Seattle Cosmic Game Night, Saturday, 4 January 2003

A No Muss, No Fuss Game Night

Seattle Cosmic met again on 4 January 2003 at Marty and Ron's in Kent. Attendance was more in line with expectations this week, the first game night after New Year's Day, with seven people attending: Marty_Hale-Evans?, Ron_Hale-Evans?, ChadUrsoMcDaniel, Nat Dupree, Steve_Dupree?, Tim Schutz, and Jay_Lorch?.

Tigris & Euphrates (demo)

Chad arrived around 5:05 and hung out and chatted with me and Marty until Steve and Nat arrived around 5:25. Steve and Nat were drunk with power because they had just bought a copy of Tigris_&_Euphrates?, a true Gamer's Game, at Wizards of the Coast for 50% off. They suggested playing it, but no one else was interested in a heavy game so early in the evening, so Chad suggested he'd demonstrate it and explain the rules, so they'd be ready the next time they had an opportunity to play. It turned out that while the game was unpunched, it seemed as though someone had already opened the game and found one of the wooden pieces missing, and WotC? had re-shrinkwrapped it. Ah, well; should be easy to get a replacement piece from the manufacturer.

Chad demonstrates Nat and Steve's new game.

All of the above is true, except the "drunk with power" part.



Tim Schutz showed up around 6:00 PM, and we were glad to see him because we didn't expect him until 7:00 or 7:30. He brought along a game he'd received as a holiday present called Wordblind?. Chad wrapped up the Tigris_&_Euphrates? demo and we set to it with a will.

Now I have to say, this was a pretty fun game, but it's not all its marketing department claimed for it. On each turn, you receive a certain number of points depending on whether you guessed a word on a Trivial_Pursuit?-style card and how hard the clue was. You can use those points to lay down tiles and move ahead on the tiles. The object is to be the first player to land on the very last tile placed, by exact count. The marketing material for the game makes a big deal out of the fact that you build the board as you go along. The slogan for the game is "It literally unravels before your eyes!" (um, is that a good thing?), and the website for the game quotes The Evening Standard of London as saying,

Intriguing, and the most compelling game so far. It's the concept of constructing our own board that both foxes and compels us, it's quite a wrench to tear ourselves away

Notwithstanding the comma splice in the second sentence, this is dumb. For anyone who's a fan of GermanStyleGames, a TileLayingGame? like this is not a big deal. But then, journalists who write the occasional article on "games for Christmas" usually fall all over themselves recommending Outburst? and other games of the sort you can buy at Starbucks, with nary a mention of These Games Of Ours, so I guess it's to be expected.

Anyway, the six of us present reached into my Bag o' Pawns and selected the following avatars for ourselves:


Ron H-E yellow cone
Marty H-E yellow mammoth
Steve D red fan-backed dinosaur (= ?)
Nat D green stegosaurus
Chad McD? green tyrannosaurus
Tim S white Chess pawn

A Wordblind card consists of a word and four clues. The clue-giver tells the initial letter of the word to the current player and (usually) starts by reading the first of four clues. The clues are progressively easier. If you guess the word on the first clue, you receive four points; if on the second clue, three points; on the third, two; and on the fourth, one. (If you don't guess, you receive zero points.) If you scored, you can then place tiles and/or move your pawn; placing a tile costs one point and moving your pawn one tile costs one point. The red tiles give you special abilities, such as extra turns or double points. (Some red tiles are evil, however.) The strategy of the game lies mainly in laying tiles and moving your pawn in the right order, and by just the right amount, to land on (or avoid) the red tiles.

Wordblind: early in the game (L) and very near the end (R)

I, Yellow Cone Man, took an early lead and maintained it for most of the game. (To be fair, I was the first player in the turn order.) Marty managed to zip ahead, however, and by the end of the game she was able to pass me and by answering four questions in a row correctly, maneuver her pawn onto the last tile placed, giving her the win.

Tim Schutz had brought some handmade prizes for the Prize Bag: one, a deluxe edition of his piecepack pawns; and two, a handsome desktop-published copy of Raj?, which Tim owns, but is out of print. (It may still be in print as the less-attractive Beat_the_Buzzard?, however, which we do have in the Seattle Cosmic Library if anyone wants to borrow it.) Tim awarded Marty the Raj? set he had made, and Marty was mighty pleased.


