Monday, July 30, 2012

The Quest for the (Un)Holy Grails

So, I took a road trip down into the New England States recently.  As soon as people heard my plan they were all like "OooooOooo, the shopping down there is awesome!  You can get some great deals on coats, shoes, clothing, piston engines, salt and pepper shakers, batting practice helmets, spice racks, shower curtains and...BLAH, BLAH, BLAH..."

Lemme get this straight right now: I hate the fuck right outta shopping.  If the sole falls off my shoe then I replace it but I certainly don't pro-actively go out and waste my time buying boring shit just because it's cheap.  Besides, it's my vacation, why the hell would I want to make myself miserable by going to a bunch of fucking outlet stores and rummaging through endless boxes of winter boots?

Having said that I was in the market for a few, shall we say, items of antiquity.  Namely:

(1) A Holmes-era D&D Basic Set, a Mentzer Expert rule book and/or a Rules Cyclopedia.

(2) Old D&D/AD&D modules from the 70's or 80's. 

(3) Any supplements for the Marvel Super Heroes RPG.  

(4)  A metric shit-ton of cheap-ass board games, specifically ones that either me or Wil Wheaton have played recently (namely Tsuro, Gloom or Kingdom Builder).

Since we literally threw this trip together at the last minute I really didn't get a chance to do any research before I left.  Mercifully, even sad, smart-phoneless bastards like myself get a reprieve nowadays since every hotel has a public access computer that you can use to sniff out every local game store.  All I needed to do was find a street address, program the ol' GPS and hit the road.  

In an effort to properly document the stores that I visited during my trip I've decided to rate each one based on organization, price and the number of non-traditional games in stock (read: titles other then Dirty Minds, Awkward Family Photos or the disturbingly-Freudian Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cheese Touch Game).

I'll use my sliding scale of "1" to "6" die pips, "6" being a Gaming Mecca and "1" being a thrift store with only a single soiled copy of Justin Bieber's Always Be Mine Board Game with the "Kiss & Dare" cards missing.

In Bangor I found Three Geek Gaming (which the "Bitch In The Box" kept mispronouncing as "Three JEEK Gaming") on 677 Hogan Road, just a stone's throw from my hotel.

Unfortunately the store had only three notable contents: Warhammer paraphernalia (which I don't play), collectible card games (which I'm still in a twelve step program for) and an oppressive atmosphere of complete and utter desperation.  I was also really put off by the random debris and garbage just lying around, not to mention the female warden shop-keep who kept hovering around us as if we were gonna try and make off with the till (which I can only imagine was just a-burstin' to capacity).

C'mon, guys...stop living the game store stereotype!  Sadly, Three Jeek Gaming only rates two pips outta six.

Although "The Jeek" was a total bust, the store right next door at 683 Hogan (invitingly named Bull Moose) turned out to be something of a revelation.  They had a veritable treasure trove of books, CD's, DVD's, Blu-Rays, video games and a small smattering of board, RPG and collectible card games.  Obviously this isn't their focus (there isn't even category for it on their website) but they did have some cool specialized titles like Power Grid, Lords of Waterdeep and Arkham Horror.

Even though they didn't have a huge selection (and certainly nothing that I was in the market for), the place was impeccably organized and the prices actually looked really good.  I'll definitely make a point of going back there someday.    

After buying a new board game you can hypothetically kick back and read the rules 
flaked out on one of Bull Moose's comfy chairs.  

Bull Moose scores three outta six pips on the Board Game Mecc-O-Meter.

Also of some note is a place called BAM! (a.k.a. Books-A-Million), which I'd describe as a two-tiered entertainment warehouse with a Conservative Christian bent.  I knew that things were gonna be slightly askew when the "Hot New Reads" display at the front of the store featured tomes by verbal lunch-money thief Bill O'Reilly, human Sleestak and all-around whackadoo Ann Coulter and weepy manboy Glenn Beck.

With retailers showcasing pathologically paranoid manifestos like "Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America", it's little wonder why America is so fucking polarized.  

Anyhoo, notwithstanding the sizable Christian book section, they did have a pretty decent little game nook upstairs.  Unfortunately, most of it was mediocre, calendar / puzzle store detritus that makes most veteran games like myself want to punch kittens in the face.  But amidst all the Angry Birds, Wine Wars! and Glee The Bored Game crap, there were a few encouraging titles like Reiner Knizia's The Hobbit,  Game of Thrones: Second Edition, and Dixit.

Obviously this wasn't the sort of place where I was going to find a first print "Palace of the Silver Princess" module, but the place does deserve a mention.  BAM! scores a "2" on the Board Game Mecc-O-Meter.

In fact, decent board games seemed to turn up in the unlikeliest of places.  Even the Target department stores had such incongruous fare as Zooloretto and Ticket To Ride as well as a small smattering of Fantasy Flight titles (!) like Lord of the Rings, Rune Age and Deadwood.

My American readers are probably looking at this and thinking: "Jesus, Target...really?!?!", but here in Canada the concept of finding a decent board game in full-line department store is a completely foreign concept.  Recently Target acquired Zellers, a chain of Canadian department stores that's been around since 1931.  Although I'm deeply saddened by another blow to our retail heritage, my anguish will be assuaged somewhat if I can pick up a copy of Elder Sign whenever I want.      

For it's surprising mix of organization, fair prices and variety, Target actually scores three pips out of six.

While walking through the Bangor Mall I spied a family finishing up a game of Cities and Knights of Catan, which I thought was kinda cool.   Much to my wife's delight, I stopped and started interrogating them:

"Excuse me, but do you know of any stores in town that sell games like this?"

