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.