Monday, February 29, 2016

♫ ♬ "(Gaming) Memories...In The Corner Of My Mind" ♩♪

So, as you read this you'll probably be wondering...why is he writing about a game day that happened waaaaay back in September of 2015?

Welp, five reasons, offa the top o' my head:
  1. My regular weekly gaming group really isn't an option for me anymore so I'll be dipping back into the archives more and more.
  2. To ensure that I don't freeze and / or starve to death during the winter (and can finance a new vehicle that won't fly apart on the highway when it exceeds 60 kilometers per hour) I've been forced to take on more paying work, leaving me less and less time to game and write. And write about games. Such is "life" I guess. 
  3. I always like to be reminded of a time when the world around me wasn't a cold, damp monochromatic hellscape.
  4. I actually played some really fun games that day that are worth talking about. 
  5. I want to give youze guys some tips for teaching these games to your own friends. 
This was actually the third annual "Quadruple B": I.E. the "Brother's Booze BBQ and Boardgames" event, which happened back on September 12'th 2015. Mark and Dawn were kind enough to throw their homes open to us yahoos for another full day of gamin', drinkin' and wantonly carnivorous behavior. 

As one of the resident "game masters" (I'm getting some business cards done up as we speak) I decided to kick things off with something lite: namely Click Clack Lumberjack, which I first spotlighted on the blog right hur.

Basically, the players are lumberjacks who are trying to strip the bark off of a tree without harming the core of the tree. I know, I know, that makes about as much sense as Willow flaying Warren alive in Buffy and then expecting him to be the Big Bad in Season Seven, but, hey, whatevs.

During their turn, players take two whacks at the plastic tree with their l'il plastic axe. Every piece of bark they strip off the tree is one point to the good. If the bark they just knocked off has a l'il grub sticker underneath it, that's worth another point, plus it gives you a free chop.

If you fuck up royal and shear a piece of the white core offa the tree then that's bad. Like real bad. Like "minus five points to your score" kinda bad.

Anyway I had a blast watching Cheryl, Sabina, Allison, Mark and Trevor cope with this one. Eventually people start to marvel at the tree's gravity-defying contortions. Mid-way through the game, the thing looks like a pine tree that's been "out on the bank" for the past one-hundred years.

In the end, Alllicene proved to be the most deft of hand. Here are the final scores:

Cheryl: -4
Me: -3
Sabina: -2
Mark: 0
Trevor: +3
Allicenne: +6

Everyone seemed to dig this one so I quickly re-racked it for another game. I get a kick out of watching folks discover sneaky tactics like cherry-picking pieces that are on the verge of falling off, using a flick action to knock back off the top tier or deliberately knocking the whole thing outta whack just to fuck with the next person. Good times.

Our overall score in game two was slightly better and my more-conservative strategy let me eke out a tie. Here, then, are the final scores from game two:

Sabina: -3
Mark: -2
Cheryl: +3
Me, Trevor & Allicenne: +4

Sorry, but I love this stupid game. It's a wonderful opener and / or a great wind-down closer at the end of the night. It's cat-nip for non-gamers and kids in particular. In a world where Jenga is the only dexterity game that people know of, this one is Campaign for North Africa in comparison.

Pro tip: I've house-ruled the "grub" rule ever so slightly. In the original game if you reveal a grub you get a free full two-whack turn but that's totes cray-cray IMHO, especially if you turn up several of them at once. So, in my games, I just limit it to a single bonus strike.

Next up was Dead Man's Draw, which I originally profiled right hur.

Dead Man's Draw is a press-your-luck pirate-themed card game. On a player's turn, they draw the top card on the deck and play it in their "run". There are ten different suits in the game and each card is numbered from two to nine. Each time a card hits the table it triggers a special ability that you can use to help your effort or screw around with your opponents.

Anytime you want to stop drawing cards you can. Cards you collect at the end of your turn are placed in a chest of "booty" in front of you, stacked in different suits with the highest value on top. Alternately, you can keep drawing cards as long as you want but as soon as you draw a suit that's already in your "run" you bust and all of your cards go into the discard pile. Bee-boo.

