Friday, October 5, 2012

Cabin Con 2012

The crap part about living in a relatively small city is that there aren't a lot of formal gaming events.  Granted, we've got Hal-Con to look forward to, but it still isn't a dedicated table-top gaming event nor is it anywhere close to the scale of something like Gen Con.

As such, our humble little gaming group has taken it upon itself to forge its own very own small-scale Con's.  For example my own personal event, Davecon, happens every spring, Andrew's got his annual Birthday Bash and Chad's been known to run a day-long event called Game-A-Geddon.

(Which brings me to a quick aside: Jesus, Dean, pick up the slack, willya?!?!?)

Four or five months ago, Andrew hit upon another fantastic idea.  Thanks to their terrific spouses, both Dean and Andrew have access to an incredible log cabin situated on Lake Ainslie in Cape Breton.  Thinking that this location would be a perfect place for a weekend of uninterrupted gaming, the five of us made plans to drive up there on a Friday, pick up some critical supplies en route and then spend the next two days spazzing out on board games.     

And we certainly wouldn't be hard-up for entertainment.  Besides the four or five titles each of us brought with us, Andrew packed a massive tote stuffed to the brim with some prime game-age:

After picking up our rental car around 9:30 am on Friday the 21'st, Andrew drove his own vehicle back home while I ventured over to the Dart Side to pick up Deaner.  After swinging by snag Andrew again we hit Warp Factor Six, pausing for a brief lunch in Truro.  Our only other stop that afternoon was in Antigonish where we fetched a weekend's worth of victuals and *ahem*...beverages.  


We arrived at the cabin around 4 pm.  While Andrew attempted to decipher the tricksy rule book for Age of Conan, Dean and I threw down with a coupla games of Magic: The Gathering.

Game One to Four - Magic: The Gathering

Dean played a White and Red deck while I rocked a combination of Blue and Black.

I came out swinging with an Azure Mage and the Scepter of Empires.  Dean countered with a Soul Warden and then annihilated the Scepter with an Oblivion Ring.  Next, his Flametongue Kavu and my Azure Mage ended up killing one another.

In quick succession my Zombie Goliath and Warpath Ghoul were laid low by Dean's Lightning Helix.  After knocking me down to fourteen life, I finally stopped the hemorrhaging.  I brought out a Crown of Empires and performed some Divination while Dean fatefully played Furnace of Rath, which effectively doubled all damage.

I finally started to get a lock on Dean with a flying, pumpable Drifting Shade.  Eventually Dean felled my new Azure Mage with a Prison Sentence, which he eventually shifted to the Shade.  He tried to throw up a Cerodan Yearling and a Boron Guildmage for defense, but they got squished by Doom Blades as well as my small horde of incessant attackers.

But just seconds before I was about to trample him into oblivion with the combined might of a Azure Mage, Merfolk Looter, Reassembling Skeleton and a Zombie Goliath, the lucky fuck pulled Rolling Thunder out of his deck, allowing him to do enough Furnace-inflated direct damage to finish me off!


In Game Two, Dean switched to a Black Deck while I went with an all-Red affair.

Dean came out swinging by throwing every card with the word "Phyrexian" at me.  There were Broodlings, Ghouls, some filthy Demonic McNasty and even worse: mother fuckin' Butterflies.  A Priest of Gix, a Whispersilk Cloak and some Puppet Strings also served to frustrate my early attackers.  

Still, a veritable barrage of Stone Rain on Dean's lands allowed me to take back the initiative while my Dragon's Claw kept my Life Points artificially inflated.  After my Anaba Shaman died taking down Dean's Ghoul, I managed to conjure up a slew of big attackers including a seemingly endless swarm of Hill Giants and Anarchists.

In the end, Dean couldn't recover from the land loss and he was eventually overwhelmed.

For Game Three, Dean switched to a different Black deck while I went All-White, All The Time.

My Infantry Veteran quickly came to a Hideous End, thanks to Dean's heartless card play.  During a painfully protracted Mana drought, I could only manage a Veteran Cavalier and a Skyhunter Prowler, both of which were briefly augmented by a Glorious Anthem.  

By summoning a Noxious Ghoul and a vicious 5/3 Nefashu, Dean quickly revealed that he'd chosen the perfect counter to this White Weeney deck.  Within seconds my modest troop of defenders had been annihilated under a rainfall of -1/-1 counters.  

Beacon of Unrest ensured that everything I could put in his graveyard would probably be back to haunt me in a brief turn or two.  My last bodyguard, a feeble Crossbow Infantryman, soon got crushed by Dean's stampede of ghoulish attackers.

