Why I play Board Games!

Tuesday was my third gaming session in four days. Each of these gaming sessions had it’s own personality. This personality is based on the location, the games, and most of all it is based on the people involved. People are what make board games fun.

This post is about a few of the people whom I game with.

Saturday was a regular get together at Game Empire with my wargamer mates; the SoCal Wargamers. We played a bunch of games, both old and new. After some games new to us: South China Sea, and Chile 73, it was not surprising that we next played a game that felt like a old comfy pair of slippers. Like a lot of gaming groups we do like to play new games, yet we also have our old standards that we can quickly jump into. One of these standards is Napoleonic Wars by GMT Games. This game is fondly known as Nappy Wars. It is a 2-5 player strategic card-driven game on the Napoleonic Wars from 1804 to 1815.

 

One of our regular Nappy Wars players is Greg Ticer. Among other things, Greg has given us a better understanding of how to play Nappy Wars. A game that I have played at least 30-40 times. This is because Greg has designed a game of his own, called The Seven Years War: Frederick’s Gamble, that is loosely based on Nappy Wars. In the process of adapting the Nappy Wars system it meant that Greg had to gain a full understanding of the rules. In the process Greg had found that we have been playing the game slightly wrong for.. well, for always. Oops. Thanks for pointing that out Greg!

Myself, Greg, Karl, Luis, and James
Myself, Greg, Karl, Luis, and James. Game Empire, Pasadena. 17th March 2018

Sadly, Greg will soon be moving to Texas. That Saturday was probably our last gaming session with Greg for a while. We have shared many fun times with Greg. He is always a serious gamer, yet he has a jovial side. Here are some pics that show his jovial nature. He had ordered the large burrito at a local Mexican cantina while we were at SDHIST Con 2016 in San Diego. The burrito was somewhat larger than anyone expected. It was so big that it overlapped the plate on both sides. Greg’s face is an absolute picture as he contemplated the behemoth that he was about to consume. He barely made a dent in the monster, and could not give the rest away. That was a lot of burrito for 10 bucks.

So we give our best wishes to Greg on his new adventures. May the dice roll high or low as appropriate. We hope to game with you again soon.

{shill} Check out Greg’s game, entitled The Seven Years War: Frederick’s Gamble. The game is on P500 preorder by publisher GMT Games. I wish Greg had stuck with the original title that I suggested aka “Greg’s Awesome Sauce 7 Years War Game“. That’s a snappy title, don’t you think? {end shill}


Monday night was at McGregors, in Moorpark. This weekly event has been going from strength to strength since it was first started just over 6 months ago. The core of the attendees on these Monday nights are old time VCSB regulars that I have known for years. It may take some time to get the word out to the locals so you have to persevere. The expectation, when launching a new event in a new area, is that we get some new locals to sign up.  A new event takes some time to get enough momentum to be self sustaining. It is a definite help when some of these new local people become regular attendees. It was good to meet Paul. Paul is a Moorpark local who quickly became a regular attendee.  Recently it has become clear that Paul has a game-crush. He has become smitten with a game about Vikings, namely Raiders Of The North Sea.

Raiders Of The North Sea box
Raiders Of The North Sea box

Don’t get me wrong. Paul is not the first gamer who has been smitten by a game. I have seen many a gamer fixated on a game. Some would jokingly point out my fixation with Battlestar Galactica. There will be more on BSG later.

What is great about this fixation is there is a genuine passion for a well crafted game. A game that both intrigues and entertains the player. A key element in spreading the joy of modern board games is to have genuine enthusiasm for the games. Genuine enthusiasm shows through and draws in the other players. It is great to see that enthusiasm in Paul. Well done that man.


A recent newcomer to the VCSB group, and to modern board games as well, is Brook. As the group organizer I act as gate keeper for the newcomers. I do my utmost to ensure that newcomers feel welcome. I also ensure the newcomers get into appropriate games, and by appropriate I mean that I try to gauge the persons game knowledge, interests, and their abilities to ensure they don’t get placed in a game that is a poor choice for them. Letting the person know the expected duration of a game, or how complicated it is, is only fair in case that does not suit them. On the odd occasion I have strongly suggested that a player should not play a specific game, as the game would not suit them. Over a few events you can begin to determine the newcomers likes, dislikes, and limitations. Now Brook has lapped up every game that has been thrown at him. From simple party games through to complicated strategy games he has taken them all in his stride.

I recently revisited the first edition of the game London. This game took a few plays before I got the game.  Others experienced gamers have struggled to play the game well in the first attempt. Brook, on the other hand, demolished us in his first play. On Monday night Brook expressed an interest in learning to play Battlestar Galactica.

