Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"The Story So Far" - Part Three - "Against the Crypt"

"The Story So Far" is an ongoing series recanting the details of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that I've been running on and off since 2002.  Links to the previous entries can be found here:  

Prologue                                                      Part I                                                                  Part II

I've "fictionalized" the session reports in a likely-vain attempt to make them more "entertaining".   

And now, our story continues...

Solstice 21, 1492

At the crack of dawn the following morning, Rincewind rushed to the Strongholde Inn and roused his fellow adventurers.  After explaining Marlak's offer, the Fellowship had a hasty breakfast, gathered up their gear and struck off across town.  Upon arrival, our heroes were genuinely surprised when Rincewind escorted them into Legacy Tower without the use of blindfolds, secrets knocks or a vow of silence.  Bria, acclimated to the cult-like level of secrecy at the local thieves guild, was particularly taken aback.


The first four levels of the tower housed the most bizarre sights and sounds imaginable.  As if turned out, each floor of the tower was dedicated to a particular sphere of magical study.  Eventually they made it to the fifth floor, where Marlak himself was presiding over the school of Transmutation.  After congratulating the group for expertly serving the interests of the town thus far, the wizard quickly got down to the business at hand.

"Recently one of our members, an ambitious young mage named Andred, was caught practicing the art of necromancy, a forbidden school of sorcery here at Legacy Tower.  The day after he repented and vowed to go straight he vanished, taking a considerable amount of spell components along with him."

After puttering around for a little bit, Marlak came back with a map of the town.

"Andred was fascinated with the Hanan family crypt in the graveyard behind the Parish.  If the other sarcophagi in the area are any indication, the crypt will contain an ancient burial shroud of considerable value.  I believe that Andred is aware of this and he intends to steal the shroud."

"I've asked Moira, the Abbess, for permission to send an expedition into the crypt to recover any artifacts inside for study.  Up until now, she's refused my request and I continue to honor her decision.  Having said that, I don’t believe that Andred will harbor any similar pretenses."

"I need you to gain access to the Hanan family crypt and secure the shroud inside before Andred does.  In return for this service I’ll give each of you eighty gold crowns plus a diamond that I’m sure you can sell in town for at least fifty apiece."

Before they left, Marlak had one final plea:

"I feel somewhat responsible for Andred, so try not to harm the boy if you can.  If you could capture him unharmed, I'd be eternally grateful."

Although the group was ready to get started, Roman knew that their case would be difficult to present.  Sure enough, when they went before Moira to get her approval, the Abbess flatly denied their request.

"Absolutely not!" she told them in no uncertain terms. "First and foremost, today is Godsday. This is supposed to be a day of rest and worship, not grave-robbing!"

When pressed for details, she confessed to having an "odd feeling" about the stone structures that were already standing on this site way long before the first settlers of Bastion arrived.  She declared that "it’s a very bad idea for 'outsiders' to poke around" in any of these original structures.  She also made a startling confession to Roman.

"For years I lobbied for a church to be established in Castebridge but the Patriarchs in Footholde didn't want to construct a new building.  In fact, the only way they'd sanction a new diocese here is if we used one of the preexisting abandoned buildings."

This inspired her to glance around warily at the stone walls of the abbey.

"I really didn't want to move in here."


After the group promised to tithe their findings to the church and seek absolution for their sacrilege, Moira eventually gave them permission to delve into the crypt.

When the group got to the site, Lorelei noticed that the so-called "family name" of "Hanan" wasn’t a name at all.  After telling her peers that "Hanan" actually means "Refuge" in ancient elvish, the group wasn't sure if they should feel encouraged or terrified.  Lorelei definitely fell into the latter category, acting weary and agitated throughout the entire delve.

Their subsequent venture down into the crypt brought about new challenges.  Animated skeletons, poisonous vipers, and devious puzzles served to test the courage and wits of the Fellowship.  Despite the myriad of hazards, they managed to make their way through the deadly maze.


Arriving in the final chamber, our heroes found the place to be completely obscured by an unnatural mist.  Off in the gloom they suddenly heard an odd chuckle followed by:

"You’re not Marlak."

Despite the well-laid trap and a host of guardian undead, Andred was swiftly overcome by the group, already fighting together as a cohesive unit.  After trussing up the amateur necromancer, the Fellowship began to scour this final room from top to bottom.     

Just as Marlak predicted, they found a corpse wrapped in a burial shroud inside one of the sarcophagi.  Also present was a shield with a crude map etched on the inside.  Just before Marlak arrived on the scene to collect Andred and the shroud, the heroes made a quick rubbing of the map.

Flushed by yet another success, the adventurers returned to their respective homes for some much-needed rest.  En route, they happened to notice someone trailing behind them.  Bria identified this mysterious figure  as Erelos, an independent and opportunistic rogue with loose ties to "Slayde’s Place", the thieves guild in town.


When the group confronted Erelos, he immediately begged off, saying that he's been following the group's exploits carefully.

"I'm just a fan!" he protested.  "I'd be honored if I could join your ranks!" 

"Sorry, but we aren't excepting any new members right now," Roman said.

"Yeah," Bria added, feeling slightly defensive.  "Piss off."

After sending the cut-purse on his merry way, the Fellowship soon found themselves back at the Strongholde Inn, enjoying a communal dinner and swapping recollections about their latest escapade.  

Solstice 22, 1492

Excited by the promises of the mysterious map, the heroes held an early-morning strategy session at the Rambing Rogue.  Although the image on the shield was crude and the rubbing was even worse, it still clearly showed a cave with the words "magic statue" written next to it in ancient elven.  The map also depicted a strange-looking forest settlement where Castebridge is currently located and landmarks representing the Abbey and Legacy Tower.

Once again, the group noticed Erelos skulking at them from a nearby table.  After approaching him, he immediately started bombarding the group with nosy questions about the map and where they were headed.  Despite a storm of persuasion and threat, Erelos refused to leave until Falstaff, the tavern owner, made a move to summon the town guard!

