Oh, god! I’ve Been Missing!

At the beginning of the year, I made a resolution to update this blog at least once a week, but as you can plainly see by my posting history, that has fallen through.  I suppose I could blame it solely on not being able to play as many games as I’d like, or on the fact that there aren’t as many games coming my way as I want, but both of those are blatant, complete, utter lies.  What it comes right down to is that I’m just busy and lazy, alternating between the two at blinding speed.  I’ve really been doing quite a bit of gaming, picking up new games, and experiencing the gaming culture as a whole.  So, because I’ve been gone from here for about three weeks, I suppose I should run through and give an update on some that has been going on.  I’ll start with a review of a game I played recently, talk about some RPG stuff going on, and then an update about upcoming cons.

Merchants And Marauders

I’m not entirely sure what I thought this game would be when going into it, but Merchants and Marauders from Z-Man Games just kept twinging on some little known and rarely tugged heart string deep inside me.  Call me a sucker, or call me crazy, but having been raised in the coastal regions of North Carolina, and growing up with tales of my native state’s most infamous pirate, Blackbeard, I’ve always had a certain fascination with those scurvy scalawags of the seven seas. Even as a child I clearly remember the day that I received a copy of the NES game “Sid Meier’s Pirates!“.  The sailing, the trading, the fighting and the exploring were just a godsend for a kid whose mind was constantly on the ocean.  Then 2004 came along, and the classic game was re-released for PC with a shiny new graphics interface, more stuff to do, and a much broadened scope.  I was delighted, and many an hour was lost to simply sailing the waves of the Caribbean on the lookout for merchants or other pirates to plunder.

Inspired by memories of this classic franchise, I picked up a copy of this new board game and gave it a solid play through with a few friends of mine.  Imagine my surprise when I slowly started to realize through the course of the game that this board game was that old video game!  Now, I know that some of you will say “yes, this game is very much in the spirit of any pirate themed game mechanic…” but let me readily assure you that this board game is a cardboard and plastic version of that video game from start to finish. Even down to the way one fights other ships and captains, to boarding actions, to even assaulting land-based targets, there is a nearly one-to-one correlation between these two games.

In Merchants and Marauders, a player takes on the role of a randomly selected captain of a vessel whom has stats for seamanship, influence, scouting, and leadership.  These stats will help you to determine what starting vessel you will begin with, the maneuverable and fast sloop or the more trader friendly yet less quick flute, as well as what sort of tactics that captain will be good at in the game.  This isn’t to say that what you start with is how you will end, but some captains are obviously built for trade, while others are built to plunder.  The game board is a map of the Caribbean, with ports scattered about, each owned by a different nation (French, Spanish, Dutch and English, just as in the old Pirates! game) and each port has a good that is ‘wanted’ in that port. Selling a ‘wanted’ good in a port that wants it nets the seller double the normal price for selling the good, and also the possibility of ‘Glory’ (aka: points).

A captain may also attack and plunder NPC ships as well as PC ships, with adequate rules for combat and ship upgrades to make this an easier experience, but attacking other ships will net the attacker with a ‘bounty’, making his time on the waters more difficult. The life of a pirate can definitely be a prosperous one, with any captured ship giving up its gold as well as cargo to the victor.  However, life can also be just as short as it is exciting, as any pirate captain will be ruthlessly hunted by NPC ships or even other PC pirates.

Now, I can go on and read the rule book to you, but I’d much rather go through some of the game mechanics and show where those similarities with Pirates! lie.

  • Combat: Both games operate on the principal of 2 distinct types of combat. Ship-to-Ship and crew melee.  In both games you are given the option of firing at each other with cannons from a distance, or boarding the other vessel.  In both games, the combat between crews after boarding is a back-and-forth affair until one captain has defeated the other captain’s crew, which then allows that captain to take the other ship and it’s spoils.
  • Through out the game, ‘events’ will transpire that will pit two nations at war with each other, or introduce new NPC captains to the game, or cause global effects that can change what ports or goods are accessible to the player. This also parallels Pirates! to a great extent.
  • Both games have the idea of “rumors”, which are events that are particular to a the captain who experiences them, and may or may not be true, depending on the luck of the dice.  Rumors, when completed, generally reward the captain with money, goods, glory, or even new crew members for the ship.
  • At certain times, a captain has the option of hiring ‘specialists’ to their crew to improve performance or give some sort of bonus to that captain (usually in the form of re-rolled dice) .  Again, Pirates! had a very similar, if not identical, mechanic.

