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.

Las Vegas Board Games Meetup – June 6, 2012

I got a taste on June 6 for what happens at the Las Vegas Board Games Group when founder Stephan Brissaud is in attendance. He circulated with name tags printed out using Meetup users’ icons, dispensed them, and then also sold raffle tickets for the drawing for Carcassone or one of four Kosmos Games on offer. Tickets were $1, but by buying them ahead of time on-line, attendees could obtain a re-roll of one of the dice. The winner won with a roll of 18 on 3d6.

Lemming Mafia

I had played through Lemming Mafia from Mayfair Games twice before learning that the game was actually called Lemming Mafia and not just Lemmings. Somehow, even though the spaces you land on have a mafia motif of bricking up the lemmings’ feet in concrete and gambling on the outcome of the race, I had missed how important Italian crime families are in the game. Basically you have a race between 6 lemmings. Each turn 2d6 are rolled and on the faces of each die are the six lemming colors. If you get two different lemmings, you can choose which one advances past the next hurdle. While the Juke Joint has dimmer lights than most play environments, I had a hard time associating the red lemming on the dice with the Maroonish Lemming that was supposed to be Red. The Grey and the Purple also confused me just a little, but it could have been the effects of the Guiness I was drinking.

We played it a second time after stumbling through a first game marked by a lot of confusion as there were very few experienced players. One player wisely abandoned ship for the second go-round. I thought the game would be easier and quicker the second time, but increased understanding of what we were trying to do possibly lengthened the game from players taking the time to think about the outcomes of each move.

Lemming figurines start a race on the Mafia Lemmings game board at a bar

Pink Takes the Lead: The Start of a Lemming Mafia Race

While points can be gained from completing random mission objectives, up to 6 points can be won by correctly betting on which lemming will end up in first place. In our games, the “correct” bet seemed to play a large roll in determining the winner, but it also seemed more coincidental than intentional. Only certain spaces on the board allow the bets to be made and the more bets you have beneath your winning lemming color, the more points you gain. The missions have variable points. You might get 2 points if Purple places higher than Pink and then 2 points if either Purple or Green get “concreted” out. At the same time, since they’re random, it’s possible for one player to just get lucky and have a good hand with high values that get fulfilled. For each mission you don’t complete, you lose 2 points. There is also the opportunity for all players to ditch a mission card at several of the spaces on the board, if a lemming happens to land on one.

Even if the subject matter of Mafioso lemmings is questionable, its cartoonish style does seem geared towards children, as well as its basic play mechanics of how to move a lemming and the few choices of actions available each turn. On the other hand, scoring and actually winning at Lemming Mafia will be harder for a child to grasp. I will probably give Lemming Mafia/em> a pass in the future for the same reasons.

Colonia

Besides having never played it before and wanting to try it out, I was also taken in by Colonia’s large playing surface. Made by the German publisher Queen Games and designed by Dirk Henn, the game also features German and English text on the cards. Essentially Colonia is a mercantile resource management game. It also is a strong exercise in odds, predictions, gambling, and variables. The game has a ton of variables. In each of the game’s 6 weeks, someone flips a card which determines how many goods are distributed to the market stalls, how many artisans are willing to turn your raw goods into finished products, and how many ships leave the harbor. The roll of a die further randomizes what the crafters are willing to make for you on Market Day.

The variables go on though. At the beginning of each week, new Edicts are revealed to be voted upon by the players. Each of the four ships in the harbor can have very different cargo orders they want to fill and each ship is owned by a separate country or city, paying the player with their own currency. The game is won by relic purchasing in the market on the seventh day. The cost and victory points awarded from the relics, again, are random with each of the relics only purchasable in a particular currency. What I would have given for a money lender in Colonia! Our game actually did provide us with the opportunity to exchange currency twice through the successful passage of an Edict granting currency conversion.

Game board for Colonia showing Meeple playing pieces and random cards

Colonia Game In Progress: Meeples Gathering on the Streets

The game is further complicated by the changing play order among the players, which happens on the second day each week at the alderhouse or town hall with the election of a new mayor. Players bid a hidden number of Meeples to send to the town hall, varying from 3 to 8. Woe betide the player who bids a higher number of Meeples than he has in reserve! Yeah, woe betide me. I think I was the only person who failed to correctly foresee my neccessary number of Meeples. I did this three times. The penalty is that you don’t get to vote on the Edicts and you go dead last throughout the week. This penalty is actually fairly large, since the game is shifting each week and going last you may not be able to rush your Meeples to a particular locale and wind up sitting on a mass of raw goods as I did one week.

