Seattle Cosmic Game Night

(Saturday, 2 December 2000)

The Night of Technical Difficulties

(made of 33% recycled material!)

by Ron Hale-Evans

Seattle Cosmic happened yet again (won't it ever stop?) on Saturday, 2 December 2000, at Metro Seattle Gamers in Ballard. Present were Paul Unwin, John Braley, and Marty and Ron Hale-Evans. Paul and John showed up on time and hung out talking with the denizens of MSG; one of them was an old acquaintance of John's. Marty and Ron showed up about half an hour late, and play began in earnest, to the degree that play can be in earnest, around 7:30.

Since it was a Cosmic night, and Paul had been itching to get his hands on a new Avalon Hill COSMIC ENCOUNTER set, we played with my new set instead of our usual expanded Mayfair edition. It worked out well, as there were four of us, the maximum number you can play the unexpanded Avalon Hill CE with. I understand that Hasbro/AH has decided to go ahead and expand the new set; the expansion should be available in 2001.

You may have noticed there are no pictures this week. That's because as we were setting up Cosmic, and I was pulling our Mavica out of the bag, it fell on the floor -- only about a foot, onto carpet, but that was enough to do something vile to the floppy drive inside. Whenever I inserted a floppy, the Mavica just beeped and flashed an error message onscreen. So, no pix until we get the camera repaired.

We had also picked up a new card shuffler at the drugstore on the way to game night. It looked almost exactly like the old card shuffler, which we broke a couple of weeks ago. That one took C batteries, so we bought a bunch while we were at the drugstore. Unfortunately, the new one took one 9-volt battery, of which we had none, so we had to shuffle our cards manually that night. You see why Marty called this the Night of the Technical Difficulties. About the only machine that didn't fail us was a die rolling machine Metro Seattle Gamers had in the basement. However, since it is only a machine in the sense that an inclined plane is a machine, consisting merely of a tall wooden tube with baffles inside for the dice to hit on the way down, there was little that could fail...

As usual, reaction to the new Cosmic components was mixed. To quote Marty, "Can I go on the record as saying, the hell with these new pieces?" We agreed that stacking the little ships inside the bigger mothership that passes for the Cone these days added a dexterity component -- like JENGA, say. Although John said the dexterity aspect "added richness", the rest of us grumbled. In addition, Marty found the nesting (or should I say nestling?) of the ships "vaguely disturbing", and Paul went so far as to call it a "daisy chain of ships".

Anyway, we played single-power, vanilla Cosmic. Paul and Marty won jointly, for which Paul was awarded a chocolate Symphony bar. I grumbled about that too: "Healer, heal thyself." As Healer, I got to release other player's ships from the Warp, but not my own. This meant that I had most of my ships in the Warp but a huge hand of cards. On the other hand, since I had Healed everyone else, they had lots of ships. Overall, I think Healer is a pretty darn weak power.

Next up, around 9:00, we played the new Reiner Knizia game, THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

The Ring is Mine!

...in all its shoddy plastic glory. To quote Andy Looney, "The thing you want when you finish reading the Lord of the Rings is a replica of the One Ring to carry on a chain, not a 'Frodo Lives' T-shirt." I couldn't agree more. Yes, the LORD OF THE RINGS game contains a replica of the One Ring, but typically, Hasbro botched it. It's a huge (for a ring), unwearable flat disk with a hole in the middle, with engraved Tengwar letters running around the top. In the book, the ring is small enough for a hobbit to wear (although it can change size), more typically ring-shaped, and has letters on the inside circumference. They are not inscribed, either; they are invisible unless heated, when they flame red.

I've been calling this kind of replica-in-our-world-of-a-fictional-object a "gobstopper", after the pretend Everlasting Gobstopper candy made to look like the candy from Roald Dahl's book Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I used to draw wrappers with the Willy Wonka name for real chocolate bars when I was a kid, before the candy company licensed the trademarks -- that's how much I wanted some books to be true. (Marty tells me there was a candymaking toy that came with Wonka wrappers when we were kids. I remember this vaguely.)

The day I wrote the esteemed Mr. Looney about the One Ring gobstopper and his essay (Friday, 1 December, the day before this game night), the Wunderland Weekly News contained a mini-review of the Willy Wonka movie, though I didn't know that then. Synchronicity... The Wunderland newsletter also quoted the Seattle Cosmic newsletter, about which more below.

Apart from the Ring, the components of THE LORD OF THE RINGS are of fairly high quality, except for the artwork on some of the cards, which looks a bit amateur. Also, I think the hobbits' faces should be rounder, as in the book. Sauron is a very creepy little black doodad that most reminds me of a Tripod from the trilogy by John Christopher and the BBC series based on it. Since I can't offer you pictures of the game this week, let me refer you to the official LORD OF THE RINGS game FAQ. You can see plenty of photos of the components there, and get a good feel for the rules.

Is there anyone here who doesn't know that THE LORD OF THE RINGS game is taken from the magnificent fantasy trilogy of the same name? If so, go stand in the corner. The rest of us will carry on discussing the game. I will try to avoid significant spoilers, but if you don't already know the whole point of the books (and therefore the game) is to destroy the One Ring by dropping it into the furnaces of Mount Doom, go stand in the corner with the other guy.

It is unusual that THE LORD OF THE RINGS is a cooperative game; all players work together to defeat the Sauron doodad, which sweeps down the board toward the Fellowship even as you, the hobbits, are ineluctably sucked up towards it on the Corruption Line, which shows how far your character has been overwhelmed by the forces of evil (or been turned toward the Dark Side, as they say in Star Wars, which of course stole heavily from The Lord of the Rings).