There are, of course, differences between the two games, but when I played Merchants and Marauders, I definitely had a feeling of deja-vu hanging heavily in the air. It was just like those old times back at my PC, sailing and plundering and trading, only instead of the open-ended PC game, this board game obviously did have to come to an end.

And in the end is where my problem with Merchants and Marauders lies.  The game is played until a captain(s) has 10 victory points, with gold being the deciding factor in ties. Through the course of the game, a player is allowed to ‘stash’ a secret amount of gold such that the other players cannot know how much gold they have set aside.  Unfortunately, this gold can be used to push a player to the 10 point mark, even though the amount is secret up until that point.  Perhaps it makes the game shorter if someone gets 5 points and then stashes enough gold to get the other five, but I also feel that it is a really cheap way to win, as I’ve calculated that with the right conditions, a player could easily win in approximately 10-12 turns, regardless of how many points anyone else may have accumulated.  If it were up to me, I’d simply let the players stash, and not count those points until the end game, which may bring someone out on top even if they were not the ones quite to 10 victory points yet.

RPG’s!

Well, as those of you who read this blog know, I’ve got a regular gaming group that I play with, mostly using the Savage Worlds rule system.  I’ve been having heaps and heaps of fun with these guys over the last half a year or more, and have had the honor of running a few games for them as well.  The last game I ran was a continuation of our Deadlands campaign.  I had bought a GM screen for use with clarifying and making readily accessible some of the more obscure and specific rules for the Deadlands setting, and with it came a module named “Murder on the Hellstromme Express”.  As anyone who knows me may recall, I’m usually not a fan of running pre-made modules, since I’ve always felt that I should stretch my own storytelling legs when it comes to RPG campaigns, but I could not pass up running this adventure.

The adventure in question fit very nicely into our current story line, and also gave me an opportunity to give my players the chance to stretch their RP legs a little more than we have been the past few sessions. We had run through some scenarios in the Necessary Evil setting, but as with most superhero (or villain) games, it was more action than talking, and the Hellstromme Express was a nice break from that routine.  I’ve already got in mind where to take the players next, starting with a nice little necktie party.

Before all of that, though, I’m looking forward to our bout of Solomon Kane.  The setting seems really cool, and I loved the European-only released movie that came out not long ago, so here’s hoping that I’ll be able to get my fill of pulp adventure horror fantasy.  After that, then, it looks like we’ll be running outside of the normal Savage Worlds settings and gearing up for some good old fashioned Shadowrun.  Looking forward to that, as my only previous experience with Shadowrun ended poorly with a party dissolved and no one left to pick up and carry on.  Ah well, C’est la vie.

Personal News!

Just a quick little update here. It appears that I will be attending the local Gaming Hoopla next month, and then GenCon later this year.  Room and registration is already booked for both, and I’m honestly looking forward to them, Hoopla more than GenCon.   Sure GenCon is where everything happens, but I’m not so sure if I’ll have as good of a time with all the glitz and glamor as I will with just good old fashioned gaming.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  Keep looking here for me to talk more in the coming weeks about some of those other games I’ve been playing, as well as reviews, previews, and just views.

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Two Weekends of Gaming

Howdy, folks!  I’ve been a little neglectful of updating this blog the last week or more, and with good reason.  Well, okay, you caught me. It isn’t exactly “good reason” but it is a better reason than I originally thought it would be.  Life has been a little hectic as of late, as I’ve been working and paying attention to a few other life issues, but I’m hanging in there!

Thankfully, though, being off for a week or nearly two has given me quite a bit to talk about.  I’ve had some new games come in, and I’ve had an opportunity to play some other games that I’ve either had on the ‘To Play’ list and a few more play-throughs of games that I’ve played already before.  Had a great couple of times and a great group of people for each session (each weekend).

Runebound

Okay, so, maaaayyyybe my nostalgia got the better of me here with this game, which I picked up after my last post in order to relive those past glories.  Now, don’t get me wrong on that, the game is still super fun, but far longer to play than I remembered.  We started playing the game after a quick round of Yomi while waiting for other people to show up for the game, and then added in a fourth player when he finally showed up.  The game we were playing was just the base game, not any expansions, with all of the setup being done before we started.  From the time we started to the time we finished, the game ran for nearly 5 hours.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with how the game is played, the basic concept is that you are an adventurer and you are aiming to reach some goal. There are 4 levels of ‘encounters’ which net you experience and money upon their completion. The difficulty of the encounters tend to jump drastically between levels, so you want to be properly prepared before you move up to another level of encounter. I think one of the reasons that the game we played ran so long is because there was a table-wide reluctance to move up and fight the higher level encounters.  Sure the risk is higher, but so are the rewards, and moving up to the next ‘level’ makes the game go faster.

