Noise Before Defeat on Tactical Wargames

I really enjoyed the last “Noise Before Defeat podcast”:http://thenoisebeforedefeat.podbean.com/2010/06/03/episode-10-wwii-tactical-wargames/. It was an excellent round-up of tactical wargames which taught me a lot. I may have to try Lock ‘n Load.

Alhambra: The Card Game looks good

I just saw the Alhambra: The Card Game preview at Boardgamenews. I liked the card play of Alhambra, but I thought the city building was gilding the lily. I have thought about buying “Stimmt So”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/431/stimmt-so, the original and simpler version of Alhambra, but it’s ugly, rare and expensive to ship, so I held fire. I’ll have to read the rules before I buy.

Netbook gaming

I was on holiday this week and I ran out of books early (“An Ice-Cream War”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Ice-Cream_War by William Boyd was unexpectedly good.) and my wife doesn’t like two-player games, so I had to think of other options. I had my Ubuntu Netbook Remix netbook, so I decided to try a few computerised boardgames from “Sebastian Sohn’s SoftBoard Games”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/8323 geeklist. In order of amount of time played:

* “Fabled Lands Application (FLApp)”:https://sourceforge.net/projects/flapp/ – This ebook adaptation of an advanced “gamebook”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamebook called “Fabled Lands”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabled_Lands from the 1990s was surprisingly entertaining. The program took care of page flipping, game saves and kept track of stats, so it was more fun than reading the original books would be now. It is coded in Java, and ran without any problems. The large version of the application includes some nice fantasy art, making me nostalgic for my childhood of reading White Dwarf. I would have preferred to play “Planescape Torment”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planescape_Torment with “GemRB”:http://sourceforge.net/projects/gemrb/, but I could not get that working, so FLApp scratched my RPG itch adequately.
* “Jotto”:http://home1.gte.net/res1bup4/#jotto – This excellent little deductive wordgame/puzzle runs smoothly under Wine on Linux. “Jotto”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/11821/jotto is free and playable with paper and pencil. It definitely deserves more publicity.
* “Blokus”:http://www.saschahlusiak.de/blokus/ – I have played the online version at the Blokus website, but this version is much better, although the 3D graphics do not add much. There is an Ubuntu package and it ran well. I could not beat the AI, but that doesn’t say much. This should be included with Ubuntu instead of the lame games on there right now.
* Red November, Strike Force One and Homas Tour (Um Reifenbreite) – These all ran well, but I could not muster up the enthusiasm to read the rules.
* Ra and San Juan – I would have loved to play these and they ran, but they would not scale to my netbook monitor’s weird 1024×576 resolution.
* Trax and Roll Through The Ages would not run at all under Wine. I may give them a spin back in London on my Windows 7 machine, although they have to compete with “Dragon Age”:http://dragonage.wikia.com/wiki/Dragon_Age:_Origins.

Sceptre of Zavandor

Playing with the Isleworth Gamers continues to help me catch up with games I should have played years ago.

We started with Chicago Express, which was well received, although I lost badly and I’m still not sure why.

We then got in a game of Perudo. This is such a classic. I don’t understand why I haven’t played it for years. I could barely remember the rules at first, but it came back to me like riding a bicycle.

The evening’s main course was “Sceptre of Zavandor”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/13884/the-scepter-of-zavandor. There were five of us and we played for three hours, which felt at least an hour too long. By 11:15 my head was spinning. One good thing about the game is that it starts quite slowly with simple decisions, but by the end you are having to calculate big numbers and at that time of night I wasn’t up to it.

Anyway the bottom line is that Sceptre of Zavandor was interesting, but I have played too many of these “Games for Accountants”:http://www.faidutti.com/index.php?Module=listes&id=45 recently and this one lacks the drama of Age of Steam or the brevity of Chicago Express. I wouldn’t mind trying Phoenicia, as it supposed to be similar and shorter, but the ratings are mediocre, although that may be due to poorly written rules.

Flash in the Pan

That’s the “last time I name-drop Brian Bankler”:http://taogaming.wordpress.com/2010/05/25/spiel-des-flash-in-the-pan/ in one of my posts! In all seriousness, I am surprised that Dungeon Lords was a flash in the pan. It’s an interesting game, but I suppose it’s a crowded market.

