Game night again, after a two-week hiatus caused by the fifth weekend in June! Present at Seattle Cosmic's latest battle of wills (and tempers) last Friday were seven members: Marty and Ron Hale-Evans (your humble scribe), Dave Adams, Kathy Kizer, Mark Purtill, Tim Higgins, and Kisa Gryphon. Games played included Hearts, Cosmic Hearts, Cosmic Encounter, Carcassonne, Abalone, and The Big Cheese.
First up, Marty and Ron presented Dave with a token of their esteem and affection. Dave opened it with interest (above, left). What was it? Why, The Happy Little Train Game, of course (Milton Bradley 1957). Dave could add it to his growing collection of "train games" like Empire Builder, Iron Dragon, and the "18xx" games he owns, which he always wants to play, but which, er, somehow the club never gets around to...
The train track on the board (above, right) wanders through a happy little landscape filled with such obstacles as barns and elephants (!). "It even has a variant," noted Marty, "for older children, it says here."
"Great!" said Dave. "Now I can get my kids into train games!"
Next up, we decided to play Cosmic Hearts, a variant of the classic card game Hearts using powers from Cosmic Encounter to modify Hearts play in much the same way that Cosmic powers modify play in ordinary CE. Everyone but Kisa knew how to play Hearts, and Kisa wasn't even sure what a "trick-taking game" was, so we decided to play a "learning game" of ordinary Hearts, so Kisa would be prepared for the weirdness of C.H. ("Learning games" are a recent Seattle Cosmic innovation wherein the winner does not get a prize and the scores of the game are not reported. But I guess we can hint that the winner was also the winner of at least one of the other games that evening. But who? Hmm...)
Around 8:30, we started Cosmic Hearts. In the last Seattle Cosmic game of Cosmic Hearts, which no one likes to remember (each for their own reason), which took place almost a year earlier (8 July 2000), and which remains unreported, we played with various un-playtested powers and regretted it. Dave got to be the Judge (again) and it turned out the Judge totally invalidated any use of my power whatsoever (in fact, I don't remember what my power was). This delighted Dave, and he used the un-playtested rules to full advantage. This sort of thing is the main reason Dave is the only Seattle Cosmic player to have earned his own power (The Despot, as drawn by his loving girlfriend, Kathy; see below.)
In the current game of Cosmic Hearts, as I said, we used only the 21 playtested powers listed in Encounter magazine, modulo the last power (The Will), so we could pick powers by rolling a 20-sided die. Cosmic Hearts powers are analogous to the Cosmic Encounter powers with the same names. Here is the initial lineup:
We played to 50 points. On the first hand, Schizoid Tim, who happened to have the King of Clubs, declared that KC was worth 13 points instead of QS, and tried to Shoot the Moon. This ploy was too obvious for the rest of the group, which includes some pretty savvy Hearts players, and we made sure he missed a trick or two. Trying to keep track of KC instead of QS was pretty mind-bending, though. After this hand, Mark pointed out Schizoid could have been even more annoying: it could have been more analogous to the real CE power, so that you'd have to ask yes/no questions every turn to determine which card was worth 13 points and which were safe to play...
On the second hand, the 13-point card was now the Jack of Spades. Kisa took a trick and swapped his Changeling for my Filch. (In the end, it didn't matter. I didn't use either power all game.)
The third hand was a "hold" hand, meaning we didn't pass cards. According to her power, Marty could therefore choose any power in the game to copy. She chose Schizoid. After close consultation, we determined that this meant there would be two 13-point cards this hand! Tim chose first, and picked the Three of Clubs. Marty picked the Ten of Spades. On that hand, I took my first 4 points, Kisa took 1 point, Kathy took 15 points, Mark took 3, Dave took 15, and Marty took 1, for a total of 39 points, instead of the usual 26!
On the fourth hand Tim decreed the 13-pointer was the King of Spades. Kisa took the first trick (and the kitty, of course), and we ruled the three-card kitty in a seven-player game is defined as part of the first trick, so that Kisa could swap cards from the kitty with cards from his hand. Dave managed to Shoot the Moon with his Connoisseur power; on the third trick he discovered he was "good for" that one and the next four, and just laid down his cards. The experts concurred, and Dave opted to raise everyone else's points by 26 rather than lower his own by the same amount. Good thing we didn't have two 13-point cards (as on the previous turn), or he could have upped our scores by 39...