The Fellowship, anxious to pursue this new quest, scrambled around town making final arrangements.  They got the diamonds from Marlak appraised, pored over an odd key recovered from the Crypt, identified Pol’s newly-discovered greatsword and paid back the promised tithe to Moira.  After all of their preparations were done, our intrepid explorers set off once again in search of adventure!

To be continued... 

Photo Credits:

Legacy Tower:  http://www.contadolucchese.it/Pagina%20Pievi%20Romaniche/Pieve%20Brancoli/Campanile_1.JPG

The Abbey: http://mw2.google.com/mw-panoramio/photos/medium/49618152.jpg

The Crypt:  http://www.lastinghamgrange.com/photogallery/photo26003/CRYPT2.JPG

Erelos:  http://www.reapermini.com/graphics/gallery/4/60148_p_1_mj.jpg

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Davecon 2013

Given the rousing success of last year's Davecon I began to field questions about this year's event as soon as the holidays were dispensed with.  As such, I created the official Davecon Facebook Event Page on February 28'th.

On March 1'st I set about securing the same venue we had last year: the "Danger room" at Quantum Frontier.  Here's my initial inquiry sent through the website's official "Danger Room Booking Event" email address:

Hi!

This time last year I held a private board gaming event in the Danger Room at Quantum Frontier.
It turned out to be a huge success so I'm looking at doing it again, perhaps sometime this month.

Is the room free on March 16'th?  If not, is there a Saturday in April that I can lock down?

Thanks!    

-Dave


And then I waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Thinking that I'd have better luck in person I popped into the store on the 9'th of March.

"Oh yeah, that email address," a staff member said without a hint of irony.  "That's not necessarily the best way to get things done. (?!?) Your best bet is to speak directly to Patrick, the manager.  He's not in right now but he'll be back on Monday if you wanna give him a call."

Feeling vaguely befuddled, I made a point of calling the store bright and early on the 11'th.  To my complete and total lack of surprise, he wasn't there so I ended up leaving a message.

"Okay, yeah, great.  Patrick should be in sometime today so I'll make sure he gets your message," I was assured.

And then I waited.  And waited.  And waited.

By now, options in March were starting to dry up and soon I'd be forced to push things off to April. As such, I had to call the store a second time on Wednesday the 13'th and leave a second message.

"Okay, right!  Sorry for the delay.  I'll pass this message on and make sure he gives you a call right away!"

And then I waited.  And waited.  And fucking waited.

I still hadn't gotten a call back by Friday the 15'th.  In a huff, I removed Quantum Frontier as the event's location on Facebook and then pounded out the following terse message:

"Welp, if Davecon is happening at all this year, it definitely won't be at Quantum Frontier.  How that place stays in business is beyond me." 

For several days I seriously considered turfing the whole thing.  After all, I'd created Davecon to fill in for the long-deceased Fleetcon and make up for the complete and utter dearth of local tabletop gaming events.  But since the very first Davecon back in 2007, days such as Hal-Con and Boardgasm had since been established as viable options throughout the year.  Honestly, what was the point?

I was soon reminded of the real reason why I do it: the massive outcry from the small-yet-vocal horde of rabid Davecon fans.  They really wanted me to make this happen.  So, after a series of heartfelt pleas I decided to keep searching for a home.

I turned my attention to Monster Comic Lounge on Gottingen Street in Halifax.  Truth be told, MCL was my first choice last year but store owner Mike Crossman hadn't yet extricated all of the back stock out of the game room.  Over the course of the last few months I knew that things had been squared away since the sound of jubilant gamers could often be heard coming from the bowels of that mysterious nook when I was in the store every other weekend.

So on Saturday the 16'th I popped into MCL to see if the place was a viable option.  Despite the fact that he was besieged by customers, Mike took the time to show us the room.  It wasn't quite as fancy as Quantum Frontier's Danger Room but there were plenty of tables and chairs, which was all we really needed.

Unfortunately Mike wasn't 100% sure when the room was free in April so he gave me his email address and asked me to shoot him a note.  I dutifully composed the following inquiry three days later:

Hey, Mike.

I was in the store this past weekend inquiring about using your spare room for my annual private gaming event.  Here's the plan:

It would be one Saturday in the month of April from open 'til close.  I plan to charge an entrance fee, purchase a gift certificate from the store and then give this away as a door prize.  

I also do an "M.V.P." draw for the person who plays the most board games during the day.  If you wanted to donate some cheesy throwaway thing for an M.V.P. prize, that would be cool.  If not, I can provide something.  

Currently we have seven people confirmed regardless of date.  I suspect it'll be about twelve or so in the end.  The only day in April that my regulars say is "right out" would be April 20'th.

Let me know which day works best for you and I'll make an official announcement on the event's Bookface page.

Thanks in advance.

-Dave 

And then I waited.  And waited.  With people pressing me from all sides to lock down a date, I sent this follow-up note on the 22'nd:

Hey, Mike.

If you get a free moment today, can you let me know if this works for you and what day would be best?  I've got people nagging me to make babysitter plans...

Thanks!

And then it came, the glorious response we'd all been waiting for:

Hi Dave,

The best day for us would be the 13th of April. There is nothing booked that day now and if you want it you can have it. Every other Saturday would involve some sharing of space.

If that day works for you I will make it official.

Mike

And with that, Davecon 2013 was finally a reality!

An excited flurry of emails went back and forth, speculating as to what games would be featured at the event.  Titles such as Ca$h n' Gun$, Ticket to Ride: Märklin, Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game, Alhambra, The Classic Dungeon!, Tsuro, X-Wing, Pandemic, Gloom, and Shadow Hunters were all bandied about.  Above all, I made sure that ye olde Davecon tradition, Ultimate Werewolf, would get rolled out sometime during the day!

I also spent a considerable amount of time agonizing over what to charge for an entrance fee and what contests to run.  In a spate of good news, Monster Comic Lounge didn't charge us for the room and they also gave all Davecon attendees a 10% discount an their purchases for the day!  Without a $100.00 room rental fee hanging over our heads I could charge a considerably lower Registration Fee and put all of it towards a couple of pretty descent little gift certificates!

