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Note: Games are listed with the publisher and game owner in brackets, just for reference.


Mark, Paul, Charles, Hank, Matt, Kevin, Sterling, and Doug

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.

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."

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. "

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.

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.

TRI-VALLEY BOARDGAMERS 12/28/97 Session Report

WHO WAS THERE: Mark, Sterling, Charles, Doug

WHAT WE PLAYED: Venice Connection, Before I Kill You Mr. Bond...,
Extinction, Wildlife Adventure

Sterling and I took this one up first to fill time before other TVBers
showed up. It's an abstract tile-laying game with strong elements of the
basic/classic game Nim. Each tile is aesthetically a little different but
functionally identical: a square depicting a straight section of canal on
one side, 90-degree corner on the other. The object of the game is to place
the tile that completes a "loop" or circuit of canal. There are 16 tiles,
and each player may lay 1-3 on their turns. The tiles placed must be
adjacent to one another (and in a line, which only affects triple tile
placements). However, note that you don't have to lay tiles at the "end" of
the canal. About the only restriction on tile placement at all is that you
can't cut off a waterway by "crossing the T," if you take my meaning.
(Remember, there are only straights and corners, no tees or crosses.)

Also note that with a limited tile set it's possible to set up a situation
where the canal loop cannot be closed with the remaining tiles. When that
happens, the player that spots it and calls his opponent on it gets the win
(unless the first player can actually finish the loop somehow).

My brief experience with the game is that the opening few moves are pretty
random, and that things don't get tight and thoughtful until there are only
a half-dozen tiles left or so. Then again, I never play these sort of
abstract strategy games at a very cerebral level, so perhaps I'm missing
some key strategies. In any case, Sterling and I reached the normal sort of
near-end game situation, I made the placement that I thought sealed his
fate...but in fact I'd placed one too many tiles, and instead gave the win
to him! I'll try to remember to bring this one along somewhat regularly for
the times when just a couple players are waiting for more to show up. (En
Garde fits that bill well, too, and is similarly small and portable.)

After the grief I've suffered for my enjoyment of another Cheapass title,
Ben Hvrt, I was a bit surprised to see Doug picked this one up. (He also
got The Very Clever Pipe Game. Together with my copies of Ben Hvrt, Spree,
and Give Me The Brain, we've got a pretty extensive Cheapass collection!)
Like many--but not all--of James Earnest's games, the humor in the rules
and game itself is better than the gameplay. Still, there are a lot of
laughs in the first few playthroughs, and for $4-5 for the lighter ones,
it's hard to complain. Charles had showed up by now, so we managed a
4-player game.

This one is a multiplayer card game, the theme being the ridiculous but
traditional situation where criminal masterminds like to taunt any double-O
agents they capture before killing them outright. And of course, that
megalomania gives any superspy worth his secret wristwatch the opportunity
needed to escape, destroying the villain's plans for world domination.

The game is simple enough. Everyone has a hand of cards, both green ones
and yellow ones. The color distinction is a simple way to designate spies
(yellow), which may be pulled from different players' hands at various
moments in the game. Maybe 1/3-1/2 of the green cards are "lair" cards,
which each player lays in front of them. They all have a numeric rating,
which is cumulative with other lair cards. So you can supplement the lair
rating of 3 your Private Yacht has with a lowly Thermal Facsimile (value
1), boosting it to 4. The rating is important because that's the highest
rated spy you can safely contain in your lair. Play such a spy in your
lair, and you have the option of immediately killing him (or her) off,
scoring the spy's value in victory points (30 needed to win). However...

You can *double* the spy's value by playing a taunt card. These are the
rest of the green cards. Each has a great and often hilarious movie-style
soliloquy best read aloud. Heck, a *real* villain would taunt again,
*quadrupling* the spy's value, and so on. Whenever you want to quit, the
spy is killed off at the multiplied value.

Is there a catch? Oh yes! Each of those taunt cards has a letter
designation, A-I. There are actually two of each letter, though each has a
different taunt listed. When one player taunts his captured spy, any other
player may counter with the other taunt card of the same letter. Doing so
means the spy escapes *and* destroys the lair entirely!

And that's about it. You can grab spies sight unseen from other players'
hands, and similarly play powerful spies from your hand to others'
inadequate lairs, blowing them. How I managed to write six paragraphs about
such a little game is beyond me, but there you have it. Another good
filler, though one that requires a few people to play well.

This one we hoped to play over the Thanksgiving holidays when my brother
was around. Back then Doug couldn't make it. This time Doug was there, but
my brother couldn't! Oh well. We all were willing to give it a try, though
we wisely chose to play with a time limit. (The real rules call for a
last-species-standing victory condition, which would take forever. No thanks.)

There are a variety of biological ideas floating around this game, which
also works (better?) as an educational aid. A map filled with large
hexagons separates the world into some basic types of terrain, and odd
boundaries create some secluded areas. Each player takes a bunch of colored
dice, which are used to represent their species and populate the world. Six
characteristic cards are drawn, but not shown to each other until necessary
(things like predator type, preferred habitat, etc.). Each turn your pair
of actions are determined by a spinner(!). You can migrate, prey (or simply
outpopulate) other nearby species, mutate by drawing different cards, and
also bring some environmental hazards into the game via random events or
barriers to migration (manmade or natural).

So all of the elements I'd like to see in a bio game are there, but the sum
total plays pretty uncontrolled, I thought. I imagine it comes from those
characteristic cards, which can make a species switch from water-dwelling
to a forest creature in the blink of an eye. Since they're all drawn
randomly, a normal pyramid food-chain doesn't typically arise. Fiddling
with those cards might be all it takes to give the game more opportunity
for strategy, I'm not sure.

This one shows up on a lot of German gamers' top-10 lists, so I jumped at
the chance to buy it. It's not especially rare, unless you're looking for
the english language version. The German isn't bad, though, and the seller
sent me a rules translation and a set of english cards, too. I've played it
a few times now, and it is definitely a keeper. (Not yet a classic in my
mind, but more plays will reveal some strategic depth, I think.)

Doug had to leave early, so just watched a few turns as Sterling, Charles,
and I gave it a go. The board is a map of the earth, covered with pictures
of endangered animals all over it, and lines connecting them in various
patterns (roughly corresponding to travel routes). Each player gets eight
cards each depicting one of those animals (though we played with six, for a
shorter game). Six more are placed face up for all to see. The simple
objective is to lay little plastic arrows along the travel lines to reach
all of your animal destinations, scoring them at one point each as you do
so. The trick is, no matter how many people are playing, there are three
continuous expeditions (trails of plastic arrows), red, blue, and yellow.
Each player gets to lay a single arrow of any color chosen on their turn.
So of course, it is never easy to direct the expeditions your way, not when
the other players are trying to do the same!

Those face-up animal cards are called open discovery missions, and anyone
laying the arrow that reaches one of those destinations gets to score it.
The game ends when someone empties their hand of animal cards. Scores are
checked to see who wins (cards still in hand count as -1). There are some
non-animal spaces arrows lead to. Red dots mean the player draws a "chance"
card, whose results are always beneficial. Green dots allow a second arrow
to be placed immediately. The very few blue dots force the *other* player
to draw an additional animal card, or else the active player may get three
more travel vouchers instead. Everyone starts with ten vouchers, which get
spent fairly quickly on extra arrow placements and swapping out animal
cards (there are a couple more options).

Our game went surprisingly long, even exhausting one color's arrows
completely. Worse than that, it happened when Sterling had set up a
situation where the only legal remaining plays for the red expedition would
win the game for him. Then we ran out of red, and no one was sure what to
do. Not knowing what else, I said I figured red was kaput, and went on to
lay my last card a few turns later. Sterling and I finished with identical
scores, and Charles just a bit behind.

DECEMBER 10, 1997

WHO WAS THERE: Mark, Charles, Sterling, Matt, Beat, and Kevin

WHAT WE PLAYED: Byzantium (S&T #183), Nuclear War, and Groo

NEXT MEETING: December 28, 1997 (Note it's a *Sunday*)

BYZANTIUM [Decision Games, Strategy & Tactics #183]
After a long time planning this one barely got off the ground. Dave got stuck in horrible traffic in the south bay, I'd misplaced my copy of the rules, and we tried to shanghai Sterling into being the fourth player. Only Charles seemed to have it all together! :-) Eventually, though, we were able to start with Dave as the Moslems, Charles as the Byzantines, I took the Khazars, and the Franks were a neutral power, sort of controlled by the game system (but not very active). The scenario we played was the shortest one, lasting eight turns. Even with just three players, it filled our session. The basic mechanics of the game aren't so far from plain old Risk: territory control and attacker-stack driven combat. In addition, there is an simple economic system, some rules for leaders, and a good variety of special events. The latter provide a lot of chrome that adds a lot of entertainment to the game, but some may be too powerful, or too variable depending on secondary die rolls (as you'll read). Well, anyway, I had a good time, and if I didn't have a ton of other wargames I still need to play for the first time, I'd be ready to try this again. (Note: now I see that the same basic game system is used for another S&T game, 30 Years' War, which I think I have. Something to think about.)

I'm not sure how long each turn lasts. One year, maybe? The game was conducive to taking notes, so I have some detail on the game we played.

Turn 1: Dave's Moslems make a temporary nonagression pact with Charles' central Byzantines, then move much of their forces to their offmap holding area. The Byzantines boost their already dominant army in Thrace, knock my Khazars out of Bulgaria, and occupy fortresses in the east (keeping an eye on Dave). Feeling threatened by the Byzantine army on the march, I sent my best force down there, winning a miraculous victory (wiped out the army and its king!).

Turn 2: Moslems are moving sloooowly, and barely re-enter the board. The new Byzantine king moved to avenge the last turn, and did so handily, wiping out another Khazar force and religiously assimilating my colony. Now in danger of getting wiped out entirely, I only cleaned out some rebels on my turn.

Turn 3: The Moslems move north, ever so slowly. Byzantium backs off in Central Europe, having forced an agreement with the Khazars and now wary of the Moslems. The Khazars just consolidate some holdings.

Turn 4: the Moslems roll poorly again, and aren't able to effectively launch their planned attack on Byzantium's eastern border this turn. Byzantium takes the free turn to build a large army in Nicea, poised to counter-attack the Moslems. The Khazars bring the final rebels back into the fold.

Turn 5: Disaster for the Moslems! A formidable stack of seven units is unable to destroy the Byzantine garrison at Caesarea, and elsewhere most of their fleet is destroyed! The Byzantines also move slow, but at least capture Trakesian. The Khazars force a rebellion in Lombardy, which sweeps into Serbia and drives Frank rebels into southern Italy.

Turn 6: Wow, what a biggie! The Moslems finally get the lead out, and move against the Byzantine army. Before the battle is joined they're able to convert 40% of the Greek force over to their side. Talk about turning the tide! The Byzantine army is wiped out utterly. The sole remaining Moslem fleet even moves just off of Constantinople. The Byzantines don't do much, just keep a little pressure on Nicea, and the Khazars do even less.

Turn 7: The Moslems move into Europe, razing Thrace. The Byzantines can do little more than watch. The Khazars clean the Franks out of Italy down to Rome.

Turn 8: The Moslems back off a bit, content to control all of Asia Minor (and unwilling to risk a battle for Constantinople itself). The Byzantines and Khazars don't do much, but the Franks almost retake Lombardy from the latter.

At the closing bell, victory point counts showed both the Moslems and Khazars doing well, assured that their civilizations would survive in the coming age. The same could not be set about Byzantium, clearly on its way down. It would be very difficult to succeed as the Byzantines, I think, requiring more diplomatic skill with the opposing players than military strategy or good dierolling.

NUCLEAR WAR [Flying Buffalo]
Sterling bailed out on the barely-started Byzantium game to join Beat, Kevin, and Matt in the first playing of Sterling's Nuclear War set. (This is a good time to point out that I'm sure we're all thick-skinned enough to not be bothered if someone chooses not to play our game. Certainly Dave took it in stride that night, and it led to more overall enjoyment for everybody.) As for the game itself, sorry to say I know nothing of the outcome, though the participants were having fun.

GROO [Archangel]
After engulfing the world in radiation, the same four guys decided to play a game just as destructive (at least when Groo is in town). This was with Sterling's new expansion deck. Whoever pulled off the win did it (in part) with some of those new cards, the simple buildings (cottages?) that get bonus VPs if more than one are established in your town. Are they too powerful? I don't think so, just that the other players need to see the threat a couple of those on the table pose (maybe even just one), and react accordingly. (That sort of game balance via ganging up on the leader really bugged me in Illuminati New World Order, but it doesn't bother me in Groo. Either INWO deserves another look, or Groo manages because the game is so short.)

November 12, 1997

Who was there
  Mark, Hank, Angela, Doug, Hans, Arlette, Matt, Kevin, Sterling, Charles,
and newcomer Joe!

What we played
  Hols der Geier, Formula De, Banana Republic, For Sale, Tante Tarantel, Groo

HOLS DER GEIER [Ravensburger]
  This is one of those good filler games, plays quick, takes a range of
players (3-5?), and still has some opportunity for strategy. Each player
gets a colored set of cards numbered 1-15. A special deck contains cards
numbered 6-15, and (-1)-(-5). Play consists of three sets of 15 rounds
each. A special card (the prize)is turned face up for simultaneous bidding
each round, a single card from everyone's hand. If the prize is a positive
number, the player laying the highest card takes it, otherwise the lowest
card takes it. In the case of a tie, the next highest (or lowest, for a
negative prize) takes it.
  So the idea is to get more bang (prize cards) for your buck (colored
player cards) than everyone else. You must also manage to ditch your low
cards in such a way as to avoid getting the negative prize cards.
  In the beginning you have precious little information to base your card
choice on, though later in the set some light card counting will help. So
will a good feel for your opponents' tendancies.
  Besides Hols der Geier, these same sort of mechanics are reportedly in
the German games High Society, Musketiere (which I've ordered),
Montgolfiere (now being imported), and the American game Raj (US Game
Systems). I thought it was a good filler, though not too much more than
  Joe brought the game,playing it with Hank, Kevin, Sterling, and me. Joe
cleaned up during the first two sets, but Kevin came roaring back in the
last. I think Joe still won, however.

