you, JP and S.!

WHY I WANT TO WORK THIS CONCEPT

For me, competition is not about destroying opponents so I can feel great about my fractured ego. That is the providence of children, that level of jealousy and viciousness leads to people not wanting to play a game with you.

I want to help create GOOD adversaries. Then together we can become great adversaries. That means teaching sessions with patience, and keeping in mind my own idea of this vulnerable place within the competition. And guiding it back there when it goes astray. Don’t know about anyone else, but I love the concept of a safe place to push creative and strategic envelopes.

Looking forward to teaching more games.

And thanks for reading.

The Cult of Ascending Empires

WHERE I PLAY

Before I launch into a discussion of Ascending Empires and why I adore the game, I want to talk a bit about the Play Space. An equally important part of any gaming I do is where I play. My basic response is “a mix of public and private venues” (some games are clearly better with fewer distractions). Finding new adversaries requires going out into the world to  and learn games and meet new minds.

My favorite venue to play at in my neck of the woods is It’s Your Move. The owners, Chris and Will, do an amazing job providing a space to teach and learn new games. And consequently, a place that gave birth to our splinter cell of the Cult of Ascending Empires (I make a wild assertion that there are other members I have yet to meet).

I make it a point to get people exposed to games that I find valuable to play as part of my itch to foster good competition in game environments, and I try to learn at least one new game a week (assuming something being played strikes my fancy). I devote part of my time at the shop to teaching games, and the later part of the evening to getting into something crunchy and satisfying with good adversaries.

That said, if you live near It’s Your Move, and have a Friday night free, come on down, and I’ll teach you game. Just ask for Jeremy. I am usually set up on a table in the rear of the store.

NOW, ABOUT THAT CULT YOU MENTIONED?

Yes, about that… I should mention my primary board game love affair. A game that has captivated a core group of us, and pushed all of us into a deep and nuanced understanding of one of most unique and tension filled 4X games I have played. That game being Ascending Empires.

I say “cult” loosely – though I have been told by third party observers (namely my partner K), that our little group’s discourse on opening moves, strategy, build order, etc. are a blur of esoteria from the outsider’s perspective. So, yes, its cultish – but so is anything you do a lot of. When you seek to flush out the nuances of a thing, you get more familiar with a thing. The more I play it, the more nuances I see and strive to incorporate.

WHAT ARE THESE EMPIRES, AND HOW DO THEY ASCEND?

Ascending Empires is a fast-paced, 4X game where by the means of exploration of the game environment requires the use of manual dexterity – in this case, flicking or tapping your wooden pieces (starships) around the board. For the uninitiated, 4X is shorthand for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate.

In Ascending Empires, players will compete for territory (planets), technology bonuses, and even attempt to destroy each other’s ships and facilities. The game has victory point chits (VPs) which function also as a time clock for the game. These VPs are only handed out when a player destroys another player’s pieces during an attack, OR if you’re the first to a technology plateau. End game scoring will also give players VPs (but not chits) for each colony and city built, each planet occupied, and some more difficult bonuses based on placement of cities.

Game Pieces

There are four ‘empires’, color-coded (Red, Green, Yellow, Blue). This decision is purely aesthetic. Each empire comes with 8 same colored cubes (Research Facilities), 4 small discs (colonies), and 4 hexagon towers (cities). Each empire starts the game with 6 Troops (represented by plastic space marine dudes), and 2 Starships (wooden discs with a sticker of a starship on one side). This number of troops and starships can be expanded during play (you have extra in a baggie).

The board comes in 9 puzzle pieces that are assembled to form a 24×24 inch square, with holes cut into the board to place the planet pieces into (discs).

Each player has a color-coded placard that has counters for current technology levels (four types: orange, grey, magenta, brown), and a place to put your supply of Troops and Starships that are not currently on the board. Each player also gets a homeworld of matching color, and a range marker (for measuring distance to ships for means of determining attack).

Game Mechanic

The game mechanic can best be described as parsed actions that lead to point gain actions. And like many games that have similar mechanics, you can learn to spot patterns, and attempt to thwart your adversaries’ moves and future moves.

Each round, players have a choice of one action:

  • Recruit Take 2 Troops from supply, and add them to occupied worlds. (Troops are like currency, recruit is like getting paid).

