About Last Night: Unity Games XIX

Brandon:  Unity Games is a convention of sorts, though there aren’t really vendors or panels or stuff you’d normally associate a convention with.

Josh:  They seem to go with “event.”

Brandon:  That’s appropriate.  It is essentially a gathering of board-gamers, organized by the BoardGameGeek community, specifically the New England contingent.  It’s a sort of socialist gathering, in that everyone brings their games, and freely allows everyone attending to borrow and play them, with the implicit agreement that they will not damage or steal the contents.  It totally works.  I was introduced to Unity by a friend of mine when I first moved to Boston five years ago.  I have been attending it ever since.

This year’s event was held at the Doubletree Hotel in Danvers, MA.  Swanky place, it even has a giant indoor water park.  I got up around 8:00 and out the door by 9:00.  At 9:45 I’m playing the first of many games to come (which we’ll give quick reviews of later).

Josh:  This was my first year at Unity, and I honestly wasn’t sure to expect. All my details were, well, not details. Where, when, how much and Boardgames was about all I knew.  So I got up around 10 and left around 11. When I arrived, I put my coat down and immediately found Brandon playing Spinball outside of the main room.

Brandon: Which was a treat since it’s rare, expensive, and I will never own a copy.

Josh: A few other tables with different games were set up and a few people were milling around. The charity auction had a stack of 50 or so games and there was a table with two guys taking money and handing out nametags. I asked myself if this was really it and if maybe I’d end up at my girlfriend’s friend’s friend’s party that night after all.

And then I stepped into the grand ballroom, which was about the size of a football field and filled with about 500 people, all of whom seemed to be immersed in games. Oh. So this is what I’m here for.

Brandon:  Yup.  Unity was in Woburn the last few years, but moved here because there was more space.  IMO there still wasn’t enough.

While waiting for Josh I jumped into a game of Legendary with 4 other guys who have never played.  Quick review: it’s Ascension with Marvel heroes, and not very special.  But hey, new game!  That’s one of the 3 major things I have to do at Unity, play new games.

I’m anxious to get into a game with Josh, so he can start loving Unity as much as I do.  I think my wishes are granted immediately, as we find a 3rd person willing to teach us Eclipse, a pretty robust space exploration game.  So imagine my dismay when we find that the guy has only played it once, doesn’t know how to teach it, isn’t sure he has all the components, and the table we can find to play isn’t nearly large enough.

Josh:  Thankfully we got out of it with a switch to King Of Tokyo, a game I’ve heard as the “light” game that’s worth playing. I don’t remember how long the game took but it felt like 5 minutes and it wasn’t quite as fun as I wanted it to be considering that I had heard it was good, but at least now I know.  I suggested grabbing lunch, in part to find new gaming partners, and in part because it’s a biological necessity to eat and my body was reminding me of that. After a quick bite to eat I returned to the football field sized room and figured now was as good a time as any to figure out what I actually wanted to do here.

Brandon:  Which was a good idea, because I would have been content staying, gaming, not eating, and eventually wasting away.  As opposed to eating my sandwich and bouncing up and down in Subway while Josh wonders why he’s friends with a man-child.

See, Unity is a bit overwhelming.  It is essentially all the games, and almost certainly the people who want to play them (I never did get that Monopoly game off the ground in 2010 though).  Anyone who has tried and failed to get together a game night just once knows how great this is.  It also gives me that feeling of anxiety when I hit conventions; I can’t focus on having fun, because I’m too worried about the stuff I’m going to miss out on.  “Lunch?  Damn man, the demo of Donald Vaccarino’s mad scientist game Nefarious is demoing and we’re missing it!”  Or even better; “We gotta get more gaming in.  this closes at midnight, we’ve only got… 10 more hours!”

So maybe it’s just as well that we sort of split up when we get back.  Honestly I feel a little bad about it; Josh said at lunch that, while my priorities at Unity are to play as many games with as many people as I can, his plan was to play games with me, and also other people that would be fun to play with.  But he sees some improv friends, and I really want to try this Nefarious demo out, so we divide and conquer.