FORMULA DE [Eurogames]
  My thoughts on this game have changed a few times since we played. My
initial reaction is the one that is symptomatic of "parakeetitis"--Wow!
Cool little cars and a gorgeous double-sided board! After the first play I
was interested in the way a group of cars making similar gearing choices
can become spread out--the difference of just a few numbers on dice get
magnified in the curves. Often games with lots of die-rolling end up
reducing the elment of luck, as the dice manage to approach a normal
  But some games like this work differently, where die rolls at critical
moments are more important than others. Someone hits the curve right, and
it sets them up well to rocket through the next one. Someone else isn't so
lucky, and they'll have to gear down next turn, losing speed relative to
the opponent which is hard to regain. (Then again, there are a lot of
important die rolls on curves, so maybe they do sort of even out.)
  Later I wasn't so impressed, thinking that there weren't a lot of
strategic choices to be made, at least not hard ones. It seems to me that
the right gear to be in for any given turn is usually pretty obvious. The
use of brakes, driving lanes, and especially tires is about the same.
  Ready for one more change of mind? After talking it over with a coupke
gamers, I'm homing in on the opinion that the game does have a collection
of important little decisions, and in any case it works well as a light
  This was the second time we played this game at TVB, and again it was
popular. The first time we played with at least six, and this time there
was eleven! (Hans drove a dime since the game "only" has ten plastic cars.)
The two lap race took about 2.5 hours, I believe. Not too many other
simulation games can handle that many in that time.
  We used a set of Joe's Hols der Geier cards to determine start order.
Wouldn't you know it? Hans drew the pole position! Though Kevin jumped into
the early lead, later surrendered to Joe, on the last lap Hans rocketed
ahead on a stunning 6th gear die roll and kept it the rest of the way to
victory. Joe and Hank were the only cars lost during the race. The contest
for 3rd/4th place between myself and Doug had a drame all its own. In the
end, Doug beat me, and for once the dice were kind to him. No more
dice-whining, right? Riiiiiiight! :-)

  After Hank and Joe both spun out of the Formula De race, they used the
time to play this while waiting for the rest of us. I don't know who won,
so won't hazard a guess. It's an inexpensive card game of bluffing and
memory. A number of cards worth different numbers of votes (points) in this
third world election are placed face down on the table. Players take turns
laying influence (bribe) cards alongside individual voting cards, also face
down. Every turn each player may take one peek, either at a voter card or
the stack of influence cards placed on it so far (though some others may be
played on it later). The influence cards have the additional tweaks
provided by the assassin (who kills a voter), the bodyguard (who protects
the voter), and the journalist (who negates some of the influence cards).

FOR SALE [Ravensburger]
  Being an enjoyable, extremely quick game that handles a variety of
players, this game gets played quite a bit. Hank and Joe were now joined by
Hans, fresh from his Formula De victory. Hans has always done well during
the first half of the game, with bidding, but not so well the second time.
On this last attempt he tried a new strategy--random selection for the
second half. And would you believe he won!? Another fitting end to his days
with TVB...

TANTE TARANTEL [Doris & Frank]
  After the end of the big Formula De game, most TVBes called it a night. A
few stuck around, however. Eyeing Joe's stack of games we'd barely made a
dent in,  I suggested this one. Hans and Hank joined Joe and I.
  The game board depicts a spider's web, while the players each take four
colored pawns for bugs. The spaces in between strands of web make up the
fields where bugs can be moved. Most can only handle one bug, while others
have no limit. Players get to move only one pawn one space each turn,
bumping other pawns to adjacent spaces when necessary. The motion of the
spider is controlled by dice, and it will gobble any and all bugs in its
path. The whole point is to carefully tiptoe your pawns across the web to
the one exit field on the opposite side, avoiding the spider, which is only
partly predictable in its motion. There are varying points for each bug
exit which follow an odd sequence, no obvious pattern. The spider gets more
frantic (faster) with every pawn that exits. (There is a short grace period
at the start when captured bugs get to restart.)
  Despite being one I've considered purchasing, this one didn't win me over
(so I was grateful to "test drive" it). The strategy of moving pawns was a
bit too abstract and analytical for my tastes, and in sort of an odd
combination with the erratic motion of the spider. The thing is, I normally
enjoy games that are abstract at their core, but have an element of
unpredictability in them. Oh well.
  Hank and Hans managed to exit each of their bugs from the spider's web.
Oddly enough, they both had the same score. Joe and I each lost one bug to
the hungry spider. At the very end, I managed to squeeze my last bug out of
the web, forming a three-way tie with Hans and Hank, leaving Joe in
"second" place.

GROO: THE GAME [Archangel Entertainment]
  Arlette wound down her last half hour at TVB playing this silly card game
with Doug and Sterling(?). I don't know who won. I'm sure this games draws
some criticism for being too random, but I would disagree. I think there is
a winning strategy, and it normally involves use of the "Groo immunity"
cards, or which there are several (cards that protect the players' holdings
from Groo cards, sometimes at the cost of a sacrificed card). Also, it's
not too hard to hold town cards in your hand worth a couple of victory
points until you can play them in a single turn for the win. Or maybe even
three points. Throw in the special bonuses for certain paired cards, and
you could be sitting on four victory points that may be played with one
decent die roll.

OCTOBER 29, 1997

  Mark, Hans, Arlette, Sterling, Beat, Kevin, Magic, Dave, Charles, Paul,
and newcomer Joe!

  Groo (x2), Wiz War (x2), Mississippi Queen (x2), Black Morn Manor,
Bohnanza (x2), Settlers of Catan, Tutanchamun, For Sale (x2)      wow!!

GROO: THE GAME [Archangel, Sterling]
  Sterling wanted this game as soon as he heard about it, being a fan of
the longrunning comic (which is on hiatus now?). I didn't follow the comic,
but had already read some good reviews of the game on the net, and was
eager to try it. Hans and Beat also joined us for the maximum number of
players in the basic game (an expansion allows up to six). Later the same
evening I played in a three-player game with Sterling and Dave. I won both
times, but it's clear the game has a high volatility, and lady luck can
turn on you, so I'm not boasting yet! :-)
  The game is won by having seven victory points in play at the end of your
turn. VPs are earned by putting building cards into play in front of you,
representing your town. Almost all are worth a single VP (only the Castle
is worth two), but many of them have ways to earn a bonus VP or two. The
best example of that is getting the Butcher, Baker, and Candlestick Maker
all in play. Each are worth the standard single VP each, but as a complete
set they earn +1 VP each, so six VPs total! Of course, it's hard to
accomplish this.
  Cards are put into play by spending resources on them. Unlike Magic and
its many cousins, the resources are generally not available from cards on
the table, like mana. Instead, they come for free each turn by the roll of
some special dice that show sacks of grain, a little man, or a coin. The
cards to be played are very clearly marked with how many of each type they
require. An interesting twist is that whatever resource dice a player
cannot use are *not* discarded--they are first passed around the table to
see if anyone else can use them!
  Besides buildings, another major class of cards to be played are
army/warrior cards. These are used to attack other players' towns, and
likewise to defend against such attacks. Every point of army combat
strength that isn't matched by a defending army's destroys a building. And
get this--all armies involved in the conflict are destroyed at the end of
the turn. So even if you send troops against an undefended town, it's a
one-way trip for your fighting forces! Of course, they'll do some real
damage in that instance.
  It was my experience that players more often built armies mostly for
defense, leaving the building destruction to Groo. That's right, the title
character, who's actually a hero, often leaves destruction in his wake. One
of the dice rolled indicates which player's town gets visited by Groo (and
a special card designates it). There are a number of Groo cards, which
require Groo head resource dice, and they almost always mean the
destruction of at least one building. (There are also a few cards which--if
already on the table--may be discarded to negate a Groo card. I think these
are invaluable.)
  Each game took about 30 minutes to play, and I bet it will be even
shorter with familiarity. Hank and Doug also own the game. Doug also owns
the expansion, and the other two guys want to order it, so there should be
plenty of opportunity for filler play from now on. Count me in!

* Review --

BLACK MORN MANOR [Pacesetter, Joe]
  This was all that remained of our plans for a Halloween-themed night at
TVB. Well, it served its purpose. Joe brought it, and headed up a game
joined by Mark, Hans, and Arlette. It's an unusual game in several
respects. All players but one start on the side of good, as envoys, while
one randomly chosen player starts as a minion, working in concert with an
unknown evil master. The two main elements of the game equipment are a map
built out of square tiles into a 10x10 grid, and a deck of event cards
(which also includes mystic items). The map starts as only the two tiles in
opposite corners, the benign gate to the mansion, and it's sinister crypt
out back. Throughout the game players lay tiles to fill out the map,
offering some strategic choices. Each tile has a numeric rating
corresponding to its evil karma, or somesuch, which measures how difficult
it is for envoys (or, conversely, minions).
  There are a variety of evil masters in the set, only one of which is used
for any given game. The initial minion player knows which it is, and strips
the event deck accordingly. The result is that the event deck is loaded
with cards that give clues to the evil master's identity. For example, when
going against the vampire, the envoys may start to uncover bats and other
vampire lore. Clever!
  Another unusual bit is that the envoys win the game collectively, by
identifying and defeating the evil master (in sort of an abstracted psychic
combat, probably aided by the one special item the master is vulnerable
to). The minion, on the other hand, wins singlehandedly, by preventing this
(such as removing the special item from the mansion). What's more, when
envoys "die" they merely become more minions, tipping the game balance
toward evil. But there are at least two ways for a minion to be converted
back to an envoy, including the original minion. This flip-flopping did in
fact happen during our game, and more than once! Oh, the forces of good won
in our game (the evil master was the Werewolf!).

WIZWAR [Chessex, Dave]
  Charles: "Dave, Kevin, Magic and I had a good time playing Wiz War (I
hope my copy comes in soon). Kevin won the first game when he as able to
take a double move and grab a treasure pretty quick. Magic and I were stuck
between some green slime and a constructed wall and did not do much at all
which left Dave on his own to battle Kevin."
  "Dave won the second game which took a lot longer even though Magic was
out somewhat early when both of his treasures were taken. Dave and Kevin
were battling each other when I came over and knocked down a wall, grabbed
a treasure and turned into mist. I did not have enough number cards to make
it back to my home spot. By the time I did make it back, my other treasure
was taken by a shadow and I had a Troll and Skeletons to battle with. I was
able to re-orient the board which only delayed the win for Dave when he
played a warp card and cruised home with the win."

  Dave: "Magic, Charles, Kevin, and Dave played 2 games of WizWar. This is
a popular, amusing, and very beer-and-pretzely card/board game of dueling
wizards who try to kill one another and/or steal each other's treasures. In
the first game, Kevin won fairly quickly by stealing 2 treasures. (It was
so fast I can barely remember what happened.) In the second game, Kevin had
an amazing start, pulling off a triple-move first turn that allowed him to
steal immediately one of the two treasures needed for victory.
Unfortunately this also made him Public Enemy #1, so in his very next turn
Dave used a powerful combination of cards to slide halfway across the board
and turn Kevin into a stone statue (a condition that persisted for the
first third of the game). From that point on, it became a see-saw battle
among Charles, Dave, and Magic, with all three having a shot at winning at
various points. We picked on Magic the most, however, and he was knocked
out of the game as both of his treasures ended up on other peoples' home
bases. Then Kevin got back into the game, and Charles and Dave struggled to
keep him from winning (both coming near death as a result). However, Dave
had stolen one treasure, and eventually slunk away with another. Somebody
played a spell that changed the map, but Dave had a counterspell that
allowed him to teleport back to his home base for the win."
  "We speculated on what form the 'Live Wiz War' advertised for Slug-A-Thon
will take. :-)"

  Magic: "Both Charles and I had never played WizWar, so it took a bit of
time to bring us up to speed. I was facinated by all the little bits and
pieces that are a part of the game. My cats would have a field-day! The
game seems very simple to learn, but difficult to master, but I can
definitely see that as a "beer-and-pretzels" kind of game. We played two
games. I think Dave won the first game. I had to leave once I lost the
second game (both of my treasures were stolen!). I enjoyed this game, but
it does seem a bit unbalancing at times. Kevin's first turn of the second
game turned into three turns with some killer spells. He had already taken
a treasure back to his base by the time we had our first turn. It's a good
way to make yourself a target... I'd be willing to play this game again.
Simple, devious and full of surprises... I'd be interested to hear what
veterans think about this game..."

* Review --

MISSISSIPPI QUEEN [Goldsieber, Mark]
  Paul: "Beat, Sterling and I first played Mississippi Queen twice while
waiting for other games to finish. In the first game, Beat and I were
racing to the finish with Sterling far behind. At the last second, Beat
realized he was going too fast and had no coal to slow down or turn in
time. I was also going too fast, and didn't have enough coal to slow down
in time. I did have one last coal, and used it to turn around and scrub off
one speed by pushing Sterling! I then circled around slowly while Sterling
cruised in landing safely. I then limped in carefully for second place. I
the second game, we were all a little more careful, and Beat finished first
with a coal to spare, I came in second, and Sterling came in third. Both
other games were still in full swing, so I taught Sterling and Beat how to
play Bohnanza. In that game, I cam in first, with Beat second and Sterling

* Review --

BOHNANZA [Amigo, Mark]
  I sort of lost track of this, but early in the evening Paul, Sterling,
and Beat played this one (Paul won), and later Arlette, Charles, and at
least one other person played it again (Arlette won). Great little card
game, and I'll get the expansion as soon as I'm able (mostly just enables
the game to handle 6 players).

* Review --

  Paul: "With time still to burn, we then turned to Tutanchamun. Beat
taught Sterling and I how to play, and we set off. Things were fairly
uncertain until the very end. With all of us about three fourths the way
through, I realized that Beat would win in three more turns, so I began
frantically examining possibilities, and found a way to get 16 points in
one move (when I only had 15!) to snatch victory from Beat. That same move
also bought Beat down to 0, but because I was at -1, I won! Sterling came
in last."