In the end, I decided to charge $5.00 per person and issue three tickets to each participant: one given out on arrival, one issued to anyone who stayed until the end of the day and one for the Davecon M.V.P.  Based on a suggestion by Andrew, I really dig this last concept.  Basically, this would allow everyone an opportunity to vote on the event's Mose Valuable Player: the best sport, the participant who ran the most games, the person who was the most fun to play with or the attendee who best embodied "Wheaton's Rule".


I also had plenty of time to fret over the weather.  Like in many other parts of North america, evidence of Spring in Nova Scotia had been nearly non-existent up to that point.  In the days leading up to April 13'th, the weather forecast was predicting no less then twenty centimeters of snow on game day.  Yikes!

Since we'd have enough problems getting back and forth to the venue if the road conditions were crap, I even put the kibbosh on our traditional brunch plans.  Mercifully, the Weather Gods turned the snow to rain, making for perfect Davecon weather.  Indeed I can't think of a better was to spend a rainy, crappy day then ensconced in a comic book shop playing board games!  

Despite running a bit behind schedule, I managed to pick up perennial attendee Sabina, beat it down to Monster Comic Lounge and secure a convenient parking space before everything opened up at 10 am.  Just as soon as the staff unlocked the front doors, the three of us went inside and started to set things up.  After chatting with the patient and vaguely bemused employees, I posted the awesome event sign that Cheryl had designed (see above), set up a makeshift registration table and then waited for everyone to arrive.

And arrive they did.  In droves.  By the end of it, we had fourteen attendees in total: me, Andrew B., Andrew S., Angela, Chad, Claudia, Cheryl, Dawn, Dean, Mark, Matt, Sabina and two newcomers: Chad's son Mac and Dawn's brother Joey.  Unfortunately, Davecon regular and Ultimate Werewolf grand champeen Audrey had to bow out after her babysitting plans fell through.  Booooo!!!

Before I could jump into a game, I had some housekeeping to attend to.  Like a whirling dervish, I raced all around the exterior and interior of the store, taking some establishing video footage of our new environs and drawing quizzical looks from both staff and customers alike.  Then, after collecting entrance money from everyone I set about procuring some contest prizes.  By the end of it, I'd picked up two in-store gift certificates: one for $50.00 and one for $20.00.  Suitably epic prizes for such an epic day!

By the time I got back several games were already in full swing.  Cheryl, Sabina, Dawn, Joey and Mark had wasted no time breaking out the Vintage edition of the classic die-chucker Yahtzee.  


This epic contest resulted in one of the most unlikely finales imaginable as both Sabina and Mark tied for the win!  WHAT ARE THE ODDS?!?!   WHY AM I SHOUTING!?!?!

Next up the same crew participated in two games of Zombie Dice.  In the first match, newcomer Joey walked away with a decisive victory.  Then it was Dawn's turn to become "zombie extraordinaire" when she was declared winner and champion of game two!    

Meanwhile, Dean led a gaggle of pseudo-scientists in a co-operative game of Pandemic.  He mixed in just enough of the On the Brink expansion to accommodate five players and then let them pick from a variety of eight new role cards.



With Pandemic I've personally found that the more players you have, the harder it is to co-ordinate everyone for the win.  This might have been offset in this particular game by the awesome new roles, like the "Generalist", the "Containment Specialist" and the new-and-improved "Operations Expert".  A lot of them seem downright dynamite.

Whatever the reason, lead egghead Dean managed to guide Andrew B., Angela, Claudia and Matt to a rare victory against the germs!

Simultaneously, Andrew certainly didn't have to use a Batarang to rope three more players into a session of the new Batman: Gotham City Strategy Game.  With its thematic gameplay, villainous P.O.V.'s, awesome Heroclix figures and old-school aesthetics, I really wanted to play this one myself.  Unfortunately I was still dealing with some Davecon logistics, so I didn't get a chance to sit in.


After cracking the box open 'round 10:47 am, everyone selected their villainous roles.  Andrew opted for Killer Croc, Mac became the Joker, Chad assumed the mantle of the Penguin and Mike played Two-Face to the hilt.  After everything was set up, they began the daunting process of digesting the rules.


Since this was Andrew's first time running the game, it took a good hour or so to really get into the swing of things.  During this time, the four participants had a fun time running riot all over Gotham City, committing crimes, hiring henchmen and dodging the deadly fists of the Caped Crusader.


But as the clock started closing in on 1 pm, the four super-villains had to make a painful decision to declare an early winner.  When it came down to the final moments, Andrew was declared the most dastardly member of Batman's Rogues Gallery.    

After all of my obligations were dispensed with I finally got a chance to set up a 91-point X-Wing match using the following ships, personnel, upgrades and skills:

IMPERIALS - "VADER'S HUNTING PACK"

T.I.E. Advanced piloted by Darth Vader
Upgrades: Concussion Missiles
Skills: Squad Leader

T.I.E. Fighter piloted by Mauler Mithel
Skills: Marksmanship

T.I.E. Fighter piloted by "Howlrunner"
Skills: Swarm Tactics

T.I.E. Fighter piloted by a Black Squadron Pilot
Skills: Expert Handling

REBELS - "LUKE'S SCOUTS"

X-Wing piloted by Luke Skywalker
Upgrades: R2-D2 and Proton Torpedoes

X-Wing piloted by a Rookie Pilot
Upgrades: Astromech

Y-Wing piloted by "Dutch" Vander
Upgrades: R5 Astromech, Proton Torpedoes and an Ion Cannon Turret

***

Between the detailed minis and my new, custom-made star field (consisting of a swath of black fabric flicked with white, gold, silver and yellow paint) Mark was quickly lured in by the spectacle.  He chose to command the Dark Side while I took control of Luke and company.  Given the epic length of the table, I placed all seven ships at the far end of the Range Ruler away from the edge.


This allowed Mark and I to close to within firing distance within a few turns.  In our first pass, Mark used combined fire to annihilate Luke's shields.  The aspiring Jedi soon returned the favor, causing two points of hull damage against a rival T.I.E.