"Hmmmm, I'm not sure," replied the Mom.

"You can prolly getit on th' innernet!" one of their unctuous larvae unhelpfully replied.

"Did you try Bull Moose?" the Dad offered.

"Yep," I responded.  "Great store but they didn't have what I was looking for."

"THIS IS WHAT THE BOX LOOKS LIKE!!!" another brat proclaimed.

"Shut up, kid, the grownups are talking!" I snapped back.

I took this as a sign that I'd exhausted all of Bangor's possibilities.  It was time to move on.

When I arrived in Salem, Massachusetts the following day I literally tore the "Games" page out of the Yellow Pages and took up the gauntlet again.  My initial detective work proved discouraging...

Game Zone in Salem: video games.  *Ick*
Muddle Puddle Toys & Games in Salem: mainly kids stuff.  *Bleargh*
Marino Enterprises in Lynn: wholesale distributor of games?  Findings inconclusive.
Go Calendars & Games in Cambridge: mall crap.
Patriot Games in Lynn: more new-fangled 'lectronic stuff.

I was a tad surprised by this since Massachusetts has a pretty major gaming pedigree.  Your Move Games, makers of Battleground: Fantasy Warfare and Battle for Hill 218 make their headquarters in Sommerville.  And I'd certainly be remiss if I didn't mention that George S. Parker established Parker Brothers in his hometown of Salem way back in 1888!

There are signs of this proud heritage everywhere, including the Salem Museum:

Considering how important Parker Brothers games were to so many of us and how historically relevant they were to the modern industry, shouldn't there be a museum dedicated to these guys in town?  Seriously, what's one less store that sells incense, tarot cards and mandrake?  Come on, Salem!  Get on it!

Although I'm not the biggest fan of Monopoly, I certainly have a soft spot for Clue.  The austere and subconsciously unsettling imagery used in the 1972 version certainly makes a lot more sense now that I know what prompted the Brother's Parker to come up with their own take on the British game Cluedo.  The related story of murder and the creepy mansion that it happened in is a tale definitely worth researching.

Despite a noticeable dearth of dedicated game stores, I did find two awesome shops in Salem.  The first was Harrison's Comics and Collectibles at 252 Essex Street in Salem:

When their website says that they specialize in "Magic the Gathering, Yugioh, Pokemon TCG, HeroClix, Vanguard and Naruto"  they ain't whistlin' Dixie.  Unfortunately, I'm not really into any of that stuff right now.  Admittedly, they do carry a fair amount of RPG stuff, including the new AD&D reprints but I couldn't bring myself to spend $100.00 on something that I already own in triplicate.

Honestly, if it came down to comics and collectibles, I'd have to break out the ol' d20 to give them a score.  But since we're only looking at board, card and role-playing games (and they scarcely mention such things on their website), I can only give Harrison's three pips out of six.  

The other shop in Salem is the nondescript-looking Red Lion Smoke Shop on 94 Washington Street:

I kinda got the impression that the Lion's Golden Age was back when books like this were on the shelf...

At face value, it looks like the kinda place where middle-aged dudes once congregated to chain smoke, play Squad Leader and shit on one another for hours on end (er, not literally).  It's feels like an old grognardian war cave that has since fallen into disarray, a store which once lived large off of wargame, RPG, CCG and nicotine addiction until video games came along as an easier vice to mainline.

Up front and towards the right of the store they have some chess sets and a few sun-bleached board games that look like they probably came with the place.  To the left, behind the counter, is a sizable assortment of collectible card games.  And then, in the back, they have comic books, action figures and about a veritable lungful of new and vintage RPG stuff.

Which is where I found these four beauties...

Finally I'd struck gold!  At five bucks a pop, I couldn't pass up this deal, even if the stuff reeked of  pachouli and cigars.

Although it's about as organized as the inside of Gary Busey's head, The Red Lion is a charmingly schizophrenic shop with tons of cool stuff to rummage through and discover.  I give the place a solid three pips outta six.    

While paying for my stuff I asked the clerk if there were any dedicated board game stores in the area and they couldn't think of anything.  And with that, I knew that my work in Salem was done.

Ironically my big score didn't come until I came back to Canada.  Even more ironically: a divine intervention of stupidity made me miss-program the GPS, sending us to Fredericton instead of Saint John.  But, in retrospect I was never so happy to fuck up, since fate that day led me to right to Strange Adventures on 68 York Street.

Now, I've been patronizing the Halifax location since the early Nineties, but this was the first time I've every visited this particular store.  Just like the other sites, Fredericton's Strange Adventures is a wonderful place featuring a respectable assortment of comics, graphic novels, t-shirts, toys and games.

On my first pass through the store, I really didn't see anything special.  But then, as I passed by the rack of Forth Edition D&D stuff, I spied the following treasures tucked away at the bottom of the carousel:

I could scarcely believe what I was looking at.  I didn't even own the first printings of the core books!  The five AD&D manuals and the two boxed sets were bundled separately and priced at only $60.00 a pop.  I nervously looked around, gingerly slid those paper n' cardboard jewels off the rack and hastily made my way to the cash, casting furtive sidelong glances at my fellow patrons.

"Back off, get yet own childhood memories!" I yelled at a soccer mom who dared stray too close to me.

As I carried my precious lootz out to my car, I marveled at my luck.  Before anyone could catch me I quickly tore away from the scene, feeling like a considerably geekier version of Mark Wahlberg in The Italian Job.

