Las Vegas Board Games Group Meetup December 12

The Las Vegas Board Games Meetup on December 12 at the Juke Joint was a special holiday occasion. Organizer Stephen Brissaud aka Frenchy raffled off over 20 games early in the evening with every participant walking away with a game. I was never quite sure of what the entry fee was, but donated $5 via Paypal, which seemed to cover my entry.

Cover for board game Commander-in-ChiefUp for grabs potentially were Killer Bunnies, Castle Panic, Bloodsuckers, King of Tokyo, Uchronia, Munchkin, Pokers Wild!, Lost Cities, Reverse Charades, How to Host a Murder, and many other titles. My card got drawn towards the end of the raffle and it didn’t take me long to select Commander-in-Chief. I had seen the game before at the GAMA Trade Show and sat in on several seminars with its creator. Besides containing components to play Checkers and Chess, there is the actual Commander-in-Chief game which is played with large clunky military vehicles that easily double as toys for young children. For a $5 raffle, I was pleased with what I got.

Havana

Having played and won Havana from 999 Games once before, I readily agreed to play it again, but was surprised to finish with only 11 points to my opponents’ 17 and 22. One of my opponent’s strategy of playing his Siesta card with a value of 0 over and over again at the end didn’t seem to be that promising to begin with, but he ended up getting more of what he wanted before the rest of us. The Siesta (0) combined with Grandma (9) creates a hand of 09, letting its player get a jump on his competitors. Meanwhile I was going for cards combining to 21-49 at the same and was going second or last. I also wasn’t planning ahead at all, going for the low-hanging fruit rather than saving for the buildings that yield 5+ Victory Points. All of my initial impressions about Havana were right: it is a great little game.

Black table with Havana board game pieces at Juke Joint bar

11 Points of Holdings in Havana While Opponent Switches to Siesta Tactic

Castle Panic

Board Game Box Art for Castle PanicWe moved onto the newly-acquired Castle Panic next. I was put off by its simplistic artwork and cartoony style. Cooperative board games are also new to me. In Castle Panic the players take the role of castle defenders and work together to stop the oncoming rush of monsters from the forests. It’s a turret defense game and a couple of turns into it, I was hooked.

Every turn players draw a new card and have a chance to exchange a card for another or to make a single trade with the other players. Cards allow you to make attacks against the invading monsters who move inwards on the game’s concentric circles, passing through the Forests, Archers, Knights, and Swordsmen circles before they arrive at the castle’s walls and the castle’s towers. Attacking the walls costs monsters 1 HP, but then the walls are destroyed. A combination of two cards, the Brick and Mortar, can rebuild a wall section. The circles are further divided into four color-coded quadrants. A Green Archer can be played to damage a monster in the Green Archer area. The monsters range from the one HP Goblins to 3 HP Trolls, but there are special monsters with special rules. At the end of each player’s turn, surviving monsters move inwards one step and two new monsters are drawn. If the players survive the 40 or so monster tiles, they win. If the monsters wipe out all of the castle’s towers, the players lose.

Castle Panic board game playing pieces at Juke Joint bar with wall sections missing

Not Long After Beginning the Game Our Castle is Taking Damage in Castle Panic

After the first few turns our precarious position was made clear as we began losing walls and special monster tokens were revealed that forced us to draw more monsters. Plague tokens were revealed wiping out all Knights and Archers in our hands. Someone (me) hadn’t shuffled the cards well and we were besieged by rushing hordes of evil. It was a lot of fun. Towards the end of the game we found much more powerful cards at the bottom of the deck. I was having so much fun battling the monsters and just trying to survive that I didn’t care about the game’s one concession to players who have to be the best, the Slaymaster. Simply put, the Slaymaster is the player who killed the most HP of monsters. I don’t know who took it, but I do know that we only had two of our towers remaining at the end of the game and we had been saved by a lucky Boulder that had been revealed and wiped out a mass of dangerous monsters.

I haven’t witnessed much back to back game play at the Board Game Meetups. Everyone wants to try something new, but I would have jumped at the chance to play Castle Panic from Fireside Games again after we finished.