Josh: Keeping track of our afternoons and evenings in tandem is a logic puzzle that would give even expert solvers a tough time. Instead, let me tell you I had a lot of fun, and here are some of my highlights and thoughts on the evening:

  • I found my friends Nick and Casey playing Ginkopolis, which is the game that throughout the day is seemingly always being played near me. There were two games I had never seen/heard of before Unity that got a lot of buzz were definitely Ginkopolis and “that Mayan gears game” (later discovered that it was actually called Tzolk’in).

This ain’t your daddy’s Mouse Trap

  • My initial fear of going to Unity was who I was going to play games with. For me, playing a game with the right person is usually more important than what game we’re playing, so finding Nick and Casey (and their group of friends) was a godsend. I didn’t actually play a single game with either of them, but I played games with people they knew and got to avoid getting stuck in a game with someone who was too competitive or too slow or too smelly. Every game I played was with people I enjoyed who were friendly, smart and just the right amount of competitive. I’d play with any of them again.
  • Village (a worker placement game wherein part of your goal is to kill some of your workers so that they may be placed in the graveyard) may be the most in depth game I’ve played, or it might be a bunch of bullshit where it feels like you’ve got strategies but in fact you don’t. I’m not positive. That said, the guy who won is apparently “the guy who always wins” among his peers, so it might not be bullshit.
  • While we’re on Village: In most game groups there seems to be a guy who has a distinct style of play that when it leads to victory everyone says “oh man, there he goes again.” For me, it’s my friend Dan who figured out the Chapel Strategy in Dominion before the rest of us. In Village, the guy who won’s strategy involved hoarding cubes and then going to market when he could fulfill 4 orders and the rest of us couldn’t fill any. Final scores were something like 73, 51, 46 and 32. Second place isn’t much of a moral victory when first place was that far ahead.
  • Nefarious, on the other hand, I feel more confident putting in the “mostly bullshit” category. Which is too bad. The theme is cool and the gameplay is interesting, but the options felt extremely limited and I didn’t feel like I had much chance for strategy. I’d play again, but I wouldn’t buy it or advise anyone else to buy it either.
  • Factory Fun was played twice, because even in this gaming land of opportunity, where you can go find ANY game you want, this was so enjoyable that everyone agreed to take 5 and run it back. The gameplay is relatively quick, and the only major flaw I found in my two plays through is that the first two grabs seem fairly arbitrary (and if they are supposed to be, then why not just deal out two machines from the start?). By round three though, when you might want to let a part go, it really shines. And the expert maps are… challenging. If you played Pipe Dream on an old windows PC and enjoyed it, then you’ll like this game. Also, if you like yelling “it’s not a dump truck! It’s a series of Tubes!!”, then look no further.

Senator Stevens would be proud

Brandon: I had tons of fun too. Allow me to expound my earlier reviews, give my impressions, and address some of Josh’s points with a few of my own.

  • I remember distinctly a time when I went to Unity with friends and stressed about playing games with them.  We wasted time, didn’t get much in, and had to leave early.  So while I really like going and playing with friends, it’s one of those places where I usually end up throwing myself out to the crowd to find stuff to play and people to play with.  It forces me to be social, and it’s the most forgiving crowd; everyone’s there to game, without shame or hesitation.
  • Legendary.   I really want to like this, but after one play, I can’t imagine breaking out all the components when Ascension plays the same way and has less setup.  You have your starting decks, various heroes to get shuffled, the villain deck which has minions and major villains, the mastermind, the schemes and scheme twists, bystanders, and a big board. You flip villains into a center row, buy heroes, and fight villains if you have the strength, which at the start you almost certainly won’t. You’re supposed to be working together, as there is a global lose condition, but really, whoever gets the most points wins. It’s okay, but not worth the price and time, even with the old-school comic artwork that’s all over everything in the game.
  • Goblins, Inc. was another game I saw a lot of.  I don’t know how it plays, but I sat next to a game and heard, “okay, this turn you have that goblin pilot the head, then he can switch to engineering and begin repairs while we attack.”  I want to be able to utter things like that, that’s one of the great things about board gaming.  You play a goblin team and build robots to do battle with other goblins.  I don’t know about the game mechanics, but the theme sounds great.
  • Nefarious really is mostly bullshit.  I’m glad Josh and I agree here.  I can almost see the steps that led to it:  you have a game with a lot of mad science kookiness, but it’s thin on mechanics.  You have all these ideas that could make the game better.  So you throw them in as “twists” and have the players flip two over to modify the current game.  And you didn’t bother testing them, because hey, the game plays so quick, why bother?  And you end up with a half-game with a half-mechanic that ranges from boring to broken (with admittedly some good cards in the spectrum, not sure how many).  I’m just a little pissed that I was kept from gaming with friends to play it.  Donald Vaccarino made Dominion, for Christ’s sake!  He can do better.
  • The second major thing on my Unity checklist is to play games I have heard about, but won’t get a chance to play due to their high cost, scarce availability, or the knowledge that I could never get a group together to play them.  I didn’t even know Space Cadets was out, so I was super excited to play it.  It’s insanely complicated, and it wore out its welcome before we were done, around the 2 hour mark.  But there was someone to teach it, people to play it, and while it wasn’t the amazing experience I built up in my head, it was still a lot of fun, and I will definitely look to buy it. If nothing else it will be a cool exercise in teaching a complicated game to a group in a reasonable amount of time.