"Dutch" Vander was having even better luck with his Ion Turret, inflicting two points of damage and sending another enemy ship spiraling out of control.  But then, just as I prepared to follow up on this advantage, I realized to my horror that I'd overestimated the maneuverability of the Y-Wing.  There was no way I could bring her hard about without flying off the table!


Now, although some people might accuse "Dutch" of fleeing from the battlefield, I like to think that Luke ordered him to return to the Rebel Fleet to fetch some badly-needed re-enforcements!

Unfortunately I was running into the same issue that Andrew was having.  It was already after 1 pm and we still hadn't run our traditional match of Ultimate Werewolf.  With heavy hearts, Mark and I had to cut our match short.


At least I managed to end the game on a positive note.  After R2-D2 reconstituted the shields, Luke pulled off a Koiogran Turn, performed a Target Lock, launched a volley of Proton Torpedoes and destroyed one of the enemy vessels.  Man, I wish we could have finished this game!

Based on my previous match with Mike, I knew perfectly well how long it takes to play X-Wing, but I chose to bring it along anyway.  Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic game with tremendous curb appeal, but it's not a good pick for Davecon.  I brought five games with me that day and I only got a chance to play two of them, including this one.  Ultimately I brought X-Wing along for purely superficial reasons: to show off the ships and my pretty, customized star-field.  Hopefully I'll learn my lesson for next year.

In the same time it took to get through partial sessions of X-Wing and Batman the other tables were flying through a spate of quicker games.  Andrew S. set up another Davecon favorite, Tumblin' Dice, which soon drew a horde of willing participants.


In the first roll-off, Matt triumphed with a total score of 68, Sabina got 63, Cheryl and Dawn tied with 48, Joey had 47 and Andrew B. trailed with 42.  Andrew had his vengeance in Game Two, netting a total of 72 points, easily outdistancing Dawn with 63, Cheryl at 61, Sabina's 60, and Joey's score of 40.

Meanwhile, Zombie Dice reared its putrefying head at another table.  In the resulting brain-feast between Dean, Angela and Claudia, Angela horked down the most gray matter!  This segued naturally into a side-by-side comparison with Martian Dice.  In that throw down, Claudia got the duke over Andrew B., Angela, Dean and Dawn.


When these games were finished, Andrew and I voluntarily ended our own sessions so we could kick off the traditional run of Ultimate Werewolf.



CAST OF CHARACTERS

Andrew B. as Ham Johnson the Town Butcher
Andrew S. as "Handsome" Angus the Vampire Hunter
Angela as Shaneequa the Traveling Bard
Chad as Anvil, the Town's Blacksmith
Cheryl as Moi the Candlestick Maker
Claudia as Claudia the Alewife
Me as Mee the Taxpayer
Dawn as Jill the Washer Woman
Dean as our Awesome Game-Runner
Joey as Mildred the Town Librarian
Mac as Abs the Total Gym Salesman
Mark as Jim the Fisherman
Mike as Mike the Minstrel
Sabina as Shabinaqua the Other Traveling Bard 

Panic gripped the town as rumors of werewolves in the village became rampant.  Anvil was quick to point the finger at the local nosferatu exterminator.

"I, the town's blacksmith, was keeping a stony watch on the village when wandered in...ONE VAMPIRE HUNTER!" he proclaimed.  "I ask my fellow villagers: who hunts the vampire if not for the werewolf?"

Despite outing himself as a possible Twilight fan, Anvil nominated Angus, which was quickly seconded by Abs.  Immediately the Hunter launched into a fiery defense.

"I am not a werewolf!" he declared.  "Normally I hunt vampires but I'm all out of vampires right now... 'cuz I'm so good!  Sure, I've had to do some man-whoring on the side recently to make some capitol, but I'm not a werewolf!"

Apparently such confessionals are good for the soul and Angus was acquitted.  In a declaration that now seems a lot more suspect, Ham Sammich was quick to protest the result.

"I thought we were voting on whether or not to save him not to kill him!" the Butcher lamented.  "That's why I voted thumb's down!"

Regardless of the confusion, the unemployed vampire hunter got his reprieve.

Later that night, the three werewolves searched through stack of books to "check out" the Town Librarian.  In a horrible twist of bad fortune, Mildred also turned out to be the precious Seer.  Already the villagers were behind the proverbial eight-ball!  

With the town's paranoia growing by leaps and bounds, suspicions immediately fell upon the first person to level an accusation.

"Anvil was quick to accuse people!" Angus charged, his nomination quickly validated by the terminally-enraged, steroid-casualty Abs.

"In my defense, even though I was quick to accuse, I did vote for life!" Anvil calmly returned.  "Would a werewolf vote for life?  I don't think so."

Since this recollection was "kind of hazy" Angus asked Mee to "roll back the tape".  But because this was a medieval setting and I had no idea what sorcery the hunter was raving about, I couldn't comply.  I did corroborate Anvil's claim that he voted for mercy last time out, however.

The rest of the village saw it that way too, and with seven votes of confidence, the Blacksmith was spared!  But that didn't mean that the inquisition was over for that round.  Jim the Fisherman quickly called out Shabinaqua the Other Traveling Bard and Abs instantly backed him up!

Unfortunately Shabinaqua's own defense was piss-poor at best:

"I'm not the Werewolf, I swear!  You can trust me, I can read people like a book!"

After this lame rebuttal inspired a series of groans, cat-calls and eye-rolls, it fell upon her partner Shaneequa to come to her defense:

"I make money with this chick, don't kill off my meal ticket!" she wailed.

"No way!" Ham Salad shouted.  "Look at her, she's got Seer in her teeth!"

Despite the robust dialogue, Shabinaqua only got three votes for the defense and she was soon a-swingin' from the rafters!  Fortunately this turned out to be a focused bit of bloodlust, since she was immediately outed as one of the three Werewolves!

Later that same night, the two remaining lycanthropes avenged their neck-stretched comrade by double-teaming Claudia the Alewife (and not in a good way)!

