Seattle Cosmic Game Night

(Saturday, 23 November 2002)

Dune? Buggy.

by Ron Hale-Evans

Seattle Cosmic met again on Saturday, 23 November 2002. Present were Tim Higgins (the evening's host), Ron Hale-Evans (yours truly), Marty Hale-Evans, Alex Rockwell, Kisa Gryphon, Meredith Hale, Chad McDaniel, Jay Lorch, Steve Dupree, Nat Dupree, and Mark Purtill, for a total of 11 people. Game night officially started at 5:00 PM. Marty, Alex, and I got there around 5:15.

No photos this time, sorry. My camera only had 30-40 minutes left on the battery, but then I dropped it and it wouldn't work at all. I can't imagine why dropping a camera should fully discharge the battery, but Chad said, "Since a lot of the work of getting a newsletter up is processing photos, maybe you should never use your camera, Ron."

Some of us on the mailing list had agreed to play Dune, but by 5:30 there were still not enough people who wanted to play it (most sources seem to agree that a six-player Dune game is more balanced), so instead several people sat down to play...

Traders of Genoa

Traders of Genoa looks somewhat like the game Chinatown. It is a negotiation and trading game in which players bid commodities (such as wheat) and money on buildings in Genoa. Each building permits a unique action, and some cards make certain buildings more valuable. In the end, the player with the most ducats is the winner.

I have never yet played this game, but my interest in it has been reawakened by Mark Twain's description of Genoa in his book The Innocents Abroad. Marty recommended this book to me highly, and frequently emailed me particularly funny excerpts during lunch break at work, so I've been reading it in a Project Gutenberg edition on my PDA. Twain writes,

These people here live in the heaviest, highest, broadest, darkest, solidest houses one can imagine. Each one might "laugh a siege to scorn." A hundred feet front and a hundred high is about the style, and you go up three flights of stairs before you begin to come upon signs of occupancy. Everything is stone, and stone of the heaviest--floors, stairways, mantels, benches--everything. The walls are four to five feet thick. The streets generally are four or five to eight feet wide and as crooked as a corkscrew. You go along one of these gloomy cracks, and look up and behold the sky like a mere ribbon of light, far above your head, where the tops of the tall houses on either side of the street bend almost together. You feel as if you were at the bottom of some tremendous abyss, with all the world far above you. You wind in and out and here and there, in the most mysterious way, and have no more idea of the points of the compass than if you were a blind man.... The streets are wisely made narrow and the houses heavy and thick and stony, in order that the people may be cool in this roasting climate. And they are cool, and stay so.... The huge palaces of Genoa are each supposed to be occupied by one family, but they could accommodate a hundred, I should think. They are relics of the grandeur of Genoa's palmy days--the days when she was a great commercial and maritime power several centuries ago. These houses, solid marble palaces though they be, are in many cases of a dull pinkish color, outside, and from pavement to eaves are pictured with Genoese battle scenes, with monstrous Jupiters and Cupids, and with familiar illustrations from Grecian mythology.... Some of these painted walls reminded me somewhat of the tall van, plastered with fanciful bills and posters, that follows the bandwagon of a circus about a country village. I have not read or heard that the outsides of the houses of any other European city are frescoed in this way.

When I first started gaming, I was usually more interested in games with a science fiction than a mundane theme, such as Cosmic Encounter, Illuminati, Nuclear War, and so on, but even Twain's second-hand history has brought home to me that many of the games we play, especially the "German games" or "Eurogames", have something very real and often important behind them.

Ah, well. As Groucho Marx said in Animal Crackers, "Pardon me while I have a strange interlude." Here are the scores for the game. Marty asked me to point out that the two first-time players (she and Tim) tied for second. She also says that the fact that the game was played with five people was made much of ("oh no!") by the experienced players at the time, but nothing came of it except that the game was a little long.

Jay ....... 885
Marty ..... 690
Tim ....... 690
Alex ...... 660
Chad ...... 650

Jay won another inflatable pen for his imposing lead. He said he would give it to Michelle Teague, who "seems to love them".

The Reef

Meanwhile, I refreshed my memory on the Dune rules, and Kisa and Meredith played a game of The Reef in the kitchen. The Reef is one of the Kosmos two-player games in the square boxes. Players build a large matrix of cards with fish on them, many of the cards face-down. The object is to be the first to breed five pairs of fish. You need two different colours of fish to make a new fish, and you can play sharks to scare off your opponent's fish.

Kisa won the game and was awarded a healthy handful of "eye poppers", little plastic bubbles that you squish down onto the table and that pop high into the air 10 or 15 seconds later.