Next time I’ll try and press the others to move up that level as well.

Munchkin Cthulhu

Munchkin Cthulhu is a variation on the classic Munchkin card game from Steve Jackson Games, and should be readily recognizable to anyone who has ever played games. It is a simple little game of drawing cards, fighting monsters, and screwing over your friends. I don’t think it is the sort of game one plays with people who’s feelings are easily hurt since there can be some rather vicious moves made in the course of the game.

I played twice in the past couple of weeks, once with three players and again with 4 players. I think the four player game was more fun and more cut throat just because there was more chaos flying around.  The game is totally about winning and losing, and at the end of the second game it literally came down to either I was going to win or I was going to lose, and it took actually getting out a piece of paper and writing down all of my cards and numbers to visualize what it would take to win.  All in all, a super fun experience from start to finish.

More Betrayal at House On the Hill

Played this twice this past weekend with both times ending in favor of the survivors and the death of the traitors.  Now, I know that some people are into games for the win and one of the players in these two games was one of those.  I have to feel a little sorry for him, really, since in the first game he was the traitor and got himself soundly defeated and then in the second game he was a survivor, yet died because of an effect of the house, not due to any fault of his own or the traitor’s doing.

Still, though, the game is one of my favorites and only leaves me wanting to play Mansions of Madness even more than I already do.

Other Games!

So, that’s mostly what I’ve been playing, save for a couple of rounds of Dominion, over the past couple of weeks.  However, I’ve also been busy getting my hands on copies of a few other games that I’ve been wanting to play, and now have them in my possession.  Below is a list of new games that I’m hoping to get around to playing and talking about on here at some point or another…

And Now… Roleplaying!

When I bought all of these new games, I also picked up a nice little Savage Worlds Deadlands GM screen that came with a little adventure. I have to admit that I’m not exactly the biggest fan of pre-made modules and adventures, but when I started reading through this one I had to admit that it would fit extremely well into the current campaign I’m running on and off.  The only downside of this adventure may be that it is more role playing than combat oriented so once I get into this module, I’ll get to see how my players handle all of the NPCs and interactions.  Will they go in, guns blazing and eyes furious, or will they hold back and see how the interactions play out?  Time will tell!

P.S. It looks like I’m going to be doing something I said long ago I would not, and I will be attending GenCon this year.  Still have to iron out the details, but it looks to be a go. More to come on that.

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Long Games, People Who Play Them and People Who Love Those Players

So, that’s a hell of a title for a gaming blog, eh?  I’m hoping to address a few issues that I’ve been running into as a gamer lately, and hopefully I won’t come off sounding like a complete and total moron.  So, just sit back and bare with me while I ramble a little bit to start off with, then get into the meat of the actual gaming part of this B-L-O-GEEEE!

Why Do I Game (And why does answering this matter)?

So, I’m addressing this issue because lately I’ve been accused of just caring about games in my personal life, and while that may seem like the case, it really isn’t.  I know that sometimes, yeah, I can get a bit obsessed with games, and buying them (*cough*) and wanting to play them.  I can go on long rants about games and how they affect my life. I can even sometimes start a blog that exactly 2 people even read (and one of them is my mother!).  But what is it about games that drives me to these ends?

Well, believe it or not, it isn’t the games themselves!  Okay, so, yeah maybe I do like particular games, and I’d probably be upset if I ended up in a gaming session with a bad or boring game (not always the same thing), and yes, I do buy a lot of board and role-playing games that I’ll likely not get to play for a long time, so I can totally see how one might think that I play games for the games.  Not so.

I play games for the people who play games.

Gaming is, to me, a social event. A gathering with a purpose and an end in sight.  Getting together with friends over a board game is a good time, in my book.  You sit down, and whether or not you win or lose, it’s all about whether or not you played the game and had a good time.  Usually when I game, there is food and drink involved, whether it be pizza, beer, chicken, wine, whatever.  I break out a board game, and it gives the gathered folks a common interest and something to concentrate on other than sitting around watching a movie or staring at each other.  It’s mental stimulation, a conversation starter, and above all a social activity.