* Review --

  Paul: "Joe (from Jackson) then joined Beat, Kevin and I for a game of
Settlers of Catan. Joe went first and placed his first settlement on a good
Rock site. I went last and split the difference with one settlement on
sheep and wood, and another on a wheat/brick/rock site. Initially Kevin
seemed to have a good start. He had a settlement on both a "6" wood and a
"6" brick site! Anytime a "6" was rolled, he had a new road! I tried to
shut down his wood production with the bandits (since Beat and Joe also had
settlements on that wood site!). Beat and Kevin began dueling for the
longest road, while I built settlements around the "8" wheat site (three of
them!), the "8" sheep site (two of them), built to the wheat port, and
upgraded one of the sheep settlements to a city. The other players soon
realized that rolling an "8" has serious consequences! The bandits soon
came to live on my wheat hex. In the end, I managed a win with three
cities, three settlements and one victory point from a development card.
Joe and Beat had never played Settlers before, while Kevin had played once
or twice, including once with the Seefahrer Expansion."

FOR SALE [Ravensburger, Mark]
  I've played this game almost ten times already: it's good and very quick,
the ideal filler. Now, I've never won, never even come very close, but I
still like it. In short, the game is played in two halves, both of which
feature bidding. The first half is open bidding: everyone has a pile of
chips, and get to bid on different buildings (cards), each with a different
numeric ratings (1-20). One building card is turned up for every player at
the table. Bidding begins. Everyone gets one building per round, with the
first person to "fold" getting the lowest value building shown *and*
getting half their bid back. So does the next person, and so on, except for
whoever wins the highest value building does not receive the half-bid
"rebate." After five minutes, everyone now owns a variety of building
cards, and probably almost no more chips. The second half of the game is
similar, with a bank note card turned face up for each player. This time,
instead of bidding chips openly, everyone bids a single building card from
the hand, and does it face down. All are revealed at once, and the lowest
valued building takes the lowest valued bank note. And so on. Five more
minutes and there are no more building cards (discarded after they're bid),
and everyone simply totals up their bank notes and any remaining chips,
highest total wins.

* Review --

OCTOBER 15, 1997

  Mark, Hans, Kevin, Randy, Doug, Hank, Arlette, Sterling, Mike, Beat, Matt

  Hase und Igel, Robo Rally, Elfenwizards, Medici

HASE UND IGEL [Ravensburger, Mark]
  One of my new German acquisitions, I was eager to try this one. Hey, when
a known cheapskate like me shells out big bucks for a few imported games,
you know two things:
  1. I haven't told my wife :-), and
  2. I've heard great things about the games
  I bought Hase und Igel basically on reputation alone, having never seen
it. Briefly, it won the Spiel des Jahres in 1979 (the first year of the
awards), shows up on several German game enthusiasts top ten lists
(including the #5 spot on Sumo's top ten composite ranking), and has been
issued numerous times with slight variations (in both England and Germany).
And it's noted for being a game that can be played with kids, while still
engaging the adults. With all of that going for it, I figured it was a
slam-dunk winner. All of the instructions and Hare cards are in German, but
Hans was around to help me work it out, along with Kevin, Randy, Hank, and
  It's really quite simple: it is a single-track race game, completely
one-dimensional. You pay for movement by consuming some of your carrots,
which are represented on cards. There is a cost progression for this, such
that it costs more to make a single move of 5 spaces than two consecutive
moves of 2 and 3. There are a handful of spaces to land on, and there may
be only one player's piece per space. There's the carrot, which allows you
to gain or lose 10 carrots at the cost of a turn (since you need to finish
the race with no more than a certain number of carrots, sometimes you
choose to lose them), numbered spaces that grant bonus carrots if the
correct number of players are in front of you at the start of your next
turn, rabbit (hase) spaces that cause you to draw from the special event
rabbit deck (roughly split between events that help and hurt your
progress), hedgehog (igel) spaces that can only be moved *backwards* to
freely for bonus carrots, and lettuce spaces. Every player starts with
three lettuce cards, which must be discarded before you finish, something
that only happens on the very few lettuce spaces (and a special rabbit
card). What's worse, merely landing on a lettuce space isn't enough, you
must spend an entire turn sitting there, chewing it. The result of this is
a lot of opportunistic traffic jams around the few lettuce spaces.
  Aside from the (avoidable) rabbit spaces, there is no random element to
the game. That means it rewards the clearest thinkers, especially those
that think a few turns in advance. Frankly, that isn't me, and I did pretty
poorly in the game. This being my new German game, though, I'm going to
give it some more tries, and I noted other players (Randy and Kevin, at
least) wanted to play again sometime.
  As I mentioned above, the game has been published a few times, each time
tweaked just a little bit. One edition says that you cannot chew a lettuce
if you're in first place. Another replaces the hare cards with a table--you
add your position in the race to a single die roll to find the result. By
placing the most beneficial results in the 7-12 range, only the lagging
players can reach them, while the lower results have more detrimental
results. Both of these would seem to address a problem our game seemed to
have, that the players starting near the end of the pack (esp. 6th in a
6-player game) are at a disadvantage. I'll print out that table and stuff
it in my copy of the game for a try next time.
  I remember Hans won, Randy, Doug, and Hank came in later, leaving Kevin
and I battling for 5th. I reached way, way, back, going from hedgehog to
hedgehog to try to reach the spot where the jump near the finish was big
enough to consume my enormous quantity of carrots. Like an idiot, when I
found that spot I jumped to a hare space...and drew the card that awarded
me all of the last jump's carrots back!

  Sad to say, I don't know anything about the course of this game. I know
Sterling, Arlette, Mike, Matt, and Beat played, and that Mike won, but
that's it.

ELFENWIZARDS [White Wind, Doug]
  The first White Wind game I've had the chance to play, this one is sort
of a political power struggle among wizards. The Hase und Igel group took
this one up, save Randy who watched for a few rounds.
  Everyone has wooden pawns representing their faction of wizard wannabes.
A great illustrated board shows a spooky old tree representing the pyramid
structure of power, with one wizard at the top, and spaces for increasing
numbers of junior sorcerors at three lower levels. Each round, the players
roll about six dice of their own color, which one chance for a partial
reroll. The pips showing on the dice faces are something like political
influence points, and then get allocated to the various junior sorcerors,
trying to have the most at any particular junction to get promoted to the
next level. Those that don't get promoted sometimes are able to stay put,
but more often they get bumped down some levels, earning a demerit chip in
the process.
  What wasn't clear until we started playing is how much negotiation takes
place. No one is able to advance all of their pawns at every junction, so
deals get made between players. You help me out here, and I'll help you out
there. These negotiations can take a lot of time, depending on the players,
and we finally resorted to a clock timer for the final round to keep the
game moving. I suppose you could play the game "straight," with no
negotiations at all, but that would take away much of its appeal, to my
mind. Better to use the timer.
  As I hinted above in the General Comments section, the game was just
chugging along nicely until I stabbed Doug in the back, sending his
uppermost pawn to the bottom instead of the top. When we called the game on
time there would've been one or two more rounds to play to an actual
finish. Hans and I were tied for the top score, but he was clearly in a
better position for those rounds we never played.

MEDICI [Amigo, Hans & Arlette]
  As for Robo Rally, I didn't hear what happened. I *think* Beat won, but I
could be wrong about that.

October 1, 1997

  Mark, Doug, Randy, Kevin, Hans, Arlette, Matt, Charles, Mike, Magic, Dave,
Sterling, and Hank

  We The People, Formula De, Titan: The Arena (3x), Condotierre, Full Metal
Planete (partial)

  Just as last week, Charles started the night with this elegant wargame,
this time commanding the Americans, and doing a much better job than I had
last time. Mike played the British.
  Charles: "I tried the Americans this time with Mike taking the British. I
started out with a great deal of luck by getting the "Declaration of
Independence" strategy card in the first turn. This is one of the best
cards, that must be played, to help out the American side.
  "Mike made several smart moves to move in and take over the South. I left
Savannah open for an easy take over by the British and so goes the South.
The British moved out from New England and Canada and eventually took over
New York in addition to Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The British
eventually took over Georgia, North and South Carolina and Delaware.
  "It was not looking good for the Americans until the final turn. In the
play of my last 2 cards I was able to play a Guerilla Raid to take back
North Carolina and Washington made a Winter Offensive into Delaware with the
aid of the French navy. I needed a lot of luck to pull out a draw, but I
will take it when I can get it.
  "The game ended in a draw as we were both short, by 1, of controlling
enough colonies for a win. The British controlled 5 colonies and the
Americans 8. Historically the rule book would say the war ended in a
political compromise so I guess we drink coffee in the morning and tea in
the afternoon."

FORMULA DE [Eurogames, Doug]
  This game can accommodate a lot of players and still finish in a
reasonable time, so it was our session opener. Mark, Doug, Randy, Kevin,
Hans, Arlette, Matt, and Magic all played a two-lap race, which took perhaps
2.5 hours to finish, including teaching the rules (not hard). Kevin made
some good choices (and rolled some good dice) to leap out in front for the
entire first lap, but battled with Hans (and Doug, briefly) later,
eventually coming in second. Yes, Hans won again! Most of the rest of us
were in a rough & tumble pack throughout the race, with Matt bringing up the
rear until the very end, when he jumped ahead two places (I think). Doug
went out in a blaze of glory, risking the last corner in a high gear, but
spun out, which cemented his position dead last. This game is naturally
compared to SPEED CIRCUIT, which has been played once at TVB (and lots more
by individual TVBers). The critical difference between the two games is
SPEED CIRCUIT's completely determinate movement rules, versus FORMULA DE's
element of chance via the gear dice. Both as a game and as a simulation, I
almost always prefer the games that have a chaotic, unpredictable element,
and this is no exception. There is a bit of delay for counting spaces before
selecting what gear to be in, but not nearly so much as in SPEED CIRCUIT. It
doesn't hurt that FORMULA DE is downright beautiful, too. :-) A couple
TVBers have already asked to play again, so I'm sure this will be a keeper
for us. Oh, the presence of all that die rolling certainly gives some
unnamed gamers a chance to complain about their poor luck, but that's the
way it goes. Interestingly, many games that have that much "wristage" end up
not having so much luck in them, since the cumulative effect of all this
dice is a pretty regular bell curve. However, this is a bit different, as a
critical die roll at almost any point in the game--but especially the
beginning--could have a profound impact on your next several moves, by
virtue of your speed/position going into the next turn, and how that limits
your gear selections. Much to think about...

  Magic:  "I'm always worried when I play a game I've never played. Learning
the rules is a pain (just let me play!).  Formula De was simple enough...
and fun enough!  I started out 3rd and obviously didn't get the hang of
things since I spent the second lap battling for last place.  I ended up
fourth or fifth (thanks to the crashes and spinouts of other players).
Overall, the two hours for two laps (you do the math) was enjoyable.  The
Monaco track looked interesting as well.  I look forward to racing again!"

  Dave: "(1 of 3): Sterling won with 15, Hank and Dave had 4 each. I don't
recall anything about this game.  Took about 45 minutes.
  "(2 of 3): Dave won with 12, Hank and Sterling had 7 each. Dave had good
cards, and for once used the strategy of spreading out his bets.  This was
Dave's first-ever victory at TVB.  Took about a half hour.
  "(3 of 3): Dave won with 12, Sterling had 7, Arlette and Kevin had 6, and
Hans had 4.  Dave got lucky as Sterling threw the game to him instead of
Arlette, despite the fact that Dave and Sterling had held a grudge match in
previous games where each would bash the other's creatures. This game was
particularly tense because each of the last few cards tipped the balance
back and forth between Arlette and Dave.  All the new players seemed to like
the game.  Took about 45 minutes."

CONDOTIERRE [??, Hans & Arlette]
  Dave: "Arlette, Dave, Hans, Kevin, and Sterling.  Is this game new to TVB?
[Nope. -MJ] Anyway, here's a brief description: The object is to capture a
string of 4 connected territories.  The last player to win a "battle" gets
to choose where the next one is fought.  Battles are won by playing the set
of cards that score the most (it's basically a bidding game).  There are
several kinds of special cards that affect the outcome of the battle in
various ways.  Dave had amazingly good cards in the first round and won some
territories early on, but Hans had excellent strategy and managed his hand
well so that he was able to pick up a few territories at the end.
Nonetheless, Dave got another good hand in the second round and, despite
some expansion by Kevin and a last-gasp effort by Hans to prevent the win,
managed to put together enough territories for the victory.  Everyone seemed
to like this game: there's considerable strategy (but it's not too difficult
for new players to pick it up), and a lot of tension as some players get
close to winning and others gang up on them to keep the game going.  Took
about an hour and a half."

