Luke’s Birthday weekend – Travel/Game/Food blog – Part 2 of 3: Friday
Then, time for bed for a few hours. Only to be awoken by the glorious smell of fresh coffee. Matthew has a favorite coffee roaster from back home, and he’s always in charge of bringing a pound of his current favorite blend to the weekends.
The morning starts off with the coffee and a quick game of the new Button Men. This is one of my all time favorites, and I wanted to try out the new Rush rules. You can use a Rush die to capture two of your opponents dice whose value adds up exactly to that of your Rush die. The downside is that your own Rush die is susceptible to the same sort of joint capture on your opponent’s turns… We have a review of the original version published last year, and we’re working on a review of the current new version as we speak…
We got in a few quick duels, and then it was time for a walk to the local donut shop – Stan’s Donuts – where I end up not even getting a donut… Because Friday is Fry-pie-day there, so I end up getting a fried cherry pie instead. And, they have an awesome cold brew coffee tap bar with about ten different cold brews to drink; as we clearly look like tourists, the nice cold brew barista gives me a free sample of the Nitro brew to take home.
The donuts don’t last long, and we’re soon setting up Mega Istanbul – Luke managed to fit all the components (and the dice game) in the small box of one of the expansions. So, we got the base 16 locations in Istanbul, the Kebab shop single tile expansion that takes the place of the Fountain, as well as the coffee and the letters from the two boxed expansions. I haven’t played on the 5×5 grid in a few years, and I forgot how much I liked this game with all the tiles. The expansions add nine new locations to the grid.
There is a new commodity, coffee, which is not stored in your wheelbarrow, so you can have unlimited supplies of it. There are a few locations which allow you to collect coffee, a few to trade it in for action tiles, and, of course, a location to let you convert coffee to gems. There are also the letters which are tiles with a location number on the back side. When you collect a letter, you draw a tile at random. On the basic side, it is worth 1 letter. If you ever end your movement on the location which matches the number on the back of the letter, you can flip it over, and now it is worth 2 letters. Two letters can be spent to take an additional turn, or there is a location on the board that allows you to turn in 6 letters for a gem. There are a couple of other small additions too – but those two are the big ones.
With the larger board, there seemed to be more good gem generating loops so it wasn’t a race to find the one good loop for the boards. Like the usual pattern, everyone seemed to be within a few turns of winning by the time Brian got the 6th gem to win. Great fun. As I have with my past few mega-games, I love the fact that the added locations and goods really don’t add much more time to the game length while giving you a lot more choices in the strategy.
Then, time for lunch – I mean, it had been a few hours since we had eaten last – and we met yet another cousin of mine (this time on my father’s side) at a local Dim Sum restaurant, MingHin. We noshed on BBQ pork buns, shu mai (dumplings), stir fried pea tips, turnip cakes, roast duck, congee and lots of other things. Surprisingly affordable for a big city – less than $15/person! The overall selection was not very wide – it was the sort of place that doesn’t have enough room for the carts; you just make your selections on a card and they are brought out from the kitchen. It does make the meal somewhat less spontaneous, but in the end, that doesn’t bother me because I’m all about the tastiness.
Back to the townhouse, and with a whole day in front of us, we embark on a huge scenario of The 7th Continent – Matthew has chosen to The Bloody Hunt scenario for us to play. This is the sort of game that I would have never played on my own – partly because it would have required Kickstarter backing and partly because it’s long and epic and not really my usual style of game. Two of our group had played before, so we pretty much dove into the game and the newbies kinda had the rules explained to us as we went. Only took about fifteen minutes to get the hang of it – the basic rules to the game are pretty intuitive to understand.
Your group essentially starts out on a single card. Things on the card which can be explored are pictured with a small number next to them. Possible actions are also depicted on the card with a number. Adjacent areas in the directions that you can explore are shown with facedown “fog of war” cards – there are events on the backs of these cards which have to be done before you get the next terrain card put in that place.
Each player takes on the role of a character, and they can carry two things in their hands as well as two equipment slots (I suppose in their pockets). The fun thing about the inventory slots is that you can combine things with similar attributes to make them more durable, and therefore increase the usage potential of both.
