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This was a pivotal year for me regarding gaming. I started with wargaming way back in 1979, but upon meeting a group of gamers in high school, we dove into almost exclusive roleplaying for many, many years. It was the advent of CCGs, most notable Magic The Gathering that got me and my gaming buddies to try something else. In fact, in 1995 CCGs dominated our play the same way roleplaying had done so before. By the start of the new year, however, a few were getting weary of Magic, and longed to return to roleplaying. Not me! Well, I still enjoyed roleplaying, but this stint with CCGs rekindled my interest in boardgaming. I tried pitching the idea to the roleplayers, and though they humored me a couple times, it was clear they didn't really enjoy them. I backed off, content for the time to roleplay with them, while still playing competitive Magic with some opponents at work and at local tournaments. By mid-year, however, I decided to have a go at forming a local boardgaming group, one that would meet on a schedule I could accept (i.e. weeknights). Hurray! It worked! The Tri-Valley Boardgamers had their first session on September 9, and have been meeting every other week since. Most of the games listed here were played at TVB sessions, and I'm looking forward to a lot of great gaming in 1997!

Wiz-War (1)
One of the rare times I played boardgames between about 1984-1996 featured two runs through this hilarious little fantasy boardgame. So it was high on my request list for the Tri-Valley Boardgamers. I think this is a fabulous little game, fast, fun, and simple like the better eurogames, but with a lot of flavor and competition. I guess the basic set plays with up to four players, and like Settlers, I think it really needs that number to shine. I understand there is (or was) an expansion that allows more players, perhaps six total. That also sounds fun, but I'd be content to play another four player game.

Ben Hvrt (1.5)
Game designer James Ernest was selling his small but clever lineup of gamekits at a small local convention I attended. After a quick demo, I shelled out five bucks for this cute chariot racing game. The TVBers were put off by the amount of luck in the motion of the chariots (sort of a modified 2d6 roll), but the heart of the game is in the special cards, both the bidding on them before the race, and their timely play during. I'd sure like to try this again, but I may have trouble getting the others to agree. James has more games coming out, though, so perhaps I'll try one of those.

Settlers of Catan (3)
Okay, everyone knows about this one. I bought it on my optimism and its reputation alone. It worked out, since I now have a group that enjoys games such as these, and, of course, Settlers is a real pleaser. It even interested my roleplayers to try it twice! I wrote up some play by email (PBEM) guidelines, and have been enjoying that method of play, too. It's also helped me analyze the game a bit--don't laugh, this is something rather new to me. (Mostly I'm content to just play the game, not worrying myself too much with winning or losing.)

Magic (scads, tons)
What can I say? This is the game that enabled me to break out of a decade long roleplaying monopoly with my gaming buddies. They played it steadily with me for more than six months, then faded back into roleplaying, but I kept on, finding opponents at work and local tournaments. Now I have no more compelling reasons to play it so much, and would rather enjoy a variety of games. I still like the game itself, however, and would welcome the chance to play in any sort of externally limited environment, such as a small league drawing from a common, fixed pool of cards.

I should also point out that Magic is the reason that my game group has a home, since we piggyback onto the local Magic tourney night at a comic and game store.

Up Front (3)
One of these days I'll read and rememeber enough of the intermediate rules to try some more challenging or varied scenarios. But for the past decade, all I've ever played is the basic Meeting of Patrols scenario, plus City Fight. Even those I find enjoyable. What appeals to me most about this game is that it is a demonstration of what can be done with cards within a wargame. Or in a broader sense, how innovative a simulation game can be. It's a first generation design, one that would benefit from more development, or at least the introduction of a simpler, more intuitive presentation of the same ideas. (Though I suppose to the ASL fans, this already is simple.) Now that I'm getting into GMT's Down In Flames series, maybe I'm looking at a second generation card-based simulation game.

Merchant of Venus
This was recommended to me some time ago as I searched for games I might play with my wife. I never bought the game, and it's just as well, since I don't think she'd care for it. But I do. Like most bookcase games from the 80s, I find it a little overly complex for its subject matter, what with the small text on the map and counters. However, the rulebook appears to be a sight better than most of TAHGC's offerings, and the play was great. It's multiplayer solitaire, for sure, but with enough cheering and taunting to make a great social game, no small trick. I'm anxious to try this again, as well as Star Trader, a similar sort of game.