FULL METAL PLANETE [Ludoliere, Doug]
  Doug, Mark, Hank, and Matt took a stab at this one, an eye-catching game
that features a colorful light cardboard hexmap (more than 300 hexes, Hans!)
of a planet, a bunch of small rocks (yes, rocks), an assortment of science
fiction lead miniature vehicles, and a bunch of small colored crystals which
are placed on the lead minis to signify ownership. The premise of the game
is that each player represents a planetary mining company, and all are in
competition to mine the scattered rocks (resources) from the planet,
stashing some of them for cargo (each one is a point toward victory), and
using others to manufacture combat units lest your opponents decide stealing
is easier than mining. Combat, movement, and production systems are
exceedingly simple, leaving the players to concentrate on an almost
Chess-like game of position, while juggling the priorities of mining and
defense. Were that all the game would have too many of Chess' qualities for
my tastes, but thankfully a chaotic element is thrown in: the tides.
  The map shows area of land (and mountains) and water, where different
combat/mining units may travel. It also shows marshy areas and island areas.
During normal tides, the marshes are solid enough for land vehicles to
cross, and likewise the island areas permit seagoing vehicles. During high
tides the marshes convert to water, and conversely the islands convert to
land during low tides. So not only are some areas passable only under
certain tidal conditions, but it's also possible to have a unit get stranded
when the tide shifts the wrong way, where it must sit until the condition
changes. The tides change randomly (via a card draw) every turn, and every
player who still has their "mother ship" on the planet gets a one-turn
advance notice of the coming tides. Lose that mother ship, and you're at a
substantial operational disadvantage.
  Each turn the players receive a set number of action points (usually 15,
less in the beginning, I think more near the end), and have a three minute
time limit. It costs 1 or 2 action points to do just about anything: move a
hex, fire on an enemy, grab a rock, produce a new tank, etc. You can also
*save up* unused action points in increments of 5, laying low for a while to
build up the points for a more grand turn later (though in practice, it's
hard to forego a third of a turn's action points for later use). The time
limit was interesting. Though we rarely came close to the limit, we might
have had the game gone to conclusion. But just the tension of that timer
counting down added excitement to the game, I thought. (Not that I'd want to
see that in many other games, but here it worked.)
  In our game, Doug and I set up near one end of the map, Matt at the
opposite end, Hank on a large island in the middle, leaving one corner
pretty much open. Before long Doug and I were attacking each other mostly
over land (me receiving the brunt of it), while Matt and Hank squared off
mostly over water. I made some very poor moves and was crippled quite early,
but had enough teeth left to act as a spoiler for Doug, barely able to
negotiate a temporary truce. Hank beat Matt back for a while, all the time
gathering uncontested rocks from that fourth corner, but lost his
irreplaceable navy in the process (as did Doug). We had to call the game on
account of time only halfway through. Hopefully we'll get a chance to play
it all the way to conclusion sometime down the road. We'd spent a bit of
time on the rules, so I think a replay would take no more than a couple
hours. In our partial game, I was clearly out of the running, but after that
it was hard to say. Hank had a lead in rocks collected, but had a big target
on his forehead because of it, and without a navy to defend his island, was
probably looking at some big invasion later on.

September 17, 1997

WHO WAS THERE: Mark, Charles, Doug, Sterling, Mike, Hans, Arlette, Hank,


GENERAL COMMENTS: I got some good email input from other TVBers this time,
which is a big help for me, and fun besides. My efforts to split the
comments into game accounts up front, opinions at the end, may lead to some
odd editing, but I hope it all flows well enough. I'm dealing with a
troublesome home computer now, and will cross my fingers and attempt a full
Windows 95 reinstall after I get this out, so there will be fewer comments
from me this time.

===== ON TO THE GAMES! =====

WE THE PEOPLE [AH, Charles]--The predecessor to HANIBAL: ROME VS. CARTHAGE
(which Charles and I played some months ago), this is the landmark game
that uses cards and point-to-point movement to produce a simulation that's
easy to play while perhaps surpassing the older hexmap wargames in some
ways, particularly the political situation. As it happened, Charles again
took larger, slower force with command of the sea (here Britain, previously
Rome), while I took the hit & run forces of the Americans (or Carthage).
Okay, the comparison isn't exact, but has some elements of truth. What
certainly was the same was the ending of our game. After (ahistorically?)
vacating New England as soon as possible, the Americans harassed the slower
Brits around the northern and Great Lakes areas, while firming up political
control of the southern colonies. At one point Quebec was left unguarded,
and Benedict Arnold made a quick move to sieze it. Washington had one shot
at battle to disrupt the British army intent on running Arnold out, but
failed. Not so very long after that Washington found himself in a battle
with no independence-minded locals about, and was captured due to lack of
retreat path. And that ended the game on the spot, an automatic victory
condition. (I had lost Hannibal to Rome in almost the same fashion.)

THRONEWORLD [TimJim/Prism, Doug]--We must've talked about running this game
for a couple months now, always stymied by the complexity and (especially)
length. Not that it's an overbearing game, just probably too much for TVB
(a better fit would be a weekend session, just as is typical for 1830 or
AdvCiv I hear). But this time there were some hardy gamers ready
for the challenge, namely Doug, Mike, Sterling, Hans, and Arlette.
  Doug: "It took us far too long to get going on this game, mostly due to
my ineptitude in sorting out the rules. I had read them through a long time
back but had forgotten most of them. After about an hour or so we finally
got into the first game turn with five of the six races in play.
  "The bulk of the game is virtually multiplayer solo, with little
interaction possible between players. In this one area Twilight has an
advantage since every turn all players interact with the voting process on
Laws. In TW, you expand your empire from the edge of the galaxy inwards
taking over progressively more and more difficult neutrals. Arlette found
quite a few empty worlds that made her planet count go up but contributed
nothing to her income, while the rest of us bogged down against a mix of
lightly defended and startlingly hardy fringer and outer worlds. The one
hefty planet Arlette did encounter produced a humorous invasion where her
large troop of assault and drop marines evaporated against a small group of
heavies backed by a command post. This took quite some time to finish
(combat is played much like TI: roll a huge stack of dice
based on how many and what kind of forces you have, with sixes hitting.
Tech is handled better in TW by simply adding the difference to the roll
rather than keeping individual bonus for higher tech) but it was an
intriguing spectacle.
  "The sad part is we ran out of time right when thing started to get
interesting. Player/Player conflict only really occurs as all the easy
outer worlds are gone and you end up fighting over the few inner worlds or
the very valuable TW itself. We had a totally artificial last turn wherein
Hans launched an all out attack on Arlette and edged everyone by one
planet, but we were all far short of the 13 needed for the true win."

  Hans: "The game is played by up to 6 players. We played with 5. The
purpose is to conquest 13 planets and keep them for a full turn. The game
is similar to Twilight Imperium, but has several advantages over that one.
In the beginning of the game the universe is unknown and you have to send
out survey troops to see where interesting planets are. After that, you can
conquer the planets from a neutral force and later in the game, by
conquering each other. Planets you occupy increase production. By research
(one possibility per turn) and artifacts (two possibilities per turn) you
can advance in your ground troop skill, air force skill, movement points
and communication skills (how far from your commandposts can you do
actions). In the beginning of the game major problems are to conquer the
neutral forces. On the other hand, in the
beginning it is easy to progress on the various technical scales, which
speedens the game considerable and is a major advantage over Twilight

BOHNANZA [Amigo, Mark]--I had received this one at the previous TVB
session, ordered through KK's from Rio Rancho Games/Wargames West, which
stocks a small but good selection of imported games. Being a small card
game, it retails domestically for just ten bucks. This one was a real hit
at the Gathering of Friends big boardgame convention back east, so it
seemed like a good choice. By next week I hope to start including urls to
websites that contain rules summaries and/or reviews of the games we
play--no sense duplicating that effort, and hyperlinking is what the net is
all about, baby! Power to the people.
  Anyway, Bohnanza is a simple but unusual card game on the subject of bean
farming. Sounds boring as can be, but it's not at all, being a fast-moving,
sometimes silly trading and "stack management" game (a little like FREIGHT
TRAIN, that way).
  Hank and Angela had trudged in late after having their car towed to the
semi-nearby Saturn dealership, and were ready to play anything after
cooling their heels during the WE THE PEOPLE and THRONEWORLD. I was the
only one who'd played before, and it took a couple turns for everyone to
get up to speed with the game. I won pretty easily (17 points). To my
pleasant surprise everyone wanted to play again, so we did. This time I
deliberately avoided buying a third field (as did one other player, whereas
we all had them in game one), managing to win again, with the same score,
no less. So far I've been cleaning up with the Gartenbohns (garden beans,
no doubt?). Once everyone learns to treat those like gold I'll have more
competition. The names for all the German beans seem pretty easy to figure
out, now that we know the saubohn is the pig bean. The only one that's
still awkward is the brechebohn, which must be akin to our "snap" beans,
but invariably is called the barf bean! :-) Other fun nicknames are the
hippy bean (soy), and the fightin' bean (black-eyed pea).

6 NIMMT [???, Hank & Angela]--The owners of this game are also in my weekly
group that meets during lunch at work, where we'd tried my Take 6 a few
times. True to form, Angela told Hank "We need to get this game," just as
she does about 90% of what we play! Not everyone has a wife like that...
:-) Anyway, the bean farmers opted for this other small German card game to
wind up the night, with Charles the only newcomer. Inexperience shows, I
guess, since Charles basically rocketed up to the 66 point level that ended
the game. For once in my life I won this game, and did so easily. Seems
like I was playing with the same thoughts that always lead me to ruin, so I
can't figure out what happened.

OPINIONS: I agree with Charles' comments below that WE THE PEOPLE is an
even better game for newcomers to wargaming than HANNIBAL is. In fact, I'm
wondering if I might prefer it myself. It's a bit less detailed, and has a
smaller map, but that makes the whole game that much easier to get right
into, and play quickly. I prefer the subject of WTP, too, and that makes a
difference. I am exceedingly impressed with the skill and creativity of
WTP's designer (Mark Herman), and am pleased to see the folks at Avalon
Hill know what a winner they have on their hands, coming out with two more
in this fashion before long (a post-Alexander Greek Empire game and one on
the American Civil War). I'd like to see someone make the quantum leap
necessary to make the simple card-based mechanisms work on a lower scale
simulation (similar to the way Columbia figured out how to take Gamma Two's
block game system and add hexes and supply to it).
  BOHNANZA is just an outstanding little game, a real steal at the price.
Just today I read that publisher Amigo will be producing a simple expansion
for the game that adds enough new cards to play with 6 players, or so, and
will only charge only about three bucks for it in Germany, which ought to
be plenty affordable even over here.
  6 NIMMT/TAKE 6 is another fantastic little card game. A bit simpler than
Bohnanza, it has the advantage of taking less time, so is a better
end-of-session filler. (One of the games I have on order, Stefan Dorra's
FOR SALE, is supposed to be good for that, too.)

  Charles: "I enjoyed WE THE PEOPLE (WTP) as much as I enjoyed HANNIBAL:RvC
(HBC). I think that WTP is the better game to learn the system since the
strategy cards are either event or operations cards and not both. It makes
it a bit easier to decide on what to do during a particular year/turn.
  "Having strategy cards in HBC as both event or operations requires more
thought on the players part but does allow for more flexibility in playing
the strategy cards which will be preferred by more experienced players."

  Doug: "First, a comparison with TWILIGHT IMPERIUM (from Fantasy Flight):
TW is a better game. The starting positions/races are more balanced, the
opening and midgame deeper, and overall just more enjoyable.
  "Interesting bits are the interaction between various unit types and the
neutrals, plus the use of the Action chits to get either bonus cash or
longer term income increases, garner some technology bonuses or sabotage
attacks against worlds. With careful planning you can soften up a tough
neutral and then attack with a force mix that insures little or no losses.
A poorly planned attack can have an overwhelming force rendered toothless
after the combat (see above.)
  "Overall, I like this game. It is unlikely we will play it at TVB again,
however, as it is just too long for our format."

  Hans: "[THRONEWORLD] looks pretty nice, although, some improvements could
be made (replacing some of the markers my pawns would have increased the
overview). My reasons why I don't like the game:
  "1) There is no player interaction in the beginning of the game and in
the part of the game which we didn't reach because of lack of time, there
will be hardly any interaction except from with your two neighbours. We
only fought against "the system" for three to four hours. Of course, after
playing it more often, that will speeden this stage, but even than I expect
it to take pretty long before you reach your opponents. By the way, the
optimum strategy is probably to minimize interaction with opponents because
interaction just exhausts your troops.
  "In itself little player interaction is not a reason why a game doesn't
please me. Actually, in one of my favourite games it is not much different
(start in a corner, fight 'the system' as good as possible, those wo fight
the system in the best way have an advantage as soon as meeting the opts),
but then I prefer if there are no dice involved in fighting the system. In
this game, a major random factor is how many artifacts you draw.
  "I expect that, if you have a bit more experienced players who know how
to fight the system, the situation which is on the board at the beginning
of the interesting stage (i.e. when you meet opts), is not determined by
skills but by luck. I don't like to spend 2 hours to reach such a
stage in that way.
  "2) The game is too slow. We spent the whole evening on say approx 10
turns, but as there is little player interaction, you have to wait 20
minutes between turns. I think it is important in a multi player game that
either the game is fast or that you have something to do in other persons
turns (example where this is excellent: settlers)."

September 3, 1997 -- TVB's one year anniversary!!

WHO WAS THERE: Mark, Charles, Hank, Angela, Mike, Doug, Hans, Sterling,
Matt, Kevin, Dave, Ed, and newcomer Bob!

WHAT WAS PLAYED: Air Baron, Serenissima, Settlers of Catan, Freight
Train, Titan:The Arena, and Mississippi Queen

AIR BARON [Avalon Hill, Mark]--We played this one for "old" times' sake,
with 3 of the original four TVBers participating, Hank, Charles, and
myself. It was a full, 6-player game, with Angela, Mike, and Bob filling
the ranks. Bob was the only one new to the game, and we played with the
basic rules (which is generally our preference, though not always). Boy,
was it over in a hurry! Angela won using a midwest strategy, something I
hadn't seen succeed before. She nabbed DFW quickly, expanded to Houston
shortly thereafter, and by the end of the game had locked up a triangle
with Phoenix, too. That cluster isn't as defendable as some others,
owing to the lack of international routes, but that didn't seem to
matter. DFW came up a few times, which sure helps, but the key in this
game is to know what to *do* with any windfalls. Clearly, she was doing
the right thing.

There were very few fare wars, internationals taken, or hostile
takeovers in this game, and not a single jumbo! Wow, it ended so early
not all spokes had been purchased! (A few were left on Detroit.) Me, I'd
been pleased to quietly take all of Miami and DC, with an international
on each, and was getting set for the long fight that never came.

Charles was the only one who owned this game a year ago, but now other
copies are owned by myself, Hank & Angela, Paul, and perhaps Hans &
Arlette. That's a pretty good endorsement!

SERENISSIMA [Chessex/Eurogames, Doug]--One of the new lineup of
translated German games now stocked by Chessex, it's a beauty.
Attractive board map of the Mediterranean, and a *ton* of plastic bits:
ships, flags, different colored cargoes, and sailor pawns. Oh, I think
the money is handled by plastic coinage, too, far nicer than paper
currency. Doug was eager to show this one off, and quickly rounded up
Hans, Matt, and Sterling for a game.