The next morning Jill the Washer Woman immediately went on the offensive, declaring: "I still think we made a mistake not killing the Vampire Hunter!"  Before the light of inquisition could fall upon him, Angus quickly deflected the attention towards Abs.

"He 'seconds' everything so quickly!  It's all that Werewolf blood, he can't control it!"

Swayed by that undeniable logic, I quickly 'seconded' that motion, realizing all-too-late that this probably looked kinda bad for me.

Abs conducted an admittedly-spirited defense, which was one part Chuck Norris and one part Ultimate Warrior.

"Listen to Abs!  I built you guys Total Gyms so you can get fit and ripped like me!  Now, could you guys defend yourselves against the Werewolves if you weren't ripped as you are now?!?!"  

Despite being better on the mic then Dwayne Johnson, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage combined, Abs couldn't avoid the gallows.  Unfortunately it was soon revealed that the mob had just executed a perfectly innocent villager!

That night, lured by the smell of low tide, the Werewolves crept into the village and ate the fish monger with a side of tartar sauce.  The following morning the villagers found Jim the Fisherman ripped into sushi-sized morsels!

By now, fear was sweeping through the village like a plague.  Armed with absolutely no credible evidence, Angus randomly nominated Mee.  Immediately I tried to un-nominated Mee, er, me, but for some reason that didn't work.  With the accusation now fully validated by his incongruous new ally Anvil, I was forced to do some quick talking.  Unfortunately my initial defense was even lamer then Shabinaqua's.

"It's not Mee, I promise!  When you nominate Mee, you nominate yourself!  Literally!  It's not me or Mee!  I swears!  Toadly."

Perhaps due to my last-second plea of taxpayer solidarity, I managed to escape the noose in a super-close 4 to 3 vote.

After this narrow brush with death, I felt compelled to go on the offensive.

"We just basically have to ask ourselves: has anyone been doing anything particularly suspicious?"  Not withstanding Mike the Minstrel's incessant babbling, Jill the Washer Woman begins to cast aspersions once again upon "Handsome" Angus the Supposed Vampire Hunter.  Quickly his nomination got "seconded", then um..."thirded".      

"I am here to keep the village safe!" he declared in no uncertain terms.  "I...(removes shades)...Handsome Angus am a Werewolf... NOT!   If you vote for me you will regret it.  I'm the muscle now that Abs is gone. Here, I'll prove it, let me show you the ab..."

This forced moderator Dean to break character, offering to pay Angus some serious real-world coin in order to avoid seeing the "ab".  In fact, so rattled was he by this threat that he missed my vote and nearly acquitted the Vampire Hunter on a tie by mistake.  After a quick recount, the decision was reversed and Angus was convicted on a margin of four votes to six!

"Eat it!" Andrew declared, proudly rubbing our collective noses in his "Villager" card.

During the night, the fortified Werewolves stormed back, grabbed Moi the Candlestick Maker and gnawed her down to the (q)wick.  

"I think we lost our chance at Mee!" Jill the Washer Woman accused in a now-familiar refrain.  Initially the spotlight fell upon Ham Bone the Town Butcher, but then Mr. "I Can Read People Like A Book" (I.E. Anvil the Blacksmith) had to go and open his stupid pie-hole.  After declaring in no uncertain terms that Ham and Mike are "good villagers" and that "Mee seems to be he most suspicious" I knew that it was the beginning of the end for this cowboy.    

In an act purely driven by self-preservation, I officially nominated Anvil, but no-one seconded my motion. Taking advantage of the confusion, Ham Platter pointed an official finger in my direction and instantly Anvil and Jill piled on.  Despite being so confident of my innocence that I eschewed the Chewie Defense, I lost the vote 3 to 2.

"Hold on, I'm gotta find my damned 'Villager' card," I muttered, rummaging around the room.

That night, the duo of Werewolves went all Dragonforce on Mike the Minstrel.  With that,  the lycanthropes achieved parity!  Immediately both Andrew B. and Angela revealed their lupine natures and reveled in their sweet n' hairy mutual victory.

And with that, the attendees split up once again to pursue a host of gamey new pursuits.  First off Dean took Mac, Claudia and Chad through a session of Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game.  



At first, the odd mash-up of selected heroes (Storm, Wolverine, Iron Man and Thor) didn't gel very well together against Doctor Doom, but mid-way through the game, the players found their footing and started to get a leg-up.


Funny enough, even though Dean was the owner of the game, only Chad had played it before.  Admittedly Dean made a few minor rule-goofs, resulting in a partial asterisk, but the heroes proved victorious with Claudia emerging as the individual winner.


Zombie Dice then shambled across the room to the other table.  In two quick contests, Joey proved triumphant against both Cheryl and Sabina.  Sometime you just gotta love a game that you can play in ten minutes!        


Especially when it give you the time to play two rounds of the visual telephone game Telestrations


Although the game has a nominal scoring system, it tends to suck most of the visceral joy out of the proceedings.  As such, Dawn, Chad, Sabina, Cheryl and Joey decided to ignore it and just get their sketch-on.    

They drew their little hearts out in game one, producing an incredible chain of drawings that carried everyone's original clues right to the very end.  After two more players (Mac and Sabina) were added to the mix in game two, the keywords didn't transfer quite so accurately.  Regardless, there were plenty of laughs and a great time was had by all.  And, hey, isn't that the whole raison d'être for this wacky event?

After this, Angela, Dawn, Sabina, Andrew B, Joey, Mike, Cheryl and Mark risked getting all of us banned from the store for life via a boisterous game of Cards Against Humanity.


Given the fact that there were eight players, it took over an hour to determine the winner with the momentum swinging back and forth.  Ultimately it was Cheryl who proved triumphant, winning the game and securing primo boxed seats in H, E...double hockey sticks in the process.

Things got more PC but no less cutthroat after Martian Dice was rolled out again.  After some frantic luck-pressin', Cheryl won with a whopping 30 points, Joey had 25, Dawn had 23, Mark had 19 and Sabina had 11.  

