Las Vegas Board Games Group Meetup – May 23, 2012

Every Wednesday night here in the Las Vegas Valley, a local bar called the Juke Joint plays host to the Las Vegas Board Games Group Meetup. May 23 was my first time attending. The board gamers use the side restaurant area of the Juke Joint and it was quite informal in comparison to the Vegas Game Days, which have table signups and a block schedule. Instead at the Meetup, board gamers gravitate towards a game that they would like to play or players with whom they want to play. There were 19 gamers there that night including me, which is about usual according to the meetup’s founder, Stephan Brissaud aka Frenchy. While Brissaud lives in Santa Barbara and also runs the Santa Barbara Game Night Club Meetup, he visits Las Vegas often to oversee his game manufacturing and distributing business, WorldWise Imports. Brissaud founded the meetup in August of 2009 and it has grown to 275 members, with 64 active members who attend meetups regularly. There is a suggested donation of a $1 to fund the meetup, but the donation is not actively collected, based on my experience Wednesday night.

More 7 Wonders

Game box for 7 Wonders showing Colossus of Rhodes, Pyramids of Giza, and other wondersThe first table I arrived at having reached its capacity, I moved over to play at another and found out that I would be playing Asmodee Games’ 7 Wonders again.This time I got a chance to see how the leader cards affect the game, but only slightly since I only ended up playing one of mine. There is a draft for leaders at the beginning of the game with players selecting one and passing their cards in one direction around the table. I couldn’t make much sense of their symbols, but my opponents were helpful and either told me from memory or helped me find them in the rules section. The leaders add an extra layer of complexity and further strategies to win the game, but they seem to have very minor effect while the game is progressing . I only played one of mine, the militaristic Hannibal, because I couldn’t pay the cost in coins for the others. Instead I traded them in for 3 coins each. Hannibal granted me 1 Military, so he did enable me to beat both of my neighbors in the First Age.

Some Realizations About 7 Wonders

Cards spread out on yellow and black checkerboard Juke Joint tables

The Military Might of Rhodos Did Not Prevail

In thinking about the game later and discussing it with my wife, I hit upon something that had been nagging me during my three games of 7 Wonders: the lack of oversight and management that goes on during card production. The game avoids a banker or actual tokens for its Clay Bricks, Stone, Papyrus, Glass, and Ore, and so on. Besides the fact that I would like a bank or granary mechanic to store the resources to be able to use them in later turns, I would also like such a mechanic to keep the costs straight and easier. I’ve built the Palace twice. It’s a Blue Card that grants 7 Victory Points and requires a variety of resources to build it, but it has strained my mind each time to figure out where those resources are coming from and who I have to pay and how much. On the other hand, the lack of a banking mechanic speeds the game along and doesn’t force all of the other players to wait each turn. The other aspect of the self-management though is that I am also unaware of who is building what. Now the simple solution to that is to look across the table and try to see whether anyone has put out a purple Guild or not or whether someone is hogging all of the green Sciences, but I would get more out of an announcement personally.

Small World: Underground

Tiny underground monsters on the cover of Small World Underground from Days of WonderWe next moved on to the Underground edition of Small World from Days of Wonder, with one player leaving. The four remaining players had all played the original Small World and three of them had played Underground before as well. As I tried to take in a brief explanation of the rules, I was more interested in observing that there are only two “good” monster races in the game, assuming that the Iron Dwarves are not Duergar and assuming that Gnomes are not inherently evil.

Each monster comes with a random special ability linked to it. I kept eyeing the Flocking Kraken, but my neighbor took them first. I settled for the Mining Drow. The Flocking special ability gives bonus points for units being adjacent to one another in an unbroken group, while the Krakens are unique in that they can claim points for occupying the underground river board sections and there were 10 of them. My Mining Drow on the other hand were few in number (8), and got extra points for occupying Mines. Their racial bonus was extra points for each land held that was not adjacent to an enemy’s occupied area. After garnering a lame amount of points my first turn I was itching to try out the game’s combat and turned on the Kraken in my second turn, just to drive them away from touching my holdings with their tentacles.

