Tri-Valley Boardgamers | Back to Games
Back in 1996 I discovered boardgames, I mean the really good ones coming out of Germany. Since I already had gamers at hand, my longtime roleplaying buddies, I first tried to get them interested in Acquire, Settlers of Catan, and Air Baron. No such luck. After a while I figured out that they just preferred RPGs. While I could continue to play those sorts of games with them, to satisfy my new taste for boardgaming I needed to find OTHER gamers. I needed to form my own boardgame group.
At the time I thought it was a ridiculous longshot. Though I lived in the techie-haven of the San Francisco Bay Area (the demographic crossover between techies and gamers is strong), I lived on its eastern fringe (Livermore). Worse yet, my only free time for boardgaming would have to be for a few hours on a weeknight! Surely no one would live out by my, be interested in boardgaming, AND work with that schedule? To my delight, I was wrong. Within a couple months, the Tri-Valley Boardgamers were on a roll, and kept going strong the whole time I lived in the area (and a bit beyond).
A big help in getting the group going was the availability of a good location. The next town west, Pleasanton, was a little less on the Bay Area fringe, and had a comic book & baseball card shop that stayed open late on Wednesdays to host local Magic:The Gathering tournaments. The shop owner was more than happy to let us piggyback onto those events, being an old boardgamer raised on Avalon Hill. :-)
In mid-1998 I took a new job that required me to move 300 miles away from the TVBers. About that same time our good location evaporated, as the shop staff was burned out from a few years of late-night tournaments and shifted them to Saturday afternoons (no good for the boardgamers). That 1-2 punch of losing the group's main organizer and venue dealt a blow to TVB. Some of the members opted to go to Dave Kohr's Silicon Valley Boardgamers group instead, which made a lot of sense for those who lived or worked there. Sterling Wright kept a website going, and there's still a mailing list, but I don't think they meet anymore. Still, if you're in the Livermore/Pleasanton/Dublin area, it's worth checking into.
Since I still had over a year of session reports, plus some group photos, I've decided to "republish" most of the old TVB website. Mostly for nostalgia, yeah. :-) If anyone reading this is an old TVBer, please drop me a line. I'd love to hear from you.
The Tri-Valley Boardgamers are a group of mature, like-minded adults that meet every other Wednesday night to play boardgames and wargames. Some are silly, some are serious, but all are enjoyable, and a great way to spend an evening. We've been meeting continuously since September, 1996, steadily increasing our numbers until we now have about 6-10 gamers on any given night, with about 15 total on the list. What do we play? Lots of different games. Check out the archives page for the whole story, but a quick rundown of our most popular games would include The Settlers of Catan, Across Five Aprils, Air Baron, The Great Dalmuti, Panzerblitz/PL/AIW, El Grande, and Acquire. Our host for these game sessions is KK's Komics, Kards, and Kollectibles, on Old Santa Rita Rd. in Pleasanton. The map page has . . . er . . . a map, but also driving directions. Now we've got a small photo gallery of one game session so you can see what we look like when we're playing games!
Here is a session report from a recent TVB session. All others dating back to the very first meeting are archived. Each report is emailed out as its written, both to TVBers and another mailing list of friendly "lurkers," some who might show up to TVB some day, others who live across the country or the world! Email me if you'd like to be added to the lurker list. A much abbreviated version is sometimes posted to rec.games.board.
TVB SESSION REPORT FOR JANUARY 21, 1998
WHO WAS THERE
Mark, Paul, Charles, Hank, Matt, Kevin, Sterling, and Doug
WHAT WE PLAYED
Gettysburg 88, Stonewall Jackson's Way, Before I Kill You Mr. Bond (x2),
Fast Food Franchise, En Garde (x2), Get the Goods, Bohnanza
Matt and I prearranged to play this one (a Christmas present!) the week
before, always a good idea with wargames, even one as simple as this one.
The "88" isn't really part of the title, it's just how we distinguish this
edition of Avalon Hill's battle simulation from its earlier ones (of which
there are three, I think). This was the first game in AH's Smithsonian
Series lineup, a good line of simpler, faster-playing wargames covering
popular subjects in American history. Aside from this one, all the others
are World War 2 simulations (though the Platoon movie tie-in game is one of
this series, too, in all but name--it has the same packaging and
components). Of the three-day battle, there are scenarios for each
individual day, the whole thing, and just the final two days. (For some
reason, there isn't an official way to play just the first two days.) We
played just the Day 1 scenario, the shortest, and were done in an hour.