After reading the rules more closely I found that we made a small error in game play. Apparently, you lay down tiles only when you reach the end of the board and cannot travel any further due to lack of spaces. Furthermore, the laying down of a tile does not count towards your move. The correct way does change some of the strategies that we used and also makes it more dangerous to be in the lead (I like that). Oh well, my bad. But for the most part we played the game correctly and it was enjoyable. I would like to play it again the correct way and maybe even with the variant that we talked about where if a player doesn't get the word with the clue another player can guess at the word and steal his move -- of course there would have to be some penalty for guessing wrong like moving your pawn backwards.


Take It Easy

Around this time (7:20), Jay_Lorch? phoned to say he'd be coming in about half an hour, so we looked for a quick game that could support multiple players. Take_It_Easy? was a natural choice. Tim Schutz was the Caller, because he said that way he didn't have to fish around for the right piece.

I think next time we'll make Marty the Caller, because when the last tile was called, she found she had already placed it on her board. After some catcalls, Tim suggested he call an alternate last tile for Marty. Final scores were as follows:


Ron H-E 177
Marty H-E 175 (sort of)
Tim S 157
Steve D 144
Chad McD? 112
Nat D 105



Jay showed up around 7:50, and he, I, Chad, and Marty sat out while Steve, Tim, and Nat played a game of Raj? with Marty's new set. Final scores were as follows:


Steve D 36
Tim S 5
Nat D -1

Jay observed, "Steve won every card between +6 and +10!" Steve was awarded a purple inflatable ballpoint pen [sic!] for his impressive victory. (He let me try it. Fun to use. I wouldn't recommend it for calligraphy, though.)


Lord of the Rings (with Sauron)

Nat, who had to get up early, departed around 8:15 PM, leaving us with six players again. We all agreed to a game of Lord_of_the_Rings?, with the Sauron expansion.


Sauron Jay L
Frodo Steve D
Sam Tim S
Merry Marty H-E
Pippin Chad McD?
Fatty Ron H-E

Before I go any further, I'd like to point out that we have only ever won against Sauron once at a Seattle Cosmic game night (with an unlucky Chad taking the role of Sauron that time). The first time I played, in fact, we were slaughtered in Moria. Moria, for crying out loud! We didn't win this game, either (by "we" I do not mean Sauron), but we did a lot better.

We did take a lot of damage in Moria this time, though. By the time we got to Helm's Deep, Merry (Marty) was the only Hobbit who was not corrupted at all; we let the Ring pass to Marty at her suggestion because it was likely she would continue to be less corrupt. (Merry takes no damage if he has at least two Life Tokens, instead of the usual three.)

Pippin (Chad) becomes corrupt while Merry (Marty) looks on.

In the preliminary maneuvering, before we actually started the Helm's Deep board, the Nazg\xFBl made it to Space 0 on the Corruption Line, tagging Merry the Ringbearer. At this point, I detected a note of "Well, that's the game..." in Jay's (Sauron's) voice.

Sauron proceeded apace down the Corruption Line until he was one space away from me (Fatty) and Sam, the two most corrupt Hobbits. Sauron then played a card on me that made me take one damage, so I moved forward into the clutches of the Dark Lord. But first I sounded the Horn of the Bolgers! I played my special one-shot Fatty card that let the other players discard five Shields as a group to call Gandalf.

"Got any good cards, Fatty?" someone asked.

"Can I have your parking place?" (Tim Schutz).

"We" decided to play the card that would heal someone by two. Naturally, we didn't heal me, but Frodo instead. Fatty kicked the bucket, and got to relax, take a potty break, take out the dogs, and check his email (in spirit form, of course). He certainly was glad not to have to slog through the Dead Marshes and the Emyn Muil...

Sam (Tim) was next to die in Helm's Deep. By the time the Fellowship reached Shelob's Lair, only Frodo (Steve) and Merry (Marty) were left. And then there was one. Frodo died, and only Merry was left with his finger in the Dike of Darkness...

It's Merry alone against Sauron in Shelob's Lair.