The precarious end of the board game Castle Panic at the Juke Joint bar

Our Castle Towards the End of Castle Panic as We Barely Escape Defeat

King of Tokyo

Since Brissaud is the American distributor for IELLO, most Meetup members have played Richard Garfield’s King of Tokyo dozens of times. This was my second. We were using the new expansion, Power Up! Slowly monsters maneuvered into Tokyo Bay and out of it as I tried to gather energy and use the expansion’s mechanic of Evolution, which can be done once for every three Hearts rolled. I gained powers and Victory Points on my Kraken monster as several of the other players dropped, until it was down to three of us. Like me, my opponent Vincent was attracted to building up power, unlocking new abilities, and seeing what Evolution had in store for him. We both would have been disappointed had the game ended in five minutes, but this game went on and on.

Epic game of King of Tokyo at Juke Joint bar table

Kraken is Powered Up! It has Dread Maw, Sunken Temple, Jets, Rapid Healing, and Alien Metabolism

It ended up being the most epic game of King of Tokyo that some of the veterans had ever witnessed, going for well over an hour. Vincent and his monster were eventually eliminated, leaving me head to head with Dan. I had special abilities out the wazoo and so did he. His Evolutions focused on doing extra damage. Damage I could soak up with the help of the special Rapid Healing card letting me spend 2 Energy to heal 1 point of damage. Dan also had an ability that could force me to reroll one die each round which was quite annoying. With my victory in sight via Victory Points, Dan’s monster finished me off, but the game wasn’t over yet as I played It Has a Child, letting me return to the game anew, but without all my cool powers, Evolutions, and Victory Points. Despite what seemed like an overwhelming advantage against me, I began slogging it out, going back into Tokyo and accumulating 2 Victory Points a turn, plus another from a special card that gave me an extra VP whenever my opponent had more. I also had a card at some point that took away one 1 VP from my opponent whenever I damaged him and over many turns caught up. The game came down to a single die as I stood at 18 VPs in Tokyo with a guaranteed victory next turn. Dan attacked and stopped during one of his dice rolls because he had done enough damage to kill me, or so he thought. I had a special card allowing me to change a single die roll in the game to anything I wanted, but he managed to roll an extra Attack and I was down.

Power Up! Expansion

Box Art for King of Tokyo Power Up! ExpansionFor me, the Power Up! expansion takes an enjoyable beer and pretzels game and makes it great. King of Tokyo will always come down to some lucky dice rolls and the skill in choosing which dice to keep, but the Evolutions add extra tactics. The new Evolutions are themed to their associated creature which adds more flavor and Power Up! also introduces the new Pandakai monster to trample Tokyo. The monsters have gone from being merely skins with the same abilities as one another to actually developing their own personalities. For Kings of Tokyo owners, I think Power Up! is a must-have.

Las Vegas Board Games Group Meetup – June 20, 2012

Havana

Cover art for Havana from 999 Games and game components displayedI started the evening off with Havana from 999 Games. The game’s owner, Dan, had won the game in a previous Las Vegas Board Games Meetup raffle and had yet to play it. Usually I hate figuring out a new game with other beginners, but Havana proved to be fairly easy to pick up. The artwork on the cards has great visual appeal, even if I don’t care for the imperialistic era the game tries to represent. I believe we were competing plantation owners trying to develop our properties, hiring Workers and finding Building Materials to do so, paying for our efforts occasionally with Pesos. These buildings are worth varying amounts of victory points and in a three player game, the first to 20 would be the winner.

I built a cheap building initially with a cost of two Pesos and then the game was on. Turn order depends on the two cards you are playing. Each card has a number from 0 to 9 with some numbers repeating. Cards are always read as the lowest two-digit combination so 9 and 2 become 29 with 0 and 8 becoming 08. The lowest two-digit number plays first, followed by the second lowest, and so on. However the higher-numbered cards tend to have potentially greater benefits. I was fond of Grandma who is a 9. She gave me access to half of the Rubble and half of the Building Materials. The problem is that a player playing a lower number may have reduced the available materials. Each turn you select a new card in secret to play which forces one of your old cards to retire. This also means you always know 50% of what your opponents will be doing next turn or even more if you pay attention to which cards they have already retired. One of the cards does allow you to bring cards back into your hand as well. There are also offensive actions in the form of Tax Collectors and Materials Thieves. These can deprive your opponents of their resources, but each resource-stealer has a counter card that can be played to block it. These blocking cards are also number 2’s, helping to enable a better place in the turn order.