That may not have been the best scenario to pick, since most of what
happens is that the Confederates big divisions arrive on the scene first,
with only a motley assortment of Union troops to delay them before the bulk
of the Union forces arrive later that day (and on the second).
Correspondingly, the victory conditions are strongly biased: the
Confederate player must accumulate *twice* as many victory points as the
Union to win, otherwise he loses--there is no draw. VPs are awarded for
combat losses to enemy units (1 VP/combat strength), as well as certain
strategic hexes that help guide the battle toward its historic result.
Well, that's what I think they do. There are several hills around the map,
which are useful for defensive purposes, and those have VPs assigned to
them. One more hex on the edge of the map probably represents a bottleneck
for arriving Union troops: they want to keep it open, and the Rebs would
love to choke it up.
As it played out, the Union forces only deliberately entered battle one
time, with no substantial effect. The Rebels, on the other hand, used the
big divisions to annihilate any Union forces in the way, and quickly
marched into the town and then Cemetary and Culp's Hills. But they never
challenged that reinforcements "bottlneck" hex, and Little Round Top was
just way too far. So in the final tally, my Rebels scored about 1.5x the VP
total of Matt's Union forces, well short of what's required to win.
The last time I played this game, I was of the mind that the combat system
(1d10 + combat strength vs. 1d10 + combat strength) swung too wide,
particularly when small forces fought each other. I'd suggested making the
simple mod of using 2d6 in place of 1d10. That idea might still have some
merit, but I found myself not as convinced of a problem this time. The next
time I play, it will probably be with a larger scenario and most of the
simple optional rules. I wouldn't suggest changing anything about the game
until I tried it that way.
However, this next time won't be at TVB (more likely over a lunch or two
with Hank, at work). Doug has been pitching his old Lee vs. Meade game of
the same battle, unique for its square grid with varying movement costs
from corner to corner. Published by Gamma Two, perhaps? Well, Doug,
snailmail me the rules and I'll be ready when you are, even next time.
STONEWALL JACKSON'S WAY
This game, published by Avalon Hill, is one in a recent series called the
Great Campaigns of the American Civil War (GCACW, as distinguished from
Great *Battles* of the ACW, which I understand is an older series written
by or at least associated with Richard Berg). I sure don't profess to
understand all that it's about, but my impression is of a game somewhere
between the operational and strategic scales (about campaigns, not battles,
of course). Where other wargames might teach the players why certain
battles were won or lost, these games give more insight to the where and
when--road networks, forced marches, and so on relate to armies' mobility
in the ACW. And though it's one of the more complex wargames to be tackled
at TVB, Charles and Hank completed their scenario in no more than two
hours. Charles commented that, although the rules were somewhat involved,
they were also very well written, particularly the reference sheets. They
didn't have to poke a nose in the thicker rulebook during play at all.
Charles: "In the Stonewall Jackson's Way game, Hank took the Confederates
and I had the Union. To win, Jackson's corp gets points for being close or
on top of the city of Culpepper. Both sides get the usual points for killed
"The first days battles were only some cavalry skirmishes which pretty
much ended in equal units lost(due to a very lucky die roll by me). The
second day saw Jackson's corp heading straight for Culpepper with almost no
Union forces in front of it. I was able to win an initiatve and move Bank's
entire 2nd corp down the road in front of Culpepper. Hank won some more
initiatives and brought up his last division and launched a corp assault on
Bank's 2nd corp. The result was equal units lost and both corps completely
fatigued for the rest of the day. I was then able to bring down King's
18-strength divison and Siegle's corp into Culpepper.
"The third and final day saw Jackson's corp make a move around my 2nd
corp and make another corp assault but this time on King's division. King
got routed which allowed Jackson's corp to move next to Culpepper but his
put Jackson's corp between my 2 corp. I launched a corp assault with
Siegle's corp and lost more units than the Confederates but forced
Jackson's corp to retreat. The Confederates ended up with 7 victory points
to 6 for the Union which resulted in a marginal Union victory."