I've since had a chance to examine this haul, and I gotta say, I really lucked out.  It's all in incredibly good condition.

For having well-kept stores with a nice cross-reference of goods at excellent prices, I heartily give Strange Adventures Fredericton four pips on the Game Mecc-O-Meter!

Before I close this out, there are two other retailers worth mentioning.  The first is Gamezilla on 1211 Prospect Street in Fredericton.  Take heed, these comments also apply to the other location I frequent, which is on 511 Mountain Road in Moncton.

 Gamezilla Fredericton...

,,,and the Monctonian chapter.

Gamezilla used to be my pilgrimage site for board games and RPG's in the Maritimes.  In fact I'm pretty sure that I've single-handedly put at least one of the owner's kids through college.  Unfortunately, they seem to be leaning more and more on video game sales and rentals nowadays, which is a trifle sad.  Despite these real market dictates, Gamezilla still manages to carry a nice variety of titles at semi-reasonable prices.  Plus the staff at the Moncton location are all friggin' awesome.

"Here at Gamezilla we have loads of board games.  We're also well-equipped to handle all of your 
high-shelf retrieval needs!"   

For their clean, bright, spacious stores and moderate prices, the Gamezilla chain rates a "4" on the Gaming Mecc-O-Meter.

Finally, there's The Comic Hunter on 465 Main Street in Moncton.

In spite of their name, these guys easily have the greatest selection of new and used games in the Maritimes.  We're talkin' Library of Congress here, folks.  Just look at this shiznit:  

Seriously, you could spend an entire day rooting through this stuff (and I actually have on occasion).

The only major downside is the store's consistently higher-then-average game prices.  For example, I picked up Gloom at a store here in Hali for $24.95 recently and The Comic Hunter wanted $28.95 for it.  *Tsk, tsk*

Because of this sad fact, I've gotta downgrade The Comic Hunter from great to good.  Still, I give 'em four pips outta five!

So, there you have it!  The next time I venture down into the New England States I'm hoping to spend about a week in Boston and venture out on some Lovecraftian day trips.  

In sharing this quest, I'm really hoping to help you, my fellow gamers, get oriented if you should find yourself in these very same places.

Oh, by the way, in a future entry I'll show you exactly what's inside those Moldvay D&D boxes.  Little did I know that there'd be even bigger surprises lurking within!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hail To The King, Baby: "Kingdom Builder"

Here's the pathetic email chain that preceded game nite back on July 11'th:

(9:08 AM) 
What's tonight's game plan?

(9:35 AM) 
The plan coming into tonight is Warrior Knights at Dean's (this will likely take two nights).  Haven’t heard from him today on the topic so I’m not sure if things are still on.  If Dean isn’t ready to go we can make it a filler night.  Or if Dean is out I will host.

The ball is in your court, sir.

(9:36 AM)  
What are we doing tonight Brain?

The same thing we do every Wednesday night, Pinky: try to take over the (Medieval) world!

(9:48 AM, after laughing my ass off for the previous twelve minutes)

In a related story: funny for Cheryl to work a late shift on Wednesday night.  Why does she never work late on a Tuesday or a Monday?   Grrrrrrr!!!

Basically I'm wingeing about not having wheels.  Can anyone help?

P.S. by surrendering my car on a beautiful day like today, I'm really relying on Dean not to cancel.  Cancellation this evening will equate to an instant speedbag nut punch the next time I see you.

(9:54 AM)
I can pick you up.

(10:01 AM)
I'll prolly be out most of the day but I'll have my communicator with me.  Call me if anything goes horribly awry. 

(10:45 AM)
Pick me up too, Andrew!  You better have sandwiches ready this time.  :o)

(3:39 PM)
Hey guys, sorry for the late notice but I have a freezer issue I have to deal with (or lose a lot of money in fetal bovine serum) so I guess you'll be at Andrew's.  


I'm tellin' ya, the next time I see him, I'm gonna use his nuts like a Newton's Cradle.  

Seriously, we all love Dean and know that he's in a very specialized and demanding job which sometimes requires him to respond to emergencies.  None of us have a fucking clue what he does, but we give him the benefit of the doubt anyway.

Acutely aware of Dean's schedule, we'd already put an alternate plan into place.  Chad had recently acquired the Donald X. Vaccarino / "Cult of the New" title Kingdom Builder for Father's Day and had already run it a few times for the fam.  So, in essence, we had the perfect Plan "B" ready to go.

So, after overcoming our transportational challenges, we eventually met up at Andrew's place to throw down.


The goal of the game is to create THE GREATEST KINGDOM IN ALL THE REALM.  Players accomplish this by skillfully placing settlements in accordance to three random scoring rules which change every game.  In fact, there's a lot a variation here; just keep track of how many times I use the word "random" in the following overview. 

During set-up, a board is randomly (*DING!*) generated by drawing four quadrants made up of varying terrain types.  The play area is then seeded with four random (*DING!*) locations which, if claimed, can be used on subsequent turns to breaks the rules, such as moving settlements into water hexes or leaping them over impassible terrain.  

On every turn, players draw a random (*DING!*) terrain card and then place three of their settlements within the matching type on the board.  The tricky part is that you have to place these new buildings next to any that you've played on previous turns.  Also, by dropping settlements adjacent to those special locations, you can claim them to use on future turns.       

