Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Booze, BBQ & Board Games: A Winning Combination!

After the rousing success of Davecon 2013, some of the attendees tried to convince me to run it again later on in the year. I countered by expressing my hope that one day everyone will host their own annual board gaming event. Naturally I proposed this for entirely selfish reason since all I want to do is read a few rule books, show up with a coupla beer and play board games all day long without having to deal with any pesky logistics.

Welp, Mark and Dawn called my bluff, announcing their very own "BBQ, Booze & Board Game" day on June 19'th. After months of patient waiting, the big day finally came on August 17'th. We arrived at their beautifully-appointed home around 3 pm and after a few drinky-poos and some gratuitous chin-waggery out on the back deck we finally got down to brass tacks.

Prior to the event I'd prepped five games in total, including that 80's family classic *slash* proto-Euro Survive: Escape from Atlantis!  Lured in by the colorful bits and scary-looking Sea Serpents, I had no problem stranding Mark, Sabina and Claudia on the island with me.


The initial climate of nauseating courtesy started to waver a bit when the keel of my first rescue boat hissed onto the sandy shore. You could almost feel the storm clouds start to gather as three of my peeps disembarked to safety. Things got even more icy around the table after I swore to fuck up any enemy boats and swimmers without a shred of hesitation!

Claudia was the next person to get some survivors to safety. When she started to load up a second boat, Sabina couldn't resist the temptation to sic a Sea Serpent on her!  Only at game's end did we learn that this particular attack had killed two of Claudia's biggest V.I.P.'s!

After openly declaring my hostility towards my opponents, I quickly became Public Enemy Number One. Most of the tiles that were drawn resulted in one of my poor, scared little meeples being dropped into the Shark n' Serpent-infested dunk tank.  

Mark also had a rough go of it.  The boat pictured below was smashed into matchsticks by a Whale just seconds after this photo was taken, leaving two pokey swimmers to flail around like water-logged hors d'oeuvres:

Weary of getting picked on, Claudia took out her frustrations on a boat that Mark and I were co-piloting. After sinking our protective bateau, her Sea Serpent promptly gobbled up the fear-tenderized meeples contained inside!

Since most of my friggin' movement rolls were for Boats, Whales and freakin' Dolphins, Sabina experienced very little grief getting her refugees to shore.  So, by outing myself as an early aggressor, all I did was draw aggro while my piss-poor dice rolls insured that I'd never be able to follow through on my initial threats.  Grrrrrr!!! 

Eventually we ran out of Beach and Jungle tiles and, wouldn't you know it, Mark pulled the Volcano as his very first Mountain Tile. Instantly the entire board went nuclear and every hapless meeple still on the island, in the water or on a boat was instantly vaporized!


After mourning all of those poor, lost, wooden souls, we counted up our points and declared the winner:

Sabina...16 Points
Mark...11 Points
Me...10 Points
Claudia...5 Points


Man, I'm soooooo glad they reprinted this game. I totally missed picking it up back in the 80's probably because it wasn't as all-pervasive as Clue, Payday, Monopoly and the like. Which is a bloody shame since it blows all of those games out of the water, no pun intended.

Although I dig the reprint, I have a few minor quibbles about it.  First off, the idea of having each terrain elevation represented by variable tile thickness might have seemed like a good idea on paper but in practice it's a ginormous pain in the nards.  Do you know how impossible it is to distribute these tiles randomly when you know exactly they are as soon as you touch them?  Usually I chuck 'em all in the box top, roll 'em around for a bit, put the lid on a flat surface, close my eyes, randomly place my finger on one and then draw and place it.  Annoying as fux.

Even though I always play with Challenge Rule 5 (I.E. the Dolphins and Diving Creatures variant) I always forget to explain how the Dolphin tile works.  Since the tile doesn't have an "arrow down" icon, players usually take it into their hand instead of playing it immediately.  Invariably this leads to a debate over where the tile was drawn from in the first place.  Would it have killed them to include an alterna-tile with the proper iconography?

Finally, given all of the colors they could have picked for the meeples why in Poseidon's name did they go with dark freakin' navy?  It's nearly impossible to read the black numbers printed underneath them or tell what gender they are.  Sheesh!

