Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How I Spent International Tabletop Day!

I can't remember what I did for the very first International Tabletop Day last year so this year I was bound and determined to remedy this.

Wait, what's that you say? You don't know what International Tabletop Day is? Seriously? Um, okay, well, here's event co-creators Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day to explain:

"International TableTop Day is a celebration for all the fans of tabletop gaming. A single day where the whole world is brought together in a common purpose of spending time together and having fun. We hope you find the resources you need — to connect new fans to experienced group organizers, retailers with their community, and publishers with the international community — all in one place."

So this year instead of playing games I spent the entire day at Halifax's new ground zero for tabletop gaming, The Board Room Game Cafe, teaching other people how to play games they'd never played before!

Upon arrival, visitors to the cafe quickly noted all the options in the retail section up front.

In honor of International Tabletop Day, the cafe was offering a 10% discount on any retail purchase. In addition, customers were invited to roll a ten-sided die to try and score up to another 10% off! Not too shabby!

The cafe also had a slew of awesome promotional freebies on hand for games such as Munchkin, Gloom, Castle Panic, 7 Wonders, Coup and Killer Bunnies, which were given away to anyone who bought a matching game. As one might expect, many of the images depicted on these l'il tchotchkes bore a hauntingly-Wheatonian vibe.  

It didn't take long before the cafe was a-hoppin' with happy and enthusiastic gamers! Keen to facilitate some revelatory experiences, I quickly hurled myself into the fray.

The first game I taught was Toc Toc Woodman, recently re-branded with the considerably- less-Engrish sounding name Click Clack Lumberjack. Before the game came to our shores here in North America it sold a whopping ten-thousand copies in its native Korea.

So how does it work? Well, players construct a plastic tree made up of a base and several stacked "rings" composed of four interlocking brown "bark" pieces surrounding the white "core". As environmentally-conscious lumberjacks, players take turns taking two whacks apiece at said tree with a bitchin' plastic axe, trying to knock the "bark" off without dislodging the "core".

And, yes, I know that stripping the bark off of a tree is tantamount to criminal deforestation, just suspend your disbelief for a second and work with me here, a'ight?

As soon as the tree has been stripped bare, players tally up their score, netting +1 point for every bark piece and a -5 penalty for every core piece. The player with the most points wins, d'uh!

Although this one tends to evoke shades of Jenga, Toc Toc Woodman / Click Clack Lumberjack has one distinct advantage over its venerable rival. In Jenga, when the tower falls over, everyone goes "AWWWWW!!!!" in a communal expression of abject surprise and / or sadness and then they proceed to berate the loser who's fuck up ended all the GOOD TIMES.

But since you keep playing Click Clack Lumberjack until all the bark has been sheared off the tree, all the players are in it to win it up until the bitter end. Now you can pontificate all you want about how titles like this are more activity then board game, but, hey, who cares? Technically it is a game, since there's clearly a winner and you can play it on top of a table, so let's not bandy semantics here!

Besides, I've seen a group of eight people play this and act as if they were watching an Olympic Gold Medal hockey game! If that's not a sure sign of an entertaining game, I don't know what is! 
Next up I taught King of Tokyo to three players who had a victory-point grabbin', opponent-bashin' ball with it. This one always goes over like gang-busters. Hmmmm, maybe I should finally break down and pick up one of the expansions for this one. Whattya think, people? Yea or nay?

Then I helped a table of five get into a game of Alhambra.

In this one, players attempt to construct the most spectacular palace / fortress complex and, in the process, show up their opponents. Three times during the game a scoring card randomly appears, giving players a victory point reward for having the majority of buildings in six different colors. The first scoring round only rewards the player in first place while subsequent cards dole out points for  second and third place finishers respectively. Players also score one point for every continuous wall segment surrounding their Alhambra.

The economic heart of the game is the Building Market which randomizes what structures are up for sale, how much they cost and what currency is used to buy them. If a player pays exact change for one of these new acquisitions, they'll earn themselves a free turn. Wise architects will soon realize that chaining several actions togehter is the key to victory.

