Seattle Cosmic Game Night

(Saturday, 18 November 2000)

The Cetacean Invasion and Groo Wreak Havoc

by Ron Hale-Evans

Another successful game night (still no drive-by shootings!) happened on 18 November 2000 at the house of Kisa Gryphon in Seattle. Present were Kisa, me (Ron Hale-Evans), Marty Hale-Evans, Mark Purtill, Lion Kimbro, Derrick Slaughter, and new guy Greg Melhuish.

Seattle Cosmic officially started around 8:00 PM. Kisa and friends had been gaming throughout the day. Mark and Lion showed up in the evening, and Marty and I showed up around 8:15. By that point everyone else had already started a game of Groo: the Game. When we arrived, the others had not yet finished the first round, so Marty and I were dealt in, and play continued.

Seattle Cosmic plays Groo

The Groo game is based on the comic by Sergio Aragones, in which a barbarian, Groo the Wanderer, drifts from city to city, causing enormous devastation because of his clumsiness and stupidity. Players roll resource dice, which show grain, labor, money, and so on, and apply the dice toward laying down building cards and army cards. With enough building cards, you can win the game; army cards let you attack other towns or defend against attack. After using as many dice as you can, you pass the remainder around the table. If you are passed the Groo card, watch out!

Below are my cards early in the game. Notice I've placed some resource dice on one card. This is standard game bookkeeping; I had just laid the card down, and those dice were what let me do it.

Building cards and resource dice in Groo

Winner of the game was experienced Groo player Kisa Gryphon, whose set it was. He won... er, see below. I think he's smiling... I'd rather meet Groo in a dark alley than Kisa with these glasses on.

Where does the prize end and Kisa begin?

Next we split into two groups. One group (Derrick, Mark, Kisa, and I) played an inaugural game with my new Avalon Hill Cosmic Encounter set. (It's mid-November as I write this and they're still counting votes in Florida. Something had better be inaugural around here! (OK, I admit that's a bit of a stretch for a joke.))

I won the first game of Cosmic -- sort of. I drew Virus-Amoeba, which is a forbidden power combination in Mayfair Cosmic, if I'm not mistaken, but there are no forbidden combinations in Avalon Hill Cosmic. Designer Greg Olotka was recently quoted on rec.games.board.ce as saying that Mayfair had it wrong: Cosmic is not about being fair, it's about being surprising.

Anyway, since Virus lets you multiply your Attack card by the number of your ships ("tokens" in the earlier versions), and Amoeba lets you place as many ships as you want in an encounter (oldspeak: "challenge"), attacks of upwards of 600 points are possible, compared with 40 or so for other players. Everyone else immediately conceded the game, and I was the nominal winner.

Here's how the new game looked when we first set it up:

Setting up the new Avalon Hill Cosmic Encounter set

The other group (Marty, Greg, and Lion) forked off to play Dao, a new game Meredith Wilson, who couldn't make it that night, brought home from the Christmas in Seattle show. Here's a picture of her board that I took later, after I got home:

A Dao set

Pretty, isn't it? Yes, those are little Hotei statues (commonly known to Westerners as Fat Buddhas).

The rules of the game are not much more complicated than those of Tic-Tac-Toe, but in my opinion offer much more room for strategy. You can get most of the rules at the main Dao website. Besides the rule that you start the game with the two sets of pieces up diagonally on the board (see above), their "secret ingredient" is that when you move a piece, you must move it as far in one direction as it can go before bumping into another piece or the edge of the board.

There. Now you have all the rules you need to play Dao with, say, a piece of paper and a few coins. No, I don't feel guilty about giving away the missing rule; as a free software advocate, I dislike it when people hoard information, and, moreover, the Dao people use some questionable marketing practices, in my opinion (see below). But make up your own mind; I wouldn't mind getting a Dao set for Christmas myself.

Since Meredith wasn't present with her "real" Dao board, Marty, Greg, and Lion made a "faux" board out of Kisa's 4x4 Quarto Classic board and some yellow and green glass stones for the pieces (see below).

Our "faux" Dao board

Three Dao games were played: Marty vs. Lion (winner Marty), Marty vs. Greg (winner Greg), and Greg vs. Lion (winner Lion). Since each of them won one game, they disclaimed prizes, saying everything cancelled out.

(Left to right) Marty, New Guy Greg, and Lion play Dao

I drew new Cosmic Encounter powers (Philanthropist-Oracle), everyone else kept theirs, and we played a new game.