London
London (1st Edition) box cover

For the last few weeks we have held the Tuesday Night VCSB Meetup at Ted’s house in Newbury Park. We are limited to a maximum of 24 while at Ted’s place. There is just not enough space to cram in more people without being overcrowded. We have even had to turn people away; which is something that I hate to do. Having a smaller attendance means it is harder to get the 5 players that is optimal for a game of BSG (Battlestar Galactica). Luckily there was fresh meat Brook who wanted to learn the game. Mwwhhhaaa. We had a fresh victim for the airlock. So Say We All.

BSG is not an easy game to explain, nor is it an quick and easy game to learn. Experienced players tend to have low expectations of new players. You can see where this is going. Early in the game there was a Skill Check that was obviously sabotaged by a unrevealed cylon. More importantly, it was not sabotaged by me, and I was the other unrevealed cylon. Although I had played a card into the Skill Check I could prove it was not sabotaged by me. Human Eric helpfully backed up my story. It was now that the game took an interesting course. Experienced players Chris, and Dodgy John, immediately started to blame each other. Each were convinced the other was the cylon who had sabotaged the Skill Check. I was not sure which one of them was on my side, I was quite convinced it was one of those two. Our deliberations were so passionate that we were told to keep the noise down. The game effectively stopped for 10 minutes while people argued back and forth. Then fate intervened and I got thrown in the brig under the premise that I could have determined who the cylon was, and I did not do so. Later in the game it was clear that both John and Chris were human, along with the innocent Eric. For a while the table was convinced that I was the lone cylon. In fact, I was not alone. It was Brook who had sabotaged the Skill Check. No one had suspected him. Not even me. Inexperienced players are never so sneaky, so quickly.  How he kept a straight face through all of this, I do not know. Well done Brook.

 

My last game of the night was The Mind. A game that is not yet released in the USA. Here two people, both I have known for ten or more years, come into play. First, Jennifer posted that she thought The Mind was the stupidest game ever. This brash statement meant that Jonathon had to check the game out for himself. As the game is not yet available he had to concoct a version using the cards from another game.

The Mind is a co-operative game. A co-operative game where you cannot communicate with your fellow players. A game where the players do not take turns playing the cards.

It is a stupid game.

It is a fun and stupid game.

It is a fun and stupid game, where we had four grown men grunting, wincing, and laughing at each other. We played The Mind twice. We lost twice. That did not matter as we had fun. Thanks to Jonathon for introducing me to a stupid game.

Games are fun. Games are more fun with people. Games are more fun because of people. Enjoy the games, enjoy the clever mechanics, enjoy the story the game creates, enjoy the game art, and enjoy the time spent with people.

Tim

22nd March 2018

Mini-WallaceFest And 100th Game Of Codenames

Last night was the regular Tuesday night VCSB Meetup in Newbury Park. The Tuesday night group has it’s own, shall we say, personality when it comes to how games are chosen, and the players organize themselves into those games. Other games, such as the ongoing Pandemic Legacy Season 2, were setup and ready to go as soon as the full crew arrived. I have been itching to get London, by Martin Wallace of Treefrog Games, on the table for sometime.  While waiting for Ryan to arrive I could setup the game and familiarize myself with the rules differences compared to London (Second Edition).

 

It was a good plan, then fate intervened. More people turned up late, too many for the four player London that was already setup and ready to rock. Not only that, but one of the game-less players would not enjoy playing a game like London. It is too much dry for him. The game tempo is too slow, and the mechanics too subtle; he likes games with more drama and action.

Game Organizer Tip: Don’t be afraid to tell a gamer that you think a game is not suitable for them. Back up the opinion with sound reasoning, and tell people your opinion. People usually like the honesty. If they insist on playing the game, so be it. Honesty counts.

We had to re-jiggle the games. Two went off to play Star Realms, while three of us carried on with London.

London
Ryan and Gilbert joined me in rebuilding London
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The London game board

London is a crafty game. It breaks one major convention of game mechanics. Among other things, in London having too many cards is bad. You cannot simply discard cards. Having too few cards can also be bad as it is inefficient. You need to have just the right number of cards, at the right time. It’s a tough game. It’s an intriguing game. I like it. It was good to introduce the game to new people. That was one well received game that was designed by Martin Wallace …. perhaps it was time for another Wallace game.

Hit Z Road
Hit Z Road : A road trip game with zombies.