For our fourth and final match, Dean switched to a Red and Green Deck while I gave the same White Deck another try.  Spoiler alert: this worked about as well as it did the last time.  

All I could conjure up was some Crossbow Infantry and a woefully inadequate Honor Guard before Dean used Beast Hunt to wrangle up a lethal menagerie.  I managed to pacify a Bogardan Firefiend, but pretty soon I was hip-deep in Flamekin Harbingers, Forgotten Ancients, Living Hives and Briarborns.  

Translation: I was dead within five turns.  

I don't know why I have a tendency to shelve Magic: The Gathering for such protracted periods of time.  It's a bloody shame.  Although I've been known to bitch and moan about a constant avalanche of expansions, power creep amongst the newer sets and the tendency for some people to slavishly reproduce killer deck right down to a single card, this is still one of my all-time favorite games.  I have no problem dropping a perfect rating on this one!  

After our little mini-tournament had concluded, Master Chef Dean broiled up a coupla burgers and we paused briefly to knock back a few (?) cold ones.  We then tried to muddle through a game of Age of Conan but we fucked up the rules so badly that we abandoned it, vowing to have another bash at it tomorrow.  By the time Mike and Chad rolled in around eight or nine, were really weren't keen to tackle any heavy, brain-burning games.  

Game Five and Six - Cards Against Humanity

In the first match Mike played a delightfully "inspired" game and won with ten points.  Chad and I tied for second place with nine points, while Dean had eight and Andrew trailed with six.  

We played to seven points in our second contest.  I crossed the finish line first, Dean and Mike had six cards apiece and both Chad and Andrew got stuck at two.

Everyone who's ever played Apples to Apples probably can recall a time in which one of the match-ups unexpectedly veered into pervy or politically incorrect territory.  Like the time "Helen Keller" was the  subject and someone threw down "Hot" in response.  

Well, the creators of Cards Against Humanity have built an entire game around this I'm-totally-going- to-hell-if-I-play-this-matching-card scenario.  Although the game could use two more full boxes of cards to gain a semblance re-playability, I really can't see myself ever playing Apples to Apples again.  Unless, of course, some stray kids are loitering around or you're trying to do a group activity at work. 

Cards Against Humanity scores four pips outta six.   

After laughing ourselves into a collective hernia, we decided to pack it in to get an early start on the next day.


We kicked things off in style with the lightly-strategic, starship knife-fight Battle Beyond Space (NOTE: the title is best read into a rolled-up magazine). 

Game Seven - Battle Beyond Space 

Every player starts in their own quadrant of the board with a fleet of star-fighters and a pair of capitol ships.  The goal is to score as many points as possible by destroying enemy ships and nabbing the victory point probes situated mid-board.  All the while, you need to avoid tons of asteroids, scads of enemy vessels and a ham-fisted tendency to pilot your own ships into each other.  

Movement cards dictate when your ships can move, pivot and fire, but you get to pick exactly how this goes down.  Also, every player has a Race Card (heh) which they can play at any time.  These usually trip some sort of special ability, either be a nasty one-shot attack or a less-powerful lingering ability.  Believe it or not, this is a helluva lot more strategic then is sounds.

Andrew was the Dreckach, I was the Earthers, Dean was the Valkyrie and Mike was the Vonyan.  

Right off the bat I thought my starting position kinda sucked since I was smack-dab in the middle of an asteroid cluster.  Assuming that the middle of the board was swiftly going to degenerate into an interstellar clusterfuck, I set one of my squadrons to the task to nipping at Andrew's heels and then positioned the rest to creep up on Mike.

After sending one lone fighter wing at Dean, Andrew conveniently sent most of his armada right across the bottom of the board where they were treated like ducks in a shooting gallery.  The strategy might have been a risky one, but it also gave him plenty to shoot at, name one of my capitol ships as well as several Valkyrie and Vonyan targets.

Mike kept most of his ships clustered together, making inexorable progress towards the center of the board.  One wing of fighters tried to guard his left flank but they got chewed up in a Malachi Crunch between Terran and Drechach forces.  Regardless, his single-minded quest for mid-board satellites eventually paid off.

Meanwhile, Dean sent a lone squadron of fighters right for the middle of the board, looking to get "probed" before anyone else.  In another wise move, he maximized his fire arcs before revealing a long distance weapon card which quickly made ruin of the competition.  