Needless to say, this state of affairs did not last very long. "I can't do anything but die!", said Marty, and she and I launched into a rendition of that old Sauronic standard, "I can't give you anything but DEATH, baby!", which puzzled Chad somewhat. Merry/Marty succumbed at last, and Middle Earth was consumed by the bottomless hunger of Sauron around 9:50 PM.

Jay (Sauron) was awarded a gyroscope, since Sauron and Saruman are both fascinated by machines and engines in the book. When I commented on this, Jay revealed he had never actually read the book, and has not even seen The Two Towers movie yet. Nevertheless, Lord_of_the_Rings? is one of his favourite games because it is "beautifully designed and balanced". Jay did say he had read an online summary of the book, and so had a general idea of the plot. I hope he didn't get his information from Your Homework Done for Free!. (This is part of the Tolkien Sarcasm Page. It's very funny, and actually fooled a reporter from the London Sunday Times.)

Next time we play with the Sauron expansion, I am going to recommend we play with Friends & Foes as well; I haven't played with that expansion very much, but it does seem to make it easier to defeat Sauron, so might add a little more balance.


Speaking from Sauron's perspective, I thought this game went pretty well. :) I followed the few elements of strategy I could think of for Sauron, namely:

  1. Almost never take the "draw one card" option at the beginning of a turn.
  2. Save a black-square card as your last card to allow refilling your hand.
  3. Move the Black Rider only if it seems likely to accomplish something this scenario.
  4. When Sam executes the black-square, strongly consider refilling your hand.

The Fellowship did well (thanks to Marty) at the Sauron-expansion strategy of keeping the Ringbearer pure. This is especially important with the Sauron expansion because every unit of health for the Ringbearer is one more space the Black Rider must move to tag him and two more spaces the Black Rider must move to return to Mordor.

Unfortunately, they didn't do too well in Moria at the standard Lord of the Rings strategy: "move primarily along the main track, using the auxiliary tracks only if time permits". This is important because it allows the Fellowship to escape before too many events happen; in particular, reaching close to the end of the main activity line allows the Ringbearer to use the Ring to make a premature escape if things aren't going well. It's especially important with the Sauron expansion because then not only does more time on the board mean more likelihood of advancing the event marker, it also means more turns for Sauron to play cards.

Nevertheless, I think we all played well, and I suspect the primary cause of their downfall was bad luck with the tiles in Moria.

The final score for the Fellowship was 45. I suppose this means Sauron's score was -45.


The reason we didn't do too well at the "move primarily along the main track, using the auxiliary tracks only if time permits" strategy in Moria is that we weren't using that strategy -- despite my begging the others to. But nooooo, who listens to ol' Fatty? ("I'm not even supposed to be here!") :) Everyone else wanted to pick up Life Tokens to avoid corruption instead of just getting the hell out of Moria. I find your analysis of using this strategy with the Sauron expansion useful; maybe it will help me persuade people more effectively next time.

I agree that Marty played especially well. It's probably why she survived so long.


Raj (redux)

Around 9:30, the players who had been eliminated from the Lord_of_the_Rings? game (Ron, Tim, and Chad) started another game of Raj?, this time using Tim's "real" (commercial) Raj set. I won.


Ron H-E 17
Tim S 14
Chad McD? 9

Chad and I kept bidding the same cards (good if you're trying to avoid a negative card, bad if you're trying to obtain a positive card, since identical cards cancel out). This led Chad to exclaim, "I'm just Ron's dummy!", which isn't quite as self-deprecatory as it sounds, since a dummy in Bridge is the partner of the person who won the bid; the winning partner plays both hands.

After the game, we tried to pull some games off our main game shelf. Chad said it would be easier if he took the lampshade off our lamp first. Then, lacking a place to put it, he placed it on his head, thereby becoming the living embodiment of a "weird stereotype", as he put it. Note that Chad was dead sober at the time, and this is the first time I have ever seen anyone put a lampshade on his head at a friendly gathering.

Where does that stereotype come from? Is it something our parents did a lot?

Chad re-enacts a "weird stereotype"


Facts in Five

Next up, Tim Schutz sat out and played solitaire Take_It_Easy? while the remaining five of us played five five-minute rounds of Facts in Five. Hail Eris!

