Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 Gaming - A Year In Review

As it is the last day of 2006 today I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the year and the games I've played. I first started keeping records of games played at my BoardGameGeek site in July 2005, so 2006 is the first calendar year I actually have stats for. Board gamers use a terminology for the number of times a particular game is played equivalent to the nicknames for US coins. Nickels are 5 plays, Dimes are 10 plays and Quarters are 25 plays. Here are my Nickels, Dimes and Quarters for 2006.

QUARTERS (25 plays or more)

Shocking Roulette - 46 Plays
This is not really a game as such. Players simply put their finger in one of the four slots, the start button is pressed and after much beeping and flashing of lights a random person receives an electric shock. Simple, mindless, silly fun. The reason this has so many plays is because it is fast and I use it as a device to determine the playing order in other games.

Memoir '44 - 42 Plays

No surprise here as this is one of my top-rated games. Memoir '44 is a light wargame designed by Richard Borg and published by Days of Wonder. Played on a fold-out hexagonal board, it simulates WWII battles using a version of the excellent Commands and Colors system of card-driven game play. Units are represented by plastic miniatures and terrain by cardboard hexagonal tiles. Memoir '44, although designed as a 2-player game, can be expanded to an 8-player game by adding an additional board and playing the larger 'Overlord' scenarios. The game plays in under an hour and gives me the feeling of commanding troops in battle. I love this game! Main opponent this year was Steve W, a long-time friend and gaming buddy. As we both have full-time jobs and young families, to co-ordinate days off together to play this game was a feat in itself.

Hive - 30 Plays

Hive is an abstract game played with no board. The hexagonal playing pieces are placed in a pattern that becomes the playing surface (ie. the pieces become the board). I have the 2nd edition with the lovely bakelite pieces. A fast, fun game. My main opponent this year was my 5-year-old daughter.

DIMES (At least 10 plays)

Gulo Gulo - 19 Plays

I bought this game as a family Xmas present last year with the first play recorded exactly one year ago on 31 December 2005. It has proven a family favourite in 2006 with 19 plays. It is essentially a racing and dexterity game. Players are wolverines (Gulo Gulo's) searching for Gulo Junior who has become lost in the swamp while looking for Swamp Vulture eggs to steal. Players move from tile to tile through the swamp by selecting a wooden egg from a bowl that matches the colour of the next tile they wish to move to. The eggs are brightly coloured and of differing sizes and sit together in a lovely wooden bowl in which stands a stick with and egg on the end of it. If, while attempting to grab an egg from the bowl, the stick (the Swamp Vulture alarm) falls over your movement is penalised. This is a really fun game that adults and children can play together and as kids have tiny, dextrous fingers they usually win! Main opponents this year were my wife, my mum and my 5-year-old daughter.

YINSH - 14 Plays

YINSH is an abstract game and part of the GIPF Project by designer Kris Burm. The players each start with 5 rings on the board. Every time a ring is moved, it leaves a marker behind. Markers are white on one side and black on the other. When markers are jumped over by a ring they must be flipped, so their colour is constantly changing. The players must try to form a row of 5 markers with their own colour face up. If a player succeeds in doing so, he removes one of his rings as an indication that he has formed such a row. The first player to remove 3 of his rings wins the game. In other words, each row you make brings you closer to victory - but also makes you weaker, because you have one less ring to play with. A really fun game and my main opponent this year has been my 5-year-old daughter.

Battle Line - 14 Plays

A card game where you and your opponent face off across a 'battle line' and attempt to win the battle by taking 5 of 9 flags or 3 adjacent flags. Flags are decided by placing cards into 3 card poker-type hands on either side of the flag (similar to straight flush, 3 of a kind, straight, flush, etc). The side with the highest 'formation' of cards wins the flag. Designed by the amazing and prolific Reiner Knizia and published by GMT, Battle Line is a tense yet extremely fun game. My main opponent this year has been my mum.