After Andrew heard that I'd brought along Nexus Ops he insisted that we play it.  So, after tempting Matt and Mike with a "It's kinda like Risk but good" sales pitch we were off to the races.


Right away Andrew exibited his characteristic gonzo luck by annexing a slew of incredibly valuable mines. Mike struck a balance between unearthing new units and coming across some moderately-valued resources.  Matt was similarly blessed.  In fact, the only shlub to get stuck with only one new mine was me.  To make matters worse, I didn't staff it properly on two separate occasions and had to settle for my crappy base income.


As I slowly revealed the planet's varied environs I did come across a slew of new recruits.  By the time my forces made it to the mid-board lava wasteland, I had a disproportionally large army.  Unfortunately, my economy was also a house of cards.

Even though Andrew was clearly establishing himself as the runaway leader, I had to attack Mike in the Liquifungus Forest in order to score some badly-needed Victory Points.  Naturally I failed to win a decisive victory, so this battle dragged on for a few turns longer then expected.  Eventually I pulled out the win, but it really hurt my drive to the Monolith. 

Given Andrew's rampant expansionism, both Matt and Mike were forced to engage him in a few minor dust- ups. Initially Matt's attacks were repulsed but Mike made some promising headway.  Unfortunately Andrew's ludicrously-rich economy ensured that he could pump out reinforcements quicker then anyone else. As a result, he became the first player to produce Rubium Dragons.  Not long after he took possession of the precious Monolith.


By capturing this pivotal mid-board location, Andrew began receiving two precious Energize Cards per turn. Knowing that Andrew was closing in on victory, all three of us entered into a silent pact to chip away at his lead.  Pretty soon he was fighting on three separate fronts.

I moved my own Rubium Dragon adjacent to the Monolith by failed to light up Andrew's forces stationed there was plasma.  Andrew also had spotty luck with this tactic on the main board, roasting only one of Mike's units after several attempts.  With time running out I was forced to attack the Monolith the old-fashioned way.

Using a "Gravity Anomaly", I reversed the combat order, allowing my grunts to strike before Andrew's Double Dragons.  Unfortunately the luck I needed to execute this strategy didn't materialize and I only scored one hit on a late roll.  Andrew struck back with a vengeance, playing "Frenzy" to give each one of his units two attacks apiece!  Needless to say, the resulting slaughter was as quick as it was complete. 

Even allied together, Mike, Matt and I couldn't stop Andrew's juggernaut-like momentum.  Within another turn or two, Andrew played his last Victory Point card, taking him to 10 points for the short-game win.  After taking a look at the clock, we realized that this one game of Nexus Ops took us right up to the end of Davecon regulation time.

During this interval, the other participants certainly hadn't been idle.  Mac, Dean, Claudia and Chad threw down in a chaotic game of Star Flux which saw Chad emerge triumphant.


Then Mac, Chad, Mark and Dawn played two games of Tsuro.  In the first match, Mac made a wily tile placement and drove his pops, Chad, off the board.  Mark's dragon as the last one left in the air during that first game.  Family ties also didn't amount to much in game two, as Dawn eliminated hubby Mark for the win!


Dean, Mark, Dawn, Chad and Mac also had another close encounter with Martian Dice.  In this heated battle, Chad proved victorious with a whopping twenty-nine points!   Although it takes a longer time to play, most participants seemed to agree that Martian Dice out-distances its undead sibling.


Angela then led Andrew B, Cheryl, Joey, Claudia and Sabina through a nice, peaceful bout of murder and mayhem via Gloom.


During these purloined tales of strife, insanity, abandonment, and incongruous bliss, Pathos Points were won and lost, creative yarns were spun, and more then one miserable soul met an Untimely Death.  Sabina ended up with the most miserable clan in death and slipped away with the win!



Knowing that the store was closing at five pm I decided to wind things down around four-thirty in order to distribute the end-of-day tickets, draw for the door prizes and give people enough time to do any last-minute shopping.  During all of this, the Monster Comic Lounge staff was nothing short of awesome.  They even  told us not to rush, offering to stick around later in order to facilitate our wrap-up.  I guess this probably isn't such a big deal when you actually like where you work!

After passing out the "Hey-You-Survived-To-The-End" ballots, I encouraged folks to deposit their tickets in our unconventional "Door Prize" receptacle:


Then I made sure everyone had a chance to fill out their "M.V.P." vote and deposit it in the skull of our favorite resident Dark Lord of the Sith:


Moments later our official winners were declared:

DOOR PRIZE WINNER 
($50.00 Gift Certificate from Monster Comic Lounge)

CHAD!!!

M.V.P. Winner 
($20.00 Gift Certificate from Monster Comic Lounge)

ANGELA!!!

The great thing about our guests is that they never cease to amaze me.  Sabina actual took it upon herself to provide a third prize, which turned out to be a bad-ass inflatable shark kite.  This allowed me to give out a runner-up door prize!  

RUNNER-UP DOOR PRIZE WINNER 
(for a Bad-Ass Inflatable Shark Kite)

ANGELA!!!

After taking great pains to leave the room in better shape then we'd found it, the Davecon attendees loitered around the store for a bit, recollecting the day's stories, chatting with the staff and making last-minute purchases.  Through it all, we got the distinct impression that Davecon had finally found a permanent home!  During this time, I expressed heartfelt thanks to the staff for putting up with our over-caffeinated / sugar-fueled shenanigans.   

"Oh, no problem," one of the employees replied.  "It sounds like you guys had a really great time.  How often do you run this event?" 

"Oh, once a year," I replied.

"Hmmm, only once a year?  Could you be persuaded to do it bi-annually?" he pursued with a wry smile.

"Oh, I dunno," I sighed, betraying my exhaustion.  "I think my constitution can only take one of these a year, but hey, if someone else wants to do one..."

I turned and looked at my friends expectantly.  A part of me still hopes that, one day, everyone will run their own annual eponymous con, so that all I need to do is master a few rulebooks, buy some snacks and beer and then show up to play.