Everyone’s got a job to do. Not pictured: torpedo firing range, sensor kit, captain tearing his hair out.

  • Damnit I wanted to play Factory fun.  And I never did get a game of Eclipse.  Or Ascending Empires.  Or Galaxy Trucker.  I would see games of them going on, and be busy playing another game.  But I had fun.  It’s important not to lose sight of the forest for the trees here.
  • In the wee hours I played Ticket To Ride Nordic with Josh and Samuel, a guy I sort of know from curling.  I won.  It was pretty sweet.

The closing hours

After the Ticket to Ride game Josh headed out.  And for good reason, it was 11:00pm, maybe later.  I didn’t play any games after that (except one round of Loopin’ Louie.  I’m not proud of it).  But I did get to do the last and, I think, most enjoyable thing on my Unity checklist; teach new games.

There were a lot of Android: Netrunner copies floating around (at number 7 on BGG you better believe it), and a lot of people who wanted to play but didn’t know how.  It’s a difficult game to just pick up.  But I was able to help a few people through the initial stages of the game.  I also got to teach Carcassonne, and introduce my own meeple lexicon to a group.  And a few guys were playing Innovation for the first time, and I did a little Q&A for some of the more obscure rules (remember, you can’t get a regular achievement unless you have enough points and a card of that age or higher in your tableau).

Unity isn’t perfect. It’s perennially crowded, loud, and not terribly well-organized. This is what happens when you strip away the trappings of a convention. The booths, vendors, industry moguls and independent developers, the panels and stage shows, and countless advert handouts are shuffled off, and what we are left with is the mutual agreement of hundreds of people whose singular focus is to game. To play games. To teach games. To buy, sell, and trade old and new titles, ensuring that old games find new life, and new games can become old favorites. To devote as much as a full day in the pursuit of that spirit of gaming. It’s a full day of Any Game Good, and I think that says it all.

Unity Games 2011 (you know its from years ago because its so much smaller). My kind of crowd.

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About Last Night

Last Night Brandon and I and 6 other people got together to play Boardgames and it was a great deal of fun. I played Dixit for the first time and an old favorite Citadels. Brandon played Puzzle Strike twice. (You can always see what games we’re playing over on the Standings page) Here are some thoughts we had that didn’t deserve their own full on posts:

  • Describing Dixit 

    Dixit is better described as “Balderdash with pictures” than “Apples to Apples with pictures.” Both because its more true and because it makes people more likely to play. It’s still more of a “social activity” than a “game,” but I found it much more enjoyable than Apples to Apples. (Thom asked “so Dixit is like getting punched in the face rather than kicked in the groin?” and I said “No, it’s more like getting slapped in the face. Sometimes you don’t mind getting slapped.”) 