Cartagena - 14 Plays

This game takes as its theme the famous 1672 pirate-led jailbreak from the fortress of Cartagena. Each player has a group of six pirates and the objective is to have all six escape through the tortuous underground passage that connectes the fortress to the port, where a boat is waiting for them. Each card bears one of six symbols (dagger, pirate hat, etc.), and you move a pirate forward by playing a card and moving ahead to the matching symbol in the tunnel, leapfrogging over those where another pirate already stands, but the only way to get more cards is to move backwards. Cartagena is a simple but smart game of patience and opportunity and my main opponent this year, mainly playing the cards face-up 'Tortuga' version, has been my mum.

NICKELS (At least 5 plays)

Travel Blokus - 8 Plays

A fun, fast abstract game and actually my most-played game in 2005. It has slipped somewhat this year due to all the other new games I've played. My main opponent this year was my wife.

Gobblet - 8 Plays

Another fun abstract game that plays quickly. This one has nice wooden pieces. Main opponents this year were my 5-year-old daughter and my mum.

Pick Picknic - 7 Plays

A fun game of fowls trying to eat corn. Main opponents this year were my 5-year-old daughter and my mum.

Amazing Labyrinth - 7 Plays

A fun game of collecting objects from an ever-shifting maze. Main opponents this year were my 5-year-old daughter and my mum.

Cloud 9 - 6 Plays

Players attempt to rise to higher-valued clouds in a hot-air balloon. Played with several people this year.

Elefun - 6 Plays

More a toy than a game. Catch floating butterflys shooting up from an elephant's trunk. My main opponent this year has been my 5-year-old daughter.

For Sale - 6 Plays

A fun card game of bidding for properties and then selling them for the most money. Played with several people this year.

Buckaroo - 6 Plays

A simple dexterity game of attempting to unload items from the back or an 'ornery donkey before it bucks. My main opponent this year has been my 5-year-old daughter.

Commands & Colors: Ancients - 6 Plays

Another of the excellent Commands & Colors games designed by Richard Borg and this time published by GMT. One of my top-rated games that I would have loved to have played more often in 2006. The only game on my list which I don't own. My one and only opponent this year was Friendless as he owns it.

Ingenious - 6 Plays

An excellent abstract game designed by Reiner Knizia. Main opponents this year were myself (solitaire), my 5-year-old daughter and my mum.

Madeline's House - 6 Plays

A kids game racing game based on the Madeline book series. Main opponent this year was my 5-year-old daughter.

ZERTZ - 5 Plays

Another of the excellent games in the GIPF Project. An abstract game with gorgeous playing pieces. I plan to play this more in 2007. My main opponent this year was my mum.

Guess Who - 5 Plays

A kids deduction game. My main opponent this year was my 5-year-old daughter.

Bratz Passion For Fashion - 5 Plays

Groan! A kids racing and set-collection game. If this doesn't appear on my list next year I won't be sorry. Still, for my daughter, an important training game for Daddy's grown-up games in the future. Yep, main opponent this year was my 5-year-old daughter.

DVONN - 5 Plays

Last, but not least, is another of designer Kris Burm's GIPF Project games. If this doesn't appear on my list next year I'll be surprised. My main opponent this year was my mum.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Gaming With Grandma - 1

My mother (Grandma to our kids) usually visits every Saturday morning. It's an opportunity for her to catch up with us and see her two grandchildren. It's also an opportunity for me to play games with her. I've introduced her to a lot of games in 2006 and she's always ready to try something new.

This morning we played some old favourites. First up, Grandma and I played Mamma Mia! which is a card game all about trying to make pizzas. We played 2-player and while not bad, I enjoy it more with 3 or more players. I won this 8 orders to 4.

My elder daughter then joined us for a game of For Sale. For Sale is a fun card game of bidding for properties and then trying to sell those properties for the most cash. Final scores were me, Dad, $76K, Grandma $70K and Elder Daughter $45K.

After that, Elder Daughter went off to play with her dolls while Grandma and I played a game of Pick Picknic. Pick Picknic is a game of different types of birds vying for corn in six different farmyards while trying not to be eaten by foxes. Definitely more fun with more people. As a 2-player game it lacks the conflict that occurs with more players. We ended up being tied with 66 corn each.