  • Move You get 2 Movement Points. You can spend them, one for one, to do any one of three specific actions:

    • Launch: Take off 1 troop from a planet you occupy (move it back to supply), and place a starship from supply on or within that same planet’s orbit line.

    • Land: This is the reverse of Launch. Take off a starship that is within or on the orbit line of a planet, and place 1 Troop on that same planet. Planet must be empty or yours.

    • Navigate: This is where you get to flick a starship to move it around the board. Each flick attempt that moves the starship costs you 1 Movement Point. You cannot push the piece. If your starship is not resting on the playing surface at the end of a flick, it is added back to your supply.

  • Build Colony Take 1 Troop from a planet, and place a colony disc on the same planet.

  • Build City Take 1 Troop and 1 colony on the same planet, and place a city Hexagon on the same planet. Immediately gain 1 Troop or 1 Starship from your bag (this is growing your empire).

  • Build Research Facility Take off 2 Troops, and place a Research Facility cube on the same planet.

  • Develop Technology Choose one color of planet you occupy with a research facility. Count up all research facilities you have on planets of the same color, and you may advance one level on that technology tree so long as that level doesn’t exceed the number of bases you have on that color. This requires a bit of explaining.

Planets are color-coded to match the technology colors (Orange = offensive power, Grey = mobility, Magenta = defensive, and Brown = growth). In this way, occupying an Orange planet, will allow your empire to exploit the Orange technology tree.

Each empire can have a single planet with two research bases on it. The limit on all other planets will be one research facility.

  • Mine Take 2 Troops off a single planet, and take 1 VP chit from the pool of VPs. Take 3 Troops for 2 VPs.

Basic Play

You flick your ships around the map trying to get them to new planets. You land on planets, recruit to those worlds, and build things on them. Rinse, repeat. That’s the basic concept. The point gain actions are building research facilities/developing or colony-to-city developments. Getting cities built will expand the troop or starship count you have to work from. Also, getting Level 1 technology across the board will get you 1 troop and 1 starship from the bag (another 1 troop/1 ship bonus at Level 2 across the board).

Rule of 3: Any planet you occupy can only ever have THREE pieces on it, no matter the combinations.

Scanning: You can always SCAN a planet at the end of any action you take. When you SCAN, you can look at any planet you are in the orbit of, but haven’t landed on yet. You put it back down.

Attacking: Attacks occur at the end of any Move action. Attacks are a straight comparison battles. Attacker must have 1 more attacks than target has Defense. Most pieces have a defense of 1, with a couple exceptions:

  • Research Facilities has a defense of 0

  • Cities have a defense of 2

  • Battleships have a defense of 2

  • Planets have a defense value of the sum total on the planet

Each piece destroyed by an attack nets the attack 1 VP chit. If an opponent’s Battleship is destroyed, the attack takes 2 VP chits. Starships must be in orbit of a planet to attack it.

Defended: If there is an opponent’s starship in orbit of a planet, that planet cannot be attacked.

Blockade: If an opponent has a starship in orbit of a planet you occupy, you may not do anything with that planet (no recruit, research bases don’t count, launching and landing prohibited).

Ram: When a player strikes another opponent’s starship during play. The first two opposing ships to touch are removed. Other pieces moved due to the activity stay where they stopped moving.

Off the Board: Any starship that ends its movement off the playing surface (that includes on planets), are removed from play and added to your supply.

Technology Trees

Each tree breaks the game rules as follows, but only for the player at the technology level. You never lose technology when your research facilities are destroyed. You just doing get to count those bases any more.

Orange Technology

Starting: You attack at Short Range (short side of range marker)

Level 1: You attack at Long Range (long side of range marker)

Level 2: Starships may attack multiple targets

Level 3: Remove 2 starships from supply or play, and take the Battleship from your baggie, and put it in supply. Battleships attack as if they were two starships.

Level 4: Gain +1 VP for each starship destroyed.

Grey Technology

Starting: You gain 2 movement points when you declare a Move action.

Level 1: You gain 3 movement points instead of 2.

Level 2: You may now Launch and Land at Blockaded planets.

Level 3: You gain 4 movement points instead of 3.

Level 4: After you declare and complete a Move action, immediately take a different action.