  • The Cult Of The New 

    I feel like with many activities, there’s a sort of cult of the new, and boardgamers do this a great deal. I’ll get OBSESSED with a new game and play it until I get OBSESSED with another game. I’m much more likely to want to buy a new game than to play one I’ve had for a few months. So it was a delight when I realized that we had 5 people which is a perfect number for Citadels, one of my old favorites. Even more delightful was remembering why I loved the game so much – the nerves of “will I get assassinated? Will I be stolen from?”, the feeling that you’ve made a terrible mistake after you pass the cards… It was great to break out an old favorite.

  • It’s The People, Stupid 

    I was once again reminded that playing with the right people is the most important part of gaming. Brandon and I didn’t play the same game as each other the entire night, and instead I played with Melissa (who is a good friend and who I know well) and three strangers. But those three strangers were invested, competitive and fun to game with. A special shout out to Katie, who got absolutely demolished in Citadels, mostly for reasons that were unlucky or random and still seemed to enjoy the experience overall. It is hard to be stolen from seemingly every turn and still not only let everyone else have a good time but have a good time yourself. Bravo.

Josh’s points are sort of chronological.  Since I want to talk about that last one first, I’ll go the other way.

  • The Host With The Most 

    Having a bunch of people at a game night usually means you won’t be socializing with a number of people for the night.  Which I knew would happen.  I was very happy that, at the end of the night, everyone had fun playing games.  But I also know that next game night I intend to make it more focused, so that I’m not concerned with playing host to a large group and I can sit with everyone at a single table and enjoy everyone’s company.

  • Puzzle Strike is way better in person.Online the game tracks players’ discard piles, your current bag’s contents, and it automatically remembers your ante.  It doesn’t forget rules, it keeps your hand organized and easy to use, and the components don’t sprawl out over the table.  As a game qua game the online experience is far superior.  In person you play with friends.  No contest.
  • Dixit Part Deux 

    Dixit is not my favorite game.  But in keeping with the Cult of the New, it has become my favorite social construct to share with friends.  It’s imaginative, easily accessible, Katie’s family (my GF, different from the one mentioned above) loves to play it.  So the disdain on my more hardcore gamer friends’ faces regarding it can easily be overlooked.  We’ll always have Puzzle Strike.

Legacies: Prelude

“So, um, not to be a downer, but how are you going to keep one Legacy campaign from spoiling the other?”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question. It’s important to me and to Greg, the man who asked it on my previous post Rabbit Rabbit. But let’s back up a bit.

Two years ago…

Michael Bay would love to direct the movie adaptation.

In 2011 Hasbro published Risk: Legacy. Some of you probably felt your stomach lurch at the mention of Risk. When I first heard of it a year ago I was disdainful. It sounded like regular old Risk, only sometimes you had to smudge parts of the map so they became unplayable. A Risk game you had to mar, and then replace if you wanted a fresh board. I (mostly) like what Hasbro has done with the Risk license since its inception. But this one I tossed it out of my mind. But let’s back up a bit.

52 Years Ago…

Whereas this looks more like a Focus Features thing, slice of life and all that

According to the Internet, Risk was created in 1959 by French film director Albert Lamorisse. It came to the United States and, fast-forwarding some years, became one of the most iconic games in the U.S. (to say nothing of its international status), second only to Monopoly. The rules have changed over the years, but the premise is the same; the world is divided into 6 continents, a number of territories, and the object of the game is to conquer these territories, crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women (okay, maybe not that last bit). The game used to be about global domination, meaning it wasn’t over until you either took every last territory on the map, or the last two people got bored and quit.

Risk now has dozens of licensed remakes and editions. The first one I saw was Risk 2210 A.D. I loved it; Risk in the future, with new territories in the oceans and on the Moon, generals that enhance your abilities, cards that don’t just get traded for units, but used to give new powers and tactics. And it was designed to last only 5 turns. Brilliant! Every Risk should have a built in clock like that. Since then, every remake from the classic re-skins to the marketing tie-ins have offered some gimmick or rules change to the classic format. In Lord of the rings Risk, it’s good vs. evil as the ring actually makes its way across the board, and can be captured by the orcs for victory. Star wars: Clone Wars Risk has the proto-Empire place the Emperor on the map after devastating the Republic forces, offering a victory for good if he can be captured. The current thrust of Risk is to release a number of collectors’ edition video-game skins: Halo, Starcraft, Metal Gear Solid, all have Risk games complete with the factions and trappings of their video game counter-parts.*

Still, Risk doesn’t get played much (ever) in our group. The pieces get used for other print-and-play games, but Risk has remained untouched, as it did for most gamers. Then came Risk: Legacy.

