Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I'm A Contest!

This year will be my seventh GenCon. A lot has changed over the years, mostly for the good.

For my first GenCon, I taught Dungeon Twister. There were other games in the booth (Jungle Speed, for example), but I didn't teach them.  The team was just Stephan, Christophe, Christophe, and myself.

For my second GenCon, I taught Dungeon Twister and Mall of Horror. And a couple of others. It was Christophe, Christophe, Alex, and myself.

For my third GenCon, we had a lot of games. And a much larger booth. And the team was Christophe, Steve, Stephanie, Katie, Alex, Mathieu, and myself. This was the year I spent teaching Hell Dorado. The expected big game was Mission: Red Planet, but it failed to arrive before the convention.

For my fourth GenCon, we had a comparably-sized team and we spent the time teaching Ca$h 'n Gun$ and Senji. We had a comparably-sized team (and most of the same people) as the previous GenCon, but there was one important addition this year: T-shirts. They were airbrushed front-and-back and looked like they'd been hit by a graffiti artist. They were ... okay.

For my fifth GenCon, the focus games were Ghost Stories and Formula D. And we had new T-shirts - maroon shirts that simply said "Asmodee" on the front.

For my sixth GenCon, the focus was on Claustrophobia. The shirts this year were the same as the previous year, but in red instead of maroon.

This year, Asmodee has decided that they want something on the back of their shirts. Rather than just picking something, they have decided that it's contest time. And they decided to tease me a bit in the process. You can win a game and a shirt, simply by entering their contest. Enter quickly, though - there's not much time for this one.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dungeon Twister: Rookie Mistakes to Avoid

I do a lot of Dungeon Twister demos locally. Sometimes, it's formal - I'll make arrangements with a local game store, and I'll show up with my game, and teach people to play for four or five hours. Sometimes this is in conjunction with a tournament. Other times, I'll be going to a game store to shop or hang out, and someone will point me out as "that Dungeon Twister Guy." Or someone will ask me if I know of a good game.

Either way, I've seen a lot of rookie mistakes in the five and more years I've been playing and teaching this game. Here are the ones I see the most, and a few tips on how to avoid them.  Most of these tips are tailored for the original Base Set, but some of them cover Prison, as well.

There are exceptions to every single one of these guidelines. There are (as ever) extremely good players (including at least one World Champion) who vehemently disagree with my analysis on one or more of these points. Take what I say here with a grain or two of salt.

Trolls on the Starting Line
I like having diversity on my starting line, so I can react to what my opponent has placed in my front two rooms. That means I want at least one Hitter and at least one Runner. I also want to be able to conserve my AP - especially early in the game, where my card choice is restricted.

If you put a Troll on the starting line, he's too slow to reach the fight. You're better off using the Warrior as your starting line Hitter. He's just fast enough to be able to get in the way for 1-2 AP most of the time.

Clerics in the Maze
I nearly always put my Cleric on my starting line. If I put him in the maze, I'll put him in one of my front two rooms. The reasoning for this is simple: If I lose my Cleric, I lose the ability to heal. If my opponent reveals the Cleric, they'll probably be able to thump him before I can move him to safety. So I always want my Cleric in a room where I get to reveal him.

Spending Your Last Action To Reveal A Room
Christophe Boelinger used to beat me because I'd spend an action to reveal a room only to be unable to respond to what I found in that room - even if I placed it well, I wouldn't be able to take advantage of that placement. The primary exception to this is if your opponent is in a position to reveal that same room - it's nearly always better to reveal rooms yourself so that you have some control over its contents.

Forgetting That the Wizard Can Fly
This is an issue both on offense and on defense.  I can't block your Wizard just by standing in front of him. Similarly, I need to remember that my Wizard can fly past you, too. Someone who forgets this on offense will probably forget it on defense, too.

Attacking a Troll
If you attack my Troll, then I get to spend one Action next turn to stand him back up. If you win. Even if you gang up on him, as soon as you wound him on your turn, he's safe until the next turn, which is mine. I don't throw a combat card greater than +0 when my Troll is defending. This will use up your combat cards and we'll both waste one action - you to attack, me to regenerate. It's no gain to you, long-term.

Starting Fights You Aren't Willing to Win
A shorter way to say this is "Don't bluff with combat." If it will take the +6 to win a combat, don't initiate that combat unless you are going to play your +5 or +6. If I attack your Cleric, it's not because I'm trying to burn your combat cards (unless I'm starting a fight I know I can't win). It's because I want to wound your Cleric. And then kill him next turn.