  Hans: "Serenissima is a game of trading and battling in the late
middle age mediterranean. It hosts 4-6(?). The purpose is to have cities
full of goods at the end of the game. Each city produces one kind of
stuff and you can store 2-6 other goods in your city. These other goods
all have to be of a different kind, and there are only 7 different
goods. This means that if you want to your capital full (which is always
a 6-city and thus very rewarding concerning victory points) you have to
get all sorts of stuff, especially the rare ones which have a large
chance of being monopolized. Therefore you have to sail around, pick
stuff up and bring it to (what you hope are going to be) your cities or
sell it for as much as possible money to your opts cities. That is the
one strategy. The other strategy is to conquer the full cities of your
opponents. Probably a combination of those strategies is optimal. Nice
thing in the game is that ship transport a maximum of 5 units. Units are
either sailors or trading goods. If you put your ships full of sailors,
you can sail fast and fight well (your sailors have remarkable fighting
skills), but there is no place for trading goods. If you have almost
only trading goods in your ships, you can hardly sail and you are
virtually defenseless."

  "We played with 4. In our game I happened to get the Turks, and, as
Doug announced before the game, the Turks have the strong disadvantage
that they have no city with iron in the neighbourhood, which you need to
build ships. Indeed I did not build extra ships in the game, but this
disadvantage had the compensating advantage that the other players did
not worry too much about me. In that way I could get spices and one more
(what was the orange stuff?) monopoly easily and make a lot of money.
Moreover I decided not to fill my capital as it was pretty far away from
most resources and filled up 2 intermediate cities. Than at some point
of the game, a bit earlier than the rest of the players, I changed my
tactics to warfare and conquered a few intermediate and small cities. At
the end I won the game just a few points ahead of Sterling, who filled
up his capital and was not involved in war as I did."

SETTLERS OF CATAN [Mayfair, Mark]--After Angela racked up her Air Baron
win and dragged Hank back home to continue work on his consulting
project, that left four of us. Settlers was the game of choice. Again we
had just one that had not yet played, Mike, who said he had a decent
time despite being outmaneuvered on the board. Not much more to say
about this game that hasn't been said already, except who won. Oh yeah,
it was me. :-)

FREIGHT TRAIN [Mayfair, Ed]--Latecomers Kevin, Ed, and Dave found
everyone else occupied with games that had almost an hour left, so they
started their own game.

  Dave: "This is an Alan Moon card game very loosely based on running a
rail freight company.  The basic objective is to build the longest
trains with freight cars of a single type (e.g. oil tanks, coal cars,
car carriers, etc.); one of your trains may have a mixture of at most
one car of each type.  You add freight car cards onto your locomotive
cars by playing them out of either your private yard or a public yard.
As the public yard empties, new cards are dealt into it. There's a nice,
suspenseful mechanic for ending each round ("day"): an end-of-day card
is buried somewhere in the bottom portion of the deck, so that as you
deal more cards into the public yard, the chances of reaching the end of
the day increase.  At the end of the day, you score points for having
the first- or second-longest train of a given type. Our game went like
this: In the first round, we stayed fairly close together.  In the
second round, Kevin pulled ahead.  But in the third round, Dave made
some beginner's mistakes which put him way behind, while Ed (who owned
the game and had a moderate amount of experience with it) managed to
edge out Kevin by one point for the win. The game took about an hour
(including learning how to play), so it's clearly quicker than most of
the rail games."

TITAN: THE ARENA [Avalon Hill, Dave]--With the Settlers and Freight
Train games ending about the same time we were able to shuffle players
around a bit. Bob had to take off, and I bowed out leaving the game
maxxed out at five players.

  Dave: "This is the new Avalon Hill cardgame that vaguely shares a
common background with the Titan boardgame, but is really an adaptation
of Reiner Knizias' 'Horse Derby'. The subject of TtA is gladiatorial
combat between the creatures appearing in Titan.  Combat occurs in
rounds, with the weakest of the 8 creatures dying in each round, until
only 3 creatures remain. You bet on which creatures will survive the
game, with bets placed in earlier rounds being worth more.  You can
place one 'secret' bet during the first round only, and it's worth the
most of all.  The strength of creatures is determined by cards placed by
the players; except for 'spectator' wildcards, each strength card can
only be played on a particular creature.  Each creature has a special
ability which can be used by the player with the largest amount wagered
on that creature when the player puts a strength card on the creature.
Special abilities allow players to draw extra cards, perform extra
discards, or pick up or swap cards already in play.  The game took about
1.5 hours, including learning how to play.  Mike won, with 12 ducats bet
on surviving creatures; Ed brought up the rear, with 0 ducats on
survivors; and Kevin, Charles, and Dave tied for second with 9 points
apiece.  Fortunes changed dramatically during play: for example, Dave
drew a strong Dragon hand, so he placed a secret bet on the Dragon but
it died in the very first round, while his desperation first-round bid
on the Hydra paid off as he later drew a number of Hydra stength cards,
so that creature lived."

MISSISSIPPI QUEEN [Goldsieber, Hans & Arlette]--The Serenissima crowd
gained one more player, me, to close out the evening with this
award-winning game (as in the Spiel des Jahres). I'd played just an
abbreviated game once before, Hans and I believe both Sterling and Matt
had played the previous time, leaving Doug as the only newbie. No
matter--it's a very easy game to learn and play, and the strategies
aren't too subtle. Despite talking it over ahead of the game that it's
probably a disadvantage to be the river "trailblazer" out in front,
that's where Doug found himself. All was going well for quite a few
tiles, until the very last one, which was placed in the only spot that
spelled doom for him. There was only a 1/3 chance of that, so Doug's
play may have been a good gamble. As it was, though, his passengers
reached the docks at hypersonic speeds, being catapulted overhead when
the mighty paddlewheeler ran aground on a mid-river island. No points
for that, I'm afraid! (Note that Doug lost, in part, because of the roll
of a die...)

I was at the other extreme, not intending to take the boring
slow-and-steady route, but that's the position I found myself in. I
loaded a passenger from both of the first two docks, was firmly in last
place, then patiently steamed on to victory, with even a coal to spare.
I wonder how the game would change if the river were completely mapped
out before the race started, or at least the next *two* sections were.
Probably would bog down as everyone would have to count 2-3 moves in

OPINIONS: Air Baron continues to be a favorite of mine, and I remain a
bit perplexed by the people who find it too luck-driven yet are able to
enjoy Settlers! In games of this sort, I feel luck can only carry you so
far, that the player must know how to respond correctly to the changing
tide of fate to win a game. True, it is possible to get a string of die
rolls/chit pulls/etc. that put you out of the winning, but I can accept
that. They don't seem to happen often, and the chaos added by the random
element keeps the game moving. I haven't seen many 60-minute games that
omit chaos and are still able to avoid being abstract. (There probably
are, though.) Anyway, I'll also shamelessly admit that Air Baron also
scores points with me because it's American, whereas almost all all of
the rest of the good multiplayer games seem to come from overseas these
days. :-/

My interest in Settlers is going through a bit of a resurgence lately.
I'm trying to play more competitively, and the game is rewarding that
effort. One of the great advantages of this game is that you can almost
play with your brain in neutral and it's still fun. Or you can play to
win, and it's fun. Those two people can even be in the same game and
it's still fun. Amazing. (In Air Baron, by contrast, the competitive
players can take advantage of the more lackadaisical ones, which doesn't
make for a very happy game.)

I didn't play Freight Train this time, but will echo Dave's sentiments
about the variable end condition for each phase in the game. I
understand that's a fairly typical Alan Moon feature, but haven't played
enough of that designer's games to see for myself.

  Hans: "I like the game very well. It is probably well balanced and has
some nice and original ideas. The game looks very nice as well which
always make play more fun. One disadvantage of this type of games is
that one of the most important qualities you need to win this type of
games is that you are good in hiding that you are ahead, so that the
attention goes to others and you are into unfavourable battles as little
as possible. It is hardly possible to compensate a lack of this skill by
superior strategic skills. However I am afraid that this is an intrinsic
problem of almost all multi-player strategic games."

  Dave: "Overall, it seems that everyone liked [Titan: The Arena], as it
was pretty suspenseful and dramatic--you don't know quite when a round
will end, or when your favorite gladiator will be squashed or saved by
another player's low or high stength card.  The strategy is subtle
enough that it should have good replay value, but there's enough luck
that beginners still have a chance."

Mississippi Queen is a winner. It doesn't offer the depth of El Grande,
or the repeated play and elegance of Settlers (previous Spiel des Jahres
winners), but is attractive, quick-playing, easy to learn, requires
thought, not especially luck-driven, and did I mention it's attractive?
:-) I have a lingering question about the problems faced by the game's
trailblazer, so we'll have to play some more and see. Then again, I used
to think Settlers had a small problem with the value of the Longest
Road/Biggest Army cards for a long time. I was bothered by the fact that
the game winner almost always had one or both of these, so that instead
of being an strategy to victory, they appeared to be a requirement of
victory. Since then I've figured out that while this is almost true, the
game doesn't suffer at all for it, once players understand a sudden grab
for one or both of those is part of the game.

August 20, 1997
WHO WAS THERE: Mark, Charles, Hank, Dave, Matt, Paul, Angela, Sterling, Hans, Arlette, and newcomers Kevin and Maarten
WHAT WAS PLAYED: En Garde, Acquire, Fast Food Franchise (twice), Montcalm & Wolfe, Die Seidler von Catan/Seefahrer, Mississippi Queen, Corporate Shuffle
GENERAL NOTES: Well, it's no secret now that our next session will be the first TVB anniversary. Soon I'll distribute a "special edition" retrospective on this first, fun year. We know we're going to play Air Baron, but who knows beyond that? Angela said she'd bring cookies or brownies! When I spoke to KK's owner Kerry today on the phone (he called to tell me those games we ordered are in), I informed him of the anniversary, and got his buy-in to keep pitching the group. Hopefully that remodeling that knocks out the wall separating the "back room" from the rest will get underway soon, and be over quickly. We're going to need more space! :-)
Oh, for those that don't know or forgot, the Bay Area's annual Pacificon will take place over Labor Day Weekend. I think Doug and Kevin will be going--not sure about any other TVBers (maybe Randy?).
No separate opinions section this times, as I only played a couple games. One was tiny, the other was for playtesting.
Okay, on to the games!
EN GARDE [Abacus, Mark]--Matt and I fought a quick duel before more TVBers showed up. This is an ideal little game for filling time that way, and I'll keep bringing it for that purpose, at least. I carved up Matt pretty handily, if I do say so myself! It's one of those "deceptively simple" games, meaning it looks like fluff but there's something hidding in there. A minor variant I want to try is to simply start each round with the fencers already advanced five or more paces. Otherwise the bigger number cards just get spent advancing, and reduce from the maneuvering options.
ACQUIRE [AH, Hank]--This time Hank, Charles, Hans, Kevin, and Sterling played what sounds like an unusual game, and one with a higher winning total than I'm used to seeing.
Hank: "Kevin cleaned up with Imperial. He started it and had the majority when it was eaten. He kept his shares and went on to see Imperial start and get eaten three more times in about ten turns, each time he got the majority hoder's bonus. Once he got both bonuses on a three-tile Imperial ($7500)."
"Needless to say, he won by a large margin (~$65k to my second place $35k) I came in second due to my thirteen shares in a 31-40 tile American chain."
Charles: "Hank, Kevin and Sterling started out well with Hans and myself rather far behind. Kevin always seemed to be the majority share holder when a smaller chain was taken over with Hank usually 2nd largest. Hans heavily invested in one chain which sat like an island while all kinds of activity occured around it. I was investing a little in all the chains which is probably the worst thing to do. I believe Kevin was the big winner with Hank not too far behind. I think Sterling was 3rd and Hans and myself a distant 4th and 5th."
FAST FOOD FRANCHISE [TimJim/Prism, Hans & Arlette]--Actually it may have been Paul's game, I'm not sure. I know Hans & Arlette enjoyed playing it for their first time at TVB some months ago, bought one themselves, left it behind in Germany with some friends, and has since ordered multiple copies for more European friends! Nice to see an American game be as well-received over there as the likes of Settlers, El Grande, Kuhhandel, etc. have done with us at TVB. Anyway, I know Matt, Paul, Arlette, and Maarten played the first game, but I don't know who won. This first one was over quite quickly, so may have been the game Arlette jumped out to an immediate lead (and went on to win?). It was short enough that they turned right around and played a second time, picking up Sterling for a fifth player. Not sure who won that one, either, but it was a more typical struggle that took about 90 minutes or so.
MONTCALM & WOLFE [Markham Designs, Mark]--Another round of playtesting, this time I took the British, Dave took the French, and we played with variable reinforcements (not the historic schedule). It was a very different sort of game than the other times I've played. As the British, I had time on my side: even without the historic reinforcements, the British receive substantially more than the French, over time. So had I the patience for it, the winning strategy probably is to sit tight, amass a great many armies and leaders over about three years (which will need to be distributed throughout the colonies to survive the winters). When the numeric superiority is overwhelming, congregate an amphibious assault force (hopefully with the stellar General Wolfe) and take Quebec. Sit tight another year, then do the same to Montreal. Don't worry about subtlety. The French, knowing this, must strike hard and early, while their disadvantage is minimized, striving for some short term political gains that could force the British to sue for peace (early automatic victory). I suppose they could instead rely on the outstanding defenses of Montreal (surrounded by water) and Quebec (built on a cliff) to hold the line against the Brits, but I'm not at all sure they can muster and supply the troops necessary to do that. Guess I need to solo this one a bit more.
In any case, I didn't take that prudent course of action. Instead, my British pressed the French right from the start, doing a lackluster job in the Lake George/Champlain corridor, but having good success with my raiding Iroquois allies in the interior, who managed to capture Fort Niagara. I even got lucky, drawing Wolfe as my first reinforcing General early in the game. With that I set about assaulting Quebec, and did so handily, but left the colonies themselves almost unguarded. And that gave Dave the opportunity to rampage about, taking Albany, New York, Boston, and others. We had to call the game on time, but it would've been interesting to see if either of us could've recovered from this virtual exchange of territory. (I think, again, that if my Brits could be patient, they could outlast the French, but playing so aggresively almost cost me the game.)
DIE SEIDLER VON CATAN/SEEFAHRER [Franckh-Kosmos, Hans & Arlette]--The first new offering that Hans brought back from his recent trip to Germany, it was played by himself, Hank, Kevin, Charles, and Angela.
Hank: "We tried this expansion for our old favorite Settlers. The new things:
"BOATS: For a sheep and a wood you can build a boat. Boats are like roads except that they may be placed on hex sides where one or both hexes are water. A boat has to be placed next to a friendly settlement/city or another boat. The last boat on a line of boats that is only anchored on one end may move to the end of another chain or next to a coastal settlement. Once both ends of a line of boats are anchored (i.e. next to settlements) they may not move.
"PIRATES: A little black boat. The water equivalent of the robber. When a player rolls a 7/plays a knight, he may move either the robber or the pirates. When the pirates are played in a hex, no fleets may be built or moved to/from hexsides in that hex. The pirates steal from coastal settlements, if any.
"COLONIES: When you build a settlement on a island where you had none before, you get an extra victory point. There are little flag markers to differentiate the "new island" settlements.
"We played on a rectangualar board with land land water randomly distributed. We ended up with one big island and two little ones (one was a single hex, the other was three hexes).
"Hans put one of his first two settlements on the main island and one on the single wood hex island with a 6. He had a wood port as well. The detail of the game are fuzzy now, but I remember that I build out to the single hex island and was headed toward the other island when Kevin came roaring by and won with the Longest Road, Largest Army, and a helluva lot of settlements and cities on the mainland."
Charles: "Hans gave a quick run down on the additional rules for using the sea areas. Most of us started on the main island with only Hans starting on one of the small islands. There was the usual shortage of clay which hampered things for a while. Hank and Kevin were battling over longest road with Angela mining big deposits of stone to build cities. Hans had a big stock in wood which sometimes paid off. Kevin was trading for cards which ultimately gave him the win with most knights and a point card plus the usual points for cities and settlements."
MISSISSIPPI QUEEN [Goldsieber, Hans & Arlette]--One of the other great new games from Germany, this one just won the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award (as had favorites El Grande and Settlers in years past). Apparently it took some looking on Hans' part to track one down, and I know it's also backordered at the American distributor (Rio Rancho/Wargames West). The same group that played Seefahrer tried this one.
Charles: "The 5 of us went roaring down the mighty Mississippi with our paddle wheels churning and coal belching from our smokestacks. Angela was first to pick up her 2 passengers with Kevin and Hans waiting until near the end to pick up theirs. Hank and Angela bumped boats a few times to slow each other down (such a nice couple!). It was Angela who won in the end followed by Kevin, Hank, Hans and yours truly way behind."
CORPORATE SHUFFLE [WOTC, Sterling]--The FFF group (maybe minus Matt, who may have left early with a headache--all that high stress food management got to him!) played several hands of this one to round out the evening. Not much to say. It's a fine filler, and probably perfect when everyone is mentally spent from plotting through more taxing games.