Back to 2 Years Ago

You can understand the skepticism from tabletop game enthusiasts. It’s a Risk game. It’s sold at Wal-Mart, right alongside all the party-games and Candy Land clones. Then you come to find out that the game asks you to destroy components as you play. No board game has ever asked that of its owner, and most would view it as sacrilege.

In 2012 the game got a ton of attention. What was it that took 6 months to a year for people to start catching on? In short, a campaign that took 6 months to a year for people to finish. Risk: Legacy’s conceit is that, in the distant future, scientists have discovered a solution to the ever-growing problems of all dystopian futures, such as overpopulation, starvation, massive wars, Mad Max Marauders, etc. they create new Earths. So imagine that each box of Risk is its own pre-fab planet, fresh for re-colonization and subsequent Global Domination. The rules have a 15 game campaign, during which cities are raised and razed, factions grow in power and ability, whole countries are turned into radioactive ash, and by the end, you have a unique war-torn Earth that one person can say they were victorious over after a year’s worth of pitting himself against his opponents. No game I can name (and I can name a good many) promises to offer an experience on such a scale. I want to play it, but getting 5 adults to sync their schedules and commit to not just one night, but several over the course of months, is a lot to ask. So I sit, and dream…

I got this e-mail

November 28th, 2012, Josh and I sit down to play Android: Netrunner, and Josh gets an e-mail. Apparently somebody is fishing for people to get a Risk: Legacy game going. After hemming and hawing about how the guy who doesn’t like Risk gets the e-mail I’ve been wishing someone would drop in front of me, Josh agrees to forward my information along. A solid month of fishing and scheduling later, Greg sends the confirmation of December 28th, 2012.

3 days later…

I’m at my friend Ted’s house for New Year’s Eve. I’m fairly sure I’ve mentioned him before, but Ted is a board game enthusiast and part-time designer. He’s interested in risk: Legacy too. I can’t help myself. I ask him to send me the info on the game he’s setting up. A few days later we’re scheduled for a game. So now I’m part of not one, but two epic games.

Present Day

“So, um, not to be a downer, but how are you going to keep one Legacy campaign from spoiling the other?”

A little more about Risk: Legacy. The initial campaign games are quite simple; empty board, handful of troops, first to capture 4 red stars wins (you start with two, and you get them by taking over an opponent’s home base). You play a specific faction that has a unique power. As the game progresses, so do the factions. So does the map; new cities are stuck to the board with decals. So does the rule book; there are large spaces where new rules and components will be added when the conditions are met. You know the conditions but not the components, they’re sealed in packets that you have been instructed to not open until told. The game evolves as you play, with each new packet adding something, and some packets potentially never being opened. It promises some delightful surprises the first time around

So it’s a fair assumption that the second time you come across them is not as great.

If Pandora’s Box had this label…we still would’ve opened it.

As I said before, the game is asking a lot. It’s asking me to make a fairly large purchase (Risk: Legacy Retail Value – $59.99, $46.71 on Amazon.com for Prime members). And after purchasing the game, it asks me to destroy some of the stuff I bought. Immediately, in fact; factions start with one of two powers, and the other one is torn and trashed. Territories can be destroyed, and their cards are to be ripped up or burned. The game asks me to commit to 15 games or risk missing the epic saga and being lost when I come in later. And it’s asking me to only play it with a single group of people, or risk ruining the surprises and suspense for the others. Holy s***, no other game in the World asks that of me! Games want the opposite; they want me to go forth, play openly, laud its praises, spread its joy, and yeah, maybe buy a copy for yourself. Risk: Legacy wants me to take in the spectacle, then rush to my friends and say this:

“Oh man it’s amazing! You gotta try it. No, I can’t tell you what happens, it’ll spoil the game for you, but it’s worth it. No, I can’t play with you, I don’t have the time, I’m playing with this group. No, I can’t play when I’m done, I already know too much. No, you can’t join us, we’re already a few games in, you won’t know what’s going on and you’ll have missed all the cool intro stuff. No no, just pick up a copy, find 4 friends with the time and desire to play a new game of Risk with little to no idea of what makes it any different from regular boring Risk (and nobody to teach the rules) and we can talk about it later! But only a bit, because I don’t want you ruining anything for me.”