Magenta Technology

Starting: Research Facilities at 0 defense.

Level 1: Your Research Facilities now worth 1 defense.

Level 2: When you are rammed, gain 2 VP chits

Level 3: Your Starships in orbit of your occupied planets count as 2 starships

Level 4: Gain 1 VP chit when YOU ram an opponent.

Brown Technology

Starting: Recruit 2 Troops

Level 1: When recruiting, recruit 3 troops instead of 2.

Level 2: When you build a City, you may either take 2 troops or 1 starship

Level 3: When recruiting, recruit 4 troops instead of 3.

Level 4: You may recruit to unoccupied planets.

WHY I LOVE THIS GAME

The planets are face down, and randomized. Making the most of your context is crucial, but so is exploration. And so is flicking well. All that under pressure. It makes for an intense and awesomely competitive experience. I could go in great detail discussing the nuances of this game, but I shall say that I have built my own board, out of a solid piece of material, specifically to pull off longer shots more precisely. That should expose the drive behind it sufficiently.

Another big reason I love this game is that I have seen people that are terrible at flicking win games! Which is a clear indicator that the rules and their manipulation can defeat good flicking. It’s solid. I personally think it plays best as a two player game, but three player is incredibly fun. And four player can be an odd mix of luck sometimes. Definitely prefer 2 or 3 player games.

The final reason I love this game is that it rewards nuanced play. Our group of players have pushed into some interesting nuances of the rules, and have taken turns bludgeoning each other with some interesting positions and attack patterns. Until we start to adapt and develop counter strategies. Its deep. I’ve played near 200 games of it. I love teaching it, and watching people start to ‘get’ it. Its a beautiful thing to behold.

I’ll get into more nuances of game play at a later date. With pictures, too. Definitely need to get some pictures up on here.

Peace, and more to come…

What I played, Thoughts on Uchronia, and Inspiration

WHAT I PLAYED THIS WEEK

I had an opportunity to play Uchronia recently (a well-designed card game, by the maker of Glory to Rome, Carl Chudyk), with a great friend and a favorite adversary, Christian. Both of us have only a couple games of Uchronia under our belts, and most of them have been played with each other. I had picked up the game during Christmas, and was immediately excited about the streamlined mechanics from Chudyk’s previous card game, Glory to Rome. Both games share a lot of similarities, but Uchronia is its own beast, and a damn fine direct competition game. I mention my buddy because he is one of those gamers I enjoy delving into a new game with. He’s is a gracious winner, unafraid of losing, loves to try new things and test interesting ideas, and always learns from sessions he plays. I often think about how a game environment is a vulnerable space, and a great place to fail in. He helps create such environments.

I played about 5 games of Uchronia from last Friday through Monday. Christian played in three of them, and each game we tried out new facets of the game, and got to see some incredible synergy bonuses become not as useful, and more subtle ones becoming much more important in tighter games. After I taught Christian the game about three weeks ago, we have been chomping at the bit to play again and again. A real fun sandbox for shifty, fluid minds. I knew I was going to really enjoy playing this game when Christian pointed out how it reminded him of the parsed out mechanic in Ascending Empires (I shall write of the Cult of Ascending Empires, but at a later time). I will be getting at least one game in this Friday, and I can’t wait to sink in again.

INSPIRATION – PLAYING TO WIN

I enjoy seeing what happens when an adversary knows they have the upper hand, and how that manifests in the game environment. Victory is an awesome thing to watch – either your own or an adversary’s. The losing position is a fragile place to be, and I admit I have acted poorly as a loser and poorly as a winner. I think we have all been there – its not a great head space.

Its a brutal thing to accept failure, but its so worthy of doing – because doing so usually shuts up that gnawing beast of pride. And speaking only for myself, pride has only ever hinder my ability to learn important lessons in both victory and defeat. The more I experience good competition, the more I don’t believe that achieving victory means as much as seeking victory. Victory is a fleeting emotional thing – fun and exhilarating – but hollow without analysis. What is more important is playing to win. In fact, I linked to Sirlin.net in last week’s post, but utterly failed to express how important reading this has been. He talks about the importance of playing to win, and how it pushes the competition forward in new, interesting, and necessary ways. Again, the similarities to good competitive practices, such as within various disciplines of the martial arts, where adversaries are welcomed, and new ways of utilizing a set of moves pushes the collective forward.