Air Baron (2)
This was the first game of the first TVB session! I did lousy, but had a good time, and it opened my eyes to the types of games that require plenty of strategic decisions, but play lightly and are finished in less than two hours. Eureka!! :-) Of course, now I have come to find a great many games in this vein, though this is still a favorite. I got my own copy for Christmas, and I'll be playing a PBEM game before long, if not face-to-face. I'll at least read through the advanced rules, but my experience is that the basic game is better.

The Creature That Ate Sheboygan
One of the TVBers I first met electronically as part of my other gaming project on the net: a website and mailing list devoted to microgames. These are (or were, as most are long out of print) small, inexpensive wargames, often but not always with science fiction or fantasy subjects. Just the ticket for me in junior high school. TCTAS is one of the microgame classics. We'll have to give it another try sometime, as the basic game we played didn't do it justice. Whoever heard of a monster trashing a city without starting fires all over the place? On the one hand, I'm intrigued to see that it uses an area movement system instead of traditional hexes, but the map graphics are quite disappointing, even for a 1980-era micro.

Speed Circuit
I'd missed out on most of the gaming classics, so this was my chance to catch up! I was really intrigued by the elegance of the design. With really very few rules, this felt very much like a decent simulation. There were lots of accelerate/decelerate decisions, struggles for the inside lane, slipstreaming. Only two things marred the game: first, one of the players knew how to exploit a loophole, giving him a decided advantage over the rest of us (easily fixed, though); second, the game lends itself to players thinking too hard about their turn planning, counting squares to make the best play. That slowed down the game, and detracted from the simulation, where drivers have to make quick decisions and have good instincts to drive the track correctly. Not sure how to address that without introducing a random element. For instance, rolling a die, and on 1-2 you move one square less than planned, 3-4 you move as planned, and on 5-6 you move an extra. Of course this would be more fun with a custom die showing green and yellow stoplights, or something. I might like that, but I bet the others wouldn't. And who knows, it might not cut down on the turn planning delays at all, giving the players two more options to ponder. Hmm.

This year I hope to play Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix, Daytona 500, or Formula 1. My expectation is that they'll play smoother but feel like less of a simulation. I guess I'm still trying to determine what my optimum mix of those two qualities is.

Another microgame, unusual in two respects: it's still in print, and it accomodates multiple players. I think this is a wonderful little game, a clever design, and a real crowd pleaser. It just needs a few more clever scenarios to really meet its potential. That and some better aesthetics, but minimalism and microgames go hand-in-hand. Actually the transmogrification chart is quite nice, as is the rulebook. It's just the map and counters that could use a boost. To that end, I've been pondering the idea of rounding up about four distinct wizard lead figures, painting them with strong color themes (e.g., the red wizard, the blue mage, the green witch, etc.) and playing with those. The standard map would be too small, so I'd most likely use the vinyl battlemap from my roleplaying days. Not especially pretty, but good enough, and customizable. One of the aftermaths of the CCG explosion has been the preponderance of small glass tokens which would be used for each wizard character of corresponding color. Great, just what I need, another game project! :-)

Circus Maximus
Another boardgame classic that I got my first chance to try. We had a full race with something like eight chariots, though some people like me had to double up, and of course not many finished the race. I think just two, and I was the winner. Just as I did in Ben Hvrt, I won be leaping out in front of the pack early, and never letting them catch me. In a chariot racing game, that means more than just winning the race, since the pack is deadly between scythed wheels and opponents' whips.

The Awful Green Things From Outer Space
Pocket box edition, no doubt the best one since the box itself is bright green plastic! Cool! I won for the first time, playing the Awful Green Things for the first time. I don't think there's a play balance problem, though. Instead, I think there's sort of a crisis point for luck after about two turns, when the crew need to find a good area effect weapon. If they do, the AGTs are going to have trouble. If they don't, the crew is going to be lunch. Somehow, that doesn't detract from the game in the slightest to me. Like Wiz-War, this is an outstanding design, a near-perfect mix of light gameplay with simulation aspects. I'm still looking for a similar treatment of a nonsilly subject, not because I'm a grump, just because it interests me. Haven't found it.

It's worth noting that this is about the only American game that has turned the heads of the European gamers in our group (we have a Dutch couple).

Ugh. This was one classic I could have skipped forever. Surely there's something I missing about this game, since so many people enjoy it. Then again, it might just be my lack of appreciation for abstract games, especially those that do a poor job tacking on the facade of a theme. And this one fits that bill. What the heck does this have to do with hotels? Not a darn thing. Air Baron is also abstract, but sure has a better feeling of its subject matter. And at least games like Cribbage or Chess don't pretend to be about anything. I sold my copy.