The new Cosmic board in play

The new game components were the topic of much discussion. Everyone agreed the quality of the Avalon Hill bits was high, although opinion was divided on the Gigeresque alien race art. Some thought it looked cool and science-fictiony, while those used to the Eon and Simply Cosmic art (mainly Mark and I) thought that it lacked character and humour, and that the aliens looked too anonymous. People tended to like the stackable ships (see below for a shot of the Warp), and Marty suggested that, along the lines of such previous Cosmic game hybrids as Cosmic Hearts, we should try playing Cosmic Jacks at some point. There was much merriment. Does anyone want to come up with the rules?

Cosmic Jacks?

This Cosmic game lasted quite a bit longer than the previous one, and longer than the three Dao games combined (had I been playing Dao, they would have been over even faster -- Marty kicks my tender hiney at Dao almost as fast as I "won" the first Cosmic game).

Mark and Derrick playing Cosmic

On the winning turn, Derrick, Kisa, and Mark ganged up on me 3:1 and took a three-way joint win (uh, in a four-player game). For this victory, I grudgingly awarded each of them a very tiny prize: a button of the Earth that they could wear to the next Galactic tournament of Cosmic Encounter to identify themselves.

The winners: everyone but me!

Then I took pity on them and gave them each a plastic sea creature from Archie McPhee too. Here they are, riding their starships to victory, with the Seattle Cosmic Space Slug in the vanguard:

The Cetacean Armada invades the peaceful Philanthropist-Oracle people

I have to say, the quality of the Dao components is quite high, the game is fun and strategic, and I like to see small game publishers set out against the Hasborg, but I strongly question the following Dao marketing tactics.

  1. The Dao people got into hot water on the rec.games.board newsgroup a few months ago for spamming the group multiple times. People hate them there. (Commercial messages must go to rec.games.board.marketplace.)
  2. On the Dao home page, there is a prominent emblem reading "VOTED BEST GAME OF THE YEAR!". It is not a button; clicking on it doesn't take you anywhere. A similar emblem also appears on the Dao box. I wrote them to ask who voted them Best Game of the Year, and when. So far no answer, but I only emailed them last night. Nevertheless, repeated Web searches with Google and Excite do not reveal any awards for Dao, at least in the first ten pages of results or so.

I'll keep this page updated with what I find out.

Meanwhile, people's Thanksgiving holiday plans permitting, we'll be meeting next Saturday, probably at Metro Seattle Gamers, a wonderful place that is likely to become our new home if things work out. See you then!


First of all, it was Peter Olotka and not his brother Greg who said those things about Mayfair Cosmic. The exact quote was, "mayfair had a crusade about trying to make cosmic FAIR. Its not supposed to be fair - fair is DULL. Its supposed to be surprising and funny!"

Second of all, something is indeed more than fishy in Dao-land. Here is the verbatim reply from someone identifying himself only as Yang (yang@playdao.com), to my query as to who voted Dao "Best Game of the Year" and when: "I have been anxiously awaiting for someone to ask about our 'award'. Thank you for being the first. 1) I voted DAO best game of the year. 2) for the year 2000. I did not put the year on the sticker since I plan on using them again next year when I will vote DAO best game of the year for 2001."

Isn't that despicable? Childish, too; it's more reminiscent of a kid advertising a lemonade stand than a grown-up running a real company with business ethics. But this isn't the first time the Dao people have used unethical marketing. A few months ago, they were spamming the rec.games.* newsgroups "2-3 posts at a time, 2-3 times per week", to quote David Vander Ark (dvanderark@usxchange.net). They were even spamming rec.games.board.ce, the Cosmic Encounter newsgroup! Many of the spammed Dao messages bore the subject line "FREE GAMES GIVEN AWAY DAILY". According to kaspian@arcadia.net, at that time they were only giving away a single game weekly. He wryly observed: "At a glance, it would appear that out of 5 words in your subject line, 2 of them -- 'games' (plural) and 'daily' -- are non-factual."

Seriously Fun Games refuses to carry Dao. Funagain doesn't, for whatever reason. Can there be any doubt as to why Bill K (Rensark@webtv.net) wrote, "DA-O....DA-O.......DAAAAAAO.....daylight come and we want no more.......of DA-O"?

Games played or discussed this week:

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Page last updated 28 November 2000.