But ultimately the goal of the game is to earn gold.  By placing settlements adjacent to castles you earn three gold apiece at the end of the game.  That's all well and good, but most of your prime cheddah will come from the three random (*DING!*) Kingdom Builder cards that were drawn at the start of the game.  Each one of them clearly defines the specific conditions you have to meet in order to score the major pointage.  For example, one card might require you to build a clump of settlements together, another could task you to place one settlement per hex row and the third card might dictate that settlements be placed next to certain terrain types.  

"If'n it be the full rules ye seek, set yer course fer Board Game Geek.  Yaaarrrrr."



Here's what the board looked like after it was generated:

The special buildings in play for Game One were (clockwise from left):

Farm: Place a bonus settlement from your supply in a grass hex.  
Barn: Move a settlement into a hex of the same terrain type that you just drew.
Harbor: Move a settlement into an adjacent water hex.
Oasis: Place a bonus settlement from your supply in a desert hex.

And here's the spread of Kingdom Builder cards that we drew:

So, in this particular game, you'll see us going for mountain adjacency, settlements on as many different 
horizontal lines as possible, and a slew of building along any one horizontal line.  See how this works?  Pretty cool, huh?

As the oldest player, I had the dubious honor of starting the game.  I'd say that being "Kaptain Krusty" sometimes has it's perks but I honestly have no idea if going first was advantageous or not. 


Since I had no clue what I was doing, I just surrounded an Oasis after drawing forest and flower field terrain cards.  Although it did net me a Barn location, I made the mistake of placing settlements in the largest desert on the board.  Thank Vishnu that I had the early Oasis location since it helped me fill up this region a bit quicker.  At least I had the foresight to keep my canyon terrain settlements close to mountains for the purpose of the "Miners" card.   

Chad was all over the south eastern canyons, picking up a very valuable Harbor location in the process.  He then started edging out into the water.  After drawing a desert terrain card he also scored his very own Oasis.      

With some forest and grass terrain card draws, Mike proceeded to clump the shit out of his settlements.  This did allow him to snag a Barn, however.  

Knowing that Chad had the most Kingdom Builder experience, Andrew wisely mirrored some of his early moves.  A desert terrain card allowed him to pick up the second (and last) Harbor, place houses next to the mountains and branch out into the water.  He also claimed a Farm location by dropping three settlements in the forest and eventually branched out into some purdy-looking flower fields.       

Due to several untimely desert terrain card draws, the whole "mandatory adjacent placement" rule had me shackled to the "Sahara" for quite some time.  I did have a chance to expand into the grasslands and score a second Oasis location, which served me well in my quest to traverse the board's most expansive stretch of desert.  

Chad completely surrounded a mountain hex, horning in on Andrew's desert.  He also continued his leisurely sail across the lake, hoping to snap up an entire horizontal line right across the lower edge of the map in an effort to appease the "Knight" condition.  Also, with the "Discoverers" well in mind, he began to branch out from the western desert across the water into grassland and then down south through the canyons into my turf.  

Perhaps as oblivious to the victory conditions as I was, Mike just kept adding to his metropolis, branching into the flower fields to the south-west.  When he was forced to build elsewhere after drawing a desert terrain card, he elected to place settlements next to a city in the very same desert I was attempting to cross. 

You can also start to see things begin to click with Andrew.  Freshly inspired by the "Discoverers" card, he used his Barn to shift a settlement from a superfluous forest hex in order to to drive further north.  He also continued to exploit the "Miners" by nearly surrounding a two-hex mountain range.  He also kept branching out west, eventually beating Chad in the race across the river and placing next to a castle for three future points.     


After experiencing a long-overdue epiphany, I finally started to make a concerted effort to fulfill the conditions on the Kingdom Builder cards.  In pursuit of "Knight" points, I crossed the Gobi desert and then pondered how best to occupy every line along the north-south axis.  I begin to branch down south from the desert through the forest, eventually reaching a castle.  I also got more "Miners" in place by settling the canyons to the north-east.  

Maximizing his locations, Chad experienced a tremendous growth spurt.  He very nearly managed to occupy an entire horizontal line along the southern edge of the board.  He also drew two grass terrain cards, using them to surround a mountain up north and extend his southern reach into the southwest corner of the board.  

Still seemingly unmotivated by the game's victory conditions, Mike used a Barn to move one of his settlements back into the central canyons.  His urban sprawl then continued to drift west, but in doing so he managed to surround yet another castle.        

Finally, Andrew did his best to challenge Chad's late-game supremacy.  A grass terrain card allowed him to cut a swath up through the center of the board.  Also, after portaging across a major tributary, he attempted to mimic Chad's cross-board expansion, but ran up against another slow-going body of water.


Chad...59 points
Andrew...57 points
Me...49 points
Mike...35 points


Here's the spread of Kingdom Builder cards for our second match:

Also, we played with the following four random locations:

Paddock:  Move any one of your existing settlements two hexes in a straight line in any 
direction.  This also allows you to jump over normally impassible terrain like water. 
Oracle:  Place a bonus settlement from your supply on a hex of the same terrain type as your current terrain card.
Tower:  Place a bonus settlement from your supply on a hex along the edge of the game board.  
Tavern: Place a bonus settlement from your supply at the end of a string of at least three of 
your own settlements. 


This time Mike kicked things off.  Although he really could have used the "Citizens" card last game, he immediately went to work re-creating a brand new trailer park with his settlements.  After drawing  grasslands and forest terrain cards he also managed to snap up an Oracle location site.  A trek across the desert also landed him a Tower.         

Andrew was fortunate enough to get a good variety of terrain draws, allowing him to create some Hermits.  During his travels he also claimed the Tavern location and the incredibly agile Paddock ability.  He quickly used the latter to leap from the canyons across the river into neighboring forests.    