August 20, 1997
WHO WAS THERE: Mark, Charles, Hank, Dave, Matt, Paul, Angela, Sterling, Hans, Arlette, and newcomers Kevin and Maarten
WHAT WAS PLAYED: En Garde, Acquire, Fast Food Franchise (twice), Montcalm & Wolfe, Die Seidler von Catan/Seefahrer, Mississippi Queen, Corporate Shuffle
GENERAL NOTES: Well, it's no secret now that our next session will be the first TVB anniversary. Soon I'll distribute a "special edition" retrospective on this first, fun year. We know we're going to play Air Baron, but who knows beyond that? Angela said she'd bring cookies or brownies! When I spoke to KK's owner Kerry today on the phone (he called to tell me those games we ordered are in), I informed him of the anniversary, and got his buy-in to keep pitching the group. Hopefully that remodeling that knocks out the wall separating the "back room" from the rest will get underway soon, and be over quickly. We're going to need more space! :-)
Oh, for those that don't know or forgot, the Bay Area's annual Pacificon will take place over Labor Day Weekend. I think Doug and Kevin will be going--not sure about any other TVBers (maybe Randy?).
No separate opinions section this times, as I only played a couple games. One was tiny, the other was for playtesting.
Okay, on to the games!
EN GARDE [Abacus, Mark]--Matt and I fought a quick duel before more TVBers showed up. This is an ideal little game for filling time that way, and I'll keep bringing it for that purpose, at least. I carved up Matt pretty handily, if I do say so myself! It's one of those "deceptively simple" games, meaning it looks like fluff but there's something hidding in there. A minor variant I want to try is to simply start each round with the fencers already advanced five or more paces. Otherwise the bigger number cards just get spent advancing, and reduce from the maneuvering options.
ACQUIRE [AH, Hank]--This time Hank, Charles, Hans, Kevin, and Sterling played what sounds like an unusual game, and one with a higher winning total than I'm used to seeing.
Hank: "Kevin cleaned up with Imperial. He started it and had the majority when it was eaten. He kept his shares and went on to see Imperial start and get eaten three more times in about ten turns, each time he got the majority hoder's bonus. Once he got both bonuses on a three-tile Imperial ($7500)."
"Needless to say, he won by a large margin (~$65k to my second place $35k) I came in second due to my thirteen shares in a 31-40 tile American chain."
Charles: "Hank, Kevin and Sterling started out well with Hans and myself rather far behind. Kevin always seemed to be the majority share holder when a smaller chain was taken over with Hank usually 2nd largest. Hans heavily invested in one chain which sat like an island while all kinds of activity occured around it. I was investing a little in all the chains which is probably the worst thing to do. I believe Kevin was the big winner with Hank not too far behind. I think Sterling was 3rd and Hans and myself a distant 4th and 5th."
FAST FOOD FRANCHISE [TimJim/Prism, Hans & Arlette]--Actually it may have been Paul's game, I'm not sure. I know Hans & Arlette enjoyed playing it for their first time at TVB some months ago, bought one themselves, left it behind in Germany with some friends, and has since ordered multiple copies for more European friends! Nice to see an American game be as well-received over there as the likes of Settlers, El Grande, Kuhhandel, etc. have done with us at TVB. Anyway, I know Matt, Paul, Arlette, and Maarten played the first game, but I don't know who won. This first one was over quite quickly, so may have been the game Arlette jumped out to an immediate lead (and went on to win?). It was short enough that they turned right around and played a second time, picking up Sterling for a fifth player. Not sure who won that one, either, but it was a more typical struggle that took about 90 minutes or so.
MONTCALM & WOLFE [Markham Designs, Mark]--Another round of playtesting, this time I took the British, Dave took the French, and we played with variable reinforcements (not the historic schedule). It was a very different sort of game than the other times I've played. As the British, I had time on my side: even without the historic reinforcements, the British receive substantially more than the French, over time. So had I the patience for it, the winning strategy probably is to sit tight, amass a great many armies and leaders over about three years (which will need to be distributed throughout the colonies to survive the winters). When the numeric superiority is overwhelming, congregate an amphibious assault force (hopefully with the stellar General Wolfe) and take Quebec. Sit tight another year, then do the same to Montreal. Don't worry about subtlety. The French, knowing this, must strike hard and early, while their disadvantage is minimized, striving for some short term political gains that could force the British to sue for peace (early automatic victory). I suppose they could instead rely on the outstanding defenses of Montreal (surrounded by water) and Quebec (built on a cliff) to hold the line against the Brits, but I'm not at all sure they can muster and supply the troops necessary to do that. Guess I need to solo this one a bit more.
In any case, I didn't take that prudent course of action. Instead, my British pressed the French right from the start, doing a lackluster job in the Lake George/Champlain corridor, but having good success with my raiding Iroquois allies in the interior, who managed to capture Fort Niagara. I even got lucky, drawing Wolfe as my first reinforcing General early in the game. With that I set about assaulting Quebec, and did so handily, but left the colonies themselves almost unguarded. And that gave Dave the opportunity to rampage about, taking Albany, New York, Boston, and others. We had to call the game on time, but it would've been interesting to see if either of us could've recovered from this virtual exchange of territory. (I think, again, that if my Brits could be patient, they could outlast the French, but playing so aggresively almost cost me the game.)
DIE SEIDLER VON CATAN/SEEFAHRER [Franckh-Kosmos, Hans & Arlette]--The first new offering that Hans brought back from his recent trip to Germany, it was played by himself, Hank, Kevin, Charles, and Angela.
Hank: "We tried this expansion for our old favorite Settlers. The new things:
"BOATS: For a sheep and a wood you can build a boat. Boats are like roads except that they may be placed on hex sides where one or both hexes are water. A boat has to be placed next to a friendly settlement/city or another boat. The last boat on a line of boats that is only anchored on one end may move to the end of another chain or next to a coastal settlement. Once both ends of a line of boats are anchored (i.e. next to settlements) they may not move.
"PIRATES: A little black boat. The water equivalent of the robber. When a player rolls a 7/plays a knight, he may move either the robber or the pirates. When the pirates are played in a hex, no fleets may be built or moved to/from hexsides in that hex. The pirates steal from coastal settlements, if any.
"COLONIES: When you build a settlement on a island where you had none before, you get an extra victory point. There are little flag markers to differentiate the "new island" settlements.
"We played on a rectangualar board with land land water randomly distributed. We ended up with one big island and two little ones (one was a single hex, the other was three hexes).
"Hans put one of his first two settlements on the main island and one on the single wood hex island with a 6. He had a wood port as well. The detail of the game are fuzzy now, but I remember that I build out to the single hex island and was headed toward the other island when Kevin came roaring by and won with the Longest Road, Largest Army, and a helluva lot of settlements and cities on the mainland."
Charles: "Hans gave a quick run down on the additional rules for using the sea areas. Most of us started on the main island with only Hans starting on one of the small islands. There was the usual shortage of clay which hampered things for a while. Hank and Kevin were battling over longest road with Angela mining big deposits of stone to build cities. Hans had a big stock in wood which sometimes paid off. Kevin was trading for cards which ultimately gave him the win with most knights and a point card plus the usual points for cities and settlements."
MISSISSIPPI QUEEN [Goldsieber, Hans & Arlette]--One of the other great new games from Germany, this one just won the Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award (as had favorites El Grande and Settlers in years past). Apparently it took some looking on Hans' part to track one down, and I know it's also backordered at the American distributor (Rio Rancho/Wargames West). The same group that played Seefahrer tried this one.
Charles: "The 5 of us went roaring down the mighty Mississippi with our paddle wheels churning and coal belching from our smokestacks. Angela was first to pick up her 2 passengers with Kevin and Hans waiting until near the end to pick up theirs. Hank and Angela bumped boats a few times to slow each other down (such a nice couple!). It was Angela who won in the end followed by Kevin, Hank, Hans and yours truly way behind."
CORPORATE SHUFFLE [WOTC, Sterling]--The FFF group (maybe minus Matt, who may have left early with a headache--all that high stress food management got to him!) played several hands of this one to round out the evening. Not much to say. It's a fine filler, and probably perfect when everyone is mentally spent from plotting through more taxing games.