“Game Taster”:http://hiewandboardgames.blogspot.com/2010/05/we-are-not-game-players.html is a good description. I am trying to move away from this, especially now that I’m getting regular gaming with the Isleworth Gamers. If _only_ they would chose an interesting Game of the Month.

Dungeon Lords

Up until a month ago I had not played any of Vlaada Chvátil’s games, but now I have played Through The Ages, Space Alert and Dungeon Lords. Galaxy Trucker shows up at the “club”:http://boardgamegeek.com/guild/728 often, so I dare say I’ll add that to the list in a few weeks. Chvátil’s designs are slower and more complicated than I generally like, but they are all interesting and well developed. I can see why he has such an enthusiastic following.

This week we played “Dungeon Lords”:http://geekdo.com/boardgame/45315/dungeon-lords and had a great time. Jeff has played around twenty times and taught us well, throwing in jokes from the rules. We played for two and a half hours, but we ran through an extended tutorial and played slowly. Jeff said we could play it in 90 minutes with experience. The combat tutorial was superb. I wish more complicated games would include these as understanding the rules well made our first game much more enjoyable.

Photo by Tom Rosen

I can’t beat “Andy Merritt’s”:http://homepage.ntlworld.com/andy.merritt/MainPage1.htm description in his catalogue:

bq. Dungeon adventure board game with an impressive array of components, including two double sided boards, and three further boards, and heaps of cards, tiles and figures. The big twist is that the players are not the adventurers, but rather the assorted shady characters who set up dungeons! This they do competitively, and sometimes it will be necessary to indulge in a little evil to get the job done properly – unfortunately the more evil used the stronger the adventurers that dungeon will attract. Ahhh, the trials of being a dark lord…

“Brian Bankler”:http://taogaming.wordpress.com/2009/11/28/dungeon-lords/ and “Chris Farrell”:http://illuminatinggames.blogspot.com/2010/01/2009-in-review.html have both criticised it for feeling:

bq. a little truncated. It seems like the story wants to develop more, but, on the other hand, the game itself doesn’t want to be any longer.

Personally, I felt the game ended at the right time. You would have to simplify it too much to include more combat rounds in a reasonable time-frame.

Chris also says that:

bq. the determinism of the combat phase is thematically odd and may make it more of a brain-burner than it wants to be.

This what makes the game great. A game with a light feel, but that still requires serious planning. The rest of the game has plenty of chaos and randomness – ruining plans entertainingly.

We played the Advanced rules. Maybe Chris and Brian were playing the Basic rules? Brian recently said this might be “his top game of 2009”:http://taogaming.wordpress.com/2009/12/24/2009-year-in-review-part-1/, so he must have reconsidered.

I would not play Dungeon Lords with non-gamers, or even casual gamers, but in the right environment it is excellent. Dungeon Lords manages to be deep, intuitive and has a fun theme. I like it as least as much as Agricola, which may have more variability, but it lacks the fun. Rather like Space Alert, it’s all about seeing plans fall apart under pressure, but it’s less hectic and requires serious strategic thinking.

Jeff was so busy concentrating on teaching us, he made a few mistakes, picked up a lot of evilness and so had to draw both paladins. Ian managed to stay good, but ran out of money and food early. I thought I was going to win as I avoided any serious mistakes until the last turn, but I ran out of money and failed to get enough food, so my monsters deserted me and the last adventurers ravaged my dungeon. Final scores:
# Ian – 13
# Iain – 4
# Jeff – 3

At least none of us got negative points, so we got our Dungeon Lords licences.

To start the night, we played “High Society”:http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/220/high-society. I always enjoy this game. I think I prefer it to _Money_ or _For Sale_, as it’s just as fast and strategic, while being more intuitive. Luckily we played the good-looking Uberplay version, not the ugly new Gryphon Games version.

Photo by Chris Norwood

I should point out that the Isleworth Gamers have a session reports “blog”:http://isleworthboardgamers.blogspot.com. I normally post here before that is updated, so it’s not easy for me to link to the reports individually, but it’s worth subscribing in Google Reader if you like session reports.