Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Andrew's (Not So) Crappy Birthday

Around the time I established the all-day-gaming-event Davecon, Andrew began his own yearly tradition centered around his birthday.   He's done this for a few years now and it's something we all look forward to.  The premise is pretty simple: we all show up at Audrey and Andrew's place 'round 2 pm, have a couple of casual (and not so casual) beverages, char a few bovine meat patties or order up some grub and then play the crap out of a gaggle of games.

Given the light and informal nature of this occasion, most of the games we play are ideal for two demographics:
  1. Kids.
  2. Drunken yahoos.
So, a coupla Saturdays ago, we all got together to enjoy a day of good company, strong libations and fun games.  Since it was the first nice n' sunny day we'd had in about nine days we lingered outside on the patio for as long as we could.  As such, we got a few games in which are perfect for playing in THE GREAT OUTDOORS.

We kicked things off with a quick match of Worm Up.

The (hypothetical) starter's pistol fired and we were off!  Dean swerved in front of Claudia, increasing his odds of sleeping in a cardboard box in the basement for the next few nights.  Andrew desperately tried to Tron light cycle Dean.  Claudia and I immediately stalled when we picked the same number on two successive turns!  After a few false starts, we finally got off of each other's wavelength.  I finally started to budge when I played the "5" tile but then Cheryl and I started picking the same number!      

Dean started to duplicate everyone else's selection and promptly stalled.  Andrew jumped into the lead with some judicious "X" plays, allowing him to pick any unplayed number.  Claudia finally roared out of the gate with a move of six.  Cheryl threatened me with physical violence if I didn't stop picking her number so my unconscious brain finally went elsewhere.  This allowed her to surge ahead and challenge Andrew.  By the end of it, they were neck and neck.

In the end, it was Cheryl who avoided duplication and her worm hit the finish line just three segments ahead of Andrew.  I rallied mid-game for the "who gives a shit" third place finish.  

Andrew then broke out the ultimate picnic game: Hive.  With its colorful, vermin-themed images atop  high-density tiles it's one of those rare board games that never gets wet and never gets wind-blown!  

I didn't have any problem remembering the movement of the tiles but I'd long since lost the strategies.  It didn't take very long before I'd stranded both of my valuable Beetles: one far down in my own section and one serving as a useless connector between our two small Bee islands.  

Andrew, on the flip side, did a great job launching Grasshoppers into my neck of the woods and pinning my poor Bee down with Ants and Spiders.  In a desperate bid to play catch up, I tried to get a pair of Grasshoppers into position but it was already too little too late.            

We didn't even get a chance to get all of our pieces out!  Cripes, the less said about this match the better...

"Save tha beez!"

The second match was much more of a back-and-forth contest.  This time all of our tiles hit the table and it became a positional game of strategy.  Once again Andrew did a fine job catapulting Grasshoppers into flanking positions around my Bee.  I responded with some wily defensive maneuvering which bought me some time and allowed me to go on the offensive.

I used one of my agile Ants to create a beachhead close to Andrew's side of the table and then tried to swarm him with Grasshoppers and Spiders.  I also made sure to keep my Beetles free this time, using one of them to menace Andrew's Bee and the other to hamstring my attackers.  Unfortunately, while all this was happening, Andrew flanked my Bee, locking him in place.

By the time I was in position to strike, Andrew was only one move away from victory.  After he paralyzed my long-range Ant with his Beetle, Andrew brought his own unhindered Ant around, slipping him into the last flanking space like a creepy-crawly puzzle piece.

Hive: making players feel itchy since 2001.  

What can I say about Hive?  It really is one of those games that's easy to learn but challenging to master.  It's also a great introductory game.  Noobies are drawn to game's clean aesthetics and kids really grok the vermin factor.

So, what's the best kind of game to play when you're imbibing copious amounts of alcoholic beverages?  Why dexterity games of course!  And frankly there are few games that are simpler and more compulsively playable then Tumblin' Dice.

I tried to do a new technique this time out which involved standing side-on to the board and gently rolling the dice out of the palm of my hand.  In other words: my goal was to under-roll versus over-roll.  The strategy seemed to work out pretty good.  Even dice that were left on the one-multiplier space were often bumped down to a more valuable tier.

This resulted in one of my few Tumblin-Dice wins.  Here are the final scores:


Just like bowling or sex, Tumblin-Dice is a highly psychological game.  Even though I made a concerted effort to apply the exact same technique to Game Two, my score didn't testify.  In fact, I stranded many a die on the "0" level and threw even more clear off the far end of the table.  It also didn't help that, as the winner of Game One, my opponents were gunning for me big time.