AN EXAMPLE OF DIRECT COMPETITION – UCHRONIA (By Carl Chudyk)

So, WTF is Uchronia?! Uchronia is a very good example of a direct competition game. Players will compete to construct buildings for points, and acquire monopolies by further defining their actions within the game environment. Each component of the game is interwoven into the other components, creating a latticework of actions/consequences.

The play area has three basic parts:

  • The Forum, where resources are waiting to be taken into your stock or used to start buildings. Cards used as Actions are placed in the forum at the start of your turn – thus, cards only come into the Forum when they are used as actions.

  • The Domain (a placard that you play from, with the rules on it), where you place your ordered Action, and where you tuck cards as resources or activities, when directed.

  • The Draw/Discard piles, where players draw new cards, and where cards get discarded when buildings are started, or buildings are finished.

Each card has three basic uses: Activity, Action, or Resource (will explain shortly)

Your personal play area consists of several locations of note:

  • Buildings Under Construction are placed to the left of your Domain

  • Buildings Complete are placed to the right of your Domain, and associated text and victory points

  • The Stock (bottom of Domain) is where you tuck cards as Resources

  • Activities (top of Domain) is where you tuck cards as Activities – this is what gives you the ability to do MORE stuff in the game environment.

  • Your Hand, which is where you hold your cards you haven’t played.

Most turns will require the players to order one Action from their hand to manipulate the game environment.

  • Production. Tuck a card from the Forum into your Stock. Take +1 card from the Forum for each matching Activity.

  • Exploration. Tuck one card from your Hand into your Stock. Tuck +1 card for each matching Activity.

  • Draconians. Show one card from your Hand, then tuck one card of this type from the forum to your stock; in addition, each player who has a card(s) on their Domain must give a card of the same type from his hand, if possible. Show and take one additional card for each matching Activity.

  • Trade. Take one resource in your Stock and ‘launch’ it as an Activity. Launch +1 card for each matching Activity. (Activity limit is 2 + X, where X is the number of completed Buildings).

  • Construction. Start a new building (by discarding a matching color resource from the Forum) or transfer a resource from your Stock to a building in progress. Repeat for each matching Activity.

WHY I LIKE UCHRONIA

The card drawing mechanic seems to affect all players equally as playing cards fuels the Forum. The context of the game changes, and so must the players adapt as best they can. The point gain actions are parsed out over several staging actions. However, the staging actions can be used aggressively to control the game environment, and deny resources to other players. Its a game where the environment is in flux, and the players must keep up and outthink adversaries. Because the point gain actions are parsed out, there is a rhythm to the game. This rhythm is strictly defined by the players’ actions, and those show you their possible future actions. As such, you can attempt to block an adversary’s future moves by reading the sequence of actions they are performing. Uchronia allows several avenues to this end, and their usefulness varies depending on the current game environment.

And I haven’t even delved into all the functions that come online when you finish construction of a Building. Each building gives you either an immediate benefit, or a new exploit of some kind (usually a bonus when using a specific Action, or modifications to the Draconian/Trade actions). And your number of completed buildings directly increases your Activity limit (2+buildings completed). Your power grows the more your build it and the more activities you have. And how you leverage it depends solely on your ability to exploit the synergy of bonuses, and with the good timing.

As the game doesn’t immediately end when a player hits the victory point threshold (20 pts in 2 Player, 18pts in 3 player, and 16 pts in 4 player, and 14 pts in 5 player), but instead the game plays forward until the holder of the Last Turn card plays the final turn of the game. This is important for two reasons – hitting the Victory Point threshold doesn’t mean you win. You must STILL have more points than your adversaries (ties go to the player with the most buildings constructed).