Playing cards and tokens on checkered table during Havana game play at the Juke Joint in Las Vegas

My Cards Make 28, But Opponent has 25: He Goes First

Our game turned out to be a very close one, heating up at the end when I seized victory by trying to have a low combined number and was able to get the building I needed to ensure my victory. Other than the secret choice of which card you will be bringing out each turn, Havana has no secrets. There are no game-changing cards revealed at the end of the game and you can easily tabulate your opponents’ victory point totals while you’re playing. The final building I built was worth 4 victory points bringing me from 16 to 20. One opponent was already at 19 and the second had been tied at 16 with me. 999 Games has a fast-paced, enjoyable game in Havana and I would love to play it again and possibly use some of the four or five cards I never even played. Having even more players would also add to the strategic aspect of the game without overburdening it, I think.

The Golden City

Up next was The Golden City from Kosmos, yet another game involving colonizing and trade routes. For a four player game we had 16 outpost or settlement markers and the game would end as soon as someone built all 16. Actually getting to the valuable center of the mysterious Golden City is the most rewarding with a large number of Letters of Business awarded. This also requires a special key, obtained by building an outpost on a key-rewarding point on the map of the island. Game play is based on little geographic cards that are either Ports or one of four region types, Desert, Forests, Mountains, or Plains. Each round players select a pair of cards dealt face up to bid on. You can pay an additional coin to displace someone else’s bid to get the preferred cards you want. If you want to retake the same pair of cards you were just kicked off, it would cost a further additional coin. The most common settlement areas on the map reward players with either more coins or more territory cards to use.

Perhaps two thirds of the way through the game I realized how perilous my position on the map was. I was expanding out instead of in to the Golden City and my efforts to block others’ routes really hadn’t paid off. Luckily I was able to secure a valuable post in the Golden City several turns after the others had all done so already. I was the only player to build on a settlement square that grants access to a special deck of cards. The card I chose rewarded me at the end of the game for each of my card-producing outposts, garnering me 8 points, if I recall correctly. Placing my 16th settlement ended the game and I was a bit surprised by how close it was. The winner had 56, second had 52, I had 50, and last place had 35.

The Golden City map featuring 4 types of terrain with playing settlements on it

My Red Outposts are Spread Out and Shallow. Black in the Lead.

One aspect of The Golden City that I never pursued was that each turn there is a bonus map area that is rewarded for development. The other players either developed according to the bonus area or seemed to always be in the right place at the right time. While I did manage a few Letters of Business for happening to have an outpost in the designated area one or two turns, I mostly ignored it. On the other hand, the game also has a random preferred commodity each turn such as Liquor or Fruit, rewarding 2 trading vouchers for having it, with 2 more for having the most of the commodity. These I did attempt to collect, but possibly to my detriment because I was not expanding into the heart of the Golden City, denying myself the points from those territories as well as not blocking my opponents’ access.

Revolution

Cover art for board game from Steve Jackson Games Revolution showing gold coin, blackmail envelope, and red fist for ForceI found myself playing Revolution from Steve Jackson Games with the Meetup’s founder Stephan Brissaud aka Frenchy and two fierce opponents from previous Vegas Board Game Meetups. Initially I thought I understood what I was dealing with in Revolution. Each turn you bid in secret on securing the support of allies in the Revolution with a choice of 12 on a little bidding board. The boards are revealed and the winner for each partisan is determined by the highest bid of either Force, Blackmail, or Gold, with some personalities uninfluenced by a particular currency of Revolution. The Captain (of the Garrison), for example, cannot be won over with Force. Instead he must be Blackmailed or bought with Gold. Simple enough, right?

Bidding board for board game Revolution showing rules of game and 12 possible choices

The Bidding Rules for Revolution and 12 Choices

Midway through the game I realized that both I and Frenchy were vastly outclassed and we both knew it. In Revolution it is entirely possible to have wasted your bribes or payments each turn if a superior bid has been entered against you. I know both Frenchy and I had at least one round each where our efforts were entirely wasted. In focusing on a pattern of picking the Rogue who generates Blackmail in order to Blackmail the Captain who generates Force to then Force the Rogue to my side, I had not amassed much Support, which is the measurement of victory in the game. I tried to switch tactics to capture more Support with not much success as the final scores show. I had 47 Support and Frenchy had 58. In second place David had 185 Support and Zach, the former Munchkin World Champion, had 214.

