I’m Cuckoo for Co-ops!

8 03 2012

Hey there, you groovy gamers!

Well, last night’s Game Night was another hit, with Fix, Fitz, Stu, Dav, and myself indulging in two games each of the cooperative games Pandemic: On the Brink and Space Alert: Keep the Roommate Awake. The gang all trickled in around six o’clock and we started out with some frosty beverages, idle chatter, and exchanging of library material. Making the rounds this month are: Scott Chantler’s beautiful WWII graphic novel, Two Generals; last year’s best new comic series relaunch, Daredevil #1-9, by Waid, Martin, & Rivera; Scott Snyder, Scott Tuft, & Attila Futaki’s terrifying comic miniseries, Severed #1-7; and two Terry Pratchett Discworld novels: Guards! Guards!, the introduction to his beloved City Watch characters, and his most recent and perhaps last Sam Vimes story, Snuff. After that bit of housekeeping, we got down to business.

The Pale Blue Dot.

First we had another go at Pandemic, with the On the Brink expansion set. After getting trounced twice last time we tried hard to do better this go. The first match we got stomped by 8 disease outbreaks before we even discovered 2 cures. The second round we let Fix play the BioTerrorist, (since Laura wasn’t there,) and that was really fun. We were doing pretty well, and it got right down to the wire. We were accountably just 3 turns from losing by running out of Event Cards when Dav, Fitz, & Stu hit upon an incredibly complex series of moves and card combos which looked like it could win it for us. I could explain it to you but I was apparently distracted by a dog outside the window. He was really cute. The other guys will tell you that this took me out of the game, but we did win after all, for which I’m sure I deserve a fair share of the credit; we were a team after all! It was nice to finally, after all these years, beat Pandemic.

Wait, the game gets HARDER?!?

Can I get visual confirmation on that dog, Lieutenant?

Next we sat down to Space Alert, the game whose object is apparently to explore hostile deep space by yelling at everyone enough to forget what it was you were supposed to be doing in the first place. It was around this time that our roommate, Liz, came home, preparing to study and then go to bed. She graciously assured us she could deal with our raucous ruckus, and even complimented us on our running playback of the Star Trek: The Next Generation’s ambient engine noise. I wonder if she still feels the same way. Last time we played I acted simply as the instructor, but this time around I got to play along with everyone else. I’m still thrilled at how fun this short game is to simply watch, but playing is even more enjoyable. If you’ve ever wanted a realistic game crewing an intergalactic starship- well, you just might be fooled into thinking this game is for you. But if you can occasionally enjoy Galaxy Quest over Star Trek, Starship Troopers over Ender’s Game, or Munchkin over Dungeons & Dragons, then this game is right up your alley. We first played a Simulation round, which we did reasonably well on and didn’t even die. Too bad you’re not supposed to keep score on Simulation Runs. I even managed to get us a couple extra points for visual confirmation! (Otherwise known as looking out the window, which is apparently a running theme tonight. But you do get points for it! Serious!) With our confidence buoyed by the successful Simulation Run, we attempted a real mission. Suffice it to say that it didn’t go as well. For one thing, our ship was overrun by internal threats alone. For another, BOTH our security robot teams LEFT the rooms the evil seeker droid was in in order to defend an empty room. As for myself, I stick with what I know, and so I looked out the window again. There was a dog there! Sirius!… … huh? huh? See what I did there? (Did I say “running theme?” Perhaps I meant running gag.) Anyway, the seeker droid evaded capture, blowing a gaping hole in the side of the ship so big I figured the kamikaze fighter would sail on through it. We had no such luck. Soooo, after that ignominious defeat, we decided to call it a night.

It was a great time had by all, as always, and I can’t wait to do it again. I did just pick up some additional zombie and skeleton miniatures, so maybe another round of Super Epic Zombies Plus is in the cards?

Braaaaains!
Kris

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Thump? Thunk? Thwap? Thud!