August 6, 1997
Who was there: Hank, Mike, Charles, Mark, Doug, Dave, Arlette, Sterling, Angela, and newcomers Matt and Ed!
What we played: Across Five Aprils, Montcalm & Wolfe, Wizard's Quest, Settlers, Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix, Dragonmaster
General comments: I'd warned the folks at KK's we might have a larger than unusual crowd, which was pretty much true. They were accommodating, setting aside a third table for us and some new folding chairs! Yeah, we were still stuffed into the back room, where it got uncomfortably warm, but the hospitality is still very much appreciated. No one talked about our upcoming anniversary session (the first one in September), so who knows? Forget about my half-hearted game exchange idea that went nowhere. If nothing else maybe some of us can bring cookies or something. Also remember that Pacificon is right around the corner, at an SF airport area hotel (the Clarion, I think) over Labor Day weekend. I won't be there, but some others might (Doug's a regular, I take it). Oh, my "Opinions" section just wouldn't have any meat to it this time, so it's taking the week off. :-)
Across Five Aprils [Victory Games, Hank]--This is certainly the primary wargame for TVB, having a classic subject (the American Civil War), straightforward rules, and a variety of scenarios that may be completed in one TVB session. In increasing size, we've already tried Pea Ridge, First Bull Run, Bentonville, and now this time was the battle of Shiloh. (I think the only scenario remaining is Gettysburg, which is much too big for single session.) In fact, this one was a tight squeeze, and reached a formal finish only due to the failure of the Confederates to take some victory locations by the end of the first day (which would've extended the game into the second day). Hank had told me before playing that the scenario (and battle?) was supposed to be one of the most dynamic and gameable, starting with a sizeable CSA advantage that evaporates later in the game when waves of Union troops arrive (isn't this the story of other ACW battles?). It gives the game a good see-saw sort of balance, and a sense of urgency for the CSA. Here's what Mike, leading the victorious US troops had to say.
Mike: "In the Shiloh battle, 4 corps of rebs descends upon a scattered Union 5-division force. The Confederates have to crush the initial Union force and rush forward to capture the five objective hexes. The Union forces have to hold out until the rest of their army arrives on the 10th turn or so. In this battle Hank took the Confederates and I took the Union. Hank moved forward quickly and crushed the four brigades holding the Union left flank. To exploit this, the Confederates rushed 3 of their 4 Corps to attack the Union left. Forces from the union right flank shifted to plug the hole, and the Union struggled to regroup after the initial reb surge. Hank's progress was slowed by the lack of good roads, giving the Union valuable time to regroup and make a stand. A pitched battle was mounted along this line for several turns with both sides taking heavy losses, with the Union lines slowly giving ground to the Confederates. While this was going on, Hank managed to break through the screening forces guarding the Union right flank with one of his Corps, while the other 3 were engaging the center. This brief breakthrough was contained at the expense of committing all the Union reserves. However, the Union center and left slowed the confederate advance enough on the first day, preventing it from taking more than two of the five objectives hexes. This gave the Union a victory on turn ten."
Wizard's Quest [Avalon Hill, Ed]--I've played this game only once, some years ago, at what might be considered the pathetic forerunner of TVB: myself, a friend, and 2-3 others (who worked at the Livermore Lab) meeting at each others' places to play a few games during the summer of '93. Anyway, here's an account, this time from someone that *didn't* win. :-)
Dave: "In Wizard's Quest, I think Ed (the game's owner) won, though 2 or 3 other people also came close. Wizard's Quest is basically a multiplayer solitaire race game, with some limited opportunities to gang up on the leaders, that at first glance might look to some as if it were an empire-building game. The basic idea is to use your army to capture the 3 treasures that belong to you. It turns out that holding territory doesn't really matter (since you get some troops every turn regardless of how much territory you hold), but getting to your treasures as quickly as possible matters a lot. This was apparent right from the start in that Ed piled most of his troops into one big single force, while everybody else spread out a lot to defend their starting territory. There's a little bit of negotiation and strategy having to do with deciding who to try to slow down and how, but that seems to be it. The players were Ed, Doug, Matt (the "new" one, not Magic), Sterling, Arlette, and me."
Montcalm & Wolfe [Markham Designs, Mark]--This is a playtest gamekit covering the French & Indian War from a strategic scale. Charles took the French, while I took the British through the historic scenario (which basically just means the reinforcement schedule, instead of using a die-roll and table). A quick rules overview, setup, and complete play (to a British sudden death victory due overwhelming political gains, not to mention the fall of both Montreal and Quebec) took about 2.5 hours. With experience and a final version of game aids (charts), I think it will stay about that, 2-3 hours. I've got some extensive comments and notes from my playtesting efforts that I won't post here, but will discuss via private email with anyone who's interested. Oh, it looks like this may lead to another playtesting opportunity from the same publisher, this time a tactical (?) game of a World War I western front battle, that of Messines (part of the battles of Ypres).
The Settlers of Catan [Mayfair, Angela]--Newcomer Matt and recent addition Dave had only heard about this game, and were eager to see what all the fuss was about. Angela had showed up partway through the Wizard's Quest game, and was happy to finally do more than sit by and watch. They played just a three-person game, where Matt won. I noted Dave had built a road stiching across the whole island, but he said he did poorly. Meanwhile, Matt had the late-game production necessary for cities and special cards (had the largest army, too). Angela must've been somewhere in the middle.
Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix [Mayfair, Mark]--When Charles and I finished M&W, everyone else was well into one game or another, so just the two of us tried this quickie. It was my purchase through KK's, making its first appearance at TVB, but I've actually played it a half-dozen times already with a lunch group at work (yes, the game is that short!). We each bid to split ownership of the six cars, and set off racing. I suppose there are three color-switch cards, and I know I had at least two of them. These are only semi-useful, mostly a wasted slot, and that may have led to my poor finish. That or my lousy strategy, I mean! :-) Yes, Charles grabbed first place and either second or third, and the rest didn't even matter. It played okay with just the two of us, but is just a bit better with more (3 or 4 would be best, but it takes up to 6).
Dragonmaster [Lowe (of Parker Bros.), Doug]--This is a trick-taking, hearts-like card game with a fantasy motif. The cards have fantasy imagery and points are tracked using plastic snap-together "jewels" of different colors/denominations (I've seen these bits in another game). Maybe a little like the acclaimed Was Sticht, the objectives of each round varies according to the selection of someone (the leader?). So there are times you want to take more tricks, sometimes less, sometimes certain cards. Keeps things lively, I suppose, and it certainly looked like a Hearts-style game with some sense of style and appeal. Oh, it was Doug, Arlette, Ed, and card-man Sterling playing.
Doug: "Uses a special deck of 32 cards in 8 ranks of four suits. Ranks are King, Queen, Prince (or Princess) Wizard, Duke, Count, Baron, and Fool."
"The dealer chooses the objective from the set of five. Once all five hands have been played deal passes to the left. Objectives are: Don't take first or last trick, don't take the Prince of Warriors, Don't take any of the four Wizards, Don't take any of the eight Dragonmaster suit, and finally: All of the Above. Each penalty is worth 4000, 8000, 2000, or 1000 such that all possible penalties in a hand are worth 8000 (32000 for the Staff of Power hand.) Ed won, defeating Arlette by a narrow margin of 3000 points."
"A fair to middling trick taking game, hampered by the small deck making it easy for card counters to do well."

July 23, 1997
Who was there: Mark, Mike, Charles, Sterling, Hans, Arlette, Doug, Hank, Angela
What we played: Mustangs, Die Seidler von Catan, Mu, Air Baron, Kuhhandel
I was on a roll this time, and wrote more than normal. You've been warned... :)
Once again, Kerry had set out a sign on the tables in the back room that read "Reserved for Tri-Valley Boardgamers (yes, both tables!)." That was no doubt a godsend, as the parking lot had filled very quickly with Magic players for the night's tournament. I thought they only had the biggest turnouts for draft night, which I didn't hear going on. Well, in any case, I'm glad we had enough room. And chairs! When we arrived there were still a few folding chairs against the wall in the back room where we play, which I quickly claimed. I think only latecomer Angela had to sit on a broken chair this time. :-/
No, the website isn't updated, and I didn't have the contact list to hand out, either. I *did* manage to remember to bring those variant rules for Assassin (from our lurker friends, the Westbank Gamers in New Orleans--thanks Greg!). But then Charles forgot to take them with him. Oh well. Next time.
Say, we're coming up on a first anniversary! It's still three sessions away, on September 3rd, but getting close. Should we do something special? Like what? At the local grocery chain (Safeway) you can get a free cake for a child's first birthday. Maybe I'll make up one named Timothy Vincent Beckman, and ask for just his initials on the cake... :-) We could certainly play Air Baron again (laying off of it for the next couple sessions to avoid burnout). My creative juices aren't flowing right now, help me out. A more elaborate idea might be for everyone to bring a game they're not too crazy about, putting all of them in a big pool, then drawing lots for order of pick from that pile. Everyone should get something new to them, and only gave up something they could afford to lose. I promise not to bring Ben Hvrt. :-) (Of course not--I love that game!) We'd all have to agree ahead of time or it's not worth doing. Don't want any hurt feelings.
One more little tidbit is that a few of us are going to try a little playtesting, this time of a small strategic wargame covering the French & Indian War. Well, Doug and I actually playtested something earlier--hopefully this one will turn out to be more of a real game. I think it will.
By the way, besides the full reports like this one that go out to the TVBers and those on the luker list, I'm going to start editing down a shorter version of each report (from here on out) to post to My plan it to make it quite short, just a quick record of the games we played and my quickie opinions, leaving out all of the "personal" stuff. More interested readers are welcome to examine the whole report on the website or join the lurker list. (And some of the lurkers may wish to bail out and just rely on that r.g.b short version--just let me know.)
Anyway, enough blather--on to the games!
Mustangs [Mark, AH]--One of AH's introductory level games from their Smithsonian series, this one deals with neither horses nor cars (Arlette's first two guesses), but World War Two dogfighting! Charles will be attending his third Avaloncon at the end of next month (this time as an ambassador from TVB!), and wanted to have at least one playthrough before entering the competition. Well, if the tournament produces no finer pilots than me, he should have no trouble! We picked a tournament matchup, one element of P-51D Mustangs versus another of N1K1 Georges, a late war matchup from the Pacific. I commanded the pair of the game's namesake planes, while Charles and Mike split up the opposing element. As might be expected, having their element commanded by two players meant the Japanese planes didn't fly tightly together, which should've open up an opportunity for a 2-on-1 matchup favoring the Americans. I did a lousy job, however, both with flying the planes and not fumbling some rules, culminating in an ominous scene where my planes had split, each with a George *right* on it's tail (the hex immediately behind). Charles' shot took out the remaining engine hit on one Mustang, and Mike's shot (using his last point of ammo!) started an engine fire on the other, spelling its doom. Sheesh!
Die Seidler von Catan [Hans & Arlette, Kosmos]--This was the first time our group had tried the 5-6 player expansion (more of the same, mostly), as Hans, Arlette, Doug, Sterling, and Hank sat down to play. (Hank, Hans, and I had been in a 6-player game of the same just at lunch that afternoon!). Doug pulled off the win.
Doug: "The board layout stuffed most of the wood into one corner and made ore somewhat hard to come by (two 10s and a 5) Game play was back and forth, as usual, with Arlette and I leading most of the way. I got longest road on the strength of my wood production (allowing me to trade wood for clay as needed) but Arlette stormed along getting the first, second, and third cities earliest. I snatched victory away from her with a fortunate card purchase giving me greatest knight force and taking me over the top just prior to her going out."
The Catan group managed just one round of Corporate Shuffle to kill time waiting for the Mustangs game to end with my fiery death, so I'm not even going to count that one!
Mu [Hans & Arlette, Doris & Frank]--This sophisticated trick-taking card game has a very good reputation in Eurogame circles, so I wanted to at least try it. Hans, Sterling, Hank and myself tried it, in what seemed like the best number of players for the game (due to partnerships). It's really not that complicated, the rules I mean, but the bidding strategies require considerable thought, experience, luck, or devil-may-care attitude. I would say the play does, too, but that's perhaps only because I've always had a tough time in such games, from Hearts on up. I suspect the problem is in my own head, in other words! Well, maybe it was in Hank's head, too! :-) Not having a previously agreed upon number of winning points or hands to play, we managed five before stopping the game to try something else, too. The clincher for me to end it then was the fact that Sterling and I each had 213 points, Hans had 212, and Hank was back there, somewhere. Anytime I can both beat Hans and tie for first in a German card game...well, that's just about as good as it gets, and offerred some small comfort for my terrible dogfighting earlier. :-) One particular round of that game is indicative of how surprising it can be, at least to a newcomer. Sterling had been dealt a fistful of valuable 7-cards, the ones with two triangles. Hans had just about all the remaining ones, so they were having a grand time bidding/showing those cards, fully prepared to walk all over poor Hank and I. I couldn't figure any way to stop that but to keep bidding up the game myself, even with my poor hand, in the hopes that I'd deny Sterling the presidency (picking Hans as a partner and declaring the "ubertrump"), or at least force him to bid beyond his reach. I ended up with the presidency, declared Hans my partner, and we cleaned up. (This is a rare example of how my habit of trying odd tactics--or at least those unburdened by too much thought!--occasionally pay off.)
Air Baron [Hank & Angela, AH]--Catan veterans Arlette, Charles, and Doug exchanged Hank, Sterling, and Hans for Angela, Mike, and Charles to get in a full-map game of this classic (well, it's become a classic for us, anyway). Again played with just the basic rules (certainly no worse of a game with those...some would say it's better like that).
Doug: "Finally we started up Air Baron. This is the first time I've got to play this one. It's easy to play, but I don't care much for it as I never felt I had any real control over my fate. For long stretches of the game none of my profit chits would come up and I had to just pass. The game started out really one sided as Mike's Toucan Travel locked up the west coast by the fourth turn on the force of an incredible run of luck, drawing his profit markers again and again and never losing a fare war roll. The rest of us squabbled amongst ourselves but we never really had a chance. Angela gave a good fight and I beat my way back from the brink to hold both JFK and Washington but it didn't matter much agaist a warchest that often amounted to more than fifty dollars."
Charles: "Newcomers to Air Baron Michael and Doug joined Angela, Arlette and myself for this game. Michael took over the west coast with LAX and SFO with Angela in the midwest. I took over the southeast. Doug eventually got into the northeast with Arlette hanging by her fingernails in Atlanta. I eventually took over the Atlanta hub and forced Arlette out of the game. Doug was able to hang on to Wash. DC and JFK. But the main players were Michael and Angela has these two titans fought back and forth with Michael eventually getting enough market share and plenty of cash from the LAX and SFO hubs being drawn all too often to win the game."
Kuhhandel [Hans & Arlette, Ravensburger]--The Mu players exchanged that one for another German card game, this one considerably lighter. Typical for bidding games, however, the complexity of the *play* of the game is strongly dependent on the other players' actions. Hans just about has this one down pat, and Sterling has proven a quick study. Hank and I were still struggling (our second game each, with the exception of Hans). What throws me is that the apparent value of a type of card varies during the game, especially the one that completes a set. Hank ended the game with virtually no holdings, I had just a couple, Sterling and Hans split the remaining pretty evenly, but I think Hans won.
Opinions: Mike made the comment that Mustangs has more to it than he'd expected. That was my initial impression too, one that cuts both ways. I'm very impressed with how much plane-specific information fits without crowding or confusion on those beautiful oversize (5/8"?) counters. Likewise, I spend much less time with my nose in this rulebook than in most other wargames'. However, the preplotted movement (even with chits) and impulse movement chart make the execution of this simple wargame a little slow. How can you have a dogfighting game without something like that, though? I don't easily see how you can, though maybe some game *equipment* innovation could help (I don't know what--I'm just hypothesizing). It works fine, though, and I hope to try some PBEM with my brother. I also want to devise some other scenarios that have more "texture" than a simple element vs. element dogfight between fighters. I'm thinking either bomber escort/intercept or some sort of attack mission (again with escort/intercept elements)
This is probably the first time I've offered post-game opinions about some I haven't played. Well, I had played the same expanded version of Die Seidler just hours before TVB. I was pleasantly surprised that the expanded board and number of players did not appreciably slow the game (we were playing with the ability to build on other players' turns). My opinion of the game just went up another notch because it's made the first convert from my roleplaying group to boardgames (at least once in a while). This is certainly the bestselling boardgame among my gaming contacts. Air Baron went long again, pushing two hours as it did the last time we played 6-player at TVB. That's okay, and not a frequent problem. I don't expect the advanced rules would've changed that much, one way or another--provided the Fuel Hike special event chit wasn't used. Last time I tried I replaced it with a spare blank disk from AH's generous counter sheet. That worked fine, and is now my preferred way to play. The Fuel Hike mostly just lengthens the game, whereas the other special events add some flavor/chrome, with little drawback.
Alan R. Moon says Mu is the best card game ever (with Was Sticht in second place, another I'd like to try). With that sort of word-of-mouth, I just had to see what the fuss was about. I'm glad I played it, but I was left with a sense of appreciation and respect for the design more than a desire to play again. I'm not a Bridge player (only tried Mayfair's Bridgette once), but know enough to see some similarities. In fact, Mu struck me as a game that doesn't really offer a lot of innovation, but includes enough tweaks to standard trick-taking card games to produce an end result that gives the skilled card gamers plenty to wrap their brains around. There are five suits, uneven ranks (extra 1s and 7s), two levels of trump (which may be of rank as well as suit), partnerships, card scoring values unequal to rank (middle cards score the most, the extremes score nothing), and a face-up bidding system that permits coded communication with the other players, only one of which will be your partner! If that sort of feature list gets your blood boiling, then this is the game for you. Hans was absolutely right when he commented on the head-scratching depth of strategy required to play this game well--and it all comes from a small rulebook and pack of cards. The point was made in contrast to the previous session's Hannibal, which had a good chunk o' strategy but also had a much longer rulebook and extensive game equipment (map, counters, cards). His statement got me thinking about why I liked that game better, the one that is less "efficient" per that analysis (more stuff needed to produce the same level of gameplay). The answer, of course, is the classic difference between abstract games and simulations. Mu, for all its depth and subtlety, is not "about" anything. It's just a great card game. Hannibal involves the gamers in the story of the 2nd Punic War. I suppose such a game may be thought of as having more "payoff" than just the strategic challenge--the simulation/story is worthwhile, too, and evens the scales on that efficiency calculation for the game. Except that I don't really think in such terms for games. It is true that games that have a full story (as all simulations do, even the ones of fictional events like science fiction) possess an important quality for me that makes hexmaps and fiddly rules acceptable (to some degree). My appreciation for abstact games is much greater than it was a year ago, but they need to be really good ones. Back to Mu, then, it *is* such a game, and I'd certainly play it again.
I guess some of my opinions for Kuhhandel are up there in the game account. Well, I've been enjoying just about every bidding game I come across (to my continued surprise), but this one gives me some trouble. I know I'd enjoy it even more if I was better at it, but the game has a longer learning curve for me than Medici or The Last Paradise (let's play that again!) did. Maybe Sterling and Hans can shed some light on their tactics for playing that game well.