I also attempted to build as many isolated settlement clusters as possible.  A flower field draw earned me an incredibly handy Oracle location.  This allowed me to place a bonus settlement after my subsequent desert draw gave me a Paddock.  Scoring a Tavern let me infiltrate a forest and I used the Oracle once again to try and fend off Andrew's incursions. 

Chad's draws weren't quite as varied but he did end up with two Paddocks after frolicking unhindered through a flower field and a patch of grasslands. 


Mike continued to work on his super-city, reaching a three-point castle in the process.  He also accelerated his turf war with Andrew over some prime desert real estate.  

Speaking of Andrew, he became bound and determined to wrestle control of the Tavern quadrant away from me.  He was well-placed to do just that, using his Tower to out-flank me along the edge of the map.  He also used the Paddock ability to cozy up to a castle.  Finally, he kept butting heads with Mike over their mutual desert ambitions and soon both of them were neck and neck in that area.

Instead of continuing my arms race with Andrew I unwisely chose to create some mid-board "Hermit" holes, not realizing that the "Lords" card would prove to be much juicier.  I employed the Paddock jump to leap across a river and drop settlements by a castle in the forest.  Hopping to a field in another direction proved to be less productive since my wave was immediately dashed upon the rocks of Cape Chad.  For some reason I became fixated on creating a presence on the Tower tile but my uncooperative terrain draws and inability to maneuver around Chad ultimately made this a fool's errand.           

With two Paddocks, Chad was a leapin' machine!  He made for the middle of the board, taking my strategy but doing it more effectively.  After several hops, he made himself a slew of disparate settlements all around the board while achieving a presence in all four quadrants.  But could he achieve dominance in any of them?   


I'm not sure how deliberate the strategy was, but Mike managed to sneak a settlement into the battleground between me and Andrew right at the last minute.  This innocent little move would eventually provide a nice windfall of points for him.  Knowing that he already enjoyed an insurmountable dominance over Paddockland, Mike wisely worked at achieving parity with Andrew in the Tower quadrant.  His ability to pick and choose his battles really served him well.

Taking advantage of my mushy strategy, Andrew swarmed the Tavern section of the board.  He also used his Paddock to create a few last-minute isolated settlements and get one of his orange huts adjacent to a castle.

I tried to recapture the Tavern quadrant but it was too little, too late.  Much to my chagrin, I'd also failed to create very many isolated settlements in strict accordance to the "Hermit" score card.  To make matters worse, numerically my presence around the board was so scattered that I hadn't achieve dominance anywhere.  In fact, my last few turns really boiled down to a bunch of mid-board dickery that ultimately achieved nothing.

At face value, it looked as if Chad's efforts were similarly scattered but he was much more attuned to the "Hermit" scoring.  He also made a point of achieving numerical superiority in at least one quadrant.


Mike...55 points
Andrew & Chad...49 points
Me...40 points


Days later when Dean asked me what I'd thought of Kingdom Builder I told him: "I like it more then I should like it."  At the time I wasn't sure what that meant but I think it's probably because Kingdom Builder feels about as much like kingdom building as Dominion feels like, well...kingdom building.

And, yes, I've also heard rumors about broken strategies in the game.  Whatever they may be, I'm pretty sure we didn't stumble upon them in these two games.  Then again, we're not exactly the sort of people to poke around in Halo for seventeen hundred hours looking for glitches which allow us to jump half way across the map and kill someone with a plasma sword.  We may be geeks but we still have some semblance of a life.

Despite the pasted-on theme, I still liked this game quite a bit.  I loved the colorful terrain boards and anyone who knows me also knows that I'm irrationally predisposed to games with hexes.  It may sound cliche, but with a different spread of Kingdom Builder cards (three of ten), locations (four of eight) and map quadrants (four of eight) you should get a pretty unique game experience every time you sit down to play.    

Kingdom Builder scores four pips out of six.

P.S. One word of advice: when the Kingdom Builder cards are reveled, pick them up and read them yourself.  Twice, if possible.

Honestly, my biggest oversight was trying to play the game after half-listening to Chad read through the cards just once.  HUGE mistake.

Additional photos by Michael Chiasson.  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Winter Came...All Over Our Game Table: "A Game of Thrones: Second Edition"

It's hard to believe that between the five of us, our intrepid fellowship collectively owns somewhere in the realm of four hundred board games (including expansions!)  As I mentioned in my first Middle Earth Quest post, even with the five of us alternating picks every week, our unplayed list is still pretty considerable.  If someone's particularly horny to see a certain game come up the wait could make the release of Chinese Democracy look the time it takes to get a pellet from a feeder bar.

In an attempt to remedy this, Andrew's been lending games from his collection out to anyone who's interested in tabling them on their turn.  With its recent explosion as a bona fide pop culture phenomenon, Chad seemed very interested in running this:

Unfortunately, Chad's turn kept getting postponed.  What can I say, between all the dance recitals, needlepoint, flower arranging, musical theatre and amateur Greco-Roman Mixed Martial Arts, he's a very busy dude.

But last Wednesday, after many delays, Winter finally came.  Indeed, t'was a veritable Game of Thrones bukkake session.

Once again, Chad's masterful command of the rules proved to be a real boon and it wasn't long before we were all up and running.  In one notable stroke of genius, he had us perform a "practice round" by placing order tokens just to make sure that they did what we intended to do.  This allowed us to work out most of the kinks before we'd even played our first official turn.  Friggin' brilliant.  