I love Alhambra! I think my enthusiasm for the game was contagious since the five experienced gamers I taught this to really seemed to groove on it. What's really interesting is how different the game plays with three players versus five. With a smaller group, it's pretty easy to make plans and still have what you need to follow through when your turn comes around. Naturally, when you add more bodies to the mix, there's a pretty good chance that someone else will snap up something you need, forcing you to think on your feet.

If you're a fan of introductory, gateway-style Euros like Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne, then you owe it to yourself to try this one out. Hopefully I'll be able to do a full review of this one some time in the near future.    
Next up was Jaipur, which I've already talked about in my last Hal-Con post. 

Although there are a lot of multi-player games that can be scaled down for a smaller group of people, I always try to recommend a game specifically designed for two players if it's just a couple. Not only that, but a lot of games meant for larger groups often require rule tweaks in order to work for two players and sometimes this can cause unnecessary confusion.

Jaipur is definitely one of the better two-player games out there.  Since you can only take one action per turn (either take cards or sell cards), it ensures that the game moves along at a fast clip. Despite being limited to only one of two actions, there are so many variables and strategies involved in those two choices, the game becomes deceptively strategic.

I know I've made a good recommendation for a couple when they don't need to ask me for another. That happens so often with Jaipur; when people first encounter it, they get lost and play it over and over again for hours on end! 

Next up I helped another couple get into a game of Castle Panic. In this co-operative, fantasy-themed tower defense game, players work together to try and hold off an endless wave of marauding monsters before they break through your castle walls and ransack your shit.

This is another game that I wanted to rush out and buy just as soon as I saw it featured on Tabletop. In retrospect, I'm kind of glad that cooler heads prevailed. By all accounts, Castle Panic is a fun little game but I've been told that it can wear out its welcome pretty quick. Even after you crank up the difficulty with the "More Panic" rule, some folks maintain that it's still pretty "solvable". Personally, I'm gonna reserve final judgement on this one until until I actually play it.

The couple who tried it at the cafe that day seemed to dig it, even though they were a bit perplexed by the subtleties of monster movement once they breached the outer castle walls. Fortunately they flagged me down while I was running around like a decapitated chicken and once I clarified that the monsters treat the inner towers exactly like they treat the outer walls, they went on to finish the game in abject defeat.  MUH, HA-HA-HA-HA-*HURK*! *cough, cough*   

Sorry, but if you beat a co-operative game on your first try, then it probably wasn't taught to you properly!

When another couple asked me for a good two-player game I got my chance to recommend one of my all-time favorites: Kulami:  

This one is a no-brainer for two peoples. It's beautiful, there's plenty of strategy and the game has three, count 'em, three rules. And here they are:

"In turns, players place their marbles in the empty holes in the board. The first marble can be placed anywhere on the board.  From there on, players must respect the following three rules when placing their marbles:
  1. "The marble must be placed either horizontally or vertically in relation to the marble that the opponent has just played.
  2. "The marble cannot be played on the same tile on which the opponent has just played their marble.
  3. "The marble cannot be played on the same tile where the player placed their previous marble."
Th-th-that's all, folks!  Seriously, this is another perfect match for two players. The constantly changing board, the game's intrinsic aesthetic appeal and the ability to curtail your opponent's moves via clever marble placement all adds up to a winner. This one is definitely on my own personal must-buy list.

I also had a chance to introduce the concept of co-operatives games via the classic Pandemic.   

Every time I EXPOSE more PATIENT ZEROS to this game they always have a FEVERISHLY good time. Hah! SeewhutIdidthur?  *Ahem*...i hate myself.

Next up, I noticed that another couple had selected Citadels to play while my back was turned.

Here's the skinny on this one straight from Board Game Geek:

"In Citadels, players take on new roles each round to represent characters they hire in order to help them acquire gold and erect buildings. The game ends at the close of a round in which a player erects her eighth building. Players then tally their points, and the player with the highest score wins.