Which leads me to my sole regret for the day: the fact that I only got a chance to play three games.  That's downright shameful.  Next year I need to avoid the kind of games we play during our epic, mid-week session and stick to shorter, quicker titles.   

Speaking of regrets, I also thought about all the money Quantum Frontier missed out on by not calling me back.  First off, we would have given them $100.00 for renting the "Danger Room".  To pay for this overhead, I probably would have charged an entry fee of $10.00 per person instead of $5.00.  Although this would have resulted in a much smaller gift certificate (probably $40.00 instead of $70.00), it still would have gone right back into the store's coffers. 

Then there was all the stuff we bought that day:


After a rough estimate I've determined that our group spent around $300.00 at Monster Comic Lounge that day.  So, all told, Quantum could have made around $450.00 if they'd only exhibited the common courtesy of calling me back.  

Which left me wondering: if Quantum Frontier can survive as a business, what would happen if I opened up my very own game store and actually applied the tenants of good customer service?

Hmmmmmmm...     

  
  


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Hammered in Halifax: "A Few Acres of Snow"

My early childhood obsession for chess invariable led to a passion for wargames.  Unfortunately many of those classic Avalon Hill / SPI titles were burdened by rule books so dense and impenetrable they made the Magna Carta look like a Papa John's pizza flyer.

When games like Settlers of Catan, Tigris & Euphrates and El Grande exploded on the scene in the mid-to-late 90's I could foresee a time when innovative Euro-style mechanics would be grafted onto my beloved olde skool wargames.  I imagined that these elegant hybrids would have all the flavor and theme of the average hex n' counter grog-fest but with key mechanics and rules boiled intuitively down to their simplest intent.

It didn't take very long for my prediction to come true.  Over the years we've since since such inspired titles as Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, Commands & Colors: Ancients, Hammer of the Scots, Combat Commander: Europe, Memoir '44, and Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! Russia 1941-1942.  All of these games involve card-driven mechanics, excellent components, innovative design and most importantly: they're all a blast to play.

The latest entry into this evolutionary wargaming subset is Martin Wallace's A Few Acres of Snow.


Although I was initially put off by the same designer's pedestrian-looking but still awesome train game Steam, I was immediately taken by A Few Acres of Snow.  After reading the game's full deets on the Treefrog Games website, I really couldn't wait to try it:

"A Few Acres of Snow is our latest two-player only game.  It covers the long struggle between Britain and France for control of what eventually became Canada.

"The game involves a deck-building mechanism which may be familiar to those people who have played another certain award winning card game.  Each player starts with a small set of cards.  Cards come in two general types, location cards and empire cards.  You can add an empire card to your discard pile simply by taking one as an action.  

Adding a location card is a little more involved.  Each location card has a list of locations that it connects to and the transport type required to move to each of those locations.  To take control of a neutral location you would have to play a location card with that neutral location on it, then a card that has the correct transport symbol, and then possibly a card with a settler symbol on it if required. You then place a cube in the location and add the location card to your discard pile.

"Players take it in turns to perform two actions.  There are a range of actions available, such as settling new locations, besieging locations, trading fur, launching Indian raids, and building fortifications.  There are also cards that allow you to perform actions to manage your deck, such as getting rid of useless cards and drawing additional cards from your pile.  You can also place cards in reserve so that you can use them at a later point in time.

"The game ends if a player manages to capture his opponent’s capital city or he has managed to place all of his village or town pieces on the board. In the latter case points are calculated to see who wins.

"The game can last from between 30 minutes to two hours, depending on how well players pursue the victory conditions."

Looking for the game's Encyclopedia Internetica entry?  Click on the following link to peep the full historical account right hur.

***

On our last game night, while Dean and Andrew were throwing down in their latest Blood Bowl contest, Chad and I had a chance to try this approachable little gem

We started by randomly selecting sides.  I drew the French and Chad played the British.

After playing a few introductory rounds with Mac to get a feel for the game, Chad seemed to know how imperative to was for the British to be aggressive.  He quickly managed to establish settlements in the neutral locations of Deerfield and Albany.

This I could tolerate, but as soon as he made a play for Halifax a line was drawn in the sand.  I immediately initiated a siege in our home city and soon the battle lines were drawn.

      
Thanks to some timely "Home Support" I managed to use a deadly combination of Infantry, Ship Symbol cards and some powerful Siege Artillery to wrestle control of Halifax away from Chad.  My opponent quickly responded by settling both Baltimore and Richmond then Fortified Pemaquid.  He then turned New York into the sort of fortress that Snake Plissken would be hard-pressed to break into.

I tried to keep pace by settling Fort Niagara and Fort Frontenac.  Then I got right up in Chad's grill by  crossing the St. Lawrence River and snapping up the strategic location of Fort St. John.


With Settler Cards popping up for him like meerkats, Chad spent the next turn consolidating his holdings.  The Villages in Pemaquid, Albany, Deerfield and Baltimore were all upgraded to Towns.  For his final renovation, he turned ol' Beantown into a wicked awesome fart, er, fort.  

Meanwhile, frustrated by my own dearth of willing Settlers, I had to content myself with establishing a Village in Fort Beauséjour.  Acquiring this site was actually kinda cool, since I've personally visited this same site several times in the past.  It's always fun to play a board game that references your own back yard, ain't it?

Realizing that I wasn't going to win with an army of Settlers, I began to ponder alternate avenues of exploration.  This involved getting more free cards into my deck and making friends with the Native population.


Even though I'd acquired two more neutral Settlers, they weren't coming up in tandem with other key card draws, making the task of Settling and Developing new Locations a genuine pain in the arse.  All I could do was sandbag Fort St. John on the vanguard and build a Village in the wilds of Detroit.

In addition to beefing up his infrastructure, Chad was secretly laying plans for another siege.   After ushering Norfolk into Town status, he pulled a Military Leader and several Regular Infantry Cards from his Reserve pile and then launched a vicious sea-borne invasion of nearby Port Réal...er, Royal.