Anyways, as you play, the timing mechanism is in a deck of action cards. If this deck runs out, your group has run out of time, and you fail the scenario. There are no real turns in the game, when someone wants to do an action, they say they are doing the action and it happens. But, before it happens, any other character that is on the same terrain card can decide to assist in the action. Assisting is usually a good thing, because it allows the use of any additional cards and items, though there is a higher risk of someone going paranoid if there is a failure.
Just about every time that you want to do something (explore, move, sleep, climb a rock face, fight, jump over a chasm, etc.), the action will give you guidelines on how many cards to flip from the deck. There are two important numbers – the first tells you the number of cards you must draw from the deck, sometimes this is listed as a minimum, so 2+ means AT LEAST two cards. The second number is how many stars you need to find on the left side of those cards. So… you are usually torn deciding between how many cards you want to flip up – because you want to succeed at the task – but at the same time, you want to limit how many cards you flip because you don’t want to burn through your deck.
An additional complication (as well as an additional reason to have people assist you) is that once the action is complete, the group is allowed to take one of the flipped over cards and add it to their character. Some of these cards provide equipment while others give a special permanent ability (well, permanent until the card is lost or discarded). Each character has a small number (five or six?) cards which are specific to them and have their character’s picture on them to denote this. These cards can only be collected if that specific character was taking part in the action, otherwise they are automatically discarded.
In any event, after discussion, one of the participating characters can take one of the eligible flipped over cards. For this reason, we might even choose to flip over a card on a challenge that requires zero stars on 0+ cards just to try to get a good card. It’s a neat system which both serves as the timer as well as the distributor of cool items and abilities. As you play through the scenario, you can eat food to replenish the deck – usually allowing you to take random cards from the discard stack and shuffle them back into the timing deck.
The game was surprisingly fun (well, surprising to me… I’m sure that the other guys had the expected amount of fun) – and much of the expected tediousness of the game was not found because Matthew was expertly taking care of the busywork of getting out appropriate cards and explaining questions as we went along to save us time consuming trips back to the rulebook. I took full advantage of that, sat back on the couch, and helped us explore the island over the course of the afternoon – it was almost like a grand choose your own adventure, with some spirited argument amongst the party as we decide which route to follow next. Though the action pool wasn’t quite as open ended, the entire experience kinda reminded me of playing an old Infocom text adventure, with Matthew acting as my old Apple IIc, spewing out the story (and definitely the snarky responses) after I had chosen an action.
The game is an epic exploration – all found on a bunch of cards, and for me, it felt like a great piece of interactive fiction. The story unfolds in bits and pieces as you choose which cards to go to next and learn different parts of the tale. Sure, there’s still some gaming elements involved; there are creatures to fight, tools to find and create with resources, skill checks to overcome – but it is all blended well into the overall experience. The game is set up so that there isn’t a turn order; the players can choose to do things whenever they feel like doing them – though we were still limited to doing things as quickly as Matthew was able to pull the cards out of the box.
I was able to enjoy the story unfolding in front of us, and debating with the teammates on which options we should choose for exploration. I would be more than happy to continue playing the game with this group, but I’d never want to have my own copy nor am I even slightly tempted to get one. For me, this is an experience that I would save for a weekend like this or at a convention; and, in all of those situations, someone else would bring the game for me to play.
I think that it is safe to say that I’ve never played anything like The 7th Continent, and it very likely is a unique game both in its style and scope. I can definitely see how the fans of this game have fallen in love with it, and after my first 5 hours, I can definitely see how the scenarios could take 20-30 hours or more! I’m guessing that the solo game probably moves along a little faster as there is likely less internal dialogue arguing with yourself as opposed to having the group discuss what they are going to do, but despite that, this is a monster of a game that will clearly take multiple sessions to complete.
Five hours later, we decided to take a break from the game – we had not yet won the scenario, and while we knew what we needed to accomplish to get to the end, we could see it was still a long way away from us reaching that point… So, we packed up the game in a saved state – that’s a pretty cool part of the game that you can save it in the box to pick back up at a later date – and figured we could re-start it later in the weekend if we wanted; otherwise, Matthew could resume the scenario in a solo setting once he returned home.. I suppose we could have also just left it on the table; but what if we were ready to play something else?
