Saturday morning starts out with a fresh pot of coffee, and a bit of Internet searching to see if Hartford will be able to accept planes tomorrow due to the bomb cyclone over the Northeast. It’s nice and sunny here – the view of the Pier is awesome today, and I don’t live near Hartford, so it’s mostly a theoretical issue for me…
First game up is Istanbul the Dice Game. I had never played this before, and I was surprised how much I liked it. This one captures the feel of Istanbul, yet offers a different mechanic entirely with the dice. Turns are quick, and it’s still tense as you are racing everyone for the gems on the board, knowing that if you lose the race, things will get even more expensive. The game was a refreshing change to most recent dice games that I’ve played because it isn’t a “roll three times” game. There is a nice balance between just hoping to roll well and get gems versus spending a few turns picking up extra action tiles which will build your engine up, but at the cost of those few turns. When it becomes available domestically, I think that this is one that I would pick up. Like Nations The Dice game, this one gives you a lot of the same feel of the base game but in a smaller footprint and a quicker time frame. It doesn’t necessarily replace the base game, but it good enough to stand on its own.
Afterwards, with just a little time before lunch, we played Column of Fire. This is nominally the third game in the Ken Follett literary trio of games from Kosmos, but this one seems to not be as narrative as the book that it is based on as much as the other two. It’s really a logistics puzzle game, and at least one of our group really did not enjoy that aspect of it. I have played it six or seven times now, so I clearly like this sort of thing. The others in the group were not as enamored with it, and I’m pretty sure they were happy to see it being packed away.
In this game, you have a set of dice, one which corresponds to your religion, 4 which correspond to the four main cities on the board, and one wild die which can go with any city. On your turn, you first activate any character cards that you have (they will have dice on them). Then you roll you free dice and choose a character from a city that matches the color of one of your rolled dice. The number of the die tells you how many turns you’ll keep the card – because at the start of each round, when you activate the card, you will decrease the number by one. You also get to place a trading house in that city if one is not already present. Each character card usually adds a religious influence marker to the city that it came from, and each time a city has four religious markers, there is the possibility for conflict.
As I mentioned earlier, you have a die which corresponds to your religion, and you can be either Protestant or Catholic in the game. Each time the religion die gets reduced down to zero, you re-roll it and then choose your next religion, which you will keep (generally) for a number of turns equal to the number rolled. Anyways, when there is a religious fight, players that match the majority religion will score points for their houses while players in the minority religion will have their houses burnt down (and returned to their supply). Finally, after you have chosen a card, there is a circular action track where you can choose a final action for the turn based on the color of your unused dice at the time. So, each turn, you should have some interesting decisions in choosing cards that you want to have OR for placement of houses in a particular city OR keeping a die available to use on the final action track OR sometimes all of the above. For me, I like this sort of decision tree. It was pretty obvious that this love was not shared by the rest of the group.
We were planning to keep up the Kosmos theme later in the day – but first, time to eat. Luke has been wanting to have Ramen all weekend, and we found a nice place just a short walk away. I chose Tan Tan ramen because I really wanted something spicy, though I did look wistfully at Luke’s tonkotsu broth during the meal.
We followed up the noodles with a donut ice-cream sandwich. We had been attracted to the store by a chocolate donut sandwich on the Internets, but when I got there, I opted for the basic ice cream vanilla gelato sandwich (on a glazed long-john). Yummy times.
After the brisk walk back to the townhouse, time for some Legends of Andor: The Last Hope. We started with Legend 12 and tried to find the local folk to tell us where the Pale King is hiding out. We did OK, and to me, this felt like the two previous Andor games – if you liked those, you’ll like this one too. There are six large legends (12-17) included in the box, so it’s a nice amount of content in the box. There are a bunch of mini’s in the box, and plenty of counters to sort thru to find just the right ones that you need. As I mentioned earlier, the game play feels a lot like the previous two Andor games, where it’s more of an optimization puzzle than a dungeon crawl. Each time you kill an enemy, the narrator pawn moves ahead on the track, so you often are trying to carefully time when you defeat enemies in order to keep the pace of the story where you want it. We lost to the boss of the scenario, on probably the final roll, which is another typical Andor experience for me. As the only thing that prevented my team from winning was some unlucky dice rolls, I’ll consider this scenario finished and move onto the next one whenever we play Andor again. I don’t see the need to play a 2.5 hour game again just to try to roll better at the end.
Time for something a bit lighter (and shorter), and Matt wanted to try the Nations Dice Game, as he is a big fan of the base Nations game and had never played the dice version. Luke, of course, had all the expansions, and we played with them. For me, the dice game is a fast paced game which gives me plenty of decisions on how to roll and then manipulate my dice results to grow my civilization. I like the way that the expansions give you some slightly asymmetrical starting positions in the new player mats. I also like the tokens which are handed out when players pass as the temporary tokens add a new level of complexity to the decision of passing – in the original version, there was no reason not to try to do everything possible, even trying to make a low-yield re-roll at the end of a round – but now, the prospect of getting a guaranteed temporary icon might be enough to pass out of a round to get it. The high risk/reward light green dice are an added feature which I’m not sure that I love, but they do add some extra randomness which suits the dice game well. These dice have pairs of icons on each side, except for the side with a fist. If you get a fist to show, your next turn does nothing but re-roll the green die. If you roll another fist, well then you’ve lost even another turn. The green dice can really pay off well if they give you pairs of things you need; but each time you roll them, you risk completely derailing the timing of your turns. The game was close, and I won with a strategy of dominating books as well as hoarding rocks to build huge wonders in the last round.