Here was the final tally:

Dean...60 (Hey, he's nothing if not consistent!)

To further my point about the game's psychological component: astute readers will note that Claudia and I practically swapped scores!  While Claudia went into Game Two thinking that the only way to go was up I spent the entire time trying to remember how I won the first game!

You know what's another great type of game to play after you've been drinking heavily?  Why, a memory game, of course!  One of the more charming and straightforward titles in this category is the delightfully goofy Chicken Cha Cha Cha.    

Players start by arranging their wooden chicken tokens equidistant from one another along a "track" of whimsically-illustrated egg-shaped tiles.  In the middle of the track are more tiles with the matching images placed face-down.  In order to move your chicken around the track you need to flip over the tile which matches the image of the next space ahead of you.  If you keep picking matching tiles you can keep moving until you screw up.  You win the game by lapping your opponent's chicken and plucking out their "tail-feathers".

Technically this is a kid's game so it ain't exactly Advanced Squad Leader.   But for someone like me, with barely any recollection of what I had for lunch yesterday, games like this aren't exactly my strong suit.  I managed to retain the position of four or five tiles but beyond that I had to wait for someone else to flip over what I needed just before my turn.  Cheryl made a good initial run before experiencing some sort of critical memory loss while Claudia made several encouraging dashes.

But ultimately, after a pokey start, Andrew chained together a slew of jumps and relived the entire coop of its collective tail-feathers.

Shake yo' (stolen) tail-feathas.  

Although I often approach memory games with a feeling of dread, the colorful components and winning gameplay had me focused on nothing more deep then finding that damned fried egg tile.  A word to the wise: if you don't want to be reminded of just how many brain cells you've killed over the span of your adulthood you may want to avoid playing this with actual kids.

Although I suck at memory games, I'm great at any base, lizard-brained pursuits that involve reaction time or hand-eye co-ordination.  Hence my complete and total dominance in the incredibly um...loopy Loopin' Louie.  

The game's main mechanic (and I mean "mechanic" in the literal sense) is a central motor that moves around a comically-exaggerated Red Baron-esque crop-duster figurine at the end of a plastic armature.  At the lowest altitude of his flight path, Louie will storm your "barn"and snatch up yo' l'il circular plastic chickens.  Fortunately, each player controls a little armature that they can use to ward Louie off if they can time it right.  The last player with chickens left in their barn wins the game.

Batten down tha hatches: this guy's a crazier pilot then Murdock from The A-Team.  

Thanks to my formative years of playing rod hockey, I had this one by the ass.  In fact, I only lost one chicken over the course of two games.  I don't care if it's recommended for kids ages four years and up, I still rock at this game!!!

Go home, Louie, you're drunk.  

We then settled in for Andrew's perennial play of Crappy Birthday.

On any given player's turns it's their "birthday" and everyone else has to guess as to what the worst possible gift would be for that particular person amongst a handful of five disturbingly illustrated cards.  The birthday boy or girl then shuffles all of their "gifts" together, lays them out randomly and then picks the one they despise the most.  The sick bastard who gave you that particular gift gets a point, everyone draws back up to five cards and then play proceeds clockwise.

Mike and Heather had arrived by that point in time so all eight of us ended up playing.  To help speed things up we used a variant rule allowing players pick both their worst and their best gifts, doling out double the pointage every turn.

Game One went back and forth but ultimately it was Audrey who proved victorious!

P.S. For the record, those are Dean's manly mitts in the photo, not Audrey's.    

In Game Two, Claudia proved particularly prescient and took home the win.

Interesting fact: Andrew loves candy corn.  Especially for a birthday gift.     

In spite of the late hour and our increasingly taxed livers, we decided to move on to meatier fare.  This came in the welcome form of the fabulous little press-your-luck title Incan Gold.

Players take on the role of adventurers delving into an ancient Incan temple in search of gold, jewels, artifacts and photo opportunities.  Over the course of five rounds, participants secretly choose if they want to press deeper into the ruins or back out and risk sharing what they've already discovered with similarly lily-livered rivals.

As the remaining explorers move into the bowels of the temple, cards are turned over to reveal new valuables like obsidian and turquoise or scary threats like mummies or giant spiders.  If the same threat turns up twice, all of the remaining booty is lost and anyone left in the temple runs away empty-handed.  In other words: you're constantly asking yourself this eternal question.

After five rounds, whoever has the most bling squirreled away inside their pup tent wins the game!

I started off fairly strong, pressing on until most of the other players were out.  Towards mid-game I began to get a lot more skittish, backing out with Cheryl on several occasions, much to her consternation.  Even though I never got snared by any of the threats, I also didn't press on enough to vie for the really valuable artifacts.