"Players start with a number of building cards in their hand; buildings come in five colors, with the purple buildings typically having a special ability and the other colored buildings providing a benefit when you play particular characters. At the start of each round, the player who was king the previous round discards one of the eight character cards at random, chooses one, then passes the cards to the next player, etc. until each player has secretly chosen a character. Each character has a special ability, and the usefulness of any character depends upon your situation, and that of your opponents. The characters then carry out their actions in numerical order: the assassin eliminating another character for the round, the thief stealing all gold from another character, the wizard swapping building cards with another player, the warlord optionally destroys a building in play, and so on.

"On a turn, a player earns two or more gold (or draws two building cards then discards one), then optionally constructs one building (or up to three if playing the architect this round). Buildings cost gold equal to the number of symbols on them, and each building is worth a certain number of points. In addition to points from buildings, at the end of the game a player scores bonus points for having eight buildings or buildings of all five colors."

Remember before how I said that I'd prefer to teach a game specifically designed for two people?  And remember how I said that it's a colossal pain in the ass to have to alter the rules of a game in order to get it to work for a duo? Well, while generally that is true, there are a few notable exceptions.

Yes, I'd would have preferred to teach Citadels to a group of four to six players (with the mandatory "Seven District" rule firmly established), but I certainly wasn't about to tell these two fresh-faced kids to pack it all up and put it away. Mainly because I've always wanted to test the assertion that this one actually plays really well with only two people. 

And sure enough, as soon as I explained how the characters are distributed amongst two players (which essentially involves randomly eliminating one and putting three more off to the side) they really seemed to get into it.

Next up, two guys wanted to play a game which involved hucking a mittful of dice, so I quickly busted out Quarriors.

Essentially, Quarriors is two generations removed from Magic: The Gathering and other collectible card games. With CCG's, players can spend hours on the sidelines combining cards together in order to create the perfect killer decks, which they then pit against an opponent in-game.

Then Donald X. Vaccarino had the brilliant idea of 'Hey, what if designing your deck was the actually goal of the game itself?' And with that, Dominion was born. Now, Dominion is great and all but as a completely original game it's essentially just a mechanic. Needless to say it didn't take very long before titles such as Thunderstone and A Few Acres of Snow came along and successfully married this new genre to an appropriate theme.     

So, based on the theory of (game) evolution, Eric M. Lang eventually came along and said "Hmmmm, people love rolling dice and we've already had collectible dice games in the past....I wonder what would happen if I came up with a dice building game." And, yea, with that, THE LANG brought forth Quarriors into existence and He saw that it was good.

Here are a few less-esoteric details about the game:

"Players take on the roles of Quarriors - mighty mystical warriors who have the power to capture dangerous quarry from the untamed Wilds! They must conjure the mysterious powers of Quiddity, cast powerful spells, and summon their creatures to battle if they hope to overcome rivals and earn their rightful place as the Champion!

Quarriors has the frenetic excitement of a dice battle game, with an added ‘deckbuilding’ twist: players customize their dice pools during the game using resources generated by their rolls.

Quarriors takes the best of deckbuilding games without the tedium of shuffling. Take a typical deckbuilding game, add the speed and fun of dice and in 60 minutes you’re on your second or third game trying unique strategies against your opponents."

The two players who I taught the game to that day also were quickly to pick up on it's intrinsic appeal. In fact, instead of typing this right now, I'd probably be buying a copy of Quarriors if not for the fact that a Marvel-themed spin on the game is due to land sometime around the end of April. I'll be play-testing and reviewing that puppy as soon as I can lay my hot little mitts on it! 

Next up, friends of the cafe Darren and Heather stopped by after spending the better part of their day at the official Halifax Tabletop Day event over at my old alma mater Saint Mary's. Knowing that these guys are totally hard-core (after all, they'd already been gaming for approximately eight hours by that point!), I really wanted to wow them with something new.

The hotness that I decided to spring on them was Splendor

Here's the game's elevator pitch, nicely summarized on da Geek:

"Splendor is a fast-paced and addictive game of chip-collecting and card development. Players are merchants of the Renaissance trying to buy gem mines, means of transportation, shops — all in order to acquire the most prestige points. If you're wealthy enough, you might even receive a visit from a noble at some point, which of course will further increase your prestige.