The Game of Thrones board game takes place just after the death of Robert Baratheon.  Oh, spoiler alert, BTW.

With the King dead, the major Houses of Westeros enter into a deadly civil war to determine who will claim the Iron Throne.  A successful player will be the one who can best juggle economics, negotiation, diplomacy and military might.

During the set-up phase, players receive a starting allotment of Ships, Knights, Footmen and Siege Towers.  They also get a deck of House Cards which can give their forces unique powers in battle.  Finally, each House is provided with three sets of five different Order Tokens which are used to:
  • March units and initiate battles. 
  • Support attacks. 
  • Raid (I.E. discard) opponent's Orders. 
  • Consolidate Power to muster new units or gain additional influence.
  • Or Defend against attacks.  
Each Game Round breaks down into the following phases:

The Westeros Phase  In which the top three cards of the Westeros Deck are turned face-up, changing the game conditions for the upcoming round in some unique manner.

The Planning Phase  Players secretly seed Order Tokens beneath each group of units.

The Action Phase  The Order Tokens are revealed and actions are played out in order.  When this results in a battle, the victor is determined by a combination of unit strength, House Cards and a random draw from the Tide of Battle Deck.  During this phase, the Houses might also be called upon to join forces and drive back the nasty Wildlings.

The first player to ten Victory Points (in the form of captured Castles and Strongholds) is immediately declared the winner.

For those rules junkies out there who crave additional detail, feel free to check out Fantasy Flight's online PDF of the Second Edition rules.

Andrew...House Stark (Silver)
Chad...House Greyjoy (Black)
Me...House Baratheon (Yellow)
Dean...House Tyrell (Green)
Mike...House Lannister (Red)



Since the Westeros Phase is always skipped in the first Round, we immediately got down to some hardcore Planning Phase schemin'.

House Baratheon  Since I began the game in control of the Iron Throne, I annexed Storm's End with one Footman from Kingswood.  I then dispatched a Ship into Blackwater Bay to set up an amphibious landing and successfully transported one Knight and one Footman by sea from Dragonstone to Crackclaw Point.

House Lannister  Mike mustered a Ship and a Footman in Lannisport and Consolidated Power, gaining two tokens.

House Stark Andrew recruited a Footman in White Harbor and dispatched a Knight from Winterfell to Moat Cailin.

House Greyjoy  Chad moved a Ship into the Sunset Sea and Consolidated Power in his home region of Pyke.

House Tyrell  After we realized that the Oldtown Garrison had been placed on the board in error, Dean merrily marched in there with a Footman and then Consolidated Power in Highgarden.  

During our first Westeros Phase, "Mustering" had us gleefully levying new units, "Last Days of Summer" gave us a brief reprieve and Chad (as the holder of the Valyrian Steel token) quashed the more unpalatable options proposed by "Put To The Sword".

House Baratheon I constructed a Siege Tower in anticipation of a seaborne invasion of The Eyrie.  When it came time to move a Ship into the Narrow Sea to bridge my units to their destination, Andrew pointed out that he already had naval presence there and my intended action would be perceived as a declaration of war.  Given that Andrew's ship was undistinguishable against the gray-colored sea space, I honestly hadn't even noticed it sitting there when I was assigning my Order Tokens!  Not willing to stir up any major shit just yet, I abandoned my original designs and set my sights on a less-palatable prize: King's Landing.

(WARNING...INSIDE JOKE REFERENCE: Mike, if you're reading this I sincerely apologize for accusing you of not being aware of the scorpion and the frog fable.  Apparently I don't even know what a fucking scorpion is.)

House Lannister Speaking of Mike, his supply situation continued to improve dramatically when he marched on the Sea Road Marshes and Riverrun with one Knight apiece and then subjugated Blackwater with a single Footman unit.  With a total of six Supply Symbols amongst four territories, all of us began to suspect that Mike's armies would soon do justice to their fictional counterpart.

House Stark  Andrew continued to consolidate his holdings in the northern reaches by moving one Footman into the Stony Shore and one Footman into Widow's Watch.

House Greyjoy  Looking to make major waves by sea, Chad moved two more Ships into the Sunset Sea from Ironman's Bay (Hmmmmmm, shouldn't 'Ironman's Bay' be up in 'Stark' territory?  Amirite?  Holla?)  Desperate to get a foothold on the continent proper, he landed one Footman in Flint's Finger and one Knight in Seaguard.  This immediately put him in direct opposition with Andrew's forces in Moat Cailin.

House Tyrell  Looking for additional mobility in the southern waters, Dean added a ship to the West Summer Sea.  Tempted by the neutral jewel that is Starfall, he then moved one Knight and one Footman from Old Town (leaving it ungarrisoned due to a lack of Power Tokens) and moved into the Three Towers.


"A Throne of Blades" resulted in more Mustering and a "Clash of Kings" saw a major upheaval in Influence.  Finally all of the Houses came together to defeat a common foe and the Wildlings were beaten back for the first time!

House Tyrell  With nothing but neutral garrisons to oppose him, Dean kept spreading unchecked.  He started nudging uncomfortably close to my waters by sending a ship into the East Summer Sea.  He then eliminated the opposition in Starfall with one Knight and one Footman, scoring another Castle and Supply Icon in the process.  As if his proximity by sea wasn't bad enough, he also started creeping up on my turf by subjugating The Reach with one Knight.    