In the end I managed to destroy about seven of Andrew's fighters, two of Mike's and one of Dean's.  I was also able to put the kibosh on one of Dean's capitol ships, but I failed to pick up any of the probes.  Also my one--time ability to sacrifice a fighter to destroy everything within two hexes was pretty useless since your fleet is all clustered up in the beginning.  By the time your ships get thinned out, your opponents are in the same boat, making this self-destruct ability kinda superfluous.

Final scores: Dean 23 points, Mike 22, Andrew 21 and me...18 (cue sad trumpet noise).  C'mon, I had more ships left then anyone else!  That should be worth something, shouldn't it?  No?  Well, okay, then...         

The rules for Battle Beyond Space are so easy that you can start playing almost immediately.  Although the game doesn't appear to be terribly deep on the surface, there's a deceptive amount of strategy at work here.  Plus the game plays ridiculously quick, allowing it to serve as a fun, light little preamble for meatier games.  Although the racial powers seem a tad unbalanced and the production team deserves to be beaten with a sack of doorknobs over those wafer-thin, impossible-to-pick-up plastic ships, Battle Beyond Space is clearly a winner.       

I give it four die pips outta six!  

Speaking of meatier games, Chad was gracious enough to run two games of Tigris & Euphrates.  

Game Eight and Nine - Tigris & Euphrates

When I first discovered Board Game Geek back in the mid-2000's I became obsessed with collecting games on their Top 50 Geek Rating List.  Some of these titles instantly shot to the top of my own best-of tally (like Puerto Rico) and some, like Tigris & Euphrates, just sat around on my shelf gathering dust.  

That's not to say that the game looked bad.  In fact, when I first read the rules I was really stoked to try it.  I gathered up my wife and mother-in-law, who are both predisposed to to trying out new games, sat them down and then attempted to teach them how to play.  It ended up going over about as well as Michael Richard's last stand-up performance.

In retrospect, there were several reasons why it fizzled.  The game is so wildly original that I really had no precedent to compare it to.  The different types of conflicts that can occur in the game can sometimes be a challenge to wrap your head around, let alone explain to someone.  You're final effort, based on your lowest-scoring category, is easy for neophytes to overlook.  Plus, there are so many options to choose from that any given turn can be downright paralyzing.

Knowing that my copy was currently serving as an elaborate-looking paperweight, Chad bought the iPad app in order to teach himself how to play.  As I suspected, there was no better way to digest some of the game's more esoteric mechanics.  As a result, Chad had absolutely no issue teaching Mike and I how to play.

I was the Archer, Chad was the Bull and Mike was "Pottery Barn".

In our first match, I set up a string of Farmers along the south west riverbank, building a thriving          
little Kingdom in the process.  I built this up by adding several matching tiles and augmenting my scoring early with Farmer Leaders and Priests.  Mid-board I got four more Farms together and managed to place a Monument which contributed nicely to my score on every turn.

Trying to keep away from the main fray, I also settled the small, isolated region in the upper left hand corner of the board.  Knowing that I'd soon be short on Markets, I made a concerted effort to get four of them together for another Monument and then doubled down with both a King and a Trader.

Meanwhile, Mike and Chad were busy beating the snot out of one another.  Mike had plenty of fertile ground in the north-east quadrant of the board, establishing a geographically-perfect Farm-fueled Monument.  He loaded this Kingdom down with most of his Leaders, which was a boon for scoring but it attracted Chad like a moth to a flame.

Chad set himself up in the lower-right-hand corner of the board and built a Market Monument presided over by a Trader Leader.  Eventually he began to creep up on my expansive Kingdom in the southeast and Mike's burgeoning empire to the north.  In the Conflicts that resulted, Chad low-balled his bids and this definitely cost him considerable momentum.

Eventually my north-eastern Kingdom crossed over the river and diversified with a slew of Settlement and Market tiles.  Chad managed to rebound by attaching his Priest token to this development and also grafting his Leader onto Mike's metropolis.

But, alas, it was too little, too late.  I won with 18 points, Mike was right behind me with 17 and Chad finished up with 11.

You can almost see the scores just by looking at this final position photo:

Although we fucked up a minor rule (bridging Kingdoms with just a Unification Tile instead of with a Civilization Tile plus the Unification Tile) we really had a blast with that first game and decided to try it again.

In the second match, Chad was quick to illustrate that he'd already adapted, Borg-like to the game.  He snatched up Mike's old stomping grounds in the eastern portion of the board, dropping a Farmer Leader and converting four Farm tiles into a Monument.  He also set up shop mid-board, dropping his Priest into a slew of Temple Tiles, which he also Monumentalized.