After these two games, we found ourselves hungry yet again. It had been almost five hours now since we last ate! A quick poll showed that two of the group had never had Italian beef sandwiches, so we found a Portillo’s within walking distance of the townhouse. I ended up getting both an Italian beef sandwich and a Chicago hot dog. I think I could have done better, like Luke, and just gotten the sausage in the middle of my beef sandwich. The sport peppers and celery salt just didn’t do it for me.
After dinner, we surprisingly chose NOT to get donuts. We were way-laid by a patisserie, and went for the frou-frou fondant covered desserts. They were pretty awesome, so I have no complaints. I mostly had the chocolate ganache tower settled on a crisp hazelnut cookie thing while Matthew had the lacquered red raspberry ornament looking thing. I was glad to have tried the raspberry confection, but glad that my share was just a taste of it 😊
We returned to the townhouse, and we gave Aeon’s End another try. The nemesis this time was the Horde-Crone, and we succumbed to its minions as we simply could not defend Gravehold. We thought that we had given it a pretty good try though, and we decided to set it back up but trying to select different spell cards this time (We went with a mostly random selection in the first game). As there are a lot of 2 point minions, we tried to get more ways to do 2pts of damage. We did manage to stay ahead of the minions for the most part in the second game, but I think we focused too much energy on them, and we didn’t do enough damage to Horde-Crone itself. The battle was tight, but once the enemy got into the Level 3 cards of its deck, we were pretty quickly overwhelmed.
The night finished up with a pretty awesome game of Decrypto. Everyone felt more familiar with the rules and the cluegiving, and we had a long game filled with ups-and-downs. We made it through all eight rounds without either team being able to steal the code a single time (and each team only having a single failure marker). The game was won 3-2 on the tiebreaker of guessing the actual codewords, and this seemed pretty amazing that we knew that many of them yet could never steal the code during the game. In the right group, this is pretty much the winner of the word-game genre for me. Our game was pretty long, maybe 80 or 90 minutes. We have chosen to not use the sand-timer, and have a slightly longer game, but in return getting some pretty awesome clues and answers with the lack of a time limit.
The final day was a mix of cleaning up, gaming and eating. The day got off to a slightly slower start as the weekend had definitely started to catch up with us. Though no alarms had been set, we all got up an hour to an hour and a half later than the other days. Once we were all moving and showered, we figured we had time for one more co-op game.
Assault on Doomrock was the choice, and our band of cowardly, farting, and smelly heroes stumped around trying to kill some unbelievably strong enemies. We just barely made it to the end of the first battle (of three supposed battles) with my character having only a single life point left while all the other “heroes” were long dead. The difficulty level of this game was sky high, and while we theoretically had earned the right to continue onto the second battle; we could already see that we didn’t have any chance, and we decided to call it a day. In retrospect, I should have just thrown the final dice roll so that I would have been killed. If that would have happened, we would have played a full game – as the game end would have been triggered by all the heroes dying – and then my brother would have been able to log the game as played in BGG; you know, since he only counts games played to completion…
The other good reason to stop playing was that we were getting hungry. For most of us (i.e. the non-Los-Angeleans), good ramen is an impossible thing to find, and being surrounded by so many noodle houses, we decided to go for more Ramen. It was also great to find a place which had a Sunday special on Kara-age – which is Japanese for yummy fried chicken nuggets. Having gone spicy last time, this time I went for a traditional Hokkaido broth with Chashu pork belly. I could probably eat this stuff at every meal if it were available.
We were all pretty full, and we almost decided just to walk back home without dessert – but a little bird reminded me that I should go try out a donut place over near the Northwestern hospital. So we tramped around to find Do-Rite donuts, and I had what was possibly the best, softest, blueberryist donut that I’ve ever had. The Blueberry crumb donut was so good that I ate all of mine and then another half left over by my brother. It’s a good thing that calories don’t count when you’re on vacation!
We made our final walk back to the townhouse and had just enough time for a final game of Decrypto. This last game also went the full eight rounds, but Luke and I won on the first tiebreaker as we had one more point than Matthew and Brian as we had no failure tokens and they had one. Matthew had one great set of clues which went something like: “How often? Almost never.” “How often? Sometimes…” “How often? Always.” Yeah, amazingly Brian got the right answer as his teammate, and Luke and I essentially lost a round of the game as we couldn’t do anything at all with the clues. It was a great game to end the weekend on.
As we had no more food to eat in the entire city, we sat in traffic on I-90 getting to the airport and then everyone went on their way home. We’re hoping to get together again in a year or two, and it’ll be hard to top this edition of our meetup. Good times were had by all, and while not every game was loved by all the guys, I think we each found something worth remembering on the trip.
Until the next birthday occasion comes along…
Man, I miss Italian beef sandwiches.