While London is a slow tempo game with little drama. The only random element is which cards you blind draw from the deck. You have to carefully use cards to craft a tableau, while managing your money, and your poverty level. Oh, and you need to gain Victory Points too. How else are you going to judge victory.

On the other hand Hit Z Road has player elimination. 

Game Mechanics : A game with player elimination means that players can be knocked out of the game. Eliminated players take no further part in the game. This can leave people frustrated and bored while they wait for the other players to finish. This is why I do not like (many) games with player elimination. Playing games is supposed to be a fun, and social time. It sucks if people get excluded from that experience.

When trying to describe Hit Z Road it is wise to not simply label the game as a zombie game. It is an auction based resource management game with dice …and zombies… and player elimination. It is such a contrast to London. It is a push your luck game with the dice. It has drama. It has tension. More importantly, it is each player for themselves.

Hit Z Road
Hit Z Road : A bad roll for Joe

Luckily, in this game, only one of the tree players was eliminated. Even better Joe was eliminated in the last round before the end of the game, so no real harm done. More surprisingly Jon was down to his last survivor, from an original party of five, and somehow managed to survive. Well done Jon.

Due to the delayed start we had just over 30 minutes to go and around ten people ready for another game. It was time for Codenames, one of our go-to closer games.

Codenames is a game that works with newcomers, the rules are simple to comprehend for most of the players. People can come and go, joining or leaving the game with little effect. This makes for  a fast and flexible game for beginners, and experienced, gamers alike. Now there is one caveat to Codenames being a great beginner friendly game. Codenames is a game of two halves.  The halves are the clue-givers versus the guessers. The clue-givers have rules to follow, and they have to think up the clues. They have it tough. Often, at the end of a long day, I am not in the mood to use that much brain power. Luckily there are always enough volunteers to be the clue-givers. I can then switch my brain into heckle mode, and simply enjoy being part of a team.

Codenames  : When introducing Codenames to a crowd of newcomers; let experienced Codenames players act as the clue-givers at the start. This ensures the game is up and running quickly, and smoothly. The rules on being a clue-giver are more involved, yet they can be explained during the periods of inevitable downtime while the clue-givers concoct their clues. Keep with game fast and fun, and the newcomers can learn from more experienced players.

Codenames
Codenames : A great team party game

With two game of Codenames completed it was time to end another Tuesday night of gaming. Later that day I logged the game plays into BGG. It was then that I discovered that I had now logged 100 games of Codenames since I first played the game in August of 2015.  Here is to many more fun games.

The total list of games played that evening included: Pandemic Legacy Season 2 x3, Merkator x2, Galaxy Trucker, Eclipse, Blood Rage, London, Stone Age, Hit Z Road, Illimat, Concordia Salsa, Star Realms, and Codenames x2.

 

Tim
28th February 2018

Don’t Mess With the Formula

Last Tuesday night we had the lowest attendance in years with a total of 21. This is the same Tuesday night that, six months ago, we were having well over 30. We often had people on the waiting list during the day, and just dipping under the maximum limit of 35 by the time the meetup started.

As I am a little detail orientated, please don’t laugh, I keep an eye on the attendance of each meetup. I do this for a variety of reasons. With space at a premium it is wise to make sure that we get maximum number of butts on seats. It also helps to identify the small minority who RSVP, and then don’t show up. Every now and then we get a flakey person, and for repeat offenders I contact them reminding them to keep their RSVP up to date. It is a shame when a regular cannot attend due to lack of space, and we find there was actually enough space for them because someone else did not attend. Simply not being bothered to update their RSVP is a poor excuse.

The attendance figures on Tuesday have been consistently in the low 30’s for a long time. We have been meeting weekly at this location for over 5 years. For all intents and purposes the Tuesday group just kept on trucking.

And then it changed.

The attendance numbers dropped, and then did not pick up again.

What the $%^&$ had happened?

Some thoughts came to mind about the possible cause for a dip in attendance.

  • Season variation.  The attendance numbers tend to drop around the holiday season.
  • Too much choice: The VCSB meetup group was now having 3-4 meetups a week. Were people suffering from gaming fatigue ?
  • Cascade effect. When certain regulars are not attending it is harder to get the optimum numbers of players for certain games. This can cascade such that other regulars do not attend as often.
  • We changed the start time. The start time on Tuesday had been 6:30pm for many years. In October of 2016 we changed the start time to 6:00pm.

Now there was a reason why I did not immediately suspect the start time change  was the culprit for the attendance drop. As I listed above, there was often a seasonal drop due to the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year holiday season. When January came around I honestly expected the numbers to pick up again.