Poor Mike tried to eke out a humble Kingdom off to the South East.  After fording the river with four Farm tokens, he ran smack dab into Chad's urban sprawl but couldn't muster enough juice to compete with him.  After his Leaders were ousted from almost every corner of the board, Mike was hard pressed to bounce back.

I tried to duplicate my success from the previous game, but this time I made the mistake of not diversifying enough.  I produced a ludicrous amount of Black and Blue Victory Points from my autonomous matching Kingdom to the South West, but I ended up largely duplicating my efforts elsewhere.  My North-Western Kingdom allowed me to consistently score Temples, but I definitely  over-inflated my Farm production.      

After noticing the sad state of my Market score, I triggered an External Conflict with Chad by uniting my North-Western civilization with his central empire.  I managed to displace Chad's Trader but I lost my Farmer Leader in the resulting fracas.  The subsequent tile losses allowed me to restructure my Kingdom with more Markets, but by the time I'd struck upon this strategy, the game was nearly over.

Chad won handily with 20 points and both Mike and I were left in the dust with 12 points apiece.

Tigris & Euphrates is truly unlike any other game I've ever played.  Although the theme is so perfunctory that it's borderline abstract, it's also incredibly deep strategically, almost Chess-like.  I think I was having a hard time teaching it to people because I always felt as if I was shortchanging the myriad of different plays that you can make, especially where it concerns Internal and External Conflicts.

As I said to my opponents after our second play: "This is the sort of game that I really want to practice."  Frankly, I can't think of higher praise for a game.  I'll give this one five pips outta six but I suspect that my rating might climb higher after a few more plays.

Game Ten - Age of Conan

After Andrew, Dean and I muddled through the fiddly rules for Age of Conan: The Strategy Board Game on Day One, we felt confident enough it another bash.  This time Dean sat out and Andrew and I were joined by Chad and Mike.  

In Age of Conan, players represent one of four kingdoms vying for control of Robert E. Howard's fictional fantasy world.  They do this by earning Empire Points, which come from completing public Objectives and conquering territories.  At the beginning of every turn, dice are rolled to determine the pool of available actions, just like in War of the Ring.      

In addition to tackling Intrigue and Military Contests, players can also attempt to influence everyone's favorite Cimmerian to improve their chances in battles, sow seeds of discord behind enemy lines and gain Adventure Tokens.  As Conan completes Adventures, the clock tics down to the end of the Third Age.  Players then receive their final allocation of Kingdom Points based on their tally of Forts and Cites, how much wealth they're accumulated, how many times they've defeated an opponent in battle and how many Adventure Tokens they've collected while sponsoring Conan's exploits.  

In this match Andrew was Aquilonia, Chad was Turan, Mike was Hyperborea and I was Stygia.  

After seeing how nasty Raider tokens could be in the first game, I really wanted to win the approval of the eponymous barbarian.  In spite of my ludicrously high bid, Mike still managed to trump me using some sort of freaky special ability card.  Although I was pissed that I'd lost out on such a critical asset, I worked at applying the lessons I'd learned from our dry-run the night before.  

Knowing that Stygia was well-suited for Intrigue Contests I used this to my advantage, quickly bringing Darfar and Shem under my thrall.  When I finally screwed up the courage to enter an extended campaign, I picked the Savage Black Kingdoms as my theater.  Although it took three turns, I eventually pacified the place and dropped a Fort there.  Sensing inevitable incursions on my turf, I blew some Military Die results and end-of-Age gold reserves on some badly-needed reinforcements.  

Andrew, already conscious of the Aquilonian's prowess in battle, started knocking campaigns out of the park.  The next thing we knew, his Forts started popping up in the Pictish Wilderness and Nemedia like fucking Starbucks.  Towers in Zingara, Argos and Nemedia did a lot to sponsor his armies, but they almost seemed like afterthoughts next to the concept of lebensraum.        

Meanwhile Chad's Emissaries kept dropping the ball until he decided to spread them out a little bit.  The strategy seemed to work and soon he had Tower Control Markers in Zamora, Khauran and the Steppes.  He also pursued and eventually completed a fairly manageable campaign in Ghulistan, despite a few setbacks.  Towards mid-game he drew my ire by invading green-hued Iranistan and dropping a Fort there.  