House Baratheon I really didn't want to send troops into King's Landing since I suspected that they'd be steamrolled by Mike's single-minded advance towards the capitol.  Fearing that I'd be left behind if I didn't keep expanding, I ended up sending one Siege Tower and one Knight in anyway.

House Greyjoy  Chad continued to struggle for lebensraum.  Facing strong opposition from Mike in Riverrun and Andrew in Moat Cailin, all he could really do was Muster a new Knight in Pyke and exploit his seabound agility by moving a boat northwards into the Bay of Ice.  This hemmed up Andrew's Boat moored in the Port of Winterfell.

House Stark  For no other reason other then to *yoink* a cheap castle away from me and add it to his own tally, Andrew landed a Moat Cailin Knight in Crackclaw Point!   I was expecting an incursion from Mike, but not from Andrew, especially after I'd stayed my hand against him last turn!  Needless to say, it took every ounce of my willpower not to come across the table, push him to the floor and force feed him a handful of Siege Engines.

Oh yeah, he also Mustered a Footman in Winterfell.  Big fuckin' deal.      

Hopefully by now the in-joke referenced above is becoming less and less obscure, dear reader!

House Lannister  Concerned by Chad's burgeoning fleet buzzing around him, Mike added another Boat to Lannisport Harbor.  Of course, with Andrew's Pearl Harbor job revealed, Mike could smell blood and had plenty of incentive to take a run at me as well.  Sure enough, he came in swinging with a Siege Engine and Footman, driving my own Knight and Siege Tower out of King's Landing and into Kingswood.    

Despite Mike's victory, I'm heartened by the fact that his army is a long way from home and completely devoid of support.  I started sending psychic transmissions to Dean, hoping that he'd take advantage of Mike's completely unprotected southern flank.  Given the fact that he still had plenty of low-hanging fruit to pick in his own unguarded neck of the woods, I knew deep down that House Tyrell had very little incentive to take the hint.


In Mike's mad rush to seize King's Landing he left the Searoad Marches and Blackwater ungarrisoned. As a result, when "Supply" came up in the Westeros Phase, he actually tied with me, Chad and Andrew with three apiece.  As it turned out, Dean was the big winner with four, allowing him to sustain two three-unit armies.  "Clash of Kings" saw us bidding on the Influence tracks.  Not that I had a lot of Power Tokens to play with but I certainly would have wagered higher on the King's Court category if I had my time back.  I remembered how important that category was only after I found out that I could no longer play any Special Order tokens.  D'oh!!!  Finally, we managed to fake solidarity just long enough to repel yet another Wildling invasion.

House Tyrell  Dean conscripted a Footman for Highgarden as well as one Footman and one Siege Tower for The Reach.  He also continued to use the southern portion of Westeros as his own personal playground, spreading like an unhindered green fungus first into Yronwood (which he left garrisoned) and then into the Sunspear.  The two Footmen and one Knight who arrived there now looked suspiciously poised to take a voyage into my corner of the realm.

House Greyjoy  My ally against Mike turned out to be Chad and not Dean.  After he mustered a new Knight in Flint's Finger, christened a Boat for Ironman's Bay and boldly sailed into the Golden Sound (driving Mike's ships back into Lannister Harbor), Chad unexpectedly landed one Knight and one Siege Tower in Riverrun.  He also used his considerable naval power to occupy the now-vacant Searoad Marshes with two Knights!

House Baratheon  Just as I'd predicted, my brave warriors managed to recover all of Mike and Andrew's ill-gotten gains!  One Siege Engine and one Knight from The Mountains of the Moon eliminated Andrew's foreign presence in Crackclaw Point.  This still worked out alright for Andrew since he ended up moving into the now-vacant Mountains not long after.  My Siege Engine got trashed taking King's Landing back from Mike, but my Knight managed to hold the line while inflicting a casualty.  Then, to shore up my defenses a bit, I left a Footman to guard the Kingswood then mustered a Knight in both Storm's End and Dragonstone.

House Lannister  Mike's turn was all about damage control.  Hoping to drive out the Greyjoy invaders, Mike rallied one Knight and one Siege Engine in Lannisport.  Finally noticing Dean's proximity down south, he also added a new Knight in Blackwater.  Finally, he re-enforced the Siege Engine that was driven out of King's Landing into Harrenhal with a Knight.

House Stark  The loss of a Knight in Crackclaw Point did very little to quell the boisterous Starks.  Andrew moved one of his Footmen from Winterfell to Castle Black in order to secure the Power Icon there.  He then levied two Footmen in White Harbor, which instantly made this a perfect launch point for an even stronger naval campaign.


Another welcome round of "Mustering" was celebrated.  Despite Dean's considerable gains, "Game of Thrones" only ended up giving him two Power Tokens.  After getting ganked by Chad, Mike found himself tied with the same amount.  Andrew and Chad each had three apiece and after re-capturing King's Landing I collected four.  Finally, when a "Storm of Swords" dictated that no Defense Orders could be played it virtually guaranteed that the upcoming round would be pretty hairy.

House Tyrell  All Dean really needed to do in this round was maintain his low profile and keep building up his forces for a final push to ten Victory Points.  He accomplished this handily by adding one Boat to the Sea of Dorne and one to the Westsummer Sea and resisting the temptation to lash out at me, Mike or Chad.

House Lannister  Still reeling from my lethal counter-attack and Chad's unexpected incursions, Mike diverted his Siege Engine from Lannisport to the Stony Sept.  He also added a new Footman to Harrenhal to discourage any funny ideas I might be harboring about pressing my advantage.