Steve and Nat arrived a little before 6:00 and started a game of Hangman with each other while I lay on the couch and continued reading the Dune rules. Their version had a plastic human skeleton about 18 inches tall that you assembled on the scaffold piece by piece. Steve tried to guess Nat's word, which was only three letters long, but was hanged in short order. Nat invited me to take an informal shot at the word after Steve was done. The word was SKY.

For the murder of her husband, Nat received a rubber razzer, with which she proceeded to the Reef table and made Kisa run away.


The Dune players were still waiting for a sixth, so the five of us (Kisa, Mer, Nat, Steve, and I) started a game of Klunker. This is a card game by Uwe Rosenberg, the designer of Bohnanza. Most of the cards represent jewelry such as necklaces, earrings, and a couple of really odd things like gold teeth. Players buy the jewelry out of one another's shop windows. The backs of the cards represent money, and when you collect four of a particular kind of jewelry in your "safe", you can turn a certain number of cards into cash (your cards are worth less the more types of jewelry you have in your safe). This is a similar mechanic to Bohnanza, but you don't need to maintain the order of cards in your hand, and if I recall correctly, you only go through the deck once, so there are no tactics based on what cards have been taken out of the game by converting them to money.

Kisa and Nat tied for first. Mer and I tied for second. Kisa was awarded a razzer and Nat was awarded some eye poppers.

Kisa ....... 12
Nat ........ 12
Mer ........  9
Ron ........  9
Steve ......  8


It was a Cosmic night, meaning we were slated to play Cosmic Encounter, but had agreed that we would play Dune instead, as it was designed by the same team, and is similar to Cosmic in many ways. For example, instead of going to the Warp when they lose a battle, your pieces go to the Clone Tanks and can re-enter the game in a similar way; instead of playing an alien race with special powers, you play a political faction with special powers, etc.

Mark Purtill arrived around 7:00 PM. Traders of Genoa was only on turn 3, but Klunker is a relatively short game, so Mark hung out until Klunker finished around 7:35. We then had our six players for Dune. Here are the factions we played:

Kisa ....... Fremen
Mark ....... Atreides
Mer ........ Harkonnen
Nat ........ Emperor
Ron ........ Bene Gesserit
Steve ...... Guild

The whole game is based on the Dune series of science fiction novels by Frank Herbert. Rather than go into great detail describing Herbert's universe, let me point you to the alt.fan.dune FAQ. These books are not to everyone's taste, and rumour has it the earlier books in the series are far better than the later ones (I've only read the first couple of them, myself), but in my humble opinion the first book is a classic, and George Lucas stole as much from the Dune books as he did, say, The Lord of the Rings, when he made Star Wars.

Kisa and I were not prepared to teach the game, however. We sat down at 7:45 but did not actually start playing until 9:00. It was a fairly long game, as well: around 9:45, Nat remarked, "It sounds like they're having fun in the other room", and Steve moaned, "I remember fun."

Despite some complaints that the game was unbalanced (Mer said that it is too expensive to buy things with Spice, and certain factions, such as the Guild and the Emperor, obtain Spice too easily), we did manage to have some fun. One of the geographical features on the game board is the Pasty Mesa, which we renamed the Pastry Mesa (mmm). As the Bene Gesserit, I had the power of the Voice, which let me tell other players what cards to play or not to play. I have always thought of the Voice in the Dune books as a tone of quiet authority that will not brook disobedience, such that someone might not even notice it was being used, but the Dune movies have always distorted the voices of actors using it with all kinds of weird flanging, so I howled hideously whenever I used it on someone, for example, to Kisa, "YOUUU MAYYY NOT PLAYY A SHIIELD!" I learned later this led to some odd speculation in the other room as to what the hell was going on in the kitchen.

The Bene Gesserit Voice was very useful and I came close to occupying the winning number of strongholds on the planet (again, very similar to Cosmic Encounter) on both Rounds 4 and 5. However, the other players managed to fend me off and strip me of the weapons I was using. After five long rounds, we began to get tired, and decided to make Round 6 the last one.

Since it was the last round, everyone gave it all they had. Most of Kisa's tokens were in the Clone Tanks, but he managed to get a few out and win a single stronghold. He said, "I won my stronghold with a Jubba Cloak and a La La La!", referring to two normally useless cards that he used as a bluff. Most of the other players' forces were also depleted. Everyone got practically wiped off the board in the final battle, much as in the original novel. However, Nat managed to pull off a legitimate win as the Emperor, so we did not have to declare a de facto winner based on plurality of strongholds, or some such thing. We noted that the next card that would have come up was a Worm, which would have allowed some players to ally and hasten the end of the game by decreasing the number of strongholds each needed to win. None had come up during our whole game, which may be one reason it seemed to drag.

As Bene Gesserit, if I had correctly predicted who would win the game and on which turn, I would have won instead. Alas, I predicted Mark on Round 8, and the game didn't even last that long. It ended at 11:35, and Nat won an inflatable purple pen. It was a small prize for a long game, but the Duprees had already won most of the other items in the game between them.