Despite all of my bitchin', this is still an awesome game.  The components are high-quality and colorful, the gameplay is simple and cut-throat and the victor is always in question right up to the very end.  It's hilarious to watch everyone play nicey-nicey until someone tips over a boat with a Whale.  Shit gets real quick.

After Mark left to start grilling up the bovine meat patties and pureed flesh tubes, Angela, Claudia, Sabina and I indulged in a quick game of Love Letter.

At the start of the final round, Angela, Claudia and I were locked in a three-way, four-point tie. The next series of card plays would likely decide the entire match. 

Via the Guards, things kicked off with a few random identity guesses. Angela used her Priest to peek at Sabina's hand. I pulled a second Baron card, forcing me into a showdown with another player. I picked Angela and she immediately trounced me.

Knowing that Angela's card value was at least higher then a "3" Sabina guessed that she had the Prince and knocked her out of contention. Attempting her own crap shoot, Claudia called out Sabina for concealing the Princess and then immediately won the game!     


Given that I'd already played Love Letter several times, I felt pretty confident about card timing and how they work in conjunction with one another. Unfortunately, I was also up against a bunch of very crafty ladies and the competition was fierce!  

Overall my table-mates seemed to dig the game's clean aesthetics, deceptively deep card play and unforgiving process of deduction.  Yay for more Love Letter converts!  

After this we spent some time gabbin' between bites of tasty, flame-broiled goodness. After about an hour or so we finally decided to get back to business. With Andrew, Audrey, Dean and Kris still tied up with the protracted-but-awesome-looking Bora Bora and several other players distracted by an Amazing Race DVD game (!), Mark and I decided to chuck some Martian Dice while we waited.        

Mark came out a-swingin' in the first round with four points to my one. He got skunked in the next round and I stormed back with three points to tie the game. The third round of rolling saw the momentum swing back yet again after he racked up four points and I completely washed out.

Round Four was a high-scoring affair, with Mark walking away with five points to my eight!  It's always great when you net bonus points for rolling at least one Human, one Cow and one Chicken! Mark then fell into a terrible drought, crapping out with zero points four rounds in a row!

Now most players with a modicum of luck would be able to capitalize on this somehow and polish off their opponent, but nope, not me!  During Mark's dry spell I only managed to score ten points over the course of four rounds. That left Mark with thirteen points to my twenty-two; just three points shy of victory!  ArRggGHHH!!!

Naturally this provided the perfect opportunity for Mark to stage an incredible comeback which he promptly did by dicing up nine freakin' points in one round. I then proceeded to not rise to the occasion and laid a big, fat ol' goose egg. Mark then added three more points to his score in the final round, bringing his grand total to twenty-five.

All I needed was one - one - decent turn to eclipse his score but as soon as I tossed a handful of Tanks on my first roll I knew that I was sunk.


I've said it before and I'll say it again: if I played games to win 'em, I'd never play games.

What can I say about Martian Dice that hasn't already been said?  Just suffice to say that a certain undead-themed dice game has been gathering a lot of dust since it first appeared on the scene!  On days like this when you want to play a bunch of games but find yourself waiting for more players to free up their time it's pretty much the perfect interlude.

Perfect example: by the time Mark was done kicking my ass, Sabina, Dawn, Joey and Heather were free to join me in a round of Saboteur.   

As soon as we played Andrew's copy last-year during Hal-Con I was totally hooked on this one.  I bought it not long after but didn't have a chance to play it all year long since you really need a decent number of people to run it properly.

I got all "traitor-y" in the first round but Joey and I couldn't prevent Dawn and her cadre of loyal gold-diggers from hitting the mother lode and scoring a nice little vein of nuggets.

I was true-hearted in the second round but it took forever to reveal the first two coal deposits. The saboteurs did their best to undermine our efforts but we finally hit paydirt with the third revealed Goal Card. Once again, it was Dawn who made the actual discovery so she got the biggest reward and a l'il sumfin'-sumfin' when the stack came back around to her.  Joey and I only ended up with one measly ol' nugget in the deal.      

There was another titanic struggle in the third and final round.  Once again, Joey and I lapsed back into evil.  Hey, this is what happens when you short-change your friggin' staff!  This time out I was determined to see our rivals fall flat on their stupid little dwarf faces!

It's tough being the Saboteur since you don't want to out yourself right away. After playing a few genuinely helpful cards, I began my campaign of concentrated devilry, laying down a few Path Cards that forced the diggers to divert.

