Sunday, June 26, 2011

Raanana Gaming: Jaipur, Alien Frontiers

I spent my first weekend in Raanana, getting to know some people and the locale - to prove to myself that I could move there. I met a bunch of nice people. So there's hope for next year, even though I won't be living in Jerusalem.

I stayed at past JSGC members Abraham and Sara, who had moved to Raanana about a year ago for the same reason that I will: convenient to work. They have a cute new baby. Abe also just received some new games, including Dominant Species, Alien Frontiers, an expansion for Mecanisburg, and Jaipur. Since I still have a cough, I didn't play with the baby, but I played with the games.

Not Dominant Species, however. I've learned my lesson, which is not to buy long games that no one will play, however good the game is.

We played Jaipur. Jaipur is a simple set collection card game. Five cards, either camels or goods in six types, are flipped up in the "market" at all times. On your turn, you can a) take all the camels in the market and place them in front of you, or b) take one good and add it to your hand, or c) swap at least two goods and/or camels you have with any number of goods in the market, or d) discard one or more of your goods of a single type from your hand to collect VP tiles from six separate piles, one for each good.

The tiles are stacked with the better ones on top, which encourages you to dump early. However, you get bonus points for dumping three, four, or five cards at a time. The round ends when three VP piles run out. You get a bonus for having the most camels at the end of each round, and the player with the most points wins the round. Play best two out of three.

It took us the first round to learn a few of the rules. After the game was over, we also remembered one of the other rules, namely that you can also swap your camels for goods in the market; not something we got wrong, but simply an option that we didn't take advantage of.

I lost the first game for not realizing that the round ended when the tiles ran out in three piles. I had a handful of cards ready when suddenly the round was over. I didn't make that mistake again, and I won the next two rounds handily.

Jaipur is ok from my first play, and I didn't see any major flaws. It's a two player game, but Abe said that an online variant allow for three players.

Sara joined us for Alien Frontiers. AF is a Kickstarter success story from a company that advertised on Purple Pawn. It's now in the top 100 games on BGG. I was curious to see what the hoopla was all about.

Alien Frontiers is a dice rolling assignment game: in this category of games, you roll a bunch of dice and then assign the dice to various actions in order to gain resources, cards, points, etc. You later use these resources and cards to combine with other assignments for more points. It's a descendent of Yahtzee, in a way.

Here, the dice are your "ships", which makes little sense, but is a fun concept. Each ship docks at a station to get the reward. One thing the designer did right is provide places for different dice values, so a poor roll isn't automatically worse than a high roll - one of the things that bothers me about games like Stone Age.

Places let you: get fuel or ore, trade fuel to get ore, get cards which give bonus opportunities to use fuel, get more dice to roll, steal other players' stuff, or settle colonies (using fuel and ore, or just ore). Each colony is worth a point. There is a planet with various locations to settle colonies, and the person who has the most colonies in each location has a bonus point and access to the bonus ability of that location, which is typically a reduction in price in one of the places on the board.

The scoreboard simply tracks what you can see on the board: how many colonies you have and locations you control. Scores go up and down as the game progresses, and whoever has the most when the game ends (someone places their last colony) wins.

Although it was hard to roll "badly", I still managed to do a good job of it, not getting that single 6 that I needed for three turns in a row despite rolling 5 or 6 dice each turn. The game was between Abe and Sara, who jockeyed for the lead position as they placed colonies; Abe finished the game on his turn, and that was that.

The game was interesting enough, but as we moved from the middle to the end game, the major flaw became apparent. The flaw - and I'm not including the luck of the dice - can be summed up thus: a) analysis paralysis and b) nothing to do when it's not your turn. I was actually surprised that a game made in 2011 by game-aware folks such as Clever Mojo Games could fall prey to such an obvious problem. Did no one take any long turns during their playtest sessions?

You can't plan when it's not your turn. Your actions, other than your card actions, are rolled at the beginning of your turn. The exception to this is when you have cards that can change your dice rolls. In this case, you can plan what you hope to do, and then see if the limited change capabilities on your cards will let you get the results you want. If you can't, it's back to the analysis drawing board, so to speak.