Mike was hard-pressed in his initial efforts, failing to catch a break in several battles.  Eventually he managed to build Forts in both the Tundra region and Brythunia, but an Intrigue Contest in Nordheim seemed to drag on forever.  Just as he finished consolidating his holdings, Andrew force-marched into the Border Kingdoms, won the two-battle campaign and dropped a Fort right onto his doorstep like a bag of burning poo.  Mike responded by sending Conan on an extended hike down through Andrew's territory, dropping Raider Tokens and picking up a slew of Adventure Chits along the way.    

Taking note of this at the start of the Second Age, I bid high again for Conan but narrowly lost him after Mike played his trump card for the second straight time.  However, after reading the fine print, we quickly realized that we'd misinterpreted this ability and soon the legendary freebooter was in my employ!

Still smarting from Chad's bold incursion, I really wanted to drive him off my green turf.  Unfortunately distance and the unknown quantity of performing a Siege put me off this plan.  Instead I decided to go "tit for tat" by subjugating Chad's Eastern Desert.  I also set Conan loose in the lands of Turin, where he ended up causing slightly less damage then Groo the Wanderer.  Eventually Chad and I came to an unspoken detente after it became abundantly clear that Andrew was running riot all over the board.  

After upgrading three of his Forts into Cities and gaining Empire Points from several Objectives, Andrew was clearly in the lead.  Sensing that we were all probably going to turn on him anyway, Andrew attacked Chad from out of the blue.  The Lord of Turin responded by acquiring Conan in the Third Age, siccing him on every Aquilonian in sight and then invading Corinthia.  Meanwhile. Mike continued to struggle, but at least his defensive efforts helped to siphon off some of Andrew's valuable resources.   

Since I'd been salivating at the prospects of attacking Aquilonia right from the start, I decided to jump on the "everybody gank Andrew" bandwagon.  In response, I'm pretty sure that he sent some pretty formidable bad luck ju-ju my way.  Although I managed to complete my Military Contest in Central Shem and an Intrigue Contest in Khoraja, both acquisitions were protracted and costly affairs.  To make the best of it, Andrew scored a few solid counter-attacks, garnering some highly-prized "Crom Count the Dead!" Tokens in the process.   

By the time the Third Age was finally over, I was really anxious to see the final score.  After all, I'd managed to build four Towers, a Fort and Two Cities and compiled a huge pile of Adventure Tokens.  Plus I'd met the face-up Trade Routes objective which rewarded incursions into enemy territory.  Although I was pretty sure that I hadn't won, but I was certainly confident that my effort had been solid.  

But when everything was tallied up, the final scores left me completely and totally baffled:  

Chad Thirty-Five (35), Andrew Twenty-Eight (28), Mike Twenty-Two (22), Me....Twenty Fucking One (21).

I won't lie to you, folks, I was pissed.  I'm sorry but there's no way anybody can look at this final map layout and convince me that I deserved to be dead, fucking last.  

Although I dug many of the game's mechanics and really like how Conan acts as a force of nature which can be exploited in one Age but then bite you in the ass in the next, there's no way on Crom's green earth that you can convince me that these final scores make sense.  I think a major part of the problem is that many of the scoring categories fail to award partial points for being the runner-up.  Also, the fact that I had more Adventure Tokens then any other player yet still failed to score points in any of the four categories was particularly galling.

As I've said many times before, I really don't mind losing a game as long as I know why I lost.  I can even tolerate inexplicable defeat if the process only takes a few hours.  But we played this unwieldy beast for four fucking hours and I still have no clue how I could have improved my score, other then maybe getting a luck transplant.  And frankly, that's just plain horseshit.  

Life is short and there are many more area-control war games I'd rather play then this.  In fact, Chaos in the Old Word, War of the Ring, Game of Thrones, Axis & Allies, El Grande, Shogun, Dust and RuneWars are just a few that spring to mind.  

Alas, with heavy heart, I'm forced to give Age of Conan: The Strategy Board Game three pips out of six.  

Mercifully, we rebounded with a real palate-cleanser:

Game Eleven to Fourteen - Space Alert

From the mind of Vlaada Chvátil (who brought us the wildly original Galaxy Trucker) comes Space Alert, a self-described "cooperative team survival game".   Players are crew members aboard a small and fragile spaceship which is tasked with exploring the wild frontiers of the galaxy.  Although game play proper only lasts about ten minutes, the players will have their hands full protecting their ship from a myriad of lethal threats.  

Taking a cue from the old VHS board games, Space Alert comes with two CD's which you play during the game.  Each ten minute long soundtrack features the ship's "central computer" warning players about incoming calamities.  As the scenarios advance, the dangers pile on.  Some of these threats include asteroids, enemy vessels with varying abilities, cosmic monstrosities, hostile alien boardings or ship-wide malfunctions.  