"Hey, that's all I've got in my hand!" I wailed in my defense.

After my cover was pretty much completely blown, I began to flop down some dead ends like they were goin' outta style. Yeah, y'see that left turn Path Card in front of the middle Goal Card in the photo below? Pure Dave...

Joey was equally ruthless, forcing the path to either trail off to the side or double back on itself. I'm pretty sure he outed himself as a bad guy after he plopped a dead-end path right behind the starting card! *Snort*.

As you can very well imagine, Carts, Lanterns and Pickaxes were being smashed with impunity. By the end of the match gold-digger Heather was paralyzed by a broken Cart while I managed to recover from my third successive knee-capping. Accusations were flying everywhere and for several turns I had absolutely no idea who my co-conspirator was. In fact, at one point in time early in the match I was totally convinced that Dawn was an ally!  

Eventually everyone's allegiances came into focus. Dawn regained her momentum and used a few Treasure Maps to hone in on her goal. Although this final photo shows all three Goal Cards revealed, the only one Dawn turned over was the winning Gold card.  As a result she got the pick of golden litter once again!

After this third dollop of nuggets were handed out, we tallied up the final standings:

Dawn...9 Nuggets
Sabina...6 Nuggets
Heather...5 Nuggets
Me...1 Nugget
Joey...1 Nugget


After the epic game of Bora Bora wrapped up, Matt lured Kris, Andrew and I into a game of Boss Monster.  Recently acquired from a Kickstarter investment, Matt was pretty jazzed to table this intriguing dungeon-building card game.

Here's a rundown on the game right from the publisher's website:

"Designed for 2-4 players, Boss Monster is packed with nostalgic references to 8-bit video games, dungeon-crawling RPGs, and geeky pop culture. Players compete to become the ultimate villain: the final boss at the end of a side-scrolling dungeon.

"The goal of Boss Monster is to attract and destroy adventurers more quickly than your opponents. As a Boss, you will build your dungeon one Room at a time. Each room has a treasure value to lure in Heroes, and a damage value to destroy them. The Heroes aren’t too much of a threat, but you run the risk of Wounds if you build a dungeon that’s all attraction and no bite. With Spells and 'Level Up abilities to spice up the gameplay, Boss Monster has a great balance of fast-paced fun and strategic depth to entertain a table with a range of casual and hardcore gamers."  

I placed several rooms designed to attract Fighters, but they scarcely appeared at the start of the game. At first I didn't mind because I didn't think I had the ability to defend myself. As it turns out, this was probably true since I'd mistakenly built my dungeon with the entrance on the left hand side. This explains why I placed the Minotaur's Maze (which sends Heroes back one space) to the right of the three-damage Neanderthal Cave. If I'd placed it properly, this combo had the potential to deal six damage to any interloper dim enough to venture inside.  D'oh!!!

The point turned out to be moot since Matt lured all the Fighters into his own maze. In fact, if not for an oversight from Andrew and my own Mimic Vault I wouldn't have scored the two casualties I ended up with.

Both Kris and Andrew faced similar struggles.  After they both got smacked around a little bit during the first few rounds, they scored a few kills before Matt's dungeon became the realm's hottest nightspot. All of a sudden every new Hero gravitated to Matt's side of the table like Garfield to a pan of lasagna. Meanwhile, the rest of us just kinda sat around, twiddling our appendages and feeling as if we were all dressed up with no-one to kill.  

When Matt inadvertently attracted an early tsunami of adventurers we started wringing our hands in anticipation, expecting him to get clobbered. Despite the crush of intruders and the amount of damage he sustained, Matt survived the assault, pimped out his dungeon and then started killing off every single new visitor, one after another. The back-to-back Dizzygas Hallway and Trash Compactor Traps proved to be particularly lethal in that regard.   


Gamers weaned on NES-era Japanese RPG video game graphics will absolutely love the look of Boss Monster. Personally the whole 8-bit thing is completely lost on me and I think that the game would be much more flavorful, atmospheric and cool if the cards were illustrated with creepy Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay / vintage TSR-style art.  Yes, I know the game is supposed to be "Gen Y" visual catnip but for me a Minotaur should never, ever look cute and cuddly.

Besides, in order for the game to be "nostalgic" for crusty fucks like me, the Heroes would have to be nothing but a square carrying an arrow.  And that's just sad.  