When not electing a new mayor, the Meeples are trotting out to buy things at market for you or to go get your orders fulfilled. One of the things that I really liked about Colonia was that your raw goods and finished goods were represented with markers and they are persistent until they are used. On the other hand, I spent a good portion of the game frustrated because I didn’t have the right raw goods to bring to a crafter or the right finished goods to load aboard a ship. I really would have liked a Cataan-style allowance for trading with the other players. Instead in Colonia you kind of have to sit there and take it. The game isn’t quick either. Ours lasted 2-2.5 hours with three experienced players and two newbies. In the end, the scores seemed fairly close. The winner boasted 21, while second had 17. I had 15 along with a veteran and last place had 11.

Mathematically the game probably has 10-15 variables going on at the same time; it’s complex. Queen Games could easily say that no two games will ever be the same. I am slightly interested in playing Colonia again and this time really slowing any play decisions down to try to understand what effect my action will likely have. However with such an investment of play time, I would like to feel a greater sense of accomplishment at the end of the game. Having a few relics worth 10 points or getting 2 points for having the most of a country’s currency is just not the same as having constructed buildings and wonders in 7 Wonders, expanding your galactic colonies and spaceship in Starfarers of Cataan, or completing quests and constructing buildings in Lords of Waterdeep, as I discovered next.

Lords of Waterdeep

I nearly leapt out of my seat when the chance to play Lords of Waterdeep presented itself and soon was embroiled into its Quests, Intrigues, and making my mark on its game board. Wizards of the Coast have really come up with a great board game that was engaging from start to finish. My actual opponents during the game, much like the ones I had discussed Waterdeep with two weeks before, had no role-playing knowledge of the city of Waterdeep, but enjoy playing the board game. Amidst my enjoyment of the game, I was a little disappointed that having the Forgotten Realms City System and having read Waterdeep in the Avatar Trilogy didn’t give me any advantage in the game. Aside from being able to recognize some of the cards’ references, the game requires zero knowledge of the Forgotten Realms or D&D to play and enjoy.

Completed quests and active quests for Harpers for Lord of Waterdeep Board GameHaving wound up with Mirt the Moneylender as my secret Lord of Waterdeep, I started trying to get and finish as many Commerce quests as I could. I also could receive bonus victory points by completing Piety quests, but I seldom had many clerics, which are represented by white cubes. Fighters are orange cubes, wizards are purple, and rogues are black. After learning that there are no green range cubes I mostly gave up trying to make inferences about the game from my D&D knowledge. Early on I completed the Bribe the Shipwrights Commerce quest allowing me to get a free Thief/Rogue every time an action gave me gold, which proved to be very useful.

Much like Munchkin, when Lords of Waterdeep finished, I was still wrapped up in all the possibilities of play. It was only a third of the way into the game before I grasped the special place that Waterdeep Harbor holds. By visiting it, a player can play an Intrigue card. That is half of it. At the end of the round after all of the pieces have deployed, any piece on one of the three Waterdeep Harbor spots can move again. Playing with three opponents though, there was usually a rush to get onto that location. Also while not as intrinsic to the game or as prevalent as in Munchkin, there are offensive actions you can take in Lords of Waterdeep such as stealing away 2 gold and an adventurer from an opponent via an Intrigue card or forcing them to lose pieces or gold. Without having seen all of the cards in play, it seemed that there are many more cards or buildings though which provide some benefit to your opponent(s) as well as whatever boon they provide to the player using them.

A Lords of Waterdeep game in progress with most of the pieces on the board

The Bustling City of Waterdeep in the 7th Round of the Lords of Waterdeep Game

I jostled for the lead throughout the game with the game’s eventual winner, Robert. He scored 134 playing Khelben “Blackstaff” Arunsun, while I scored 129. Now I regret not having really tried to finish any of the remaining quests I had in the game’s last turn, despite clear notice that the game was ending. I got caught up in the possibilities of what cool new ability I would have to play with, even though at the end of the game there was no more play time, of course. I wish the game went on longer past eight turns, but I will just have to sate my curiosity and appetite for it by playing it again and again in the future. Personally I would never purchase an abstract Euro game for over $30-$40 and Lords of Waterdeep has an MSRP of $49.99. That said, Lords of Waterdeep provides such a good play experience that I will add it to my Christmas wish list and hope to see it under the tree.

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.