Secondly, most of the people arrived early. The Tuesday group had it’s own pattern that people arrived early for the 6:30pm start. With people arriving early, there were often games setup and going by the official 6:30pm start time. This caused people to arrive even earlier to ensure they got into games. Frankly, it sucks to arrive a little late and find that most people are already settled into long games.

The Eureka Moment

It was only after I spoke to a ex-regular did I realize that the 30 minutes difference had made all the difference to them. Those extra minutes allow enough time for a tough commute, or allow people to grab some food before the meetup.

What annoyed me, a little, was that no one had told me before. It had taken months before I found out the probable cause of the dip in attendance. It is not like this was something new. We often had people arrive a little late, they would arrange their games in advance and people would wait for them to arrive.

The Plan

There had to be a way forward. There had to be a way to accommodate those who could not reliably, or safely, get to the meetup for the 6:00pm start time. After a little thought, and a few emails, I believe we have a solution. It will require some organization, and good communication, but it should work. From tomorrow, May the 16th, we are having a delayed start time for specific games. The games are named in advance, and those interested in playing must state they are committing to those games with a 6:30pm start.

My role, as group organizer, will be to make sure that people wait for these later arrivals, and to keep up to date with communications to ensure that we don’t hang around waiting for an individual to arrive who is not coming.

Sound simple, yeah ? We shall see how it goes.

Despite the lower attendance numbers last Tuesday, there was still a good variety of games played.

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Aquasphere – 9th May 2017
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Trajan etc – 9th May 2017
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Flamme Rouge + Clank! – 9th May 2017
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Terraforming Mars etc – 9th May 2017

 

Can 30 Minutes Make A Difference ?

Yes, is my answer.

 

Tim

 

Midweek Update – 4th April 2017

Unfair

Good crowd last night in Newbury Park with 26. Alex made his first appearance at Greg’s, and Ben rejoined us after a stint in South Korea. Carl brought along Flamme Rouge, which was fun. Serge Clanked, twice. Baker Josh mucked up the rebels plans with the timely nabbing of the Corcuscant card.

Games played included: Great Western Trail, Keyflower, Unfair, Oracle of Delphi, Star Wars Rebellion, Concordia, Pandemic Iberia, Manhattan Project, Coup x4, Fuse x3, Clank! X2, and Flamme Rouge x2.

Note that next week we have a change to our normal schedule: Greg is hosting on Monday, and Ted is hosting on Tuesday.

VCSB 4th April 2017
Games played at the VCSB meetup 4th April 2017
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Games played at the VCSB meetup 4th April 2017

A local-ish (Santa Barbara county) gamer friend of mine, Jerry White, is interviewed about his upcoming solitaire game on the Doolittle Raid. The interview is on The Players Aid site.


TableTop DOG is fast approaching… I am plotting some type of competition… hee hee

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Table Top Day 2017

The VCSB meetup on the 11th of April has been moved to Ted’s. We will have the usual limit of 24 at Ted’s. People will need to bring chairs, and park up the hill etc.

As a bonus, Greg will host on the Monday before i.e. April the 10th. Greg and Sudro are plotting a game of Britannia for that Monday.


 

On Tuesday we had a smaller group than normal in Newbury Park with 21 attendees. Even so, a wide selection of games were played, including three games of Battlestar Galactica. Liz was a cylon in all three games. David M was the victor in all three games.

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VCSB 28th March 2017

VCSB 28th March 2017 Montage 1
VCSB 28th March 2017

Games played on Tuesday included: Britannia, Acquire, Russian Railroads, Great Western Trail, Wizard, Stone Age, Qwixx x4, Ticket To Ride, Red 7 x2, Trans Europa, and Battlestar Galactica x3.


 

Last night was Wednesdays at Carrows. This meetup is going from strength to strength with attendances around the mid teens. Thanks to Matthew and April-Lyn for the info and pictures.

Games played: Great Western Trail, Chaosmos, High Frontier, First Class, Burgle Bros., Blood of an Englishman, The King is Dead and Crisis.

 


Table Top Day is a month away on April the 29th, we are planning a bigger and better Table Top DOG than last year. This will be the 4th year that we have organized an event. This year we will be back in Oxnard, we lots of space for all types of games, and gamers. Stay tuned for special events on the day. 

Please RSVP if you want to attend, here is a link to Table Top DOG 2017 on the VCSB meetup group. There is also an event on the official TableTopDay website.

To give an idea of the shenanigans of Table Top Day. Here are some montages from last years Table Top DOG 2016.

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Table Top DOG 2016
Table Top DOG 2016
Table Top DOG 2016