As for the gameplay I'd like to have another bash at it before I pass final judgement. On the one hand I really dug the Dungeon Lords-Lite theme, with all the maze construction and putting rooms together in order to maximize carnage. But, on the other hand, I found it really difficult to reconcile my dungeon's initial weakness with the need to voluntarily invite assholes over to kick the shit outta everything.

My fears were probably unfounded.  After all, Matt himself thought he was toast after he mistakenly attracted a swarm of Heroes to his dungeon early on in the game. But he didn't just survive the onslaught he went on to win the game. Something about that just seemed kinda arbitrary to the rest of us.

Anyhoo, I still wanna give this one another bash someday.  Especially if someone tables a version that features Russ Nicholson art instead of winsome, super-deformed Neanderthals with saucer-shaped eyes.

The final game of the night was La Boca.  

La Boca is a new, real-time, team-based, spacial relationship assembly game. Initially offered by Kosmos in Germany earlier this year, it'll be available in our neck of the woods sometime this Fall courtesy of Z-Man Games. I think Kris snagged this copy from Gen Con so it was kinda cool to play a game before its official North American release.

Here's the game's elevator pitch on the Z-Man Games website:

"In ever-changing teams, two partners must combine their sense of observation to reproduce a depicted construction. But building is not everything; since their effort is timed, they will want to succeed as fast as possible for them to score the most points. Once their task is done, a new team is formed and a new task begins. 

"Will you be the one whose building skills will rise above the competition?"

It really is as simple as that. Or at least it's simple until you try to play it after someone has started a timer and you've been imbibing "adult beverages" for the past eight hours!

To be perfectly honest, I kinda cringed when Kris first unboxed the thing. As soon as I heard the synopsis my enthusiasm went from "lemme in there!" to low-level dread. For people who have a tendency to freeze up like a deer in headlights whenever the spotlight falls on them, this game has the potential to be your worst possible nightmare.

But then something magical happens. You get a couple of confidence-building rounds under your belt, the inhibitions start to melt away and you catch yourself striving to do better.  The fact that your partners constantly change is another godsend since teams won't crap out based solely on one person's poor performance.      

The game play itself is pretty intense. As soon as the Task Card is revealed, both team-members use the enclosed wooden blocks to try and replicate their designated construct.  Even if you manage to accurately recreate your half within seconds, it's still a work in progress if it doesn't jibe with what your partner's trying to do. That's when the depth of the game's four-by-four playing grid starts to factor in. When both partners are pleased with their handiwork and all overhanging pieces have been eliminated, the timer is stopped and the scoring chart on the box is consulted. For the record, I think the best time our game produced was nineteen seconds, which was worth nine big points!

Here were the final scores:

Matt...45 Points
Andrew...38 Points
Me...35 Points
Kris...33 Points
Cheryl...27 Points


Although this game initially made me recoil like Superman being offered a Kryptonite condom, I now see it as a pretty decent little icebreaker or a filler game.

Having said that, I still have a few minor gripes:
  1. Since the players are constantly sliding the damned thing around, the game will eventually look more threadbare then an Ikea furniture box. My low-fi solve: always play La Boca on a tablecloth! 
  2. Some of the Tasks are a helluva lot more difficult then others.
  3. If you play the game constantly how long do you think it would take before you can build all of this stuff in your sleep? 

Regardless of what I think of it, the game probably has a very interesting origin.  Designers Inka and Markus Brand were likely inspired after they visited the famous Argentinean barrio or at least saw some photos of it. Although La Boca is clearly a theme-less abstract I love how this real-world location inspired such a fun, colorful and intense little game.


When La Boca ended just after midnight most of us decided to pack it in. Between the awesome supper, tasty beverages, cool company and wicked board games I think its safe to say that the event was enjoyed by all. Thanks a bunch to Dawn and Mark for hosting such a great day!

I sincerely hope this sparks a trend and then everyone will have a special event game day to call their own!


Looking to replicate Mark and Dawn's "Booze, BBQ and Board Game" day? Click on the images below to order some of the games featured in this post and help support this blog!


  1. Sounds awesome, I'm sorry I missed it. How come no ratings this time?

  2. I decided that formal ratings are more appropriate for posts in which I focus exclusively on one single game.