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Board Game Geek: Arkham Horror

arkhamhorror_2_big_bigAlthough we had never played Arkham Horror it had such amazing reviews from friends and online that we put it on our wedding registry. That an my husband is a huge Lovecraft fan.

Some of our gaming friend agreed to teach us with their set. Which, after we saw all the fiddly pieces, was a big time saver not to break out the new set.

NOTE: Must go by many ziploc bags. 700 pieces!! WTF!!

It’s a beautiful board and everything seems to make intuitive sense when you have someone who can explain the game well, as we did. There are however a zillion things to keep track of in terms of the doom track, monster track, when gates explode, the various ways you will probably lose the game, the semi-possible ways to win the game and the things each character can do and how they can help others.

We were lucky, we got a ‘mild’ elder god we also chose to have both the psychiatrist and the doctor as player characters which helped with the not-going-insane-and-dying bit. Also, thanks to friends who have played before we went with the goal of sealing the gates which worked out in our favour but it was really close.

For a first run we didn’t do the play in character bit. I think that might have been impossible given the sheer amount of things to remember – oh, yeah, the sliders – and just staying on top of the turn order.

I’m absolutely sure that the first time I run this game I’ll screw up the rules a few times. It was super helpful to have someone teach them… and bowls… get bowls for this game.

Board Game Geek: Uchronia

uchroniaOur informal board game group decided to play Uchronia this month. It’s a card-based strategy game where you compete with each other to build, and through building accumulate victory points.

As a first play-through I found it confusing for the first couple of rounds, but then as soon as someone got their first building it made sense really really fast. There’s a lot of moving parts at first, you have your hand which will allow you to take different actions: production, exploration, draconians (screw people over), trade and construction. You will discard cards during your turn into the forum which becomes a stock people can pick up from. Then you need to keep track of your stock vs. your activities and figure out how to pick up extra actions vs. saving for construction and watch out what special powers people are picking up as they pick up buildings.

uchronia 1851Once I figured it out this was an extraordinarily fun game. Because of the variety of buildings, advantages through constructing buildings and variability of player combinations and cards and forum it’s likely to be a somewhat new game each time. Definitely one I’m considering buying.

#MeshCon 2013: all round geekery

Monkey HatI drank the #MeshCon cool-aid this year and it was awesome!

This is my fourth (possibly fifth) year attending the Mesh Conference.

Mesh continues to be my favourite digital media conference. It’s where I go to hear new ideas, find out what’s next, meet interesting new people and most importantly to be inspired.

Like any conference coming up on a decade Mesh can be hit and miss. I am nostalgic for the early years.  I loved the focus on breakout sessions and workshops and the “unconference” feel of early Mesh. In the first few years I came away feeling like I had learned as much from participants as I did facilitators and presenters.

The later years formats have focused more on large plenary sessions that feel a bit too much like talking heads. The breakout sessions sometimes lean more towards a presenter selling the audience on their digital product or service instead of sharing their knowledge and experience.

Mesh logoThe number one thing that will make or break a conference is meeting the right people. Who are the right people? For me, they are the people who inspire me. The people who I hear what they are doing and think ZOMG! That’s so cool! These people bring out inner my fan-girl-geek and I love soaking up the amazing things that are happening and being made to happen by these innovators.

I am personally really glad @MikeRiverso was able to attend this year. He’s volunteering at Mesh. I know Mike through the Toronto Area Gamers. I am totally envious and very proud of Mike. He is doing what many talk about and few do. He left a job he didn’t like in tech to do stuff he wants to do including shows with his improv comedy troupe, going to as many social media-tech-PR conferences as possible and taking a new degree in PR to re-direct his career focus. I think it is truly inspiring to watch someone really take action to change something they are not happy about in their life and transform that into something amazing and creative and positive.

Firefly RPGMike introduced me to Daniel Solis, who for some inexplicable reason  never made it onto my radar (someone please get this rock off me that I’ve been living under!). For those of who are thinking who the heck is Daniel Solis? He’s a game designer and…. AND…. he’s doing the art direction for the new Firefly game!!!! So, there went any professional decorum I might have tried to keep about me a quasi professional conference and my inner fan-girl took over.

Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 11.06.33 PMDaniel and I went to the afternoon workshop on 3D printing… cause 3D printing! It was my favourite session of the day. The best part was the transformation of the room right at the beginning. Like good attendees we had all taken our seats at our tables while the facilitators seemed to be setting up some 3D printing demo. After a few minutes they realized we were waiting for them and told the room that if we wanted to go over and see the machines we were welcome to do so. It was like someone had just opened the toy box. The whole room came to life as everyone huddled around to get a look. To make it even more spectacular they gave us take home souvenirs.

@LiavKoren did most of the presentation for the 3D printing workshop. I don’t know if he and Daniel knew each other in advance but following a failed attempt by Mike, Daniel and I to approach the climbing wall (we all decided we weren’t dressed for it) we ended up back inside with Liav when Daniel uttered those magic words want to play a game? 

Daniel had brought his prototype for Suspense Card Game. I’ll review in another post, it’s good, I should buy it, so should you.

Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 10.31.14 PM

Apparently starting up a table top (or floor top in this case) card game in the middle of a tech conference is a good way to draw attention. Jeremy Toeman @Jtoeman joined us for the next game Daniel introduced us to Koi Pond Card Game, also amazing, also deserves it’s own review. Also must remember to buy this!