Dinner was a first for me, delivery Chicago Deep Dish. My brother’s favorite Chicago pizza is Lou Malnati’s, and they deliver to the townhouse – so the planning was easy. I personally would have voted for Giordano’s, but I didn’t have as strong an opinion about it; I’ll eat Chicago Deep Dish pizza in almost any form, so I wasn’t going to put up a strong fight. We were a bit worried that the crust wouldn’t hold up, but it was perfect when it got here. And… we didn’t have to sit in the restaurant for an hour waiting for the table and pizza; instead, we managed to finish up the 7th Continent scenario and packing up process. Quite tasty; and I would definitely do that again in the future…
After dinner, Hunt for the Ring hit the table. This is an all-against-one search game where the team of Nazgul are trying to find Frodo, the ring-bearer. There seem to be a lot of Italian games which use this mechanic; but unlike Garibaldi and some of the others; this one missed with me. When the game starts, Frodo is trying to travel from Rivendell to Bree, and the map shows you the terrain and a multitude of paths to get there. Frodo draws a tile and starts in one of three locations and writes this on his sheet (hidden behind a screen). The four Nazgul all start on the right edge of the board near the three possible exits that lead to Bree.
Frodo makes a movement and writes it down on his sheet and possibly takes a special action from one of his companion cards (other hobbits). Then, he says nothing to the Nazgul and then smirks. The Nazgul roll a set of action dice and then move and possibly use the actions shown on those dice to try to perceive where Frodo is (to ask if they are in the same small section as the Nazgul OR in the same third of the board as the Nazgul), to draw or use their special action cards, etc. However, you are limited to using the actions shown on the dice – if you roll no perception faces, well… it’s gonna be hard to get any clues at where Frodo might be.
We spent too much of the game without any real clue what was going on (i.e. where Frodo was) – and we just seemed to be guessing randomly for much of the game. Some was due to bad decision making on our part and some was due to crafty Frodo-hiding on Matthew’s part; but the end result was an unsatisfying experience as the game didn’t give the Nazgul enough hints (IMHO). Despite our poor play, Frodo made it through the map on the last possible turn, so the game stretched out as long as possible with us really only feeling like we were part of the chase for the last 3 of 16 turns.
The weird thing about the board is that there are a minimum of 11 or 12 moves to get from a start city to an exit, so Frodo really doesn’t have a lot of options in how to move around – it’s not like Scotland Yard or Garibaldi where you can be super clever in where/how you hide. The constraints of the game really force Frodo to make a beeline for the exit, and then try to feint around the Nazgul as quickly as possible. There is not a lot of opportunity to turn around and head for a different exit because you simply do not have enough moves to do so.
That being said, in our game, Frodo only had to make one move. Our lack of perception on a crucial turn meant that we really didn’t have any idea where he was for most of the game. Once we figured out that he had to be near the exit in the final rounds of the game, we did manage to get perceive that we were close to him, but that was only in the final three rounds. The rest of the game really felt like random stumbling around and trying to grasp him with Trapping actions as if our eyes were closed.
The board is actually double sided, and your end game situation at the end of this first part which we played determines the handicap used to play the second side. Once we learned this, it became apparent that the Nazgul were really not meant to win this first portion of the game (because if they do, you never play the second side) – and that made for an even less satisfying experience, knowing that the game was made for you NOT to win. After an aimless sixteen turns which were not really enjoyed, we chose not to flip the board over but instead chose to pack the game up and hear the satisfying squeaking sound when the lid was put back on the box to close it up. I think it might have gone over better if the whole game was sold as a single experience so that it wouldn’t feel so hopeless for the Nazgul, but then again, we would have probably have just chosen to abandon in the middle of the two parts (the same place where we quit now).
Finally, to end the second day, we pulled out Decrypto for two rounds. This word game is quickly becoming one of my favorites – though I still think it’s better with teams of 3 or 4 as opposed to 2. It’s much harder to come up with super clever clues with only one other person guessing at them on your own team. This one was a big hit with the other three guys, and I suppose that we’ll be pulling this out again before the end of the weekend. Rather than recap the mechanics, just check out our review here. While you do that, we went to bed to end our Friday of fun.
We’ll finish up the trip/con tomorrow…