The game continues until the draw pile is exhausted. Players then count up the top deck value in each of their suit stacks and the highest total value wins the game.

This is another one that's a blast to teach to people. I'm so good at it now that I don't have to do any up-front rules dump, I just get the first player to draw their first card and I talk them through their options. The most important thing to communicate to them right off the bat is that, with ten different suits, your really start to flirt with the possibility of busting when you get up around three or four draws.

Here's how the score rattled out in this one:

Allicenne...16 points
Trevor...35 points
Me...48 points
Cheryl...60 points    

The same group stuck around for game two. Trevor and Allicenne proved to be quick studies and dominated the game. Here are the final scores:

Cheryl...34 points
Me & Allicenne...50 points
Trevor...57 points

Some tips about teaching this one to people: feel free to explain what the cards do and how they work in tandem, but always let your players discover the combos themselves. It's particularly gratifying when they figure out some crazy, Machiavellian plan all by themselves. "Hmmm, a Treasure Map. Let's see, if I use the Hook I just turned up to drag that Sword back into my run, I can steal your Key and complete my Chest / Key combo! Yis!"

Indeed, the best part of the game is discovering the synergy amongst different suits which you can use to rack up mondo points. It's not the deepest game in the world, but its another good, light, portable opener that makes your brain percolate.

Next up was Roll For It! which I've also previously covered here and here.

This one is a super-lite, odds-making, Vegas-style dice game. To start things off, three cards are randomly flipped up on the table from the top of the deck. Each one is a "blueprint" you're trying to fulfill with your six dice. The more dice required, the more it's worth.

On your turn you roll all six of your dice and dock 'em anywhere you like. Vis a vis you can split 'em up amongst several card, and that's a big part of the strategy. Do go all in on one card or hedge my bet among several and roll less dice?

Here, I'll give you an example. Say you've got a five-pointer on the table requiring three "3"s, just like in the photo below. On my first turn I roll two "3's" so I plop 'em next to that card. But then, my jack-hole opponent comes along and rolls three "3"s in one go. They can snipe my card, bump my dice back to me, and now they're well on their way to the 40 points needed to win.

Right off the bat I took the lead by going after some quick, low-value cards. Trevor scored a big 10 points but every time he started to invest in a new card, someone would just steal it away from him! Eventually he became obsessed with completing a juicy 15 pointer but this caused him to stall completely. Both Cheryl and Allicenne both tried to take a run at me but by then all I needed was another easily-acquired ten-pointer to put me over the top.

Final Scores

Trevor...10 Points
Allicenne...30 Points
Cheryl...37 Points
Me...41 Points

Whereas Click Clack Lumberjack is catnip for kids, Roll For It! is catnip for parents. It's quick, super-easy to teach and, hey, everybody loves dice! Just remember the following three important things when teaching the game to people:
  1. Sometimes players will make the mistake of splitting their dice up while going for a 15-pointer. Be sure to remind them that they need all six dice on that one card in order to claim it. 
  2. Get players to temporarily set aside any dice they just used to buy a card and then turn up a new card from the top of the deck. This gives the player a chance to allocate any of their remaining, unspent dice. In fact, with a particularly lucky roll, you can actually pick up several cards in one turn. Be sure to remind players that they'll get all of the dice they set aside back at the start of their next turn.
  3. If players opt to take their dice back they can't cherry pick just some of them. They have to take all of them back but then they get to roll all six again. 
Next up we decided to play one of the better party games to come down the pike in a while: Konito?.  
To set things up, you construct a "race track" with a bunch of brightly-colored puzzle pieces. This alone is awesome enough since you can use all of the pieces for a 30-40 minute game or just half or three-quarters of the pieces for a shorter 20-minute game.