This is really Marty's game, and I knew I didn't have a chance against her, nor did probably anyone else. I didn't expect to do as badly as I did, however; Chad left at 10:45 after playing only two out of five rounds, and I barely beat him.


Marty H-E 569
Jay L 408
Steve D 346
Ron H-E 264
Chad McD? 204 (only played 2/5 turns)

This game has been described as "Scattergories on steroids", and part of the beauty of it is that you have great flexibility in selecting obscure categories from those available, or making them up entirely. On one turn, Jay and Steve both attempted the gambit most people try at one time or another against strong players: naming nearly impossible categories, such as "Dead Novelists of Uruguayan Origin". The problem with such a tactic is that the people who pull this stunt don't score any points for those categories either. Really the only valid tactic I have discovered is to name a category about which you know quite a bit and the other players know little; however, it's often hard to do this in a sporting way.

We were all pretty tired. Before he left, Chad almost named Old Spice as a food flavouring. Jay said he thought the game went on too long. Marty replied that she liked it that way. "It adds an endurance element", she said.

Jay, who is rating on the Internet Top 100 Games List ( all games he has played, gave Facts in Five -- what else? -- a five (out of 10).


Heimlich & Co.

Next up, people wanted to give Tim a chance to play a game he liked, since he had been so patient during our endless Facts in Five game. Tim chose Heimlich_&_Co.?. I sat out, citing brain burn from Fi5.


(L) Heimlich & Co. players (clockwise from L: Jay, Marty, Tim, Steve); (R) The Heimlich endgame

In this game, each player moves agents around the board, making those agents score points. The interesting twist is that each player is secretly assigned an agent whose final score will be his final score. The player thus has to arrange for that agent to score lots of points without giving away his interest in that agent's score. If others figure out who your agent is, they may arrange for him to score few or even a negative number of points. Furthermore, towards the end of the game each player gets to secretly vote for who they think everyone's agent is; at the end of the game, these are revealed and everyone gets five bonus points for each correct guess he made.

I was assigned the Red agent. My strategy was to convince everyone I was the Yellow agent, by making a lot of apparently pro-Yellow moves and by making all my pro-Red moves look arbitrary. This worked out well, as Tim did make efforts to reduce Yellow's score in the early game and Tim actually voted that I was Yellow. (In retrospect, I don't think Marty was fooled.) It worked out especially well because Steve really was Yellow, so the anti-Yellow sentiment I engendered in Tim hurt Steve in addition to putting people off my scent.

The game has an unfortunate luck factor in that rolling a high number on the die allows you much greater freedom of action than rolling a low number.



Jay L 52
Tim S 37
Steve D 35
Marty H-E 34

Jay's Fabulous Prize for Heimlich

Jay was awarded some little blobby green guys who walk toward the edge of a table when a weight is dangled over the edge by a string. It wasn't much of a Fabulous Prize, but it was a light game, and Jay has won almost everything else in the Prize Bag at one time or another.


Castle Croquetnole board

That's about it for game night. Heimlich_&_Co.? wrapped up, and people went home around 12:10 AM.

"Well, that was a no muss, no fuss game night", said Marty. And so it was.

I'd like to share some photos of a project some of us in the group have been working on. I wrote some rules for a flicking game called Castle_Croquetnole? using the piecepack, sort of a cross between Lewis Carroll's Victorian lawn game of Castle Croquet and the popular tabletop game Crokinole. As a gift, in October, Tim Schutz presented me with a custom board he made for the game, and over the holidays, Marty_Hale-Evans? painted it. The resulting product has a nice, Alice-in-Wonderlandish feel to it, with fanciful "castle towers" painted with piecepack suits, set against a broad green field painted with flowers, all surrounded by a "stone wall". We are thinking of selling these, as plans, kits, or finished boards. Here are some photos; for more details, see the Castle_Croquetnole? page.

The Castle Croquetnole board, assembled and painted

(L) Close-up of Red (Suns) castle; (R) Closer view of Red tower

--Ron Hale-Evans

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 THIS VERY LINK. Any game you buy during a web session you start by clicking the previous link qualifies; in fact, if you click it 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, 11 January 2003, 5:00 PM in West Seattle. 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.)

I wish I lived in Seattle. :( --IainCheyne?

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