Board game Small World with Drow clustered in the corner

My Drow in the First Turn of Small World Underground

The game slowly progressed and then I was trying the other key aspect of Small World, going into Decline. I entered Decline because there was not much else my Drow could do, I figured. When going into Decline you flip your units over and do nothing for the turn, but then can choose a new monster race in your next turn. In the meantime Brian excited all of the experienced players’ animosity by taking Ogres and rampaging through the game collecting something like 23 points one turn. I chose the Adventurous Spiderines, paying some points to do so. I had 12 units of Spiderines and as our glorious racial ability we could burst out of chasms. Burst we did! We rampaged in the silent name of Lolth, kicking the puny Flames to the curb and seizing a Popular Place. My Adventurous trait or special ability meant that I would get a bonus point for being in such places. The next turn we rolled into another Popular Place, capturing some sort of Fountain of Youth, which would restore a dead monster token to me every turn. While I certainly associated the Spiderlines at the time with driders, the half-drow half-spider arcane constructs of the drow, I only just now realized that I had played two closely related monster races.

With the outcry against Brian continuing and then shifting slightly to another player, Zach, I tried to keep a low profile while still bloodthirstily raiding into others’ areas. At the end of the game, I believe I came in second place just 6 points behind Zach. Also at the end of the game, I started to actually realize how the mechanics worked. I would definitely play Small World again, but one of its downsides I noticed was the real disengagement it allows during other players’ turns. There were 4 other players doing things usually for at least 3-5 minutes (if not more), before my turn would finally roll around. During this time, besides politicking, there is nothing you are doing during the game. The combats are usually straightforward and never require the defender to do anything except, perhaps, redeploying a defender to another area. Even in the long, long turns of Axis & Allies you at least get to roll dice as the defender during someone else’s turn if they attack you, but not so in Small World.

Final Impressions

Beer and board games. They make a great combination. If you plan on visiting Las Vegas and love playing board games, you should check the meetup out, even though you would need a car or a ride to get there. I plan on attending more and trying out as many new games as possible in this venue.

Another thing that I took away from the night was how much we sometimes assume about other gamers and their knowledge. I was surprised when I was asked what RTS means (real time strategy, a type of computer game exemplified by Warcraft/Command & Conquer/Age of Empires). This wasn’t a newbie gamer asking, but instead a dyed-in-the-wool board gamer who had been talking about Skyrim moments before. When I started pumping two of the guys for information on Lords of Waterdeep which they both enjoy playing, they were unfamiliar with the background setting for the game they had each played multiple times, but confirmed that Khelben “Blackstaff” Arunsun was indeed one of the playable Lords of Waterdeep. When I asked whether there was an entrance to Undermountain, I got blank looks, but they acknowledged an empty area on the board for an expansion, if that could be it. I should explain that Undermountain is a semi-famous dungeon that is beneath Waterdeep that connects to the Underdark in the D&D Forgotten Realms setting.

7 Wonders box art copyright Asmodee Games, Small World Underground box art copyright Days of Wonder, both used with permission.

Vegas Games Day – May 12 2012

Savage World of My Little Pony

Blue dice are arranged on Savage Worlds info card with Rainbow Dash action figure

Part of GM Jerrod Gunning’s Elaborate Prep

What do you get when you combine the Origins award-winning Savage Worlds role-playing game system with the Emmy-nominated My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic? A whole lot of fun and a game called Savage World of My Little Pony. I intrepidly signed up for the session when I saw it open on Warhorn, only having seen some old episodes of the original My Little Pony ‘n Friends series from Sunbow. When I was a kid and went along to my sister’s Girl Scout meetings with my mom and sister I would also play with the My Little Pony castle and the dragon Spike that the troop leader’s daughter had.

However, I knew this feeble background probably wouldn’t be enough to convincingly role play as a pony or pegasus. I wanted to be prepared after all, so I watched an episode of the new Friendship is Magic series, which seems to be Flash-animated. Given the opportunity to play as a pony, my wife decided to join me at the Vegas Games Day where the session was being held and she watched a number of further episodes. I caught a few more episodes in the background while painting miniatures. This would also be our first exposure to the Savage Worlds system.