After everyone is divided up into teams, get them to pick a colored token and place it on the start space. Choose a team at random to start and then elect one member to be the first phrase-reader. An example of a phrase might be:

"May The Force __ ____ ___." 

Now if you've been living underneath a rock since 1977 and you had no idea what I was taking about talking about, I can then launch into word-association, songs, gestures...anything to get my team-mates to finish the phrase. Green spaces have three phrases per card, the orange spaces have four and the red spaces are the most challenging with five phrases per card. Each card your team clears in the allotted time is a movement point for your token around the race track.

Oh, one final thing: if you start your turn on a "Konito?" space the phrase-reader begins by drawing the top "Konito?" card and asking their team-mates "Do you wanna do 1, 2 or 3?". The random number they settle on corresponds to a particular stunt that your team must now accommodate for the upcoming turn. An example of this would be: "After each response, the answerer must give their first and last name". Typically these challenges make things slightly harder but also offer some sort of rewards if you succeed.

The first team token to reach the end of the track wins! 

The Teams

Team Blue: Angie, Cheryl and Allicenne
Team Black: Me, Chad and Trevor
Team Green: Angela, Claudia and Sabina

Since this was our first game, and a lot of the stunts are kinda humiliating, we decided to play 'em. As the game began we were getting our asses kicked. Angela, Claudia and Sabina were working in perfect tandem with one another. But eventually we started to settle down and close the gap by deliberately landing on the easier green spaces. Eventually Team Green got hung up on a tough Red spot just one space away from the finish line!

With Chad up, Trevor blew through the phrases as quick as possible and Chad's responses were unerring. So, right at the very end, we blasted by our rivals to claim the win!

This was one of my first times teaching the game to people so I goofed up one critical rule: everyone on the phrase-reader's team can answer. We were playing it so that the phrase reader and answerer kept changing and only one person could answer that round. This put people on the spot and made it a lot harder.

I.E. I can't slight the game for my grievous fuck-up. It's actually one of the better party games I've played in recent memory but, then again, I'm also a weirdo English major and writer who loves phrases. Full disclosure: I've taught the game to a lot of people and I've noticed that, for some strange reason, some Millennials have no sweet clue what a lot of these phrases are. So be sure to divide younger players evenly amongst the teams to make things are fair as possible.

Next up: one of my favorite press-your-luck dice games: Pickomino by Reiner "I Loves Me Some Numbers" Knizia.

In Pickomino (originally titled Heck Meck) players are mama hens trying to bring back as many tasty barbecued worms for their chicks to eat. They do so by rolling eight dice and keeping one matching set. For example, if my first throw was two "2's",  two "1's", three "4's" and one Worm symbol I could keep the three "4's" for 12 points. Now, I'm gonna hafta roll again 'cuz the lowest valued tile on the table is 21.

So I go again, and this time I throw one "1",  one "3",  four "4's" and two Worm symbols. Unfortunately I can't take the four "4's" 'cuz I kept 'em on a previous throw. But I can take the two Worms, which is a good idea for two reasons: they're worth five points a pop and I need at least one of 'em sitting in front of me by the time I stop. So I decide to take 'em and now I'm up to 22 points.

Now I can stop right there, take the "22" tile with a single worm on it and then pass the dice on to the next person. Every time I stop and keep a tile it goes on top of my stack. This gives the game another interesting wrinkle: if you roll the exact number on the top of someone's stack you can steal that tile away from them. Zing!

I can also keep rolling as often as I want, but if I can't keep a die result that's different from my previous throws I bust, my top tile goes back into the sequence and I flip over the highest valued tile on the table. This ensures that the the game lasts no longer than a half hour. The game ends when all the tiles are passed around and / or flipped and the highest worm count wins the game.

I introduced this one to Allicenne as well as Dawn's two friends Paula and Rhonda. Everybody picked up on it right away and pretty soon we were all rollin' as if our chick's lives depended on it. Right from the start I settled for a lot of low valued tiles but Paula proved to be particularly adept at pressing her luck. Instead of chickening out (seewutididthur?) she persevered and kept rolling long after logic (and sanity) dictated that she should stop. For me, such gambits never seem to pan out, but for her it really paid off.

