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.

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 : 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.


28th February 2018

A Staggered Start, and Dice Still Hate Me

It is frustrating when people show up late, and people are already firmly set into long games. It’s frustrating for me as a group organizer, and I know it’s annoying for those who rushed to get there, and then find it is hurry up and wait. Wait until a game finishes, or hope someone else turns up late too. Even worse than that is when people stop showing up if they think that arriving late will not allow them to get into a game.

The staggered/delayed start was implemented for the first time on Tuesday night. To understand the problem, see a previous blog post. Basically, some people were having a problem getting to the meetup for an earlier start time of 6:00pm. With 28 in attendance this Tuesday, compared to 21 last week, I regard that as a promising increase in numbers. At least 4 people said they could benefit by having the option to start a little later. The key to making it work is communication, it’s people letting the rest of us know that they will be arriving later than the 6:00pm normal start time.

Games played of Tuesday included: Loco, World Monuments, Ticket To Ride, Circus Flohcati, Eclipse, Terra Mystica, Terraforming Mars, Archer Love Letter, Speicherstadt, Legendary Encounters (Alien) x2, Crimson Creek, Hawaii, Boss Monster, Steam, Castles of Burgundy, Clank!, and Battlestar Galactica x2.

The expected side effect of delaying our start of Battlestar Galactica was that we had a full quorum. We had an option to play 5 or 6 player. We went with the 5 experienced players.  BSG is a tough, and time consuming, game to teach. So we were happy to crack on, and simply start playing with the experienced players. BSG is one of the go-to games on a Tuesday night, a familiar friend that allows people to simply play the game without fuss, or delay.

Both myself and Dodgy John, were cylons in both games. We won both games too. In the first game it was obvious that Morale was the Resource to target. That allows you to focus on lowering that Resource. In the second game, however, there were multiple paths to victory. There were multiple Centurions on the boarding track, Galactica was suffering from damage, the Resources were getting hit, and there were plenty of cylon Raiders milling around Galactica itself. This is one of the reasons why BSG is such an engaging game. Whether you are a human, or a cylon, each player must decide what is the priority, both in the short term, and the log term. Ignore the wrong thing and it could be disaster for your side. Sometimes, discussing the threats, and openly co-operating is a good idea. In other times you do not want to reveal your options to the other side. This is especially so when you do not know the allegiance of the other players. Paranoia over who you can trust is a key part of the game.

With multiple threats to the humans, each of them had a possibility to bring victory to the cylons. What does a cylon do ? You have to weigh up the choices to see what strategy, or strategies, are most likely to work. This is where you have to use your experience of the game, coupled with the current game state, and analyze the characters around the table to make your choice. Then you do all you can to make it work for your side.

Five damaged location on Galactica
Five damaged locations on Galactica.

With lot’s of cylon Raiders around Galactica, 18 to be precise, we went for causing damage on Galactica: I rolled the d8 (the game uses only eight sided dice) the required 18 times. Each 8 rolled would cause Damage on Galactica. I rolled zero (0) 8’s on 18 dice. I laughed, the other players laughed. John, my fellow cylon, exclaimed about how useless I was. He then rolled the same number of dice, and got four 8’s. Human Mike, playing the Chief character negated two of the four 8’s by playing Calculations cards from his hand. Galactica was still alive, but only just.

The cylons still won the game, we advanced the Centurions and vented the atmosphere of Galactica. The humans needed air, they had none.

The cylons won!

Dice still hate me!

I am ok with that.

A new board game Meetup group has started in nearby Agoura Hills. It is called Conejo Valley Boardgames. They are meeting for the first time this coming Saturday at a cafe in Agoura Hills. The organizer, Patrick, has also signed up for next Tuesday night.

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.

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


Can 30 Minutes Make A Difference ?

Yes, is my answer.