On the Table: Games in Champaign

Last week I was at the home office in Champaign, Illinois, for the Wolfram Technology Conference. I got a lot of good work done at the office, but after hours I also got some gaming done with pal Dave T., with whom I was staying.

First, though, just before I left, I played a rousing game of Chaos in the Old World, which I tragically had not played since 2011. It’s a great game, and it deserves more love and more play. We had two new players and one was playing as Khorne and unfortunately we failed to emphasize just how much Khorne doesn’t care about domination and VPs. He just wants to kill, early and often. As a result, without Khorne making everyone’s day miserable, the game unfolded in a way that didn’t really reveal its strong points. Fortunately this did not dissuade the new players from wanting to play again some time. I mentioned this elsewhere and it was suggested that all copies of Chaos in the Old World come with this player aid for the Khorne player:

Now, on to my trip. I arrived in the late afternoon, and the very first thing we did was head out to the Armored Gopher for some gamage. We started out with Codenames, which we played a solid three times in a row. At one point Dave T. successfully gave us a clue worth five words, but despite that impressive turn, we did not win.

After that we played one of the games he’d asked me to bring with me, Nexus Ops. I controlled the monolith early on, and had a good initial burst, but just before I closed in for the win, Dave tore it all away from me. That’s another one I’m glad is hitting the table again.

I don’t have my Atlanteans expansion yet, but I brought along Imperial Settlers and we had a good four-player game. Everyone caught on to it pretty quickly, and the end scores were pretty tight. I played Barbarians, which I hadn’t played in a while.

Dave has been buying a lot of smaller “microgames” lately. I definitely understand the appeal in these games, but I’ve also seen that they never seem to get played. He was experiencing the same thing, so he brought out some of them to finally get some table time. The first was Eminent Domain: Microcosm, which I backed for about twenty minutes before remembering not only that microgames don’t get played often but that I also don’t care for its parent game, Eminent Domain. In one sense, this game is a little more interesting than actual Eminent Domain because it plays much faster and a little more interestingly. In another sense, I went with an all-out military strategy and steamrolled my opponent. The microcosmic apple has not fallen far from the Eminent Domain tree. It’s worth pointing out that this game doesn’t even pretend that trading is worth doing.

We also played Theseus: The Dark Orbit and it was a nail-biter. I was stomping over Dave’s Aliens with my Marines, and it really looked like it was going to be a slaughter, but then I got trapped in a terrible situation involving getting thrown into space twice on the same turn while also having the crap blown out of me. When the end game came, my final choice was to either kill us both or tie the game at 1 all. I opted for the tie, but Dave had a way to knock an additional point off of me.

I also brought with me RESISTOR_, an almost-microgame of my own. After an initial game in which, due to a weird shuffle, the game ended nearly immediately, we played again and really got to see it in action. This is a clever two-player game and hopefully I’ll get more plays out of it.

Next was Cthulhu Realms, a sort of alternate version of last year’s darling, Star Realms. I kind of fell off the Star Realms hype train soon after jumping on board, and I haven’t tried any of the expansions, but I liked Cthulhu Realms more than the original, even despite the tired “LOL Cthulhu” theme. That said, there are card games in a similar style that I prefer to both of them.

Our game of Omen: A Reign of War didn’t go so well. I warned Dave that this was a brutal, take-that-y game, and he proceeded to demonstrate his understanding of the concept. I couldn’t draw helpful cards to save my life and even if I did, he was making me discard them left and right. I spent much of the game whining. However, towards the end, he did a move which got him a feat, but allowed me to win two battles. That, along with a card allowing me to win a third battle and some lucky end-of-turn card drawing, squeaked me the victory, which was ridiculous. In no way had I earned a victory in that. I think we both came away from that unsatisfied, but didn’t do a rematch.

Next microgame up was Welcome to the Dungeon, which I was not familiar with. I wasn’t sure about this one as it was being explained to me, but it turns out it’s a really clever little game. A hero is going into the titular dungeon. Each turn you draw a card with a monster on it and either add it to the dungeon or remove one of the hero’s items with it. Alternatively, you can pass and you’re out, but the other person has to enter the dungeon and hope he can beat the monsters in there. So it becomes a game of chicken, trying to either hope you can ruin the dungeon for the other guy or make him *think* it’s ruined so he’ll let you go in and grab all the glory. It’s a neat dynamic, and I might grab myself a copy. I’m not sure how well it plays with more than two, though.

Then we played Tiny Epic Defenders. A frequent complaint about co-op games is that they’re little more than whack-a-mole, with the group having to run around dealing with a crisis that is always the same, just surging up in different places. Tiny Epic Defenders is that actual game. Literally there is a ring of locations and you have to run to different ones either to defend against vague threats or “succor” the place back to health. Eventually a big bad comes out and you kill him and save the day. We played on the easiest baby setting and won without too much problem. If you like this kind of game, Tiny Epic Defenders distills it into a small, streamlined package. It wasn’t bad, but again, I have other games of this type I’d rather play, despite them being neither tiny nor epic.

We replayed Imperial Settlers, this time as Rome (me) vs. Egypt (Dave). We both started strong, and were getting some nice card synergy going. Dave got out his Temple of Ra, which stole a building from me once per turn, and that really bogged me. as we neared the end, I thought Dave might have it, as he seemed to have an endless supply of VP generation. That finally ran out, and I did an action that essentially gave up two points to gain two points, which seemed like a pointless action. It did, however, also give me a card, which was more than likely going to be useless, as I only had like a stone left to build with. The card was the above Ruins, playable for free. It turned out I won the game by one point: the Ruins. That was the literal game-winning card.

On my last day we started out with Dave’s home-made re-skin of Lost Legacy: The Starship, themed to modern Doctor Who. I played the original version of a long while back but didn’t remember it well. The card art was really well done, and added to it, especially since the game itself isn’t that great with only two players.

Finally, our game of Zeppelin Attack, ended just as I had to rush to throw all my stuff into my suitcase and head out the door. I believe this was the only game of the entire trip that both of us were already pretty familiar with when we started it.

Man, that’s a lot of gaming. But I got a lot of work done too, I promise!

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