So why do I feel the need to explain this? It’s because I don’t want people to think that the gaming is about the games.  For gamers who have loved ones who are not gamers, there’s that whole stigmata of ‘nerd’hood that comes up when you talk about games, and the non-gamers can easily fall into a mental zone where they feel that the games are supplementing the relationship.  Such is not the case.  Given the choice, I’d totally choose spending time with my S/O over spending time rolling dice, but I’d prefer to spend that time with them ALSO rolling dice.  But then there’s the problem where your loved ones do not share your love of the game, and therein lies problems.  Do you try to convert them, or do you push aside the gaming for them?  I guess it’s all about balance, as it is with all things. Gaming is a hobby and a catalyst for being social, and like any hobby or social practice, all things in moderation.

And now… GAMES!

So what has been occupying my mind other than these deep philosophical questions? Long Games.  Man, I’ve always been a huge fan of the short, easy-to-play, fun in a small box sort of games along the lines of Small World, Thunderstone or Dominion, but lately I’ve been eying some of these bigger, longer, more in-depth games that have been out on the market for some time.  There’s also a couple of new role playing systems (and updates to existing systems) that I’ve been looking at and contemplating playing.  So without further ado, here’s a breakdown of things I’d like to be playing soon (but probably won’t, sadly).

Twilight Imperium

This game’s been around for a while now, I realize, and to be honest I’ve constantly been intrigued by it.  It’s the very sort of game that I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I will get my rump kicked in, but the mighty breadth and scope of the game awes me.  For those who aren’t familiar with it, Twilight Imperium is a board game of galactic conquest and civilization building.  I have never touched the game, or seen it played, or even read the rules, but the pictures and description of the pieces sound amazing enough to make me want to dig in with all my teeth.  It’s daunting, though, as I’ve heard tales of plays going on for twelve or more hours at a time.  Definitely the longest game on today’s list, but I think I may be able to con some friends of mine into taking a weekend to help me experience it.

Descent: Journeys in the Dark

Ah, Descent, how I’ve longed for you ever since I saw your massive box sitting high upon the shelf of my local gaming store!  Your minis and your open dungeon crawling game play have tempted me in my sleep and in my dreams.  Your expansions constantly play across my vision with promises of new and wonderful expeditions of little plastic players.  One day, some day, I shall delve your depths, and I shall explore your mysteries.  I own you, and I have read your rules, and I feel deep in my soul, that some day I’ll be able to talk my guys in my Savage Worlds group into playing a game of this one night when we don’t have any campaign plans.  It’s less abstract than other board games I’ve suggested, and more like a dungeon crawl.  Viva La Descent!

Runebound (2nd Ed.)

Now, this is a game I played with an expansion at the very first Winter War I attended way back in 2005. It’s a good adventure board game with a ton of expansions already released and ready to play as well. I picked up a copy of this out of nostalgia, and realized and remembered that it isn’t at all a cooperative board game.  Maybe not as deep or as complicated (or as long) as Descent, but it still looks like it can hold some good hours of adventure for myself and others.  It’s an older game, sure, but I still think it holds up fairly well in this day and age, and while there are certainly more complex adventure board games, this one will still hold a very special place in my heart.

Monsters and Other Childish Things

Ah, not a board game!  This is a role playing system that can be most accurately described as “Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends” meets “Grimm Adventures of Billy and Mandy”.  The concept of the system is that all children have a special bond with an otherworldly “monster” companion, who themselves are merely reflections of the emotional instability of the child.  The players play as the children and the monster they are bonded with and do adventuring that way.  Each character is defined by their stats, skills, and relationships with other things/characters/NPC’s to make for a very interesting system.  The rules supports ages from Toddler to Teenager, giving the game a very wide breadth of scenarios and moods that can be played with.  Looking forward to running/playing this at some point!

Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition

It isn’t out yet, officially, but because I pre-ordered the hardcover book, I’ve got the PDF.  If anyone is familiar with M&M 2nd edition, go ahead and throw that book away and get this one.  Everything is simpler, and the powers are a lot easier to read and understand.  The stupid skills system is replaced with a smaller set of broader skills, which putting points into is far easier to deal with, and the calculations for defensive skills is, well, gone. They’ve greatly reduced the math needed to play the game (though not to the level of, say, Savage Worlds) and made the entire thing far more streamlined.  I could easily see this being far more enjoyable now that it all makes a little bit more sense than 2nd edition’s totally ridiculous math-heavy rules.  Go get it.

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