Final Scores

Rhonda...0 Points
Allicenne...1 Point
Me...6 Points
Paula...8 Points

Game two played out in a similar fashion with me sniping the lowest valued tiles. This time it was Rhonda's turn to snap up those scrumptious high-worm tiles. I also suffered a bit from "game master" syndrome which dictates that if someone's gonna get a tile stolen from them, it's gonna be the guy who taught the game to people. Clearly he's the greatest threat! Yeah, um, no.

Here's how the scores shook out for game two:

Me...0 points
Allicenne and Paula...3 Points
Rhonda...4 Points

No matter how well you "elevator pitch" Pickomino to people, they'll typically just stand there and blink at you. So now I just throw it down on the table and tell people "YOU ARE PLAYING THIS GAME RITE NOW" in my best Dr. Klaw voice. Once it's down and people start chuckin' dem bones, they can't stop. It's like the "potato chip" of dice games, you just can't play one!

Next up: the smash-hit party game of 2015: Codenames.

Leave it to wonderkind designer Vlaada Chvátil to take a simple word-association party game like Catch Phrase and turn it into a super-cool spy-themed game.

Before I get started I just wanna say up front that the optimal number of players here is either four or six but it still technically works with three or two (kinda) or seven plus (decreasingly so). The game play itself is deceptively easy: players split into red and blue teams and nominate a "Spymaster" as their guide. It's the Spymaster's job to get their color-coded agents to rendezvous with affiliated spies in the field and keep them away from rival agents, the unwitting general populace or, even worse, the deadly Assassin. 

After a random, 5 x 5 grid of "code name" cards is laid out on the table, a "blueprint" is revealed to the Spymasters only. This instantly identifies where your field agents are as well as rival spies, Innocent Bystanders and the Assassin. The Spymasters are then given a moment to look at this grid and try to find as many links between their team cards as possible.

So as not to tip off their rivals with the movement of their agents, the Spymasters will alternate back and forth, giving their team a one-word clue and then a number which indicates how many code name cards they're referring to. For example if I'm the blue Spymaster and the secret blueprint tells me that three of my blue spies in the field are "GOLD", "SHIP" and "PLANK", I might tell them "PIRATE - 3". This tips them off to look for three pirate-related code name cards.

After talking among themselves, a team must eventually settle on a guess by physically pointing to it. Every time they guess right, you get to overlay one of your color-coded Agent tiles. If they get all of their guesses right, they can press their luck by taking take one more bonus guess, perhaps based on a previous clue they've been given.

If they screw up and pick a rival team's color, the enemy team gets to drop one of their team color tiles on the board and the turn immediately passes to them. If you send an agent to meet with an Innocent Bystander, then a neutral cards hits the table and your turn is over. But the worst case scenario is sending your agents to meet with the deadly Assassin. If that happens you immediately lose the game and the other team wins. In other words, if I didn't notice that "ISLAND" was the Assassin in the example above, I've just put my players in genuine peril with my PIRATE-themed clue! 
Game One Teams

Red Team
Spymaster: Me
Agents: Jeremy and Trevor

Blue Team
Spymaster: Andrew
Agents: Cheryl and Matt

Even though I'm usually the dude who comes in last on our first play of deep Eurogames, but I'm a real savant when it comes to Codenames. Sometimes you'll get lucky and there'll be plenty of blatant links between some of the cards, but in most instances, you really have to think creatively. Sure, you can give a clue linked to a single card, but that isn't going to get you ahead! You gotta gamble a bit by doling out clever clues that relate to two, three, even four or more code name cards at a time.

Things were still pretty close mid-way through our first game but then Andrew got a little gun shy. Even though some of the links were tenuous at best, I managed to press my luck and us nudge into the lead. This gave me a chance to deliver the coup de grâce in the form of a conservative one-word clue: "MacDonald" for "BRIDGE", which probably only makes sense if you're from Halifax.  