BEFORE I KILL YOU MR. BOND
Doug is on a quest to have this game challenge TVB favorites Settlers and
Air Baron for playing frequency. And you know what? In 1998 this little
near-mindless game is leading! (Which reminds me that I still need to do
TVB's 1997 report...) Well, anyway, two more games were played last time,
by Doug, Paul, Sterling, and Kevin.
Doug: "The Bond 'games' (to be generous with the term) were a hoot, as
always. I had an easy victory in the first game, but Sterling won the
second using a awesome lair consisting of The Creepy Woods on Peril Island,
leading to the Hall of Magnets staffed with the Loyal Henchlings tending
the Thermal Facisimile of Doom. Or something like that. "
FAST FOOD FRANCHISE
The same group that played Mr. Bond went for FFF. By the way, Prism Games'
designer Tom Lehmann has been making appearances at our sister group, the
Silicon Valley Boardgamers. Doing some playtesting of new/revamped titles,
too. Contact Dave Kohr if you're interested.
Doug: "FFF was a trimuph for the Beef Industry, with the final showdown
the Burger Bros. underdog of the Central/Southwest vs. the Steak n' Salad
behemoth stretching down the entire eastern seaboard. Sterling landed on me
first. Paul was shafted early on by the too often 'land on nothing but
adverts and events' opening. He offered a suggestion that we play with the
'free rides until you pass start' variant, which seems like a good idea for
the next time. His Family style in the Pacific Southwest only had one
customer all game.
"I'm starting to form the opinion that SnS is really the easiest chain to
play. Sure you can over capitalize and go broke before someone lands on you
but if you can avoid doing so then victory seems almost inevitable. Not a
whole lot of decisions need to be made running it."
Ah-ha! So not quite everyone else in TVB thinks this game is a drag! (Why
do I go against the grain so often?) Matt and I had tried this one some
time ago, when I cleaned his clock. This time he had a firmer grasp of the
tactics, though, and trounced me in the first match, 5-1 or something. The
second was much closer, and I was able to squeak out a win. Incidentally,
the other night I found I'd been playing one rule wrong all along. When
corrected, it makes the charge attack a more effective tactic.
GET THE GOODS
The four wargamers (Matt, Charles, Hank, and myself) changed gears for this
light, multiplayer card game. I've played this several times already with
the lunch group at work, and it's a definite keeper (and at $6 for an
easily available American game, a must-buy, too). The elements of the game
are familiar to anyone who's played Acquire, Airlines, or Freight Train:
collect the most of something, score the most points, with a dimished,
second-place award. Where those other games have spatial or linear
relationships between the commodities one can "invest" in, Get The Goods
distills the concept down to basic set collecting. The result is a game not
as deep, but faster and lighter playing. I like Airlines and Freight Train
quite a bit, but sometimes I'm in the mood for GtG, and it sure fits into a
lunch hour easier.
The one modification I've made to the basic game is to ensure that no one
receives the more valuable x2 or Wild cards in their opening hand--a player
must pay dearly for them when they surface during play. As luck would have
it, four of the five x2 cards came up on my turn throughout the game.
Though not everyone would agree with me, I think they have to be picked,
despite the high cost. The final scores certainly reflected the dominance
of those lucky draws I had. The final scores were 37-24-24-19.
Another one that's been played a bit at work, but not yet so much at TVB.
The expansion to this quirky little card game with "constrained trading"
permits up to seven players (the basic game handles up to 5). Though I've
read reports of gamers elsewhere that think those packed-out games are the
best, I disagree. We had six players in our game at TVB, three of them new
to it, and the game dragged a bit. If any of you weren't too impressed, try
it again with 3-5 players, and I think you'll see the game in a better light.
A gamer I know in New Orleans has mentioned that his games have ended up in
ties too many times. Up until now, I could say that my many games of
Bohnanza had never ended that way. However, our 6-player game ended with a
3-way tie for first, the rest not far behind. I thnk 12-12-12-11-10-9 was
the final score. I know Doug and I were two of the leaders, and think Kevin
was the other.