My wife joined in for a final game of Cloud 9. This is a push-your-luck style game of attempting to rise to higher value clouds in a hot-air balloon. Knowing when to hop out and take the points is the key to this game. My wife ended up winning, Grandma came second and myself a close third.

I really value these Saturday mornings. Interacting with family and developing bonds is so important. Gaming together is a special way to enhance our relationships apart from the normal day-to-day contact. I hope this tradition continues.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The BattleLore Dice

Even before I'd even received my copy of BattleLore I knew there were reported problems with the dice. Some people had found that after using them for a period of time the coloured symbols on the dice began to 'bleed' or rub off on their hands. Days of Wonder, to their credit, acknowledged the problem and issued the following statement:

"The production dice are wearing out faster than acceptable. While we discovered this issue too late to fix it in the current batch of games, we will be offering anyone with a defective set a free replacement. New, more durable, screen-printed dice are being manufactured as of this writing. As soon as they are ready, we will be airshipping them to our warehouses for delivery to you, at our cost. All that will be required of you will be registering on our web site, using the web card number that comes on the back of every game’s Adventures Booklet. We will be setting up a special page, dedicated to this issue, as soon as these replacement dice become available."

I had a really close look at the dice the other day. I was a little disappointed. Although they were bright and colourful they didn't appear to have the same quality as the Memoir '44 dice (Days of Wonder's previous Commands & Colors game). The BattleLore dice were marked in places and the paint looked like it could easily chip off. You can see tiny spots of colour on the white areas of the dice which appear to have come from being rubbed and knocked together in transit. One of my dice even had a bit of a dint in it that can only have happened in the production phase prior to putting them in the game box (click on the photo for a close up picture and look at the die in the far left of the middle row).

To prevent the 'bleeding dice' problem I first washed them in warm, soapy water to try and get off any marks. This wasn't that successful as the majority of the marks remained. After letting them fully dry I then sprayed them several times (allowing sufficient drying time between coats) with a varnish I use for protecting painted miniatures. Time will tell how successful this will be but I plan on taking Days of Wonder up on their offer for replacement dice.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Electronic Dice

I'm a sucker for dice. I love the variety of colours and shapes you can get these days. I love the way they roll and the anticipation of whether or not Lady Luck will smile on you with each throw. So when my elder daughter was emptying out her Xmas stocking the other day I was particularly excited when I saw a packet of electronic dice. My wife had picked them up at a cheap dollar store as a stocking filler and hadn't told me about it. My daughter was so-so about them, she had other presents she was more interested in, but she did open them and had a throw or two.

Each die has two of those small button batteries powering it. When sensors within the die detect it rolling on a surface the pips light up and start flashing while it emits a high-pitched beeping. The die will roll until the weight of the batteries and gravity forces it to come to a halt on a flat base. After a few seconds of flashing and beeping a random number is selected and the corresponding pips light up in a solid display. If you wanted to you could even use them in the dark!

These dice are cool and are worth having for the novelty factor alone. I wouldn't necessarily use them for a game that requires 6-sided dice though. I'm sure people would soon get irritated by the incessant beeping and the short delay until a random number is generated. Having said that, these dice have found a place in my dice bag. Just don't tell my daughter...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Let It Rain! Let It Rain! Let It Rain!

Australia is currently suffering a drought in many locations. Here in Brisbane, on the east coast of Australia, the state Water Commission introduced level four water restrictions on Wednesday, 1 November 2006. What does level four water restrictions mean for my household? Well, all outdoor sprinkling and hosing is banned. Watering existing gardens and lawns is only permitted using a hand held watering can or bucket filled directly from a tap on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays between 4am - 8am and 4pm to 8pm.

Things are pretty serious. Rain water tanks over the last year have been a booming business. Conserving water is uppermost in the minds of most people. Reports on dam levels are now included in the nightly TV weather reports. It makes you really start to think how precious water is...