On the fifth hand, the King of Clubs was the 13-pointer. Dave had it dumped on him, of course, and 7 other points as well, for a total of 20 (out of 26 that round), thereby losing much of his lead. I'm not good enough at Hearts to "direct" cards this way (some of the other Seattle Cosmologists are), but by this point, I had earned the nickname "TefRon", as I had taken very few points all evening. (Marty tells me that "Teflon" play is the first stage of becoming a "real" Hearts player, before you learn to manipulate the stream of cards.)
On the sixth hand, Mark and I still had low, low numbers, and the cry was "Get Mark and Ron!" It was a hold hand, so Marty chose to copy Schizoid and we had two 13-point cards again: Ten of Clubs (Tim) and Ten of Diamonds (Marty). I was able to slough Clubs and Diamonds right away, so attempts to dump the 13-pointers on me came to nought. Mark was similarly able to hold off the evil 10C and 10D, and we ended sharing the victory. Final scores:
Kathy ..... 66 Dave ...... 55 Kisa ...... 48 Tim ....... 47 Marty ..... 41 Mark ...... 30 Ron ....... 30
Mark was awarded a stuffed Fire Salamander toy from Archie McPhee. I modestly disclaimed any prize. (Actually, Marty and I get to embezzle the stuff we want from the Archie's assortments before we put them in the prize bag, and anyway I feel amply compensated by the weekly presence of... you guys... sniff!)
Kisa declared that Cosmic Hearts had not given him his "Cosmic fix", so he, Marty, Mark, and Kathy decided to play a straight game of Cosmic Encounter while Tim, Dave, and I split off to play Carcassonne (below).
Well, maybe not quite a "straight" game of Cosmic; the four opted for a three-power-per-player game with all powers hidden until used. Powers were chosen by drawing three, keeping one, and passing one right and one left. Comets and grey and reversed Cones were used in the Destiny Deck, but Lucre was not used, as Marty really hates it. Further, because of the huge Challenge Deck we usually play with, the deck was randomly cut in half.
Marty ended up with the Sniveller and the Internet powers Despot and Knot (see below); Mark got Warpish, Vampire, and something else; Kathy got Berserker and the Internet power Martyr and something else; and Kisa got Trader, Seeker, and Macron, the last of which caused general pants-wetting when he revealed it and everyone realised he effectively had four times more tokens than they had thought. Still, while the hidden powers were apparently fun, most were revealed within the first two turns.
It was a more active game than usual, partly because of the small Challenge Deck, which meant more people got Super Flares, even multiple Supers (and kept 'em, because we use Eon Flare rules), and partly because there were only four players, so everyone got more turns and didn't just sit around waiting to be attacked.
It was also a more even game than usual; no one had any huge leads. Marty made the first move to win with the Despot and Knot Supers. Despot lets you turn any Edict into any Challenge Card; Super Despot lets you turn any Challenge Card into any Edict as well. Knot lets you make binding deals with other players; Super Knot lets you make deals they cannot refuse (one or two lines from The Godfather wafted over to the Carcassonne table). Marty attacked Kathy for the win, but Kathy revealed Martyr, which let her sacrifice tokens to play extra Chellenge Cards. It was a bloodbath, which was great for Mark as Warpish. Since Mark already had Vampire, the numbers were on his side, and after this challenge, Mark rallied his forces and won.
When I called over from the Carcassonne table, "Who won?", Mark called back, "Me again!", which caused some merriment. For his victory, Mark received a "Just-After-the-Fourth-of-July Prize" -- a box of Whipper Snappers, those things you throw on the ground that make a cracking noise. Oh, you know what I mean...
One final note: Marty's outstanding Snivelling could be heard even at the Carcassonne table, where it was thought we ought to make some MP3s of it available for this newsletter. (We didn't.) She says Sniveller is not so good if you have two strong powers like Super Despot and Super Knot, as you tend to be ahead, so Snivelling doesn't help.
Seattle Cosmic seems to be the last game group on the planet to try Carcassonne, which won the 2001 Spiel des Jahres award. I won't therefore waste your time with details, but simply say that it's a tile laying game where you try to claim areas of land like cities, roads, farms, and cloisters by placing little wooden "meeples" on the growing board. We chose the first player (me) by spinning my new Spin-4-It Finger (you can see it pointing to my yellow meeple above). HINT: Spin-4-It Fingers, which were apparently invented to decide who buys the drinks this round, work better if you place them on a surface with a lot of friction, like a piece of paper, rather than a table; otherwise, they spin all night, which might be fun if you're drunk, but...