Winners: Me, Jeremy and Trevor.

Game Two Teams

Red Team
Spymaster: Jeremy
Agents: Me and Trevor

Blue Team
Spymaster: Matt
Agents: Cheryl and Andrew

No offense to Jeremy but some of his clues, such as the incredibly esoteric "ANGELES" (as is LOS Angeles), put us behind the eight-ball pretty quick. Conversely, Matt was laser-focused, bangin' out one 2 to 3-word clue after another. As such, Team Blue trounced us soundly by a score of 8 - 5.

Winners: Matt, Cheryl and Andrew.

Things were starting to wind down by then, with many of the remaining party-goers distracted by some sort of DVD party game that I had zero interest in. This gave Andrew, Cheryl, Matt and I a chance to bust out one of my favorites from last year: Splendor.

Since I've already talked about this one pretty extensively (namely here, here, here and here) I'm not going to re-hash it in any detail. I do want to preface the following account by telling you that Andrew had just come off a Splendor tournament. He's prepared for this by weight-training with the app so much that he claimed to be invincible. Naturally we took this as a challenge and Cheryl, Matt and myself promptly took up the gauntlet against him.

Unfortunately, Andrew's prediction proved prescient and he charted an incredibly streamlined path through the game. I did a reasonably good job picking up some Prestige but my choices were considerably less optimal. For the record, my Splendor skills have really improved since this last meeting and now I think I could really give him a run for his money.

Matt, sharp cookie that he is, grasped the rules very quickly but by the time he started to divine a clear strategy it was already too late. Cheryl, normally a super-sharp contender in Splendor, Cheryl spent way too long developing her base before collecting any Prestige Points, which, as we know, is what the game's all about! 

Final Scores

Cheryl...2 Points
Matt...4 Points
Me...9 Points
Andrew...15 Points

I've played Splendor so much now that it's the gaming equivalent of a warm, fluffy robe. It's comforting, cozy and reassuringly simple. I'd like to challenge Andrew once again, this time applying some recent epiphanies about the game which involve the creation of deep discounts for the most plentiful developments while exploiting reservations to the maximum.

Speaking of gaming comfort foods, our last match of the evening was Lords of Waterdeep, which I've already featured here and here. I only had the base game with me, but since it was getting late, I needed something with a quick set up time and fewer options.

This time I was the one on point, snapping up the primo quests, becoming a prolific slumlord and nailing people with irksome Mandatory Quests. Andrew, on the other hand, altered his strategy mid-game, killing his momentum in the process. Meanwhile Cheryl had a hard time picking up quests that dovetailed with her Lord's special ability.

Final Scores
Cheryl...131 Points
Andrew...134 Points
Me...142 Points

What can I say about Lords that hasn't already been said? To this day it's still one of my all-time favorite worker placement games. Even though I consider the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion to be de rigueur now every time I play it, there's something to be said about clean, elegant simplicity of the core game as well.

What I like most about Lords of Waterdeep is that it practically begs you to pay attention to the Buildings, the Quest spread and the Intrigue cards. Successful players will be the ones who juggle all of these elements in the most efficient manner.


By the time Lords of Waterdeep wrapped up it was around 11:30 pm and we'd been drinkin', gamin' and eating like kings for about eight hours straight. Ergo, it was time to pack it in. We thanked Mark and Dawn extensively for being such great hosts before heading out into the crisp, late-summer air. I drove home very happy, content in the knowledge that I'd presided over a few new gaming epiphanies, especially amongst valued friends.

Pity that my opportunities to game are becoming increasingly scarce. But, fear not! There's hope on the horizon! Stay tuned, folks, I've got a massive entry coming soon featuring a crap-ton of new games, some new reviews on deck, plans for a new video series and some exciting events on the horizon!


Wanna impress your friends with some cool, hipster-ish game knowledge? Well, click on any of the images below to learn more about the games we played and keep this blog on fleek!