Would I play again? Sure, but not with certain people. There is usually something to do, and you can always hope that some new ability combination will give you an edge on your next turn. Though it's a little frustrating simply to watch the score change back and forth until somebody finally wins.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Session Report, in which I lose but still love Navegador

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played:Fairy Tale, Navegador, Set, Bridge.

I lose but still love Navegador. Nadine and Gili tie in both games that they play together.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Moving to Raanana

At the beginning of August, less than a year after my father passed away and a few months after I got divorced, I will be moving to Raanana.

Why Raanana? My work arrangement, which is in Hod Hasharon (near Raanana), will start, as of mid-August, require me to come into the office five days a week. It's too much cost in time and money to commute from Jerusalem. I could do it if I had to (thank you This American Life, NYC Radiolab, New Yorker podcasts, Librivox, etc.), but why bother? I was planning to move out of my apartment, anyway; this is only a bit more drastic. In any case, I will start with a one year rental.

I'm leaving one of the nicest communities in the world, my friends at Mizmor LeDavid. Raanana also has a nice community, so I've heard; it even has a Carlebach shul. Raanana already has a game group, so I don't need to start one. I'm leaving the Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club in Nadine's hands. I hope she keeps it going, though with attendance as low as its been recently, it might be an uphill battle.

After all this change, it won't surprise you that I need a vacation. I'm planning one for November. I will be traveling to Ireland (first time, and I've always wanted to go), then flying on to Kansas City to see some friends. All of us will drive down to BGG.con, from which I will fly home.

And that's what's happening with me. What's happening with you?

Session Report, in which Gili comes from behind in Jambo

The latest Jerusalem Strategy Gaming Club session report is up. Games played: Guardians of Graxia, Jambo.

First I slaughter Gili in a game of Guardians of Graxia, and muse about one of its core poor mechanics. Then, just as it appears that I'm going to slaughter Gili at Jambo, as well, she comes from behind to kill me in a single turn.


At my brother's, we played some Magic, drawing randomly from his pool of cards. Ben and I each took one game, both of which were very close. We were in the middle of a close third game when we had to stop. I didn't play much else, as I was vry tired.
In Tekoa, I taught one of the kids of the family at which I was staying Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation. The other game I had brought was Antike, which we didn't get to play.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tekoa: There and Back Again

Last week I experienced the second most surreal experience of my life when I returned, after a 14 year absence, to Tekoa, a small settlement on which I lived from 1992 to 1997.

Tekoa is a mixed community of secular and religious Jews out in the boondocks of the West Bank; at least, it felt like it was out in the boondocks when I lived there. One had to drive through parts of Bethlehem and Beit Sahour to get there. The first noticeable change is a new road that connects Tekoa to the recent Jerusalem expansion of Har Homa; it's now a 12 minute straight drive from Jersualem without passing through an Arab village.

On approaching and entering Tekoa, I experienced alternate waves of deja vu for things that I remembered to be in their "right" location - a house, a parking lot, a tree, etc. - and anti-deja vu for things that were out of place - a house erected outside of the security gate that did not belong there, i.e. I remember there being an empty space there, and it seemed wrong for there to be a house there instead.

The waves continued upon seeing the people over 40 and the interiors of the houses of my friends' and of my own former house (it was so much smaller than I remembered). I didn't know anyone under 20, of course, and could only vaguely identify a few people ages 20 to 40.

Other than the few families that had left the yishuv, and that former children were now parents with their own children, the people I remember from 14 years ago appeared to be nearly the same as I remembered them. They looked a little greyer or rounder, but they had the same spouses, the same jobs, lived in the same houses, moved, acted, and talked the same, etc. I sat among a large group of these people and would not have been able to point out a difference between now and a gathering held 15 years ago, were it not for the grandchildren wandering around.

I think my sense of surreal came from the contrast between my own life and theirs. They live in a community situated in a supposed political maelstrom, a community that had grown from 200 families to 500 with more on the way, yet I felt surrounded by stability. I asked one of my friends what he done in the 14 years since I'd been gone, and he said, "I read the newspaper". In the meantime, I had moved to the "stable" area of the country and had since moved twice, remarried and divorced, and am about to move again.

They must be doing something right.

Thursday, June 02, 2011