Totally unprepared for this incursion, I quickly cut my losses and conceded defeat.  To ensure that this key location wouldn't easily slide back into French hands, Chad cleverly allocated just enough resources to settle the site with a Village and then threw down an imposing Fortification.

I was better prepared for the second phase of Chad's attack, which targeted our old stomping ground of Halifax.  In the end, we fought this siege to a standstill, leaving the city as vacant as Stalingrad for several turns.  Chad finished this exemplary turn by snapping up Cumberland with a Village.

Although I wasn't able to pull out a victory in either battle, it did free up plenty of resources to allocate elsewhere.  I settled the unpronounceable region of Michilimackinac with a Village, turned Gaspé into a lovely little tourist Town and then reduced Detroit to a drug-addled urban warfare zone policed by Robocop.

Better yet, I made another incursion on the English side of the St. Lawrence River by constructing a Village at Osweego.  Between this settlement and Fort St. John I was now well-within Raiding distance.  Led by some stalwart Coureurs de Bois, my allied Native groups launched a series of deadly attacks against Albany.  Chad was forced to scramble for a bit as he was forced to contend with this unexpected insurgency.


At this late stage in the game, I couldn't help but feel as if my mid-match momentum was waning.  After acquiring a cadre of his own Natives, Chad started to repel my guerilla tactics.  After transforming St. Mary's into an incorporated Town he promptly set his sights on Nova Scotia.

He went on an absolute tear throughout the region, upgrading Port Royal into a Town, dropping and then Fortifying a new Village in Halifax and then landing a fresh batch of Settlers in Canso.  As if that wasn't bad enough he even initiated an eleventh-hour siege of Louisbourg.    

Despite the fact that I busted out the ol' Siege Artillery again, Chad quickly gained the upper hand in the fight thanks to a veritable mob of Infantry and Rangers.  Convinced that the battle was a foregone conclusion, I concentrated on scoring some last-minute Victory Points wherever I could.  This involved upgrading both Fort Niagara and Fort Frontenac to Towns and launching another reasonably effective Native Raid.


Thanks to these last few desperate actions, I managed to trigger the end game before the Battle of Louisbourg was resolved.  All that was left to do now was tally up the final scores.

***

END GAME SCORING

SETTLEMENTS

ME...14 points
CHAD...9 points

CITIES

CHAD...48 points
ME...38 points

MILITARY SPOILS

Me...14
Chad...4

FINAL SCORE

Me...66 points
Chad...61 points

***

POST-GAME NOTES


This final score came as a bit of a surprise to both of us.  Given Chad's many Town upgrades and his eventual acquisition of Nova Scotia, we both thought that he had this game in the bag.  

But in retrospect, the final score does make some sort of weird sense.  Armed with considerably more Settlers, Infantry and Ships, the mobile and expansive British army really needs to go after main French holdings such as Montreal as soon as possible.

My early expulsion of Chad from Halifax put him off-stride long enough to achieve expansion parity.  At the height of my growth, I'd managed to capture and/or settle no less then eight new Villages.  In spite of Chad's late-game military surge, my outlying sprawl and somewhat effective Raiding campaign gave me a slight edge.  

REVIEW

This game is freakin' phenomenal.  Whereas the deckbuilding mechanic in Legendary feels kinda clunky and pasted on, it's much more organically integrated here.  I think the real-world military and settlement goals in A Few Acres of Snow makes this one a lot more thematically flavorful.  Although its definitely not a hard-core military sim the game still feels historically evocative.  

The deck you end up assembling during the course of the game works well for every action.  Chaining these cards together actually feels as if you're guiding a Bateaux filled with Settlers across Lake Erie to establish the Village of Detroit.  Every siege feels like an attritional tug of war.  And when you pull a handful of Natives from your deck all at once you find yourself slavering for your next turn so you can launch a far-flung Raid on your enemy's closest outpost.  Indeed, the game completely out-Dominion's Dominion.        

But there's a down side to all of this.  Several times during our game Andrew looked up from the Blood Bowl pitch to make an off-handed remark about implementing the "Halifax Hammer" strategy.  Since I barely pay attention to Andrew at the best of times, I thought that he was referring to our online Blood Bowl PC league of the same name.  After the game he explained what he was on about.  

As it turns out, A Few Acres of Snow has a design flaw so egregious that even designer Martin Wallace had to admit was crippling.  This so-called "Halifax Hammer" strategy calls for an approach not unlike Chad's late-game run in Nova Scotia and, by all accounts, it virtually guarantees a win for the Brits.  I don't want to reveal the full strategy here, just suffice to say that it involves the early settling of Halifax with an eye on quick sieges in both Louisbourg and Quebec.  Anyone interested in reading more about this strategy can take a peek here.   

After playing A Few Acres of Snow once I'm not sure if this is indicative of a game-breaking design flaw or an armor chink exposed by the same sort of losers who play Halo only to expose lame advantageous flaws.  Sadly, if the designer was forced to come out and admit that there's a problem, then there's probably a pretty serious fucking problem.

In Wallace's defense, a perfectly-balanced wargame scenario should be scarcer then a decent reality show.  I saw someone on Google + the other day bitching that the "Pegasus Bridge" scenario in Memoir '44 is "unfairly slanted towards the Allies".  Well, of course it is, you dumbass!  If Richard Borg hadn't put the Germans behind the eight-ball in this scenario it wouldn't have been historically accurate.  This is why I always encourage people to play this scenario once, then switch sides, play it again and the person with the highest total Victory Medals wins the game.  

By this same philosophy, A Few Acres of Snow should be slanted towards the British.  In fact, using our own game as an example, I'm confident that if I hadn't given Chad a bloody nose early on in Halifax I probably would have lost.   

Honestly, everything else about this game is so damned good that I'm hesitant to completely flatline my score.  Having said that, if future plays reveal that the "Halifax Hammer" strategy is clearly insurmountable then I'll definitely be forced to temper my rating.

But until then I have to say that A Few Acres of Snow is nothing short of brilliant and, as such, it scores five pips out of six.  



***

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