Andrew, on the other hand, took bravery to the point of rank stupidity.  Even when there were two or sometimes three single hazards out on the table, he kept pressing on, hoping to shake persistent rivals like Heather and Mike.  Unfortunately, a duplicate danger always appeared without fail, sending the intrepid spelunkers packing back to camp for a change of shorts.

Meanwhile, Dean, Audrey and Claudia played a considerably more balanced game, gettin' out when the gettin' was good and making off with a couple of clutch artifacts.  In the end here's how the scores stacked up:

Mike & Heather (Awwww)...13

"Snakes...why'd it have to be snakes?
We finished up the night with a Bang!  I have a soft spot for this group party card game, which easily evokes the tone and flavor of a Sergio Leone western.  At the start of every game, each player is assigned a random Character Card with a unique health rating, hand limit and special power.

Then everyone is given a role which details your allegiances and game-winning goals.  Renegades need to be the last varmint standing, Outlaws have to murder the Sheriff, the Deputy has to take down the Outlaws and make sure the Sheriff doesn't end up in Boot Hill and finally the Sheriff has to gun the Renegade as well as all of the Outlaws.    

To keep things really interesting, all of the roles and loyalties, save the Sheriff, are kept concealed.  During the game, players use a handful of variable cards to fire on opponents ("Bang!"), dodge bullets ("Missed!"), snipe from a distance, or get outta Dodge via horseback.  With constant references to "Beer", "Cat Balou", "Duels", "Stagecoaches", "Wells Fargo" and "Winchesters", the spaghetti western theme comes through loud and clear.


Andrew: Bart Cassidy
Cheryl: Sid Ketchum
Claudia: Willy the Kid
Me: El Gringo
Dean: Sheriff Paul Regret
Heather: Kit Carlson
Mike: Black Jack
Almost immediately Dean and Mike got into it like cats and dogs.  With a little assist from Heather, Mike soon found himself soundly ventilated.  Unfortunately, he also revealed himself as one of the Deputies!  As if killing one of his only allies wasn't bad enough, Sheriff Dean was forced to surrender his entire hand of cards as an additional penalty!

Thanks to the incessant steam of cross-table carnage via "Indians" and "Gatling Gun", I was very nearly killed even before my turn came around!  Color me bitter for getting stuck with a Character that had only three Life Points!  Fortunately, El Gringo's ability to steal cards from people who shoot him actually helped to facilitate the recovery process.

Thanks to an entire keg-full of "Beer" I slowly nursed myself back to full health.  A temporary truce with Andrew helped, not that I was in any shape to refuse him.  Andrew managed to go a full round before he started thieving my cards and attempting to "Bang!" me (?).  Jesus, at least buy a guy dinner first!  Given my fleeting health, I could barely fight back, especially when Claudia decided to pile on.

With Mike now out of the picture, Heather sparred with Andrew for a bit.  Dean, sensing that she might be (A) vulnerable and (B) evil, pumped Heather with more lead then a can of Chinese house paint.  Having dispatched one of the Outlaws, Sheriff Dean got a much-needed constitutional in the form of three new card draws.  Despite this, he never quite recovered from gunning down Mike so early in the game.

Cheryl tried to run interference but got turned into a piece of swiss cheese thanks to Claudia's ability to play multiple "Bang!" cards.  With the second Deputy in the dirt, things were looking pretty grim for the forces of law and order.  As the Renegade, I desperately kept looking for a "Poison The Well" card.  I needed everyone else to drop dead but I didn't have the health nor the means to act like a crazed, random aggressor.

Although I was hoping for a rift to break out between Claudia and Andrew, I suspected that they were already aware of each other's loyalties.  Looking to cloud my own identity and avoid the ire of my two closest opponents, I took a long-distance sniper-shot at Dean.  I didn't kill him, but I softened him up for a one-two punch by my rivals.

After Andrew and Claudia killed Dean, they revealed their roles and claimed a dual win as the Outlaws!

Bang! is an engaging little game with tons of different variables and plenty of deduction and bluffing.  Even though some of the game's iconography and lost-in-translation card text will have you reaching for the rules from time to time, this fourth edition of the game makes finding answers a snap.  Although it can sometimes be a challenge to wrangle up enough cowpokes to get the optimal player count, it's a ton of fun whenever it happens!

We packed it in around midnight after ten solid hours of drinks, games and endless double entendres.
I thanked Andrew and Audrey for hosting this great event and silently hoped it was step towards everyone having their own special game day.

Looking to shake up your next summer get-together, barbecue or booze-soaked chin-wag?  Consider busting out any of these great party / kids games to help with the conversation lubrication!

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