After players come to a general consensus about who'll be manning the various ship systems (energy allocation, firing weapons, launching missiles) everyone pre-programs their movements and actions in a manner similar to RoboRally.  At the end of a scenario, a special Mission Steps board is used to play out the actions in order.  Naturally, a team that can effectively communicate and co-ordinate their efforts will be best suited for survival.  

Chad was voted ship's Captain, so it was up to him to bark out commands and co-ordinate our duties.  For some equally inexplicable reason, I was elected Communications Officer.  As such, it was my job to pay close attention to the background soundtrack and make sure that the incoming threats were displayed properly.

Yeah, I'm sure you can imaging how well this went down.  

In our first game, we got our center section annihilated by an alien attack:

Now acutely aware of what we were all collectively trying to do, we gave Game Two a spin.  This time we managed to limit our damage to one point to port and three points to starboard and pulled out a victory!  

The next two scenarios added some increasingly nasty enemy ships.  Although fortified somewhat with Missiles and "take back" actions, we still had to contend with hidden action cards, "serious" threats, communication breakdowns, system-specific damage and occupied turbo-lifts.  

Yeah, we never had a chance.     

Although we only intended to play a single game, Space Alert came to dominate our evening.  The thirty-minute play time, nail-biting stress and ramping challenges really made for an addictive experience.  It also solves the biggest issue I have with many co-operative games, which I've previously quantified as "Bossy Veteran Syndrome".  Since all the moves in Space Alert are pre-programed, the game's owner will never be able to micro-manage noobs Pandemic-style.        

But that's not to say that players are acting alone in a vacuum.  Instead of curling up on the floor in a fetal position, a good Captain will keep dishing out general directives even as things start to fall apart.  An effective communications officer will disseminate all of the pertinent transmissions and make sure everyone is well aware of the inbound threats.  Crew-members have to interpret the Captain's general commands but also take decisive and autonomous actions.  

As such, the game can accommodate a lot of different play styles and personality types.  Got a bossy fuck in the group who loves the sound of their own voice?  Make them Captain!  Got an observant cat with excellent communications skills?  Well, that's your communications officer!  Is there a wall-flower type who hates responsibility and is terrified by the prospects of fucking something up?  Make them a professional mouse-toggler!        

This is, without a doubt, one of the most innovative and enjoyable game I've played in recent memory.  Maybe it just looked super-awesome when compared to the muddied slog that was Age of Conan, but I gotta give this one the highest possible score.  

Oh, by the way, unlike 90% of board game rule books out there, the “How to Become a Space Explorer” handbook included with Space Alert is actually a very fun read.  Not only is it well-organized with a metric shit-ton of examples, it also contains a slew of goofy asides which bring the game to life and keeps you reading on.  If only more game designers were half as creative or communicative, we'd be all set.

Well, by that time it was getting pretty late and both Dean and Andrew were wrestling with the dreaded early stages of BOARD GAME HEADACHE.  Just before we all passed out, I managed to rope Chad and Mike into a quick game of Gloom.

Game Fifteen - Gloom

In the Edward Gorey-esque world of Gloom, players represent a dour and eccentric family of misfits.  The goal of the game is to make your clan as miserable as possible before they expire whilst (and at the same time) making your rivals cheery and transcendent.  This is accomplished with the artful play of various modifier cards such as "Diverted by Drink" or "Mocked by Midgets".  

With the unique transparent card design, it's easy to keep tabs on the relative mood of any given character.  The game continues until one player's entire family is pushing up the daisies.  As soon as this happens, cumulative scores are calculated and the player who's family is the most miserable in death wins!

I was Clan Slogar, Mike was the Blackwater Marsh crew and Chad played the inimitable denizens of Hemlock Hall.

As anticipated, the game was darkly and humorously vicious with Mike bringing the hammer down on one of my characters while they were in the tragic throes of bliss.  Zounds!  I quickly retaliated, making the Old Dam "Wondrously Well Wed" and getting little Cousin Mordecai "Blessed by the Bishop".  Meanwhile, Chad worked diligently and quietly to ensure that his family was universally depressed and oppressed. 

I managed to sink most of my clan under the crushing weight of the world until Chad saw to it that  Helena Slogar was "Praised in Parliament".  Undaunted, I went to work, revealing her ghoulish scheme to keep her brain-in-a-jar husband unnaturally alive through various unsavory experiments.  With such horrors brought to light, the Queen herself leveled public condemnation and Helena became such a nexus for public scorn that she took her own life, effectively ending the game.  