After Dune, Mark Purtill left, and so did Steve and Nat.


Forward into the past! Around 8:35, the players in the dining room finished their game of Traders of Genoa and started Reiner Knizia's auction game Ra. I'll plagiarise a Seattle Cosmic newsletter from April 2001, "I've Been Through the Desert on a Camel with No Name", for the description: There are three rounds in Ra. As the eponymous Egyptian sun god passes through the vault of the heavens (i.e. the game board), you draw various tiles depicting ancient Egyptian life from a bag, and place them on the board. Periodically, you bid for tiles with one of your large wooden Sun tokens. When you win an auction, you also take the Sun token from the center of the board, and replace it with the one you used to bid. The Sun tokens you collect are yours to bid with on the next round. Scoring is complicated, and depends on how many tiles of a set you collect, how many of certain tiles you have, and the numbers on your Sun tokens.

Here were the scores at 9:30 PM:

Marty ....... 46
Alex ........ 36
Jay ......... 33
Chad ........ 30
Tim ......... 22

"Hey! Marty won!" I said.

"More importantly, Jay came in third," said Tim.


Next up, at 9:35, Table 1 (the five people above) played another Knizia auction game, Medici, themed around shipping commodities in the Renaissance. Medici is very strategic; even dealing out cards is important: depending on how full your ships and your opponents' ships are, you may be able to prevent your opponents from getting some choice cargo by dealing more than their ships can carry -- and you may even be able to rig it so that you can win an auction lot with a single gold piece by being the only bidder.

Jay did win this one (sorry, Tim), but Marty came in a fairly close second:

Jay ......... 120
Marty ....... 111
Alex ........  83
Chad ........  64
Tim .........  55

I don't have a note on what prize Jay won, if any, but he's probably sick of our prizes by now anyway...


Chad left at 10:30. The remaining gamers at Table 1 played Urland, a thematic sequel to the game Ursuppe by Doris and Frank. Tokens on the board represent organisms that are trying to evolve, this time in the primeval land environment (Urland) rather than the primeval soup (Ursuppe). I haven't played it yet, but I gather that the mechanics are at least vaguely similar, with players attempting to collect genes that will give their organisms special abilities.

Scores were as follows:

Jay ......... 31
Alex ........ 26
Tim ......... 24
Marty ....... 12

Jay won a package of "gamer baggies", donated to the prize bag by Steve Dupree.


Finally, it was about 11:30 and only Marty, Alex, Tim, and I remained as players. We pulled out one of Seattle Cosmic's favourite closers, Blokus. Jay was about to leave, but had never played Blokus, so he stuck around as spectator.

In Blokus, players attempt to place all of the polyominoes of their colour on the board, while blocking other players from doing so. Each successive polyomino you place must touch at least one of your other polyominoes, but only at a corner. (This makes for some interesting tactics as players attempt to snake their pieces past their opponents' pieces.) Score is dependent on how many squares are left in the pieces you couldn't fit onto the board, with modifiers; for example, if you have one pentomino (five squares) and one tetromino (four squares) left, your base score is -9.

Marty usually does exceedingly well at this game, but this time Alex smoked us all. Final scores were as follows:

Alex ........ +20
Marty ....... -20
Ron ......... -21
Tim ......... -40

Alex was the first player, which we have observed (he did too) gives a strong advantage, but this was still a stellar performance for a first-time player. He won a giant deck of playing cards, which he traded to Jay for the gamer baggies.

Thus ended another game night, at 12:15 AM.


Thanks again go to Marty for an edit pass on the newsletter and general comments.

Supporting Seattle Cosmic

The Center for Ludic Synergy and Seattle Cosmic Game Night are associates of Funagain Games. This means that 5% of your purchase there goes toward supporting us if you buy games via the Funagain logo at the bottom of this page. Any game you buy during a web session you start by clicking the logo qualifies; in fact, if you click the logo and bookmark the Funagain page that appears, you can donate 5% to Seattle Cosmic whenever you buy games, without having to return to this page. It's just as easy to bookmark as not, so why not make this your regular Funagain link? THIS MEANS YOU.

We've never yet earned enough money from the associates program for Funagain to cut us a check, and we're not sure what we'd do with the money -- but we promise not to squander it on booze and floozies.


Saturday, 30 November 2002, 1:00 PM in Kent. Come play for fun and FABULOUS PRIZES!

Remember, Seattle Cosmic Game Night occurs every weekend, in one of four locations: Kent, Mill Creek, South Park, or West Seattle. Email Ron Hale-Evans for a full schedule and directions. If you come, please bring a snack or drink to share (cookies, chips, soda, juice, etc.).

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Page last updated 2002-12-14.