It is, however, usual (for a Reiner Knizia game), that players find themselves with what seems like not-quite-enough of the resources they need to avoid whatever it is they're trying to avoid. One such resource is the Yellow Feature Cards players obtain when they visit safe havens like Lothlorien and Rivendell. The cards contain important magical artifacts like the Elven blade Sting, or the magically nutritious Lembas. (Top human scientists are working on Lembas, but the best they've come up with so far is magically delicious Lucky Charms. And that after a technology exchange with the Leprechauns...) Anyway, we were carefully hoarding our yellow cards against a dire emergency. At one point, some of us wanted to use them, but John asked cautiously, "Could it be worse?" To this, Marty cried, "We're in Shelob's Lair!" Indeed, the aftermath of Shelob's lair gets my vote for the low point of the trilogy, the point where it seems all is lost. This interchange was especially poignant because I have been reading the trilogy aloud to Marty before bedtime, and we had just finished that part.

Since I played Frodo that night, I can vouch the game does a wonderful job of conveying the lust for the Ring that Frodo felt in the books; as Ring-Bearer, the whole game depends on you and everyone looks after your welfare. You just don't want to let go of that Ring! The game also does a remarkable job of conveying a sense of doom and desperation and we're-all-in-this-together, and so, like the hobbits, we occasionally cracked a joke to keep our spirits up. When we were in desperate straits and Marty considered using the Ghân-Buri-Ghân card, John exclaimed, "Get Ghân, girl!" (Who is Ghân-Buri-Ghân, you ask? Why, he's the Headman of the Woses, of course! Now go stand in the corner.)

Finally, we were on the slopes of Mount Doom, and Sauron was uncomfortably close. We tried moving some of the hobbits backwards on the Corruption Line so as to withstand Sauron's onslaught better. "One shade of grey more pure," John said sadly as we moved his figurine back. Unfortunately, despite rearranging the Event Tiles with a special card, and postponing events as much as possible, we drew a Sundial event tile (representing the passage of time), and the event marker slid down to "The Ring is Mine!" We were on space 59, only two steps away from being able to cast away the terrible Ring, and Sauron had won. And darkness closed over Middle-earth forever (at 12:30 AM).

Since it was a cooperative game, I had planned to give everyone a prize if we had won. Instead, I growled, "We should have sprinted up Mount Doom!... No chocolate for anyone!" We held a post mortem. I had been urging the other party members to forget about collecting Heart, Ring, and Sun tokens on the other Activity Lines, and to get the hell to the top of Mount Doom as soon as possible, before the event marker got all the way to "The Ring is Mine!" Everyone else insisted they were going as fast as they could. We eventually gave up analysing the game, concluded we had done all we could, and it began to seem that Ilúvatar had just not loved Middle-earth enough to save it from the Nameless One.

But then a few days later it struck me: why didn't we use the Ring? We didn't use the (literally) damned thing once.

The Ring lets you move the marker on any one Activity Line up to four spaces, after a die roll. We were on space 59, only two spaces away from being able to throw the Ring into the furnace. I won't go into mechanics (see the FAQ), but we had a 5/6 chance of making it to the top!

You can use the Ring after turning over an Event tile, but before executing the Event. We could have used it even after turning over the last Event tile! WHAT THE HELL WAS WRONG WITH US? Sure, rolling the die might have sent the Ring Bearer (me) into the lap of Sauron, but WHAT THE HELL DID WE HAVE TO LOSE?

Would the REAL FRODO have neglected such an obvious tactic?

I guess we humans just aren't as plucky as hobbits.

More on the lameness of Dao

The Wunderland Weekly News (look near the bottom) quoted the Seattle Cosmic newsletter again, this time quoting us quoting the Dao people a couple of issues ago about fraudulently fabricating an "award" for their game. That's good; both our pages will end up in search engines and people wanting to find out about Dao will find out more than the Dao folks expected them to...

Shortly thereafter I got an email from Karlena Pickering at playdao.com, making all kinds of bogus "philosophical" excuses for lying about their award, even quoting Plato: "And what is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good? Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?" Considering the level of sophistry exhibited in the letter, I doubt if the team at playdao.com have read a page of Plato in their lives; they most likely pulled the quotation out of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, where it features prominently. Their scholarship is probably as phony as their "award".

Change of locale

OK, gang, everyone has made it pretty clear that they don't like Metro Seattle Gamers (the most common reason cited being the atmosphere), and since our apartment is once more in visitable shape, Marty and I have decided to try having Seattle Cosmic at our place again.

At last report, we had decided to cancel the 23 December game night, as no one would come anyway, but we considered having one on 30 December. Well, Marty's mom is staying with us for the holidays and will likely want to go to bed well before game night would be over, so we're going to cancel game night on the 30th as well. (It remains to be seen whether anyone could have made it then anyway.)

We'll have game night at our house for a few weeks, then see how everyone likes our new setup (and whether we can cope). Next game night is the 6th. It will be a NON-Cosmic night. Everybody bring your new holiday games!

Games played or discussed this week:

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 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.


Saturday, 6 January 2001, 7:00 PM at Ron and Marty's in Kent. The first game night of the new millennium! Come play for fun and FABULOUS PRIZES!

Remember, game nights at Ron and Marty's are every Saturday at 7:00 PM. Please bring a snack or drink to share (cookies, chips, soda, juice, etc.).

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Maintainer: Ron Hale-Evans, rwhe@apocalypse.org
Page last updated 21 December 2000.