I won with 110 points, Chad was second with 90 and Mike finished up with 40.

Honestly, Gloom is barely a game at all.  It's really just an excuse to giggle at coal-black humor and collectively spin a hoary old yarn.  Despite the advanced hour in which we played, I was still highly amused by the creative blow-hardery conjured up by my illustrious opponents.  Honestly, for us unfulfilled writer types, this one's a real hoot.    

I wouldn't want to play it every week, but for the odd, slight-inebriated warm up, I think the unique looking (and playing!) Gloom really fits the bill.  I give it four irrational pips out of six!



Knowing that we had to push off sometime in the afternoon, our gaming time on Day Three was truncated.  While Andrew was busy setting up our last "must play" game of the weekend, Mike and I had a chance to revisit a deceased relic from the mid-Nineties: Decipher's Star Wars Collectible Card Game.    
Game Sixteen - Star Wars Collectible Card Game

In this long-defunct collectible card game, players assemble two 60-card decks: one representing the Light Side of the Force and the other taking on the Dark Side.  A unique mechanic allows players to keep score using the cards in their deck.  During the game, players will create a battlefield by laying out familiar locations in the Star Wars universe, such as the Mos Eisley Cantina or the Bespin planetary system. 

These locations generate Force every turn, which players can use to deploy Characters, Weapons, Vehicles and Starships.  When opposing forces square off at the same location, skirmishes occur and battle damage happens in the form of discards.  When a player becomes the sole occupant of a Location with an enemy Force Icon, they can perform Force Drains to further deplete their rival's deck.  

When a player forces their opponent to run out of cards, they're declared the victor!        

For this game, I used two pre-generated decks from the Empire Strikes Back 2-Player Introductory Game, featuring the Battle of Hoth.  Mike played the Rebels and I went to the Dark Side.  

I didn't draw any locations for the longest time, making for a very frustrating start.  Mike really got a jump on me, stocking his Echo Base locations with a bunch of Troopers and Commanders.  Using Snowspeeders for transport, he quickly got into position and started a series of Force Drains.  Since I was only generating two or three Force, Mike shellacked me in every fight.

But slowly I got some locations out and I started to generate some Force.  Using the steadfast defensive power of Imperial Trooper Guards, I finally established a beachhead to bring in re-enforcements.  After Veers landed in the Hoth Mountains he quickly established a Walker Garrison and some AT-ATs started to appear on the North Ridge.  As I marched them inexorably towards Echo Base, I finally started to inflicting some casualties, including a Snowspeeder-flyin' Chewie.    

With our Force losses neck and neck at fourteen cards apiece we had to stop so Mike could finish setting up our final game of the day.  Although I collected the shit out of this game, I really lament not having any opportunities to play it.  I'd still love to sit down across the table from an opponent who's assembled a completely unknown deck, which I'd then be forced to contend with.  

Although the game eventually foundered under the weight of its own expansions, it's still one of the better collectible card games produced in the Nineties.  The production quality, open-ended play style and massive pool of available cards makes the game feel as epic and limitless as the Star Wars universe itself.    

I give the Star Wars Collectible Card Game four pips out of six.  

From one venerable sci-fi franchise to another, we then sat down to play our final game of the weekend: Battlestar Galactica.   

Game Seventeen - Battlestar Galactica

Based on the better-then-it-has-any-right-to-be reboot of the classic sci-fi television series, players assume the roles of the show's most iconic personalities.  Each character has a unique skill set, combining Politics, Leadership, Tactics, Piloting and Engineering.  At the beginning of every round, players gather a new array of multi-functional Skill Cards, Move to a specific area aboard Galactica (based on whatever Action they want to take) and then attempt to resolve an emerging Crisis.

Players have to work together to overcome these challenges and minimize fuel loss, food shortages, population drops and political turmoil.  Unfortunately one (or more!) of the players may secretly be a Cylon agent, working covertly to undermine the efforts of the humans.  Can Galactica's crew root out the traitors and get the fleet to Earth before they're undone by their mechanical offspring?  

When it came time to choose a role I took Saul Tigh, Dean was Chief Tyrol, Chad was Starbuck, Andrew was Boomer and Mike was Tom Zarek.

