Sunday, March 06, 2011

Shabbat Gaming

My brother has four boys who play games, especially Magic and D&D. They also have friends who drop by to play with them. He has acquired a narrow collection of board games from those I've taught him over the years, and I recently donated to him a few thousand newer Magic cards from my overflowing collection.

This shabbat I taught him Age of Empires III; we played four players. I took a small early lead, and became a target for the rest of the game. My brother especially urged the other players to spend their actions ganging up on me while he, free from having to do the dirty work, slowly moved forward himself. Ah, brothers. In the end, I beat him by 7 points.

I also taught them Glory to Rome. I taught it slightly better than I did for my first play (see the last game group session report), but they still managed to do nearly every step wrong over and over again. One would think that, after doing a step wrong a few times and being told how to do it correctly, they would finally do it right; apparently the brain needs to truly understand certain processes before it can accept instruction on them.

Unlike my previous game, no one built any game-ending buildings, so we played until the deck ran out (only two sites left). I didn't think I was in last place, but I also wasn't sure that I was winning. I actually was winning, it turns out, until my brother dropped a late building that gave him 1 point for each 2 resources left in his stockpile, and with that he beat me by 1 point.

The blue cards (move to the Vault) were very scarce, for some reason.

Lastly, we played some Magic, two against two. Each team had 40 points. My brother likes to fix games to complement the strategies that he likes to play, rather than go through the work or gain the experience required to actually play the game as it was designed; occasionally I fix games, too, but nowhere near as radically as he does, and only after reading up on other people's experiences first, to be sure that I'm not being myopic.

For Magic, my brother plays that each player gets to pick 60 cards from the collection at random. Then, for every two gold cards the player tosses out, they can pick one more card of any specific color that they like. Then they can pick 8 more cards of any specific color or colors that they like. That's the draft.

Each player can, at any point during the game and only once, toss a non-land card from his hand and pick a random land from the deck. In addition, all lands automatically have "Cycling 2".

That's not to mention some of the rules that he gets wrong, but those at least he lets me correct.

I played partner with my brother against my nephew and a friend. We did a lot of damage, knocking them down from 40 to 16 while only taking 5 points of damage ourselves. However, their army kept getting bigger and better; this was partially due to one of our opponent's having miraculously picked nearly all of the better, newer cards during his random drafting. He finally slammed us for 19 points during one turn. We were reduced to pinging them, and it still took him four more rounds to finish us off.


david said...

David's rebuttal:
We play periodically and Antike is the current favorite. D&D is lacking players right now and is not a Shabbat game anyway. Magic wasn't played for years, though for several reasons is being played once again. The 1000 new cards and especially the newer cards spice things up. Many of then are in lieu of those borrowed years ago. Still I now have more cards than I started with and some newer ones, so my thanks to my brother.

Age of empires was interesting though Jon had a lead since he knew what he was doing and we were blind sheep for the first few rounds. Attacking the leader who knows what he is doing is a valid strategy. If we battle amongst ourselves, the expert wins easily. Sadly it still wasn’t enough. I did close the gap in the end to take second 7 points behind Jon, once I made a few correlated moves. If my son hadn't jammed me at the last moment, I'd have had several more points, though I still think Jon would have won. I’d have liked to have played this again, now that I understand the mechanics.

Glory to Rome was also interesting. Winning helps though again I planned things for several moves ahead to claim my victory. I refused to complete a red building which added tons to my supply until there was a lot in stock to fill me up and I went first so I could claim it all. To fill the stock I jacked several time using multiple cards so they’d be discarded to the pool. Then using the rest on my hand I could finish the end game building scoring an awful lot and wining.

Both games suffer to complexity which takes time to process. There are a lot of moves and how the interact and what each does, is not so simple. Several rounds are needed.

david said...

I disagree with Jon’s assessment on adapting games to my strategies. MTG is a reasonable game for with 2, 4 (team), or 5(2 ally+2oponents in a star) players, and plays quickly, but suffers from several drawbacks. 3 players doesn’t work and 6 takes too long.
1. Preparing decks takes time which I don’t have and will see the same key cards reused while most of the rest gather dust. Hence we draft cards randomly. I have separated out useless cards and color blanchers.
2. A controlled draft takes time and we find it quite boring. However, Jon loves it. Dicing speeds it up. 2 colors usually get dumped fast from the result set and picking 8 cards strengthens the colors chosen to be playable. Dies rolls of 1-5 are from color piles. A 6 draws 1 artifact and 2 golds. The golds can be dumped at 2:1 for a card of a chosen color if they are not of the colors you are playing.
3. Bad luck. Even with card control, the mix can be a disaster and ruin a good game. I do not like wining or losing due to the inability to pick a land, or at some key point in the game picking nothing but lands for several round running.
Consider a two color deck where all the land of one color ends up in the bottom 15 cards. Even picking a random land may not help. Or in mid game, where you pick ten lands in a row with no playable cards. You are dead. Card control may help, but not enough in these situations which I find to occur at least one in 3-4 games.
My goal was to minimize this luck factor. I added two rules. 1. Once a game, toss a card (any card including a land) for a basic land of your choice. 2. All basic lands have cycling 2.
Since a hand starts with between 2-5 lands you always have at least 3 lands. A high casting cost deck had better have extra manna sources to function anyway. If a person is jammed at 3 land, I would consider a request to dump another card. I would not grant it to someone trying to abuse the intent of this rule.
The cycling allows dumping of lands when you have enough and you can get to the cards in you deck. Card control still improves this. Land destruction still is effective. But the number of dead games due to luck, has shrunk drastically.

I think Jon and I could have won if we played a bit better or the other two games in the match. Jon likes going for the quick kill. Against 40 life, that is not so easy. They had a chance to build up. A slower more cautious game we’d have taken them. Some good cards were played early against minor threats and made our life easy, but were then not available when we desperately needed them in the end game. All my manna boosters came mid game when they we merely cannon fodder. If they’d been there earlier, I round earlier, we’d have won and some big stuff one round earlier was the difference between wining and losing.