I was one of those that scoffed (lightly) at the dependence of some games on their plastic figurines for any appeal. Well, I've seen the light--these are fun! We only played the game once, which led to an interesting discussion with my roleplayers. (I was playing it as a boardgame, and thought nothing of killing off one of the heroes. The player running that hero, on the other hand, was very disappointed, just as you'd be if an RPG player character bit the dust.) I don't have the time, space, talent, supplies, or inclination to paint the figures, alas.I would definitely like to play this again.

221B Baker St.
One of the few boardgames I played during my big hiatus in the 80s, this one was drug out for one session with the roleplayers. It was okay, but nothing special. An improvement we made was to use 1d10 instead of the standard 1d6 for movement. Helped move things along at about the intended pace, I thought (2d6 would be too easy to reach everything, I think). I'm in no rush to play again, but I'll hang onto the game.

(unnamed starfighter dogfight card game)


X-Com roleplaying
As an attempt to satisfy my rekindled interest in boardgames, as well as my friends' uninterrupted love for roleplaying, I tried to run a combat-heavy, unsophisticated roleplaying setting based on the X-Com computer game. As these things tend to do, though, it wasn't especially enjoyable for any of us.

Project Ivy supernatural roleplaying
Sean pulled out all the stops to give us a the horror setting we always resisted by couching it in an X-Files or Twilight Zone sort of shell. It really worked, having us on the edge of our seats during the action, scratching our heads during the many investigative segments. Throw in a little multimedia, and you've got one of the best roleplaying experiences I've had in over 15 years of the hobby.

Swiftstar Squadron roleplaying
Hey, when your longtime gamer friends concoct a roleplaying setting based in part on spaceship drawings you made as a kid (and still have!), you know it's going to be fun. Jeff did those spaceships when we were in Jr. High School together (I helped), and our longtime GM Sean gave it the Golden Age of science fiction treatment. Good stuff. An interesting experiment was an abstract space fighter combat game run entirely with a deck of playing cards, with hand size and other parameters keying off the personal character statistics. It needed some more development, but showed a lot of promise.

Remember the Alamo!
Ah, another microgame. Having lived in Austin for a couple years, I grew to enjoy Texas' colorful history, of which The Alamo plays no small part. The game was dissapointing, though, as the Mexicans assaulted the building three times, repulsed each time by furious Texian die-rolling until they gave up and went home. What felt especially odd was the proximity of the off-board holding areas to the Alamo walls--just a few hexes. So it felt like that memorable scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, when Sir Lancelot charges the castle from the treeline, suddenly springing upon the castle guards. Weird. Then again, it's a very challenging situation to craft into an interesting 2-player game.

Olympica (PBEM)
When I was a kid, an advantage of the small microgames was that they could fit in backpack pocket, cigar box, or other small container. Now as a working adult, I discover a new advantage--the map fits in an office desk drawer, so I can keep the game set up in there for Play By E-Mail! What a fun game this turns out to be, a straight-ahead assault scenario but with notable asymmetry in the forces. The Webbies have unique abilities, the UN forces have strength but no time, and the drops are right out of the SF novels I've read. The curiously distributed combat values yield interesting situations. Super!

Outpost Gamma (PBEM)
Oh, those Dwarfstar micros are pretty, but this game was a letdown. The situation compares directly to Olympica, as well as the historic Battle of Isandlwana--attacking horde versus strong-but-surrounded defenders. But the play itself is uninspired.

Globbo (PBEM)
A weird microgame I've wanted to try since I first saw it as a magazine game within the wonderful old Space Gamer. The rules themselves are handwritten and funny, author Allen Varney even did the cartooning. Sort of a latter-day Tom Wham? Could be. Anyway, the gameplay feels a little dated, a little too wargamey for its subject matter, but not bad at all. Need to try again.

Scorched Earth (computer)
A computer game worth mentioning because of the way we played--multiplayer, with everyone gathered around the computer screen. Lots of cheering at the most amazing shots, this comes close to what boardgaming is about.

Captain's Challenge
Jeff's homebrew rules for starship combat leave out the 3D, and a lot of other physics, too. But you know what? The game is simple, it really moves, and is wonderful fun when paired with MicroMachines from Star Wars, Trek, or Bab5. I think it delivers 75% of the "realism" of Star Fleet Battles or Starfire (which is to say, 3/4 of not much to begin with) for 10% of the complexity. What a bargain!