I exaggerate a bit, but you see my point. The game wants more from me than any game (good) has ever wanted. And God help me, I want to give it. So badly in fact that I committed myself to two groups. Groups that can’t duck out of for worry that the whole thing comes apart if the full number isn’t there. So for the time being, I’m going to play them both. And so the question remains: How do I keep one Legacy campaign from spoiling the other?

The answer is simple. The answer is… I don’t know.

I’m hoping that Risk: Legacy truly offers the unique experience it promises, and that the two will be barely comparable by the 4th or 5th game. Failing that, I’m hoping to keep the two sessions compartmentalized in my mind. I don’t know a lot of the people in either group, but I know that Ted is a swift, methodical game player, almost procedural, and the guys I know in the other group are more thoughtful, eager to get into the mythos and spectacle of a new Earth to have new wars on. Basically, one game will be an exercise in mathematics and tactical optimization, and the other just might have costumes and theme music.

I know I can doublethink my way past it only so far. At some point, one game will influence the other, and I won’t be able to ignore it. And it’s at that point that I hope I will make the decision that keeps the game as fun as it can be for everyone.

*No word on if Zerg rushing has been nerfed. Little nerd humor there for ya.

Rabbit Rabbit

No no, I’m not referring to the goofy poem and mime game by crazy Czech genius Vlaada Chvatil, that’s Bunny Bunny (Moose Moose). I’m referring to the superstition that saying “rabbit rabbit” the first thing each new month brings you good luck that month, and if said on January 1st the good luck follows you through the new year.

2012 has been a great year for me. I am truly a lucky person, and not just because I played (and won) a bit more than my fair share of games. I won’t clog a board game blog with sappy non-gaming stuff, but I want to thank each and every one of you who read this, as you were undoubtedly a part of making this year so amazing.

Josh and I are excited to continue pouring out our thoughts on this wonderful hobby into the site. For my part, I’m hoping to give you more content, and I already have some stuff I would love to talk about. In 2013, be on the lookout for:

  • More actual honest-to-God board game reviews.
  • A blow by blow of the not one but two Risk: Legacy campaigns I’m a part of.
  • Me to finally admit that Monopoly is pretty much a piece of s***.
  • Whatever kooky crap about gaming occurs to me that I think would make an entertaining read.

And above all, let us not forget what it’s all about; a celebration of games, gamers, and the gaming culture that we love so much. Any Game Good. Let’s spend 2013 proving it.

-Brandon

I’ve never said “Rabbit Rabbit” (and I think only first heard of it on January 1st 2012) and let me tell you, the fact that I can’t find a good link to the improv warm up “Bunny Bunny (toki toki)” is breaking my heart. And Yet!: I too am looking forward to 2013.

2012 wasn’t the best year for me, but after a long December there is reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last. And this site and its mission (spend time with friends, playing games) is a big part of that. My big plans for boardgaming in the new year?

  • Get out to Unity games, or something like that. (My boardgaming social circle has dwindled over the last few years, since friends keep moving hundreds of miles away. Time to repopulate)
  • Get a game of Nomic going. (They never seem to end, but I’ve had three really good experiences with their start)
  • Console Brandon when he admits that Monopoly is a piece of crap, and remind him that his memories of having fun with it are still good. (It’s not like those old movies where you realize the blatant racism or misogyny and can’t look at them the same way. You had good times together! It’s okay buddy!)
  • Get a guest post up (Justus, Shauna, I’m looking in your directions)

Now, let’s have some fun, shall we? Who’s free next Wednesday?

-Josh

We don’t have a picture of us gaming. Because we don’t take pictures while we’re gaming. On account of the gaming. But it does look almost exactly like this. Right down to that ugly white pit stain of mine. Happy Holidays!