House Baratheon  Having wasted several turns and lost units recapturing what I'd lost, I knew that there weren't very many bold moves in my immediate future.  This was made worse by the terrible fact that my King's Court status was in the dumper and I still couldn't play a single Special Order token.  All I could really do was requisition a Knight to sandbag King's Landing, add a Siege Engine to my reserves in Dragonstone and use a Raid action to preempt Andrew's naval action in The Narrow Sea.  

House Greyjoy  Chad continued his trend of unpredictable dickery by pulling two Knights from the Searoad Marshes and a Siege Engine from Riverrun to sneak attack Andrew in Winterfell!  Thrown by the unexpected assault, the lone Stark Knight defending the region was easily overwhelmed!  As if to guard his own ass from a similar strike, Chad also recruited two Knights in Pyke.

House Stark  Andrew was forced to divert two Footmen and one Siege Engine from White Harbor and one Footman from Widow's Watch (leaving both garrisoned by Power Tokens) to the task of recapturing his capitol.  He lost a few Footmen in the skirmish but ultimately proved victorious.


Another batch of "Mustering" sped up the recovery process.  Lannister Mike, still hoarding the Valyrian Steel and Messenger Raven tokens, elected to gain more Power Tokens when "Dark Wings" came up.  For the third time, we managed to send the Wildlings packing back across the wall with their collective asses in their hands.

House Stark  Hoping to avoid a repeat of last round, Andrew Mustered a Knight and a Footman in Winterfell.  He dispatched one of these Footman by Boat to The Fingers, which he annexed for a much-needed Supply Icon.  In revenge for the assault on Winterfell, Andrew's ship finally ventured out of port into the Bay of Ice and destroyed Chad's Boat in the resulting naval duel.

House Greyjoy  Perhaps sensing that he'd stuck his sword (and by his sword I mean his penis) into one too many hornet's nests, Chad kept a low profile that round.  All he did was move one Ship from Ironman's Bay into the Sunset Sea.

House Baratheon  Unfortunately I was still hobbled by a painful lack of Special Order tokens.  Not feeling strong enough to initiate any battle just yet, I had to content myself with adding a Knight to Kingswood and a Footman to Crackclaw Point.

House Lannister  Now clearly on the defensive, Mike hastily added a Footman to Harrenhal.  Mike's Knight fell back from Blackwater to the Searoad Marshes where it was met by a Siege Engine from the Stoney Sept.

House Tyrell   At this stage in the game, I'm sure Dean was having a grand old time watching all of us bitch-slap each other while he casually gobbled up one territory after another.  As a prelude to victory, he added a new Boat to The Arbor, securing yet another Power Icon.


The Westoros Deck revealed "Supply", which resulted in one of my Footman in Storm's End starving to death.  Once again Mike picked "Gain fucking Power" when "Dark Wings" popped up for the second straight time.  This killed me since I already had a pile of Power Tokens behind my screen big enough to swim in Scrooge McDuck style.  At this stage I would have gladly murdered a hobo with a ball peen hammer just to get an Influence Vote and crawl out of the Fiefdom gutter.  Finally, "Web of Lies" put the kibosh on all Support Actions, effectively neutering my next turn.      

House Baratheon  Sensing that Dean was slow coasting to victory, I started making some kooky moves.  Unfortunately, since I was still completely mistrustful of both Mike and Andrew, none of my actions were directed towards the guy who was actually poised to win the game.  Flying in the face of  logic, I launched two separate attacks.  The first one, directed against Andrew in The Mountains of the Moon, was soundly repelled, thanks in part to his +2 Defense Special Action.  In the end, my attacking force of one Knight, one Siege Engine and one Footman got decimated.  My military action against Mike went much better as my two Knights from King's Landing managed to rout Mike's Knight in Blackwater.  Hypothetically this would have earned me two much-needed Supply Icons, assuming that Mike didn't just snatch it back from me on his next turn.  

House Tyrell  Dean finally let loose his pent up Dogs of War and annihilated my defenses at King's Landing with a Siege Engine and a Knight.  He then used his Boat in the Sea of Dorne to ferry two Footmen and one Knight from Sunspear to Storm's End.  With all of my House Combat Cards frittered away in petty squabbles against Mike and Andrew, I was virtually unarmed.  Dean's two perfectly timed attacks easily allowed him to claim his tenth Victory Point, giving him the win.

Looking back on the game, I really wish Andrew and Mike hadn't made a bee line straight for me like they did.  I'd expected Mike to take a run at me, but not Andrew.  When he decided to plop one of his Knights right onto Crackclaw Point just one turn after I averted a confrontation with him, I distinctly remember turning to him and saying that my goal from that point forward was to eliminate "every last man, woman and child".

These early betrayals were a real boon for Dean.  He was in the perfect position to sit back and watch all of us paintbrush each other while he slowly annexed one Sudetenland at a time.


Despite the drama (or perhaps because of it), this game's a real revelation.  I've played a slew of these multiplayer, wargamey, back-stabby affairs and a lot of them are long, boring, protracted, fiddly things that are completely bereft of thematic relevance.

A Game of Thrones: The Board Game is the antithesis of that.  It's beautiful, streamlined, dramatic, and crunchy in all of the right places.  The secretly-placed Order Tokens alone generate a nigh-intolerable feeling of tension.  Genuine fans of the books and the HBO program can confidently pick this one up, knowing that it's not some cheaply-produced, fly-by-night, mall kiosk flotsam that will end up boring them or insulting their intelligence.

A Game of Thrones: The Board Game handily scores five pips out of six.