Leaving Enemy Wounded On The Board
Just kill them. Really.  Their Strength is a zero, so you should be able to kill them fairly easily. And it's a victory point that you need to win the game.  If you leave enemy wounded lying around, you give your opponent a chance to get a Cleric there to heal them.  Or someone else there to carry the wounded character off the board, costing you your chance to kill them (and gain that point).

Rotating Rooms to Set Up Future Turns
It's silly to try to set up future turns by rotating rooms. Especially if your opponent has any character on a Rotation Gear that controls it - this goes double if it's the Mechanork. You should only rotate rooms for two reasons. Either you need the room turned so you can take advantage of the rotation right now or turning the room will make things more difficult for your opponent. Any other reason for turning the room is a waste of AP.

Relying on Items
This is an easy trap to fall into. That Fireball Wand ... it's a Victory Point! So is that Treasure. But you can't guarantee that you'll be able to get your hands on either of them. You can tip the odds in your favor, but you never know what's in a room until you reveal it. You will never be sure you can get your hands on them, so basing your strategy on them is doubly silly. If my strategy is Victory through Fireball Wand and Treasure and I never get my hands on ether one of them ... well ... my odds are looking pretty bad.

Giving the Treasure to the Goblin
It's predictable at this point. Rookies always seem to try to get the Treasure to their Goblin for a quick three.points. It's really good - if you can do it. But if I have a choice between running the Goblin out this turn or grabbing the treasure and running out next turn, well ... I'm going to look long and hard at where my opponent is on the board. Can he kill my Goblin with 5 Actions? Can he turn a room, blocking my escape? How many extra actions will it take me to grab the treasure and get out? Would those actions be better spent putting a Hit on one of my opponent's characters?

Escaping Before It's Time
My Thief isn't just a victory point waiting to escape. She's a toolbox that is used for helping other characters escape.  Even though she's fast enough to get out in two or fewer turns (most of the time), I very rarely escape her until she is my 4th or 5th Victory Point.

The thing to remember with escaping is that every character who escapes is one fewer option I have on the board. I'll run my Goblin off as soon as I can. His Strength of 1 isn't significant in Group Combat - not enough to be worth the extra AP to get him to the scene, at any rate. The Wall-Walker is similar to me - she has other uses, but her best use most of the time is getting off of the map. The rest of them usually stick around long enough to be useful. Warriors and Trolls pick fights. The Thief clears the path for the Wall-Walker and Goblin. The Wizard - once he's used his Fireball Wand - should run for the border, too.

Now these aren't - by any means - all of the rookie mistakes people make.  But they're the most common. And (as I said at the beginning), all of them have exceptions. Avoiding these mistakes will improve your play almost immediately, however, and will make you a more competitive player.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Time To Play: A Matter of Priorities

I'm often asked where I find the time to play these games. And think about games. And write about them. The answer is simple: I made the time.

Think about your day. How much time do you spend in the evenings watching television or surfing the internet? How late do you sleep in on weekends?

In 2001, I was watching too much television. I wasn't even filtering for good TV - I just flipped channels until I saw something that caught my interest. I even watched Rollerball one evening.  My human interaction outside of work was nearly zero - I had friends, I just never saw them. I read maybe a book every month or two (which is very unlike me).

The day I realized this, I re-arranged my priorities. I pushed human interaction to the top of the list. I cancelled my cable, and started working harder to see people.

That first week, I read twelve books.

In September of 2002, I started hosting Game Night - gaming has always been my preferred mode of social interaction. I have never looked back.

About six years ago, I got cable again. I should say "we," as it wasn't just me at that point.  I was really afraid of it, but it worked out okay. For the first few months, I watched very little TV. But I eventually realized - yes, I enjoy watching television, but given the choice between TV and Game Night, it's a no-brainer. I'll go to Game Night every time.

I had readjusted my priorities, and - apparently - that readjustment stuck.

I watch TV, now, but I do so on my own schedule (thanks to a DVR). It fits where I want it to fit, and doesn't usually get in the way of anything else like it used to.

We've played some duds on Wednesdays, it's true - but I don't mind the duds so much, because time spent playing games with friends is always better than time spent watching television. In fact, most things are.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Breaking Through Your Preferences: It's Sometimes Necessary

 We all have our own set of personal preferences which bias how we react to everything.