This was the point in the conference when I realize that I’m playing awesome games with three of the conference guests that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise met if I wasn’t such a gaming fan-girl. Totally awesome experience.

Koi Pond

Throughout the game attendees and conference organizers dropped by to hear about the game and there were lots of photos of this strange non-tech activity.

Tweet pic from mesh organizer Mark Evans
Tweet pic from the meshcon twitter account
Tweet pic from Daniel for Suspense!
Tweet pic from Daniel for Koi Pond

Eventually we did get up off the floor and join the last of the networking session with mesh. I met more awesome people including Clint Tam who filled in on Koi Pond when Mike had to leave, Mary Margaret Jones, and new people many of the names I forget (I’m sorry, I suck with names, I hope to see you again tomorrow) including someone who has a dice-based drinking game (email me!).

This, for me, is what mesh is about. Not necessarily the games – yes, in this case the games! – but about connecting with people who have energy and ideas around all this new creative stuff, about leaving after a LONG day and feeling positive, energized and ready to go out into the world and do crazy good stuff.

Tomorrow is day 2 of the conference. Hoping to be able to see Justin Edmonstone again, Linda Williamson, and Elena Yunusov (it doesn’t feel like mesh without Elena). Also very excited to see Corey Reid for the first time on a panel and hoping to hear more about Maker Faire Toronto.

Board Game Geek: Diplomacy

board-gamesI love games! I love video games, role playing games, narrative games and board games! I probably spend half of my free time playing games.

I love board games and RPG’s in part because they have a social element to them that is, so far, lacking in video games. Sorry video gamers! DudeBro’s yelling fart and rape jokes over a headset is not socializing. Well, not for me anyways.

I love games so much that when I got married in February we had a game themed wedding. It was awesome! We found fun ways to be a bit different with all part of the wedding including a unique wedding registry using the Wantster site. Wantster lets you keep lists of things you want, and you can mark them off as you get them. It also doubles as a registry for friends and family who want to buy you something you’ve ‘wanted’. Using Wantster we were able to register for a mix of normal and not-so-normal wedding gifts. One of the gifts we registered for and received was the board game Diplomacy.

Registering for Diplomacy was the most commented-on item on the registry since the game has been known to end friendships and cause life-long bitterness.

diplomacyDiplomacy is a game where each player represents a country in Europe circa World War I (approximately, with some variations) and then proceeds to use strategy, cunning and diplomacy to take over the most territory. For a more detailed description check out boardgamegeek.com or Wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia it was the favourite game of John F. Kennedy, Henry Kissenger and Walter Cronkite.

Unlike Risk and other strategy wargames what really caught me about Diplomacy was how it made social diplomacy a key element of the game.

Like any other strategy wargame you need to think several moves ahead and trying to anticipate what your opponent(s) are going to do. But, in Diplomacy this anticipation that in other games may simply be some trash talk at the table becomes central to the game.

Diplomacy 50thEach round begins with a session of Diplomacy where players invite other players to go off with them for secret diplomatic talks. You try to guess if the person who is offering you a deal for safe passage or to support you in a military invasion of another players’ territory is on your side or lying to your face. During these diplomatic talks players write down their military commands in secret. Then there is the big reveal where orders are collected and read allowed and you find out if you put your trust in the right ally or if you were duped and find yourself betrayed.

I am lucky enough to know many other board game geeks. I was very happy when a friend who knew the game well agreed to teach it. I invited several others who I knew were into board games and who would not take it personal when betrayal inevitably happened. This is definitely not a game for people who who may be offended by in-game lying. I can definitely see how tables get flipped with this game.

Diplomacy oldI thoroughly enjoyed the game. I drew Austria-Hungary, which was baffling for me. Right in the middle of things I really had no idea what to do. I went in with one goal: don’t be the first one out! It helped that many of the other players decided it was best to gang up on our gracious teacher because he is tricksy and sneaky (we love you Sandy!). Russia was stymied, France gave up everything to bring down Turkey (Sandy), and Germany and England formed a very profitable alliance that saw England in the lead by the time we had to finish.

That was one of two key learning I took away from my first time playing this game.

Lesson #1: Diplomacy is a day-long game

We tried to play it in an evening. Guests arrived at 6:30 we ordered food and started playing around 7:30 and no one was close to the required 18 territories to win by 11:30 pm. Definitely a game you want to book from the early afternoon through evening and make plans for food.

Lesson #2: Time keeping is a must

Sandy, our wise and glorious teacher, suggested from the beginning that we would need to set a timer on the diplomacy session in each round otherwise they would drag on too long and the game would last forever. We tried 5 minutes, but ended up with 10 minutes for spring turns and 5 minutes for fall turns with an additional 2 minutes each turn for players to write orders. I think this can be tightened up with experienced players. For us newbies it was a good amount of timing to keep play interesting. Players felt rushed but engaged and there was a lot of anticipation about what the orders would say.

Additional Lesson #3: Chose your players

Already said, but I thought I would highlight it. This is a game where you lie to your friends. I can definitely see the potential for people getting hurt or offended while playing this game. I’d really recommend choosing who you play with carefully. Ideally you want a group that is 100% okay with losing a game, who understands in-game vs. out-of-game and who will have fun watching the drama of a good game even if they are not winning.

Overall I think Diplomacy is my new favourite board game and I can’t wait to set up another game.