The second part requires explanation of a vital part of the game, which are Monopolies. When a player has tucked the most of one type of Activity (e.g., 3 Production), they get the Production Monopoly (cheers! have a pint on you!). While you hold the Production Monopoly card, you get an extra +1 Victory Point for each Activity of matching type (e.g., 3 Production Activities would net 3 Victory Points). Here’s the sitch you and all the other players are in – these Monopolies will move instantly when a player exceeds the amount of Activities you have, plus one. So, in our 3 Production example, your adversary could claim the Production Monopoly with 4 Production Activities. That means the new Production Monopoly holder would gain +4 Victory Points (for 4 Production), and the player who had until recently held the Monopoly would LOSE 3 Victory Points. In this way, the holder of the Last Turn card has some unique advantages, if you can stay close enough to steal someone’s Monopolies at the last minute. Proof that the game isn’t OVER until its actually OVER.

I have played 2, 3, and 4 player games. I have had the most fun in 2 player games, but Draconians are very fun in games with 3 and 4 players. In short, Uchronia is a fun, chewy card game. It can be a pain to teach to less engaged people (choose your adversaries well!), but with the right individuals, it is a great game to sink your mind into.

Myself, Gaming, and When I Enjoy Competition

OBLIGATORY STATEMENTS ABOUT WHO THE HELL I AM

I have been gaming most of my life (age 4 and up). I think my first game was a DOS BASIC game called Depth Charge, played on an IBM back in 1984. Since then, its been a string of PC games, board/card games, RPGs, console games, and the occasional pick up game of basketball. I enjoy having to thinking within a system of constraints (or rules), then watch the patterns of play style and tactical choice emerge within that system. I seek out competitive game environments as a sort of mental martial art. And like a community of martial artists, in order to become better at what you do, you need good adversaries. For me, a good adversary is a fellow player that pushes back, hopefully harder than you pushed. The give and take. But with meeples and chits, rather than punches and kicks, blocks and throws.

For me, competition against a variety of players has given me insight into my own failed ways of thinking, and access to different models of decision making. This has helped me break down the ways in which I am a scrub, then work on making better decisions with the given and hidden information. As a general rule, I tend to gravitate towards players capable of creating and fostering a vulnerable and safe space to push each other to outthink and outmaneuver opponents.  Like most gamers, I am a recovering scrub, and have mostly left that flawed way of thinking in lieu of actually playing to win.

WHY GAMING?

I spend a lot of time observing the ways in which my adversaries think. I find games to be an elegant way to test and implement different ideas. And while a game can give you something to compete for, good adversaries have taught me how to win with integrity, and how to learn from a failure. While I am human like everyone else, I try to stay positive and not lose my cool at the table. Failures should be embraced. You can win a game through no fault of your own. But losing a game usually involves someone outpacing you.

One of my favorite aspects of competitive games is the way I can truly experience another individual’s mind through their decision-making process. A competitive game environment draws that decision-making process into sharp relief, reveals the pattern, and if you’re observant, can give you insight into your opponent (I am still working on reading things correctly).

You can literally track that process in the way the game unfolds. Decisions snowball into other decisions. Then counter moves snowball into other ways of pushing the rules to your own advantage. That exchange, the back and forth, is the pattern of the other player’s mind at work. And in a well-designed competitive game environment, you get an opportunity to both counter a player’s moves as well as their future moves, if you can read the pattern. And when I play a game with that many levels to it, it has indelibly changed the way I think – so long as I am paying attention to the lesson.

THE VULNERABLE SPACE OF COMPETITION

I love competition… sometimes. Well, I particularly like competition within systems of rules and constraints, aka games. I find competition to be a very vulnerable space to occupy, so choosing the right adversaries is a very critical task. Creating this space to be vulnerable actually produces “valuable” competition. The value is in the act of self-control, and staying positive (also, difficulties for me, as I am sure we have all experienced). Fostering an environment that promotes different modes of thinking and engagement requires being a support mechanism for your peers, and constantly seeking to dive into the deeper nuances of a game.

RIGGED GAMES VS. RANDOM GAMES

One’s application of strategic thought and innovative implementation is meaningless when the circumstances more than manipulation grant victory or defeat. Or, in other words, a game system with too many random variables, or too many hard and fast rules, actually hinders and sidetracks the competitive nature of a game environment.

I typically only play games that have direct lines of competition, whether that is a territory fight mixed with resource management, or games where you fight for position while having to track a variety of other variables that are solely influenced by the other players. Its not to say that resource management games aren’t fun, but they are not an experience that I derive satisfaction, as I would be playing against the board or rules set, rather than other players and their decision-making process.

More to come…