Wednesday, March 31, 2010

2.11: A convoluted and over the top opening

"Lucio, you suck.  Your update is late again, I can't believe I'm paying for this."  Yeah, yeah.  To make up for last week's missed post, I'll be doing two posts this week--since this was originally intended to be a two-part post, it should work out quite well. 

I'll set the stage.  While preparing a 47 course meal heavy in caviar and saffron, some Komodo Dragon grease spills over my saute pan and onto the stove, erupting into a six-foot gout of flame.  The Picasso above the stove catches and explodes, cubist shards of flaming death hurtling across the kitchen and dining room.  I roll with the explosion, and as I rise, patting out small flames on my clothing, I hear our car pull up; I had sent my family away so I could scour the house spotless and cook my wife this fantastic dinner.

Rushing out the door I wave them away, quickly informing my wife of what had just happened, and dashing back in to get our family keepsakes:  Photos (both physical and digital), a carving of a boot done my my grandfather, two pocket watches, my wife's bouquet, and my daughter's umbilical cord (just kidding, that's gross).  Dumping these outside, I turn back to the house; flames curl upward from the doorway and I can see by the pulsating yellow glow from the upstairs windows that the fire has spread upstairs.  The second floor windows explode outward, glass shattering around me--the fire has apparently reached our second Picasso (why these were done with explosive paint is beyond me).  My family and I are safe, but one last thing pulls me inside--in my mind I hear the whimpering of my boardgames.  I'll have one chance, just enough time to grab a few games, so what do I take?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

2.10: Scrabble and more - Word games

Alas, I have missed my first post of the year. This was due almost entirely to my family being sick—first the girls, then my wife and I, and then the girls again. Regardless, we’ve had the opportunity to play a number of games I the past couple of weeks; we also had a small get-together for my wife’s birthday, during which even more games were played. We also barbecued some carne asada, but if you want to hear about that, you have to read my other blog, “Asada Quest.”

I don’t know how it happened, looking back over the last month or two, I realized we had played a large number of word games.  Most people are familiar with Scrabble—this is an excellent game, and an excellent example of many of the mechanics in a word game.  You get a random assortment of letters, and must arrange them to form a word—in Scrabble you often want the longest word or the word that uses the rarer letters (those letters worth more points--), but you also have to watch board position. A common mechanic among the games covered today, words are built upon each other in a crossword type fashion, interlocked by a single shared letter. 

One of the biggest drawbacks to playing word games is that they favor people with large vocabularies and people that spell well.  While I'm no slouch in either of these areas, I've played people that put me to horrible shame.  Did you know that Ibex is a word?  Did you know it scores ten-gazillion points if placed on the correct spot on a Scrabble board.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

2.9: Game Review: Ruin

I haven't done a simple game review in a while, sure, why not.  

Ruin is listed as being designed by "Terry Miller Associates;" it was published by Buffalo Games, Inc. in 2008.  It supports 2-4 players, and takes 45 minutes to play (though I suspect it could be much, much longer).  Retail price is $25, but if you recently visited Borders, you may have been able to pick this up for a whole dollar.  That's right, $1.  So we'll pose a question, "Was this game worth $1?"

First we'll talk about the components.  Ruin comes with a board, eight pawns in 4 colors (two for each player), a deck of cards, a large d20 (that's a 20-sided die) specific to this game, and two interlocking clear plastic...things.  These two plastic pieces cover all but the corners of the board, and create the most interesting part of the game's mechanic.

Gameplay is simple, and reminiscent of many games you've probably played in your youth--on your turn you roll the die and move a pawn clockwise around the board, ultimately hoping to get to the "safe area" (in this game, the center of the board) first to win the game.  The clever part of this game is the modular path--along each edge of the board (under the plastic cover) there is a slot for three cards; if you roll a number with a red background, you can replace one of the cards along the board edge, replacing it with one from your hand.  These cards have a 3x3 grid of brick spaces or black "hole" spaces, and some of the cards have an assortment of colored masks that match the pawn colors.

Replacing the card changes the path, possibly separating one part of the path from another, or as we discovered this weekend, could also move a pawn (like your opponent's pawns) from a brick space to a hole space, causing that pawn to fall back along the path.  Here's where the colored masks come into play--when you fall in a hole (or a player ends their turn by stepping on you), you fall back to the closest mask space in your pawn color.  If you've passed the halfway point, there is an Ah Kinchil mask in your color; since the corner spaces can't be changed, it becomes important to pass the halfway point. This is actually an excellent design choice, since this alone does a lot to keep this game from going on forever.

Jackie, D, Danny and I played this over the weekend on a lark--it was on the table and the rules were short.  Despite it's simple roll and move mechanic, the game was hilarious.  Eventually Jackie and Danny were within a few turns of victory, and spent every opportunity thwarting each other.  I was horribly behind, so D and I were locked in mortal combat one card away from my start area.  Ultimately it was Jackie who won, distracting us with Danny's misfortune (he'd been separated from his stair area by a card which had no path to them, and repeatedly failed to roll a red-background number).

Overall I was surprised and pleased by this game--while I'm probably not going to insist on playing it, in instances where I'd play a traditional game, such as Sorry!, this will be high on the list of candidates.  My concerns about the game potentially taking forever still stand, though this was assuaged by the placement of the Ah Kinchil masks at the halfway point of each player's path.  The game was only slightly longer than the stated 45 minutes.  Of course my opinion of the game was largely influenced by the group I was playing with--everyone realized this game had a good bit of randomness, and took it as a simple and funny experience, not a challenge to be won.

Final verdict?  "I'll buy that for a dollar!"

Sorry, I had to do it.

If anyone didn't get that joke, you need to spend less time doing important things, and more time watching crappy 80's robot cop movies.