When it comes to gaming, I dislike a high degree of randomness. I like a fair degree of player interaction. I dislike having to reference charts continuously through play.

So why do I like Pizza Box Football? Seriously.  The game is a quick rock-paper-scissors game with a chart lookup. This tells you what column on another chart is rolled on. That chart gives you a modifier for yet another chart (on which you then roll for final result). Now, I love a good football-themed game. I really do. I even enjoy a fair number of bad ones. But I keep coming back to this one, and I honestly can't figure out why. The game is almost purely randomness and charts. Defense is underpowered.

I could go on for a while about why I should dislike the game, but it highlights something for me: Sometimes you need to set aside your preferences and give something different a shot.

It worked for Dixit. My preferences even boosted its sales.

Here's the thing about our gaming preferences that everyone forgets: You learned them. When I was eight, I didn't sit down at the Monopoly board and complain, "There's too much randomness and not enough direct player interaction!" I had no idea that there were less random games out there. I didn't know that there were games with varying degrees of player interaction.

My gateways to gaming in general are probably very similar to yours at first. Candy Land, Cootie, Monopoly, Aggravation, Battleship, Clue (or Cluedo, if you're in the UK). I was odd in that I rarely played Sorry or Trouble. And I didn't play Risk until I was an adult. These are the gateways through which most US gamers learn boardgaming.

When I was twelve, I played Axis and Allies for the first time (not the version I've linked to - the original Milton Bradley Gamemaster series one). That was a real eye-opener. That year, I was also introduced to Castle Risk - when I played Risk a few years later, I was very disappointed. Castle Risk is a far superior game.

By the time I was seventeen, I'd also played Diplomacy, Kingmaker, The Awful Green Things from Outer Space, The Great Khan Game, Illuminati, Hacker, Talisman, and a number of others. By this point, I'd started to define what I liked and disliked in a game.

Over the next five years, I added a number of games to my list - Robo Rally, Empires in Arms, Shogun, Fortress America, and a whole lot of others.

Some of you are aware of a split in boardgaming between "Euro" games and "Ameritrash" games. Some of you will further note that all of the games listed above are AT-style.  That is, theme before gameplay, lots of bits, lots of dice, lots of direct player conflict. It's worth noting that party games such as Scattergories or Wits and Wagers or Apples to Apples don't seem to fall into either camp.

 I was in my early twenties before I played a Euro. It was, of course Settlers of Catan, and it was (for me and many others) a real eye-opener. On September 13, 2002, I finally acquired my own copy of the game. At that time, I was twenty-six - and already a hobby gamer.

Settlers seemed, to me, to be nearly the perfect game. There was non-conflict interaction, and (through initial placement), you had a degree of control over your luck.  After that, I sought out Euros. There were some ... missteps. Nautilus springs to mind (steer well clear).

Somewhere along the way, I became very set in my ways. Or, as my wife calls me, "A Game Snob." I started sneering at games where dice ruled. I ignored games that were "too light."

Asmodee sent me the rules to Dixit and Cyrano, and I ... flinched. These didn't sound like good games to me. They sounded like party games. And Asmodee had made a habit of publishing good games.

Even after reading the rules to these ones, I hesitated to bring them to the table. But I knew I'd have to be ready to demo them. Which meant I'd need to play them.

Dixit was ... well, the art dragged me in. Honestly, for the first play or two, the game played second fiddle to the art. The next few games, I enjoyed for itself. In fact, the more I played it, the more I liked it.

Now, one of the things I do is take games to some of our local game stores. While I spend the bulk of my time and money at Phoenix Games, I do spend some time at Uncle's Games (less, now that their Southcenter Mall location is gone). I've visited  most of the other local stores, too.

I took Dixit to Uncle's games to demo for them. I ended up not having time to play, so I loaned it to them. When I came back a few weeks later, the district manager told me, "It's not his usual style of game, so when he recommended it, I knew it would be a good one."  This was before it won the Spiel des Jahres.

It rapidly became a top-seller for them, and was their best-seller over the following holiday season. They had so much demand for it that they ended up buying copies from a Canadian distributor because the US was sold out.

They sold so many that I mentioned to Christophe that I'd brought it in to Uncle's to demo, he exclaimed, "We love Uncle's games!" Apparently they'd sold more than just about anyone else.

And all because I reached past my preferences and recommended a game.

So the point is this: When we reach past our preferences, we sometimes find games we would otherwise have missed. And some of these games may become favorites, if we give them a chance.