The first few Crisis Events were overcome handily.  Almost too handily.  It was almost as if somebody was deliberately dumping all of their Skill Cards instead of trying to budget them.  Then, slowly but surely, an inordinate amount of detrimental Skill Cards began to creep in, unraveling our efforts.  Soon suspicions began to fall upon traditional evil-doer and part-time kitchen appliance, Andrew.  He ended up proactively outing himself as a Cylon right before the accusations started to fly in earnest.  

At the end of our second jump we were already half way to Earth, but we were also paying for it in Fuel costs.  It was at this mid-way point when we all drew new Loyalty Cards again to see if anyone was a sleeper Cylon agent.  Not long after, Andrew stepped up his attacks on the Galactica and Chad's Starbuck was injured in the resulting dogfight.  To make matters worse, a particularly nasty Crisis Card forced me to either join Starbuck in Sick Bay or take a major hit in resources.  I chose the latter and it seemed to work out.  

Andrew struck again with a nefarious card play that allowed him to steal all of Chad's Skill Cards before casting Starbuck into the Brig.  This detainment immediately passed the CAG status on to Dean's Chief Tyrol.  Then, unwilling to take another critical loss to both Population and Morale, I decided to transfer Tigh right from Sick Bay into the Brig, thus passing the Admiralty on to Dean.  With Dean and Mike still running around drawing cards, I still felt confident that they could get me out fairly easily.  

But when Mike voluntarily passed the Presidency off to Dean's Tyrol in order to avoid yet another catastrophic Crisis, things got really weird.  Oh, by the way, for those of you keeping score at home, this meant that meant that Dean was holding the Presidency, the Admiralty and the CAG status all at the same time.

Man, talk about putting all of your space-eggs into one space-basket.    

When an odd synergy began to percolate between Dean and Andrew, the humans began to suspect, all too late, that they'd just handed the game to the Cylons.  Although Dean didn't officially reveal himself, he might as well have stood up, walked into the kitchen, dropped his pants and stuck his dick in the toaster.

In quick succession, he tried to have poor, beleaguered Tom Zarek thrown in the brig.  Then, both Dean and Andrew kept stealing Mike's Skill Cards, ensuring that Tigh and Starbuck's stint in the Brig would likely become a life sentence.  Finally, Dean hit upon the particularly evil scheme of launching the Galactica's nukes at spaces containing civilian ships.

What can I say, they don't call him 'Mean Dean' for nuthin'!    

By then it was getting pretty late and we still hadn't cleaned up the cabin and packed everything up.  With Tigh and Starbuck locked up indefinitely and the Galactica surrounded by Basestars and Raiders, we knew that the fate of humanity was inevitable.  

This had to be, by far, the most vicious ass-raping that the Cylons have ever inflicted on the Humans in a game of Battlestar Galactica.  And let me tell ya, folks, I still wake up screaming.

Despite the vicious pummeling, my love for this game grows exponentially with every play.  Unlike Age of Conan, I can easily point to the things that we fucked up and catch myself pondering alternate histories if we'd just done things differently.  Honestly, there's no game I can think of that marries the spirit and theme of a licensed property with Mensa-like game design.  

Truly, Battlestar Galactica is the crown prince of co-operative games and handily deserves its perfect score:

And with that our inaugural Cabin Con came to a memorable close.  Driving back home gave us time to consider some possible tweaks for next year:
  1. In a well-intentioned bid to give us plenty of options, Andrew brought along w-a-a-a-a-a-y too many games.  Maybe next time we'll limit him to games on his unplayed list and the rest of us can tote along one or two road-tested titles apiece.
  2. It might be wise to avoid games with protracted run times.  Age of Conan I'm looking in your direction.    
  3. It'd also be wise to bring along games that we can just throw down and jump into without pouring over rule books for extended periods of time.  
  4. Next year we'll probably drive up late Friday evening and then come back Monday morning, giving us two full days of gaming
Regardless, I think this was an awesome idea.  Honestly, how can you beat an entire weekend of uninterrupted gaming in which your only brief reason to pause is to cram a delicious barbecued burger into your meat-hole and follow this up with a fresh, tasty brew?

Betcha wish that you could do that during your big, fancy gaming convention, huh?      


  1. Dave, you are way too hard on Age of Conan. Nice recap of Cape Breton Con #1

  2. Just prior to final scoring for AOC I thought to myself: 'Hmmm, pretty decent mechanics but it took forever to finish it. And we're having a really hard time nailing down some of the more fiddly rules.'

    But then, after coming in dead last after what I thought was a pretty decent effort, I felt compelled to downgrade the game towards the "suck" end of the scale.

    Bottom line is: IMHO, it just doesn't compare favorably to all of the other area control games I mentioned above.