"On your turn, you may (1) collect chips (gems), or (2) buy and build a card, or (3) reserve one card. If you collect chips, you take either three different kinds of chips or two chips of the same kind. If you buy a card, you pay its price in chips and add it to your playing area. To reserve a card — in order to make sure you get it, or, why not, your opponents don't get it — you place it in front of you face down for later building; this costs you a round, but you also get gold in the form of a joker chip, which you can use as any gem.

"All of the cards you buy increase your wealth as they give you a permanent gem bonus for later buys; some of the cards also give you prestige points. In order to win the game, you must reach 15 prestige points before your opponents do."

This one passed the most important test: Darren and Heather really seemed taken by it! I'll even go one further and say that Splendor is another must-buy for me. As soon as I can figure out a legal means of procurement, of course.  

In a completely unrelated side note, feel free to test out that hand-dandy l'il "Donate" button in the upper right hand corner of the page! Believe me when I tell you that the money will definitely go to a good place!   

Above and beyond Splendor's incredible components (I guarantee that the Gem Tokens will make you feel like a Vegas-style high-roller), what I like most about this one is the game's accelerating momentum. As you acquire those lower Level cards, the Gems begin to stack, allowing you to build more advanced structures, attract Nobles and score those invaluable Prestige Points which are required to win. Once things get going, the pace of the game begins to snowball, leading to a frantic climax.

And yes, I'm still talking about a board game, ya big pervs.

In addition to all of the promotional swag photographed above, the Board Room also received a metric shit-ton of free games from publishers, which were given out as door prizes to patrons every hour on the hour. Here, cafe manager Jon-Paul Decosse and the lovely Hunter are shown giving away a sweet free copy of 7 Wonders to one lucky (and apparently quite bashful) customer!

By then the cafe was packed to capacity. It did my heart good to see so many people come out for what's already become an annual global tradition. Everywhere I looked there were smiling faces and people who were interacting with one another, trash talking and generally having a blast.

Whoever said that young people aren't happy unless they have their face buried in a phone / tablet / computer screen need only visit a place like this to see that this simply isn't true. In fact, quite the opposite: since so many twenty / thirty / forty-somethings spend their school or work-weeks staring at computer screens, they really appreciate diversions like this in order to give their lives some equilibrium.

By then it was getting late and my appointed time of departure was drawing nigh. I had just enough time to teach a few more games to the uninitiated, the first of which was Hey, That's My Fish!

Here's another environmentally-conscious title: players randomly construct an ice floe which is rapidly sinking into the sea. On the flip-side of every hex tile is a symbol depicting one, two or three fish. Players then alternate placing their penguins on any space containing a single fish symbol.

On their turn, players can move one of their penguin figures in any direction in a straight line, stopping anywhere along their path. In doing so they can't leave the ice floe, jump over other penguins or leap over holes in the ice. Whenever a penguin is picked up to move, the owner claims the tile that their figure was sitting on.  

So, naturally, the goal of the game is to set yourself up for big catches and eke out more endgame moves then your opponents. The winner is the player who catches the most fish! 

I actually took this one home with me over Christmas and everyone I played it with really loved it. It's a nice, fluffy, quick, light little game that serves as a perfect filler / icebreaker. Despite its cutesy curb appeal, it's a deceptively deep little brain burner at times. Also: bonus points to Fantasy Flight for making four different penguin figure sculpts!

Last but certainly not least, I had a chance to teach Survive: Escape from Atlantis to these three enthusiastic participants. According to the all-smiles testimony in this photo, not only did their friendships remain intact, they also really enjoyed the game!

Sure, it would have been great to actually play games that day, but in many ways, it was infinitely more rewarding to preside over dozens of gaming epiphanies! I like to think that I was responsible for more then a few revelatory experiences that day and hopefully I introduced a lot of folks to their new favorite board game!


Wanna make every day International Tabletop Day? Then click on the following links to learn more about the games featured in this entry and help support this blog!

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