Playing board for Steve Jackson Games board game Revolution showing that red is in last place

Red Has Been Almost Wiped Off the Revolution Board

Despite the overwhelming defeat, I would like to play Revolution again. What really killed me was not paying attention to my eroding playing pieces on the board. When the game ends, after a certain amount of rounds, extra Support is awarded to whomever has the majority of pieces in each of the board’s locations such as the Tavern or Garrison. On the other hand, Revolution is not forgiving and has no recovery mechanic. I don’t see where I could have recovered after the first few rounds and botching something on a turn and getting nothing can be very devastating. Force, Blackmail, and Gold go away each round. If you happened to be outbid on everything, you still gain 5 Gold at the end of the turn for your next bid, but compared to a Force or Blackmail, Gold is useless. The lesson is that Revolution indeed does have a very slippery slope.

Would I play it again? Definitely. The next go round though I would pay a lot more attention to trying to win from the start of the game and try to read my opponents’ bidding style to get an indication of what sort of bid they might make each turn. An integral part of the game is also announcing at the end of the turn, before the next round of bidding, what sort of currency/bribes you have for that turn. I paid only slight attention to my opponents’ capabilities during this game, but I will be sure to take my opponents’ coercion methods further into account in the future.

King of Tokyo

Kaiju monsters battle over metropolitan Tokyo on the cover of King of TokyoAs the head of Iello USA, Frenchy is the distributor for Richard Garfield’s King of Tokyo. Garfield may be familiar as the creator of Magic: The Gathering. King of Tokyo seems simplistic by comparison, perhaps deceptively so. You have your kaiju or monster stand-up playing piece and you roll dice, trying to either be the last surviving monster or to try to achieve 20 Victory Points, with the winner being the King of Tokyo. The monster cards have dials to keep track of those victory points. Each of the King of Tokyo dice has an Attack emblem, a Lightning symbol, a Life, and the numbers 1-3 on its faces. Players can keep dice results they like after rolling the 6 dice and get up to two re-rolls. One way to get Victory Points is to enter Tokyo, but another is by having multiples of at least three of the same value on the dice, with a 3-3-3 worth 3 points and a 3-3-3-3 worth 4 points, I believe.

One of the things I liked about King of Tokyo was the slight amount of variety in the actions you could pursue. I didn’t focus on making sets of numbers to gain victory points for example. Instead I kept Life results to go up in hit points, kept Attacks to damage my opponents, and most importantly tried to get Lightning/Energy for the coolest part of King of Tokyo: the special attacks deck. There are three random cards drawn from the deck that represent special Kaiju attacks that players can buy, with a new one being dealt to replace any card purchased. The card art is excellent and it is remarkable that players can play an entire game without ever purchasing a card to use and therefore might never see more of the beautiful card art.

Kaiju monsters from Richard Garfield's King of Tokyo game battling over its game board, giant ape versus robot with mecha-dragon in foreground

Tokyo and Tokyo Bay Occupied! My Mecha-Dragon is in Foreground

In the end my pseudo-strategy didn’t pay off. I was eliminated after a few other monsters. This is a refreshing aspect of King of Tokyo; in every other modern board game I have played in the last few months there are no eliminations. Every player is involved until the end of these other games, however painfully as Revolution showed earlier. Just like Magic: TG or Monopoly, in KoT once you are killed you are out of the game entirely. As anti-social as this might be, the game also has a powerful socializing influence. When a player’s monster enters Tokyo the game changes to an us vs. them game with those on the physical board doing damage to every monster on the outside with their attacks and vice versa. While there isn’t any collaboration possible with this mechanic, I did find myself cheering my allies’ attacks on the monsters inside Tokyo when they were able to hit. The two players on Tokyo and Tokyo Bay must likewise feel ganged up on and a sense of comraderie. In smaller games though, the second location of Tokyo Bay is not used.

More than the other games of the evening, King of Tokyo has a real beer-and-pretzels game feel to it. I couldn’t see playing it for hours on end, but it functioned well to cap off an enjoyable evening and would be great in between other board games or during an RPG break for some quick carnage.