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.

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Ritual

There’s something special about opening a new board game. It’s different for everyone. Some rush through the packaging to get to the game, some take time with each individual component and tactile sensation. So it went with my opening and first play-through of Ascension: Storm of Souls.

The plastic wrap is removed with care, not torn at like a hungry animal. The fragile seam at the corner is plucked, and a finger (not a knife, it could damage the box) is dragged along the perforated edge. The plastic is wrapped around itself, balled up, and set aside.

The box itself is admired. The artwork, free of the dingy look the wrapping gives it, pops with vibrant colors and bold lettering. The cardboard is wrapped with a smooth paper, presumably to give the box a glossier finish while keeping costs down. By contrast the original game, Chronicle of the Godslayer, and the smaller expansion, Return of the Fallen, has a coarser feel, almost like vinyl, that I prefer. The paper molded to the Storm of Souls box is peeling around the corners, a regrettable but easily forgivable lapse in quality.

Something most people do not note, and nearly nobody talks about, is the smell of a new game; new car, new cologne, food fresh from the kitchen, and sometimes a new hard-bound book, but not a board game. But I take the time to enjoy that musty smell of new cardboard, plastic and ink. Most games have that earthy, slightly synthetic smell, but certain games have a distinct bouquet based on their components. The most striking game I’ve ever smelled was the reprint of Titan. Strong ink and chemical odors complement the bold colors and thick card stock and polyurethane used to make the components.

The cards glide against each other, as smooth as they’ll ever be in their lives. Lots of people put protector sleeves on their card games, and I see the point; you want to preserve your game. But the feel of the cards throughout the life of the game, from crisp and smooth, to slightly worn to faded and pliable, is something to be appreciated, like the aging of a friendship. Seeing the cards for the first time is like meeting new friends. The artwork, a new style for game artist Eric Sabee, has a distinct mural feel, with flowing lines and almost primitive imagery, lending itself to the story of the game; tales told by children and those connected to the land of a looming Nemesis poised to claim the land.

I’ve known people who are serious enough winning that they’ll digest as much information as they can before even playing. I have the opportunity to read the cards beforehand. A couple of them prove too interesting to resist, but I refrain from it for the most part. I’m looking forward to getting to know these cards, these new friends, through regular play. At least I know I won’t have to wait long; Josh is set to show up in 15 minutes. Just enough time to acquaint myself with the board and the layout.

In owning and opening a game, you become its ambassador. It’s on you to know the rules, explain the game, and setup the components. Storm of Souls has a few new mechanics from the original game, and a new board to orient them. As an expansion, seeing the new rules and updated artwork is akin to meeting an old friend after a year or two, and you’ve both grown up a little. Even the new fanatic cards look endearing in their own maniacal way. Josh arrives, and I explain the new mechanics, Fate, Events, and Trophies, as best I can. Josh insists on rifling through the deck to get an idea of the events available. He prefers to have a more thorough knowledge of the game, its possibilities and potential pitfalls, before we begin. I can respect that.

We play two games. It’s enough to get a sense of the general thrust of this expansion. Return of the Fallen introduces us to a deck-building game with fewer restrictions; it’s accurate enough to say the game is “like Dominion, but with unlimited buys and actions.” It gives us the potential for lengthy combos and a few strategies. Storm of Souls amplifies the options and potentially powerful moves available to you. Some monsters give one shot effects in the form of trophies that can be exchanged immediately or at a key point in the game. The four factions lend themselves to specialization a bit more, and events can provide benefits to people who have the right faction distribution in their deck. The aforementioned fanatic gives an event trophy dependent on the event in play, if any.

I win the first game. Josh has focused on a heavy Mechana construct strategy that doesn’t seem to pay off; the mechanics driving constructs this expansion seem to revolve around playing, discarding, and replaying them, and he isn’t able to get them moving. I recognize the prevalence of monsters in the center row, and am able to get good deck thinning with the Void and enough attack to push the win, 61 to 92.

Josh wins the second game. It’s close, but Josh builds his deck well, grabs the constructs that give great synergy, and makes a big push in the endgame to win 89 to 80.

I like the expansion, or at least what it tries to accomplish. There are more powers, more tools, and more avenues to grab points. The fanatic/event setup is neat, but a little under-used. There are so few events, and if we were playing with the base set and expansion they may never have come up. There are lots of opportunities to throw down a massive combination of actions and buys. The expansion felt longer than the base set, though that could be because I haven’t played it in so long.

I’m looking forward to playing again. I’d like to try combining the base set and expansion, and see how well the two mesh.