Yesterday it started to rain. Not a downpour mind you, and certainly not drought-breaking, just a steady drizzle from a grey, overcast sky. It was wonderful. We all expected it to stop last night but I awoke this morning to another day of fine, steady drizzle. It's cool and wet. It's beautiful.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A BattleLore Boxing Day

Today was the first chance I'd had to really sit down and go through the components and rules of BattleLore. You see, Boxing Day in Australia is traditionally the day when large department stores open their doors to hordes of eager shoppers looking for a post-Xmas bargain. My wife and elder daughter left me at home with our younger daughter while they went out shopping. With my wife and elder daughter gone I only had to wait for my younger daughter to fall asleep before I delved into the BattleLore box.

The first thing I did was wash all the miniatures. That's right, after separating the banners from the banner bearers, all the Goblins, Dwarves, Archers, Swordsmen, Cavalry and Creatures went into the kitchen sink where I gave them a good wash with warm, soapy water. This is a procedure I follow for all my other plastic and metal miniatures prior to priming them ready for painting. Various substances are used on miniatures to make them come free of the mold, as well as the fact that hand oils get on the miniature as it's handled, and these will interfere with paint adhesion unless cleaned off. I'm not planning to paint the BattleLore miniatures at this stage but I did want to get rid of the nasty odour they had as well as any potentially toxic residue from the casting process. I'm sure they're perfectly safe but some of the miniatures did have small clumps of fine brown powder on them. Better to be safe than sorry.

The next thing I did was fix the miniatures that had been bent by the packing process. Luckily there weren't that many that were too serious. I grabbed two large bowls. One bowl I filled with water and ice and the other I filled with boiling water. I then dumped all 200+ miniatures into the bowl of hot water. All of them!?! Well, although only a handful of the miniatures were severely bent, most had a slight lean to their stance or a weapon slightly out of alignment. It wasn't really necessary to do them all but I wanted every single figure to be standing up straight with their weapons in good working order. I'm a bit of a perfectionist that way. The miniatures softened in the hot water and after a short wait I then took them out one by one, repositioned them slightly, and then dipped them into the ice water. They immediately froze in the new correct position.

After drying the miniatures I separated and bagged all the components. There's something I find very satisfying when conducting this procedure with a new game. It gives me the opportunity to enjoy a game in other ways than just playing it. There's the visual pleasure I get from looking at the beautiful pieces, the 'new game' smell that emanates from the box, the feel of the cards, miniatures and other components, the sounds of shuffling of cards and rolling the dice. The only one of my five senses I don't use when appreciating a game for the first time is taste. Then again, I wonder what those dice taste like? Should I give the box a lick? Hmmm....

By the time I'd finished bagging and tagging the components the little one was awake from her nap and demanding to be fed. Perfect timing! Here's a pic of my handywork.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Reflecting on Xmas Day

Today our younger daughter turned 11 months old. It was also, obviously, her first Christmas Day. My wife had dressed her in a red and green Santa's elf costume which she wore for the first part of the morning. It came with a little green hat which she's not wearing in this photo because she kept pulling it off. She spent the morning wide-eyed, staring at all the gifts as they were opened, watching the happy expressions on the faces of her Mum, Dad and sister, and then crawling straight for the discarded wrapping paper. Yep, little kids enjoy empty boxes and the left-over wrapping paper more than any gift they may receive at that age. Hey, she got some great gifts but I'm sure all she'll be dreaming about tonight is the fun she had in ripping the pretty wrapping paper apart all morning.

Our elder daughter is 5 and a half. She knows what Christmas is all about and couldn't wait to open her presents. First thing she did though, when she staggered from her bedroom all touseled-haired and sleepy-eyed, was to go out on to the deck to see if Santa Claus had drunk the glass of milk and eaten the chocolate crackle she'd left for him the previous evening. Not to mention the eight carrots she'd also kindly left for Santa's reindeer. Sure enough the milk was drunk, the chocolate crackle had disappeared and nothing was left of the carrots except for a few nibbled pieces. She did comment that the reindeers didn't leave as much mess as they did last year. That was probably because Santa didn't get the beer left out for him like he did last year.