Cupcake Justice

My Little Pony action figures square off at Vegas Games Day

The My Little Pony Epic Boss Fight Against the Evil Queen

As it turned out though, it was everyone’s first experience with Savage Worlds, for our GM and the 4 players alike. As it also happened, we would not be doing the publicized adventure from the show’s pilot and second episode, collecting the Elements of Harmony, because we started out with 3 PCs, and the planned adventure would require all 6 of the Mane Characters. I took the more butch tomboy Rainbow Dash (if a character with rainbow in her name can be considered masculine), my wife played appropriately enough Fluttershy, and Perry took the show’s chief protagonist, the scholarly and arcane Twilight Sparkle. We set off on our adventure, Cupcake Justice.

Pinkie Pie and all the other pony bakers and confectioners in Sugarcube Corner had been busy baking. Princess Celestia would be visiting from Canterlot for the Cupcake Cantillion, but disaster had struck! All of Pinkie Pie’s precious cupcakes had vanished. Twilight Sparkle sent messages to our characters via Spike and the investigation was on. We entered a flashback as Pinkie Pie tried to recall what she’d done earlier in the day. This was further complicated when our fourth player, Dylan, came along and took on the role of Pinkie Pie and hit the REWIND button in the flashback. One of Pinkie Pie’s Edges is Breaking the 4th Wall, as she frequently turns to the viewer in the cartoon series and contrives all sorts of odd anachronistic inventions. In the Flashback we’d seen a vial with some Icky dripping from it. We only discovered it was Icky after Fluttershy got too scared trying to investigate it, rolling a Critical Failure. Our GM decided that Fluttershy would be Shaken for 4 rounds as she trembled with fear. My bold and brash Rainbow Dash snatched the vial, unstoppering it, and tossed it up in the air to down it. This earned the character a fit of vomiting, but earned me the player a Benny for RPing my character’s Hindrances/Edges.

Unlike most games of Savage Worlds, we could share our bennies. Bennies are used to make rerolls, to escape from Shaken effects, and so on. We each started the game with 3, but through role-playing our characters Edges and Hindrances gained many more, in the form of gum drops. Later in the game, when Pinkie Pie Broke the 4th Wall for the last time by building a helicopter in the forest, we confronted some Changelings who were trying to get to Ponyville. Pinkie Pie crashed the helicopter and she and Twilight Sparkle were Stunned or Shaken. I spent 2 of my Bennies to get them unShaken and RP’d encouraging them to get up to their feet.

Our GM, Jarrod Gunning, really knocked himself out with his prep work for the adventure. We each had name tags we proudly wore, helpful handouts on the Savage Dice system, flipbooks with character abilities, Edges, and Hindrances, RP tips, and actual toy ponies to represent us. During my wife’s research into Friendship is Magic, we were both amused to learn about bronies, “bro” ponies fans. Jarrod Gunning is not a brony, but his daughter is a fan of the show and he’d playtested it a bit with her, her friend, and his wife. Our fourth player Dylan was also not a brony, but I laughed when he said some “bronies” he knew had made him watch the show.

Cover of role playing game system Savage Worlds showing spacefarer and fantasy warriorIn our adventure, which Gunning had devised himself mostly on the fly, we encountered Parasprites, Changelings, and the Queen of the Changelings. Twilight Sparkle and I used magical powers in dealing with them, such as my Whirlwind and Twilight Sparkle’s magical unicorn telekinesis and spells. Fluttershy hid and Pinkie Pie was her goofy self. There were Twilight Sparkle doppelganger Changelings and pretty much every other cartoon trope Gunning could cram in enjoyably. Twilight Sparkle defeated most of them herself. The moral climax of Cupcake Justice happened when Twilight Sparkle levitated a single cupcake into the mouth of the evil Queen, forcing her to acknowledge the pleasure that can be had with a cupcake. The second climax was Pinkie Pie’s desperate battle against herself and her Sweet Tooth hindrance after we baked up a mega cupcake for Princess Celestia to enjoy, using Spike as a bellows to help heat the delicious baked good. Dylan must have downed a dozen gum drop Bennies before finally succeeding.