Dave overcommitted and ran out of meeples early. Tim made good choices but drew bad tiles. I was far behind in the early game, but after I got the hang of things, I shot ahead in the midgame. By the endgame, Tim and Dave were worried (below).
At the end of the game, it was fairly clear that either I was going to win or Tim was; Tim had been even further behind than me, but had made a remarkable recovery. Right toward the end of our scoring the game, when Tim was remarking he thought I was going to win, Dave (who had been in the habit all night of unilaterally shuffling the pieces around on the board "to make scoring easier"), suddenly waved one of Tim's green pieces at me and Tim and said, "Hey, where did this come from?" He claimed that it had come from the general area of a cloister. The cloister was worth 9 points. If the piece had actually been on the cloister, and Tim had forgotten to score it, he had won by 8 points. If the piece had been on the cloister and Tim had already scored it but had forgotten to remove it, as he had done once during the game with a piece on a road, then I had won by 1 point. (Other possibilities, such as the piece having been on farmland -- or never having been on the board at all -- don't bear thinking about.)
It would have been quite a winning streak for me, so I was not a little teed-off. I asked Dave if he would please not, in future, unilaterally move pieces around on the board. Dave replied testily that no statement he could make in the present would or could have any binding effect on his behaviour in the future. (I'll remember that the next time I play Diplomacy with Dave, not to mention sign a contract with him.) We eventually declared the game a draw and moved on.
Incidentally, one reason I include these little tiffs in session reports, where many game groups wouldn't, is that they add colour. As Marty says, "I wonder if there are people who tune in to our reports every week, even if they don't really know us. Sometimes I feel like a character on a soap opera." Hello out there, whoever you are! And if you think Seattle Cosmic argues a lot, you should check out the legendary "Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About" at Mil's Apology Homepage. Get some perspective!
After Cosmic, Mark left around 11:30 and Kathy demoted herself to observer status. Kisa and Marty opted for a game of Abalone while Tim, Dave, and I finished Carcassonne. This was Marty's first game, and she said that while many people think the game is flawed because good defensive play forces a stalemate, she could not yet play at the level where such defensive play was possible. She thinks it's an interesting game that fosters flexible thinking.
Kisa played green and Marty played white. Kisa tromped Marty. We awarded Kisa a white poodle pedestal puppet. I could swear that Marty said she picked this prize for Kisa "because it's white, and he can bring it to its knees", but Marty swears she didn't say that. I am hallucinating that my wife is wittier than she is...
Next up we debated playing either Dragon Delta or Cheapass's The Big Cheese. The Big Cheese won out. We were all pretty tired, and The Big Cheese, which has been called "not so much a game as an innovative bidding mechanism", or something to that effect, went quickly. We learned that Icehouse pieces make good flunkies to assign to job cards in this game, although the small ones tend to stick together (which is true of flunkies as well).
In our version, you multiply, say, a 12-point card by a d6-roll, rather than rolling a d12, so we played to 200 points. I was the big loser, and Kisa, who was barely ahead of me through most of the game, suddenly scored big with a 20-point card and won. Final scores were as follows:
Kisa ..... 266 Tim ...... 188 Dave ..... 170 Marty .... 164 Ron ...... 130
I just realised we forgot to give Kisa his prize (we were pretty tired). Next week! I hope we have something more to his liking than a poodle puppet.
The artwork for the Knot power was especially remarked upon. It was drawn by Meredith Wilson the last time I played Knot; she can draw rather complicated Celtic knots and designed a simple one for this card.
Above are Marty and Dave playing Despot, each in their own way. The repeated use of the nominative masculine singular pronoun is an attempt to indicate maniacal laughter, as on the Despot card itself.
Mike Arms, former editor of Encounter magazine, has released the rules to Cosmic Hearts under the GNU Free Documentation License. Hooray for Mike, and hooray for free documentation in the world of gaming!
The Center for Ludic Synergy and Seattle Cosmic Game Night are now associates of Funagain Games. This means that 5% of your purchase there goes toward supporting us if you buy games there via the following links or the Funagain logo at the bottom of the page.
Even if you don't want to buy the games, the Funagain pages often contain lengthy, useful game reviews.
Friday, 13 July 2001, 7:00 PM in West Seattle. Come play for fun and FABULOUS PRIZES!
Remember, game nights are first and second Fridays at 7:00 PM, at Dave and Kathy's house in West Seattle, and third and fourth Saturdays at 7:00 PM, at Marty and Ron's apartment in Kent. Please bring a snack or drink to share (cookies, chips, soda, juice, etc.).
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Page last updated 2001-07-09.