Monday, February 1, 2010

Winter War, part 1

Last weekend I went to Winter War, a gaming convention held every year in Champaign. There were games going on from Friday evening through Sunday evening so there were plenty of chances for exciting action. Here are the games I played:

Age of Conan: This game is a 4 player game set in the time of Conan, and each player controls a different kingdom and attempts to get victory points by conquering other provinces, completing special objectives, collecting gold, and taking control of Conan on his adventures in order to collect "adventure tokens" representing the three types of rewards - monsters, treasures, and women. At the beginning of the game, when our armies weren't big enough to conquer anything, I took the initiative to focus on collecting adventure tokens and get ahead in that area. Most of the other players tried instead to send out emissaries to ally with nearby provinces in order to acquire gold. In this game whenever you try to ally with or conquer a province, there is a die roll to see if you succeed, and there are "sorcery tokens" that let you reroll die rolls. One thing that was not clear from the rules is whether or not if you use a sorcery token and don't like the result of the reroll, you can use another sorcery token to reroll it again. The rules say that "only one sorcery token may be used per roll" but other players interpreted that as meaning that once you use a sorcery token to reroll, the reroll is a "different roll" so you can keep using sorcery tokens. This interpretation actually helped me at the beginning, as other players wasted lots of sorcery tokens on rolls that I could clearly calculate had very little chance of success. In the middle of the game, I used my adventure tokens to "bid" for an artifact, the Sword of Atlantis, that significantly improves offensive capability. I used this to conquer several territories and get ahead. Unfortunately near the end of the game, I overextended myself and got myself caught between two opponents, and got attacked from both sides and lost lots of territory. With time running out, I had an army stranded in enemy territory, and I had to strike out and make a desperation move to attack the nearest enemy territory hoping to conquer it. First I had to get rid of the enemy that was there to turn it neutral, then do a "campaign" to conquer it. I expected the initial siege to be a pushover because I had a bigger army and the Sword of Atlantis, but it didn't turn out that way. During the siege, there were three times where my opponent had a 1 in 27 chance of rolling well enough to kill one of my guys - and he succeeded two of those times. Fortunately I managed to get him, and with just two out of five soldiers left, completed the campaign on my last turn of the game, which gave me just enough victory points for the win.

Heroscape: This is a hex-based collectible miniature game where you build your army with points, and unfortunately this did not turn out as favorably. The mission was a 3-on-3 battle where there was a central castle in the middle that we were both competing for. There were six premade armies that we drew from, and the army I drew was the only army with no ranged attackers. The opposing team managed to get inside the castle and shut all four doors in the first couple turns, and then they could get on the castle walls and attack us with large height bonuses. We had no flying creatures, so the only way it would even be possible for us to retake the castle is to break down the doors, which have extremely high defenses (and of course to break down the doors you have to stand in front of them, out in the open, which is a very vulnerable position). Also my army started in the corner opposite from where all the action was, so by the time I was even able to get my army over to the action (remember, I had no ranged attackers, so I had to close to hand-to-hand distance) the battle was basically over (we lost).

Battlestar Galactica: This board game, based on the television series, features players as crew of the Battlestar Galactica trying to get to Kobol. However some players are secretly Cylons, robots disguised as humans that are programmed to destroy humanity. At the beginning of the game each player is secretly dealt a "loyalty card" indicating if they are human or Cylon, and then halfway through the game there is a "sleeper agent phase" where everyone gets another loyalty card, so you can think you are human and then turn into a Cylon. Each player chooses a different character from the show, and each character has three special abilities - one which can be used every turn, one which can be used only once per game, and one which limits them in some way. I chose Gaius Baltar, whose once-per-game ability is "Cylon Detector" which lets him look at any other player's loyalty cards. Also in this game there are two special titles - President and Admiral. The President gets control of the "quorum cards" which can help humanity deal with problems (or which can be used by a clever Cylon to sabotage them), and the Admiral gets control of Galactica's nuclear arsenal as well as choosing which of two destinations they jump to at each hyperspace jump. Also, some "crisis cards" come up that force the President or Admiral to make a decision. I started out as the President and Helena Cain started out as Admiral. Near the beginning a crisis card came up that forced both me and the Admiral to discard most of our "skill cards" and draw "treachery cards," a type of skill card that is useful mainly to Cylons. A couple turns later a crisis card came up that forced the Admiral to make a choice: either the Admiral and President each discard two skill cards, or the President has to give up his title to the Admiral. I argued that Cain should choose the first option: it's too dangerous to have all the power in the hands of one person if he turns out to be a Cylon, and discarding cards would give him a chance to prove his loyalty to humanity by discarding the treachery cards. I threatened to check him using my Cylon Detector:

Baltar: If you make me give up my Presidency, I'm going to check you. Normally I wouldn't use my power until the sleeper phase (because that way I get to see both loyalty cards rather than just one) but this seems really suspicious.

Cain: I have be best interests of humanity at heart. It's always a good idea to have the titles for yourself.

Baltar: Actually, let's see. I think I'll give you another chance. We're about to jump, so if you pick a 1-distance then I'll check you, otherwise maybe not. (Destination cards have "distance" values from 1 to 3 that indicate how far you've jumped. In general you want to jump as far as possible, so picking a low distance destination helps the Cylons.)

Another player: See, Baltar, you're not very decisive. I think it's good that we don't have you as President.

For the rest of the first half of the game, me and Cain want back and forth accusing each other of being Cylons. After the sleeper phase I checked her - "nothing personal," just that she could have gotten a cylon card and I want to make sure. Guess what, she was human all along. The game continued with a race to the finish line, and we eked out a victory.
The game is so fun that it makes me want to watch the show. Unfortunately, the DVD box set costs $250, so I'm not sure if that will happen...

(Part 2 coming soon!)


Jessica said...

I have a friend here in NYC who is really into strategy board games and have been playing a lot of them. Have you ever played Agricola or Power Grid? They would really be up your alley I think. How about Settlers of Catan?

Nanette Goodman said...

Seems like a great weekend.

Age of Conan sounds like a real nail biter but Heroscape sounds frustrating.

Is Battlestar Galactica the one we played in the Fort-Palace in India?

Alexander Mont said...

I played Agricola once and Settlers of Catan a couple times but not Power Grid.

As for Heroscape being frustrating, that probably had less to do with the game itself than the design of this particular scenario. We chose armies and setup locations at random, so I couldn't decide to put the melee attackers closer to the action. And I don't think the person who set up the scenario realized how easy it would be to get the castle doors closed.

Battlestar Galactica is the same game as the one we played, although we did play with the Pegasus expansion, which adds some new characters, a new ship board with new locations, and some new crisis, skill, and quorum cards.

Dan Mont said...

Sounds like lots of fun.

Do people still play those old hexagonal war games or are they considered horribly out of date?

Have you thought more about what you're going to do this summer? If you come back to MD for the summer, are you going to go back to the Census Bureau or try something else?

Max said...

> "Unfortunately, the DVD box set costs $250, so I'm not sure if that will happen..."

Actually it's $140 at amazon.