We had the relatives over this morning for a BBQ breakfast on the back deck. When I say relatives I mean just close family. All up there were only five adults and two children so it wasn't a big affair. It was a lovely morning, coolish for this time of year. A slight breeze blew across the deck. Soon the air was filled with the aroma of sizzling leg ham, sausages, mushrooms, eggs and black pudding (for me).

After breakfast it started to get a bit warm so we all went for a refreshing swim in the pool. After an hour or so splashing about I headed upstairs, grabbed a beer and went out on to the back deck. I brought out PUNCT, a 2-player abstract game in the GIPF Project by Kris Burm. This was another gift I'd received and had been overshadowed somewhat by BattleLore. I quickly read the rules and my mum and I sat down and played two games. I won both games but like all the games in the GIPF Project it does take a few games to understand the strategies. Adding this game to my collection means I now own all six games in the GIPF Project.

In the afternoon we had a couple more people drop by, and that evening, as we all sat out on the deck around the table drinking, I brought out my unplayed copy of Apples to Apples. This is a party game where players are dealt 7 red apple cards each round which have the name of an object or a person on them. Each round the person who deals the cards out to the other players is the judge. The judge role rotates each round. The judge selects one green apple card which has an adjective written on it. The other players then select and play one red apple card from their hand which they believe closely matches the adjective of the green apple card. The judge, after shuffling the played red apple cards, reads them out one at a time and selects the one they think is the best. The person who played that card gets to keep the green apple card. First person to collect a certain number of green apple cards wins. Apples to Apples is very simple game which, for non-gamers (that is, everyone at the table except me), is not very difficult or threatening. With a few drinks under your belt the card matches can be even more amusing. We played two games of this and everyone seemed to enjoy it. I was happy as that's one less unplayed game I now own. Woohoo!

BattleLore sadly went through the day ignored as I was too busy eating, drinking and talking as well as playing with the kids. But that's fine, that's what Christmas Day is all about and to tell you the truth, after waiting so long to play with BattleLore, I figured another day wouldn't hurt.

The Long Awaited Present...

Christmas morning has finally arrived. I was up at 4.30am before the rest of the family were awake, busy catching up on some last minute cleaning and organising. As I tiptoed quietly around, my eyes kept being drawn to the Christmas tree in the corner of the lounge room beneath which lay the waiting gifts. I haven't looked forward to opening a present this much since I was a kid. I've felt the excitement growing each day over the last week. So what present was generating this level of expectation and yearning in myself, you ask? It was the big, square, heavy one right at the front taking pride of place under the Christmas tree. The latest boardgame from Days of Wonder - BattleLore!

BattleLore is a 2-player board game of battling fantasy armies using a rules system called Commands & Colors by designer Richard Borg. I've played all the other Commands & Colors (C&C) games and love them all. There is an American Civil War version called Battle Cry by Avalon Hill, a WWII version called Memoir '44 by Days of Wonder and an Ancients version called Commands & Colors: Ancients by GMT Games.

I've been aware of BattleLore since September 2006 and it was the first game I've ever pre-ordered. I knew straight away this was the game for me, and with the incentive of a free Hill Giant miniature for all pre-orders I was more than happy to commit to purchasing BattleLore. Days of Wonder have a BattleLore blog where they've been releasing titbits of information over the last few months and I've been visiting it daily with an insatiable appetite, ever hungry for more news about the game.

BattleLore was released worldwide in late November 2006 but my copy didn't arrive until Tuesday 19 December 2006. As this game was my wife's gift to me, she immediately wrapped it up and put it under the Christmas tree. And there it has sat, so close, yet so far for the last week. It's been difficult, but I must admit I've been proud of my restraint in waiting until Christmas day to open it.

So, Christmas morning finally arrived. When I did get around to opening the BattleLore box I was very pleased. Very pleased indeed! Not only did I receive the Hill Giant miniature but I received the Earth Elemental miniature as well! I knew what every piece of the game would look like, but now, holding it in my hands it was better than I could have hoped for. Everything was simply beautiful. I couldn't wait to read through the rules, fondle the miniatures and set up the board, but as the relatives were arriving at 7.30am for a BBQ breakfast I sadly had to put BattleLore away in a cupboard where it would patiently await my future inspection.