Savage World of My Little Pony did not originate with Gunning himself. Instead he slightly modified some of the characters and powers found on Rodger Marsh’s (giftkrieg23) deviantart page. Marsh’s 66-page Savage World of My Little Pony PDF is available for free download and requires at least the Explorer’s Edition of Savage Worlds to play. While our party never got into full combat and there was never a chance of PC death, Gunning had done away with at least part of Marsh’s restriction(s) against violence.

7 Wonders

Game box for 7 Wonders showing Colossus of Roades, Pyramids of Ghiza, and other wondersWe played two games of the basic version of Asmodee Games’s 7 Wonders. I found the game to be enjoyable and easy to learn. It may even be a game where the cliche, “easy to learn, difficult to master” could apply. At the same time, I found myself agonizing each round over which card I would keep to expand my civilization. The “board game” aspect is using a random civilization playing board in front of you. In my first game I was Olympia and in my second, the more scientific Babylonians.

Players are able to purchase resources from adjacent neighbors, yet it involves no social interaction or bartering. There are no hurt feelings or manipulations as can be found in the Catan family of games (or indeed Munchkin later that night). Smart players keep tracking of their neighbors’ advancements and play off of those; I found myself too engrossed most of the time in my own developments to really begin trying to strategically block my neighbors. The only thing vaguely resembling conflict in the game occurs at the end of each age when Military Achievements are totaled. If you are stronger than your neighbors you get 1 VP in the first age, 3 in the 2nd, and 5 in the 3rd. Meanwhile the penalty for being weaker is a measly -1 VP token for each “defeat”. While there is a card that gives additional bonuses for defeated neighbors (Strategists’ Guild), the VPs it awards can be game changing, but not game breaking.

Wooden table with playing pieces for 7 Wonders, cards and tokens

An Unfolding Game of 7 Wonders in Progress

I also enjoyed how 7 Wonders scales as a game. Yes, we had fun with 5 people playing the game, but I barely glanced at the 2 people who weren’t my neighbors. I didn’t trade with them, I didn’t have to beat their Militaries, and I didn’t know the game well enough to keep track of which cards they had already deprived me of. The second game with only 3 players was much more intense. Many cards in the game award Victory Points, coins, or resources based on what your neighbors build, so every card brought out in a 3 player game can directly affect you. With 7 cards in each Age, you also will get 4 of the cards you initially passed on at the begging of the Age in the 4th turn. The other aspect of scale that I find encouraging is that I don’t see any reason why, in smaller games, players couldn’t agree to be dealt more cards. This is very appealing since I enjoy building and developing. Instead of 14 cards divided by 2 players, you could have 24 cards for a longer more developed session each Age.

7 Wonders has a more advanced B version and also has expansions with leaders and cities, so I look forward to exploring those in future Vegas Game Days or at other conventions.

Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule

Chubby goblin Gobble T. Goop on playing card for Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule
Guitar-jamming Candy Rock fairy from Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule

Example Card Art from Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule

In between the games of 7 Wonders, we played two quick games of Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule, the first offering from Game-O-Gami. The game’s developer, David Sanhueza, had brought his prototype of the game to Vegas Games Day and quickly walked us through a demo. The game consists of 20 double-sided playing cards depicting a Fairy/Faerie on one side and a Goblin on the other. Mike Maihack’s Froudesque illustrations are consistently strong throughout the cards and will doubtlessly appeal to fans of Faeries, young and old. Players are dealt a hand of Goblins face up. The first player to get rid of all of his or her goblins OR to have 6 Fairies in hand wins.

