In late July I convinced a third and final friend from New York to make the trek down to Virginia for a long weekend of board gaming, or for those of you without an aversion to newly minted portmanteaus, a gamecation. Two days ago I recounted a May gamecation and yesterday I regaled you with one from June, and today the trilogy concludes with one final hurrah. I used to visit this friend’s office for gaming because both of our apartments in New York were too small for a proper game group and his office had good-sized tables and an accommodating atmosphere. Now that I found myself displaced to the suburbs of D.C. there was plenty of space to play in my humble abode and plenty of new favorites to try out since I’d moved away a few years earlier.
I have eight go-to two-player games these days. For a game of moderate length, I pull out Summoner Wars, Netrunner, Neuroshima Hex, or Innovation. For times when time is not a factor, I reach for War of the Ring, Through the Ages, Twilight Struggle, or Antiquity. I’m getting to the point where nothing else seems really needed, although I’m happy to trifle with other games to the extent my compatriots desire. This particular gamecation started off right with the first four games being straight from these top eight.
Mere moments after the train from New York arrived, we opened up the Summoner Wars: Master Set, which is indeed masterful. It was great to see an old friend from years gone by and equally great to introduce him to a new favorite of mine. It was the first time he’d experienced the joys of summoning, but not the last as you’ll soon see. I followed this up by teaching Netrunner and running unsuccessfully twice against his corporate tricks and traps. And then taught Neuroshima Hex for a pair of games where my armies of Smart and Moloch emerged victorious over his Outpost and Hegemony. Finally, we concluded the first evening with the main attraction – War of the Ring. I know we played for a few hours, but I must have blinked because my shadow forces had barely gotten started when he managed to dunk the ring in the fiery pits of Mordor. I think my armies took too long consolidating and marching north, while Frodo sprinted across Middle Earth on a war path of his own. After a night spent in equal parts sleeping and retreading how I might have used Gothmog and my Isengard units differently, it was soon time for a whole new day of gamecation.
The second day kicked off with Netrunner, but after getting five-sevenths of the way there, my corporate plans were foiled by my guest’s incessant server running ways. I followed this loss up by teaching him the Figures in the Sand expansion for Innovation, but he used Robert E. Lee to achieve that final achievement and show me a thing or two about innovating in Innovation.
The real meat of day two started in the afternoon when we set up for the first of two games of War of the Ring for the day. That’s right, twice in one day, after having played it the evening before. Three games of this behemoth proved eminently feasible because my guest managed to achieve the necessary four victory points as the free people in under an hour. He made it look easy when he snuck into Moria and Umbar after the Balrog had led his forces chasing foolishly after Frodo and the Southrons had sailed to Dol Amroth. It was a crushing defeat, so I did what any sensible person would do. I insisted that we change sides and he show me how to win as the shadow player… which of course he proceeded to do. This is what comes from making friends with people much smarter and more capable than you. They patiently show you how poorly you play your favorite games. It was an illuminating and wonderful experience. In my own defense, I did manage to get Frodo a step away from demolishing that silly ring before the shadow military victory was sealed.
The day concluded with games of Biblios, Summoner Wars, Village, and Stronghold. I’ve already said everything nice about Stronghold that there is to say, except I suppose I didn’t know at the time that I’d still enjoy playing it four years later.
The final day of the final gamecation of the summer was a day of four-player games as I invited two local friends to join us. We started off early with “game of the summer” Kemet. I was first taught the game in April and have since played it six times. I don’t necessarily think it will still be relevant in five years, but for now it’s a fun take on the quick combat genre. It’s no Nexus Ops, but what is? We followed this up with something completely different, an obscure favorite called Krakow 1325 AD. A trick-taking game with area majority board play is a great idea. And the story behind the design is fascinating. I suggest you stop reading whatever it is that I have to say and go read the backstory behind Krakow instead. It turns out the designer is a writer, a great one.
The next four-player game on the agenda was the underappreciated In the Shadow of the Emperor. Ralf Burkert may not have done much in the world of gaming, but quantity is overrated and he’s got quality in spades. My visiting friend manipulated the rest of us into letting him stay emperor for three of the five rounds and thus followed up his Krakow win by chalking up an imperial victory. I still rue my first doctor poisoning his elector in Rhein as I never heard or felt the end of his retribution. The evening concluded with a team game of Nexus Ops in which much rubium was harvested and spent on creatures of all shapes and sizes. The oft-overlooked team version is by far the best way to play this game to balance out the vagaries of the mine placement process.
After the two locals had departed for home, we wrapped up the gamecation with a trio of short two-player games – Roma, Cities, and Innovation. I always like the gameplay of Roma, but the ending condition never quite sits right with me. Cities is one that grows on you over time, and Innovation is always a wild ride. But it was late and the weekend was over. Just as the gamecations before it, this one also had to draw to a close as my visitor prepared to depart. It was time to get back to the real world, at least for the time being.