2 02 2009

If you’re unfamiliar with Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld novels, you may not find this post as immediately compelling, but the game Thud, based on a Discworld book, is interesting and requires no knowledge of the books to enjoy. Also, if you’re not familiar with these books, you should seek to rectify that- they’re easily some of the best fiction to have been written in the last decade. They’re known in this country as humorous fantasy but that’s really selling them short. Yes, the characters include witches and trolls and werewolves, but the novels are far more accurately categorized as contemporary satire, pointing out our foibles ranging from the everyday and commonplace to issues as big as the Iraq war.  Some of the recent editions are even downright somber in tone, though not without the occasional incredibly clever pun. Suffice it to say Pratchett is a master storyteller and everyone owes it to themselves to indulge in his world.

OK, enough with the prologue. Thud, created by Terry Pratchett and Trevor Truran, is an apparently chess-like board game based on the game of the same name which has appeared in multiple Discworld novels, particularly Thud! itself, wherein as you might guess, the game is rather a major plot point. The American edition of the game I acquired is quite nice with well-made and attractive components. There are no silly Discworld logos plastered all over the game. The game is instead presented as it is in the book: as an authentic game crafted within the Discworld itself. The board looks like an old fashioned style chess board, albeit with 8 sides, with worn printing and fleur-de-lis a-plenty. The pieces are made of cast porcelain and painted to both look and feel reasonably as though they were carved from rock. The overall presentation is quite nice and gives the game a respectable character, enhancing the play experience.

The game is packaged with one basic set of rules as well as a minor variation for quicker play. After my initial reading of the rules and first gaming session I’m given to feeling that these rules are a bit flawed, for a few reasons, but most significantly being that the game only ends in a draw, upon which both players must agree. However, there is an active online community of Thud! players and many strategy guides and alternate rules have been developed, leading me to feel that the game will hold up for the persistent player.

A full game of Thud! consists of two rounds, with the players switching roles, playing once each as the trolls and dwarves. The eight-sided game board starts out with the 32 dwarves limning the perimeter and the 8 trolls huddled at the center, surrounding the fixed “Thud-stone” piece, which is merely an obstacle in the standard game rules. The pieces each have two kinds of moves: movement and capture. Dwarves can move like a queen in chess, as far in any direction as they like. However they can only capture a troll by building up a line of dwarves which must be greater than the number of empty squares between the dwarf-line and troll in question. The dwarves then capture said troll by launching their lead dwarf at the troll, knocking it out and then occupying its vacated square. Dwarves can only launch when it results in a capture. Trolls can move like a king in chess, only one square in any direction. However, when they move next to any number of dwarves, they capture all dwarves occupying the 8 squares surrounding that troll. Trolls also have a launching move, called shoving, which they can perform only when it results in a capture. Trolls launch by building a line such that the line is equal to or greater than the number of squares the lead troll is going to traverse in the shove, ultimately landing on a square next to one or more dwarves and capturing them all. So the trolls initially seem far more powerful than the dwarves, despite their lumbering slowness. And indeed they are. It’s up to the dwarf player to group his dwarves into a square or rectangle as quickly as possible, from which position they can begin picking off trolls one by one. The match ends when both players agree to a draw, (or after a predetermined number of moves,) and is scored by the number of pieces left on the board, with the dwarves worth one point each for the dwarf player and the trolls worth 4 points each for the troll player. The players total their scores from both matches, with the player with the most points winning the game.

My friend David and I played our first game together the other day. I started as the dwarves and he as the trolls. Being our first game, we definitely learned alot from each other about how to use the other’s pieces when it came time to switch roles for the second match. Having the trolls for the second round, and strongly suspecting that the dwarves have a steeper learning curve, I managed to score more points in the second match, and ultimately winning the game. David and I both felt the game was an enjoyable two hours spent, but we did find something lacking from the initial experience. I’m sure that with experience the game will become much more fairly balanced and that some of the alternate rule-sets will also be quite entertaining. However, I play quite a lot of games, (and drag David along with me,) and having to devote many hours and several gaming sessions to Thud! just to get it to a well-balanced and fully enjoyable state does not bode well for it’s future presence on the game table in my living room. We’ll undoubtably give it many more tries, as it was an enjoyable game, but it’s my personal preference that a game feel fully rich and realized within the first one or two plays.

Thud is published by The Cunning Artificer.