This is accomplished by choosing one card each turn to go into the central Faerie Ring. If your card has a bunch of stars on it then all of the cards in the Faerie Ring will flip, otherwise whether cards will flip depends on a rhyming mechanism. There are five rhyming families in Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule. Once any cards flip or not, if your card’s “suit” matches the emblem on any others, you take those cards. The charms or Symbols are Frogs and Mushrooms and then Suns and Moons. If a card is showing a Fairy with a Mushroom, then the reverse side must be a Goblin with a Frog.

The speed of gameplay really depends on the wits of the other players. I spent a lot of time staring at the Symbols trying to figure out what card(s) I would have to pick up from the Fairy Ring. Overall though, I think each game took no longer than 15 or 20 minutes to play. The Goblins have fun gross names to say like “Boogery Boo” or “Soggy Soup” and I can envision children and parents enjoying the game. Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule is also possible to play as a Solitaire game with 5 Goblins dealt and 5 cards in the middle.

Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule will begin its Kickstarter campaign on Tuesday, May 15. David Sanhueza expects the game to retail for $10-15. It also sounds as though there will be iOS versions of all Game-O-Gami releases.

Munchkin

Deluxe Munchkin game board dungeon and Munchkin playing cards

Munchkin game in progress. Opponent is 1st Level with Tons of Loot

I have been living under a rock and had never played Munchkin from Steve Jackson Games before, though I was certainly aware of it. My wife and I played a game of it with two other players, with what may have been 3 decks’ worth of cards. It took a while, but I started getting the hang of Kicking Down the Door, Looting the Room, or Looking for Trouble. The dungeon board is a feature of the Deluxe Set and not required to play the game, only serving as a visual cue for what level each player is. My wife ended up winning, due more to the social aspects of the game than to any plan or tactics of hers.

Much like her My Little Pony character, my wife is shy. She did not try to harm the three of us during the game, didn’t get terribly upset when cards were taken away from her, and was seldom targeted towards the end of the game. She was also sleepy. Out of all the games that Vegas Games Day though, Munchkin aroused the most intense emotions and got a little ugly to me. Trying to pick up the basic card mechanics was complicated by the social aspects of players crying “He’s going to win! We all have to stop X.” This happened at least 3 times in the hour long game. There were social maneuvers against trading cards, against combating monsters together, and so on. There was a slightly awkward and puzzling whine along the lines of “Well I guess the game’s about to be over. Looks like you’re going to win” when my wife made it to Level 7, this coming from the guy who had been at Level 7 for ages ahead of the rest of us. Unfortunately his ploy of focusing the attention of the other players fizzled, even though I suppose he was right. She did win, just 15-20 minutes after he tried to distract attention from his lead.

I spent most of the game frustrated and at Level 2. Any time I got equipment it would be taken away because of Income Tax, other players’ Thief abilities, Curses, and so on. We were all frustrated by 5 or 6 Rangers that were very close to one another in the deck. When the game ended, one player had maybe 3 or 4 Wandering Monsters, but no monsters to play them on. By the time my wife won though, there were three of us who had moved to Level 9. The only way to get to Level 10 and victory is by slaying a monster at Level 9.

Munchkin got physical too. If a fight is too difficult other players can assist the player in the fight, usually for a share of the Treasure. When I found out that I didn’t have to actually honor arrangements made with others who joined me in a fight and then was so much of a Munchkin as to try to keep all the treasure myself, there was a 10 second clawing fingers match over the 5 Treasure cards we had unearthed or looted. Amidst some laughter, my “helper” pried away one of my Treasures. No blood was shed, but I could still feel the sensation of his badger-like fingers digging into my own 10 minutes later.

My thoughts also lingered on Munchkin. Despite the ugly emotions it had engendered, or maybe because of them, I found myself waking up in the middle of the night having feverish Munchkin dreams and nightmares. While my wife is not interested in playing again, I think I am. I want to see all the different cards that are possible. We didn’t play with Portals or Dungeons. No Elves or Halflings appeared in our games despite frequent references to them on other cards.

Goblins Rule, Faeries Drool card image copyright Game-O-Gami. 7 Wonders box art copyright Asmodee Games. Savage Worlds cover copyright Pinnacle Entertainment. All used with permission.