July 9, 1997
Who was there: Mark, Charles, Hank, Mike, Hans, Arlette, Sterling, Doug, Dave, Colin, and newcomer Magic! (only his Mother calls him Matt :) Wow, is that a record?!
What we played: Hannibal Rome vs. Carthage, Across Five Aprils, Castle of Magic, Acquire, and Corporate Shuffle
Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage [Charles, Avalon Hill]--Charles and I read the rules, along with some of the errata and some strategy advice from The General and the net, but it was a first time play for both of us. I took the Carthaginians, losing on the 7th or 8th turn after about 3.5 hours.
My opening hand on the first turn contained Adriatic Pirates, and I jumped at the chance, perhaps a foolhardy move. Hannibal landed on the Italian peninsula with just three CUs (two elephants, though) and harassed the Romans for a bit. Even though I was outnumbered and made lousy progress flipping PCs, I was a real thorn in Rome's side. The battles were a lot of fun against those Roman generals with only a 1 battle rating! :-)
A few turns later Rome had built up a sizeable army and had a better General to run it. At that point Hannibal shot up the peninsula and started winning allies in the northern Italian provinces. Eventually he was chased back over the Alps, but there was Hasdrubal with 10 CUs of reinforcements, marched up from Spain. Back over the Alps goes a refreshed Hannibal (with Native Guide), and starts kicking more Roman butt.
Until turn 6 that is, which Scipio Africanus shows up. I desparately wanted to take him on in a square fight, but the Roman player did a good job tying me up with lesser armies and generals, which I beat but slowed my progress and caused attrition. When Scipio finally presented himself, I had to get Hannibal out of there.
Perhaps I could have made an organized withdrawal to my power base in Spain (Africa was still unchallenged), but I instead took the opportunity of good sea control (Phillip V and Year of Carthaginian Naval Victory) to quickly move the large armies from Gaul down to Sicilia. Again Rome was frustrated, marching armies once more up and down Italy (why didn't he use his Navy?). Scipio moved first, so I took a gamble, transporting Hannibal and his army by sea to Italy again (thanks, Mago!). The only friendly marker was the blue tribe, but I hoped to face Scipio one-on-one. It was not to be. The Roman player used a Force March to zip ProConsul Marcellus down as another screening force. Here I made a big mistake. With a bad hand of Battle Cards, I should have taken the loss in battle, retreating to my friendly tribe. Instead, I took the initiative and chose to Withdraw there, allowing Marcellus (with one move remaining) to pursue me there and join battle again. I lost that battle, but this time had nowhere to run to, my back to the hostile sea. Drat!
Boy, I sure second-guessed myself about Hannibal that night and the following morning. Now I think a much better opening would have been to go ahead and use those first turn Adriatic Pirates to get Hannibal and 3 CUs on the Italian peninsula, but leave Mago behind to gather up some badly needed reinforcements from Spain and maybe Africa. Then he stands a decent chance of shipping them over to Hannibal (a -3 mod from New Carthage to Italy, even without any special events). That and use most of my 3 cards during the opening few turns just building Hannibal's Italian army, with 1 cards to move him and convert PCs. Unless Rome draws Marcellus really early, I think Hannibal can defend himself that way and keep Rome on defense. Next time! :-)
Across Five Aprils [Hank, Victory Games]--Hank and Mike played the First Bull Run scenario (we're playing progressively larger ones at TVB and they've all fit comfortably). Hank took the Union, Mike the rebs. Hank reports, "Scenario summary: There are three objective hexes: a stone bridge that crosses Bull Run, and two spots of high ground a bit south of Bull run. The Rebs start inconrtol of all three, and the bluebellies have to take and hold at least one. If the Rebs hold all three at the end of the scenario, they win, otherwise they lose.
"What happened: The chit pulls went my way early, so I was able to push one division across Bull Run and take the stone bridge hex. I then parked them on the bridge and a small hil next to it and let him come to me. The other prong of my attack went for the hill hexes and ended up running away."
"The game ended with me (barely) holding the bridge for a Marginal Union victory. If the game had gone on for one more turn, I might have been in trouble. I took 10 step losses to Mike's 4; IIRC, that was quite a bit bloodier than the historical result, where the casualties were comparable. I must stress the "marginal" part of the Union victory."
Castle of Magic [Doug, ???]--Doug, Sterling, Hans, Arlette, Dave, and Colin finally gave this one a go (it had been on Doug's playlist for some time). Colin was the only one who'd actually played it before, I think. The first account is from the game's owner, Doug: "We played the basic game (without the 'Castle Cursed' expansion) but with all the advanced wizard characters."
"Sterling actually did win, due to the fact that Arlette got eaten by the monster. Hans and I tied for second, and I missed getting a win by losing points due to Arlette getting eaten as I was her ally."
"There are so many die rolls in this game that it didn't really matter. Colin had a good run of rolls at the beginning but after I swapped his die for a different one he cooled off. Only a little whining from me. 8-)"
We also have a report from Dave, too: "I don't remember who won, but I'm pretty sure I came in dead last with an impressive score of -10,000 points. The consensus seems to be that this is an interesting game, with some cool mechanics for hidden information (i.e. you don't know a lot of things, like what each player's victory conditions are, what end-game conditions cause what effects, or what artifacts rule which countries) that you have to discover in the course of playing. Clearly the use of diplomacy can have a huge impact on the length and style of play, but we used none: each of us just raced each other to bring about the end-game condition most favorable to us. The game took about 2.5 hours, including teaching the rules."
Acquire [Hank, Avalon Hill]--Hank reports "Hans, Mike and I played Acquire after we boxed A5A. After a lot of chains started, everybody was broke for quite a while. Hans and Mike got in on the first merger or two, I finally got in on Luxor eating Tower. As the game drew to a close, there were two biggies, Worldwide and Luxor -- both in the 31-40 range -- and a ten-tile Festival. I held the majority in Luxor, so imagine my delight when Luxor ate Festival to end the game. After the dust settled, I won with ~$45k, Hans had ~$43k, and Mike had ~$42k. It was the closest game I have played in."
Corporate Shuffle [Sterling, WOTC]--The group from Castle of Magic gained one player (newcomer Magic) and lost another (Hans, to Hank's Acquire game). Doug says "Think of this one as Dalmuti with a hefty license fee for Scott Adams. What's to say? I got really beat up, but since this is a game that doesn't really need to be scored it didn't matter much. I don't recall who had the most points (possibly Arlette.)"
[I noticed the game actually says something like "a Dalmuti game" across the bottom of the box. -MJ]
Here's Dave's account: "It's a somewhat-amusing game based almost entirely on Great Dalmuti, with a tiny bit of Dilbert-esque 'chrome.' Each hand plays very fast (maybe 5 minutes), and you score each hand and quit when you feel like quitting, so playing time can shrink or grow as needed. We played about 1.5 hours, which was enough to convince me that I don't really need to buy it."
Opinions: Well, for the third session in a row I only played a single game, but it was a good one. Sure, I screwed up in the beginning, lost in the end, and had my nose in the rulebook more than expected, but this one is outstanding. I definitely want to try this again and again, though of course I want to try its predecessor, We The People, which Charles also owns! Heck, there are tons of games I want to try, so realistically I won't be getting back into this for a while, but it's only a matter of "when," not "if." :-) Perhaps I'm a soft sell, but the buzz about this game as a positive new direction for wargames rang true with me (there may be a mixed metaphor hiding in that sentence!). This was most definitely a wargame, despite the lack of hexes, combat odds, or movement points. This is a strategic scale game, where abstractions of military details are more easily accepted. I wonder how such an innovative approach could be taken with a tactical scale conflict. I'm sure it's possible, but don't think you can get there by tweaking the WtP/Hannibal system. Up Front is perhaps an example of this, but there are no doubt other ways. (I enjoy Up Front, too, but still think it needs another generation of design evolution.)

June 25, 1997
Who was there: Doug, Dave, Mark, Hans, Arlette, Paul, Charles, Hank, Colin, James, Angela, and Mike (for a little while) Wow! Big turnout! We just need Sterling and Randy to come back! We may need to speak with Kerry about the chair situation...
What we played: Twilight Imperium, Across Five Aprils, Battletech, Settlers of Catan
Twilight Imperium [Doug, Fantasy Flight]--This was our biggie, with a full set of six players: myself, Doug, Dave, Hans, Arlette, and Paul. It certainly was odd for this competitively priced game of star empires with quality components (e.g., Settlers-like thick hex tiles) to show up from out of nowhere, along with an expansion, while the gaming community was waiting on TimJim/Prism's Throneworld. Doug now owns both, so we're able to do a "compare and contrast." My high school english teacher would be proud. Well, we can't do that yet, since we've only played the first one. We didn't expect to finish the game, and in fact we didn't get very close, though we did play enough turns to certainly get a feel for the game. There are a variety of reviews popping up on the net you can check out.
Like Settlers, the game sets up with a sort of circular arrangement of hexes, the players evenly distributed about the periumeter. Dave and I had conspicuously open space between us, with just a few planets to fight over. That's what we did (with me losing terribly), when in fact I should have been negotiating an alliance. Arlette's warmongering race was on Dave's flank, but her other side was practically a wall of asteroid fields and supernovae (at first I thought that an impediment to expansion, but it sure helped her defense from Hans--his, too). Hans had more of a moneygrubbing civilization (Ferengi? sp?), and was raking it in for some time. Next to him was Paul, though, who later secured a truce with neighboring Doug and was ready to go to war with Hans when we ran out of time. Doug might have devoured *me* but for a supernova in the way (so Dave beat him to it). We finally called the game on time, awarding victory to whoever had the greatest total of power and influence points (from their planetary holdings). Gee, now I've forgotten but I think it was a tie between Hans and Arlette. Suspicious... :-)
Oh, I took a few photos of this game, though next time I'll be sure to ask that everyone look up first. As it is you see the backs of several heads!
Across Five Aprils [Hank, Victory Games]--Charles and Hank were prepared for this wargame (had previously read up on the rules), and launched right in. I've got some photos of this game, including one semi-closeup. Charles wrote, "Hank and I played the "Bentonville" game of A5A. I took the Union and had to defend some strategic points. I was able to fall back while waiting for my reinforcements to show up. Hank made a few good attacks that were usually draws which is how the game ended in a draw with both of us having lost 4 steps in all the battles."
Battletech [Colin, FASA]--Once again James and Colin clashed with giant fighting robot tanks, but this time I don't know what happened at all. I could go waaaay out on a limb and guess that Colin won, couldn't I? :-) I've got one photo of this game (mostly the two guys playing).
Settlers of Catan [Mayfair, Hank]--Angela showed up later, and was able to join Charles and Hank after they finished A5A for a 3-player game of Settlers. Charles wrote, "I started out well getting the longest road bonus, but it was not enough as Angela must have "horse whipped" her miners in the quarry to give her enough stone to win the game."
Opinions: Well, I only played one game, TI, and despite doing terrible (no fault of the dice, either), I quite enjoyed it. Everyone else seems more interested in Throneworld, which I also want to try, but I think TI may work out better for TVB, especially with fewer players (more elbow room, just like a 3-player Settlers game is opened up). Even so, the game certainly cries out for some tweaking. Some of it is pretty minor stuff, but by the time you're fiddling with victory conditions, it's pretty clear the game didn't undergo all the development it needed. I'm simply charmed enough by what I've seen so far to be willing to finish that development myself! :-) For example, by starting with fewer players, making some adjustments to the starting hextile mix (mostly omitting the blanks), and devising easier victory conditions that make the game as much a race as a bloodbath, I think this has the potential to be a fine 4 player, 3-4 hour game.

June 11, 1997
Who was there: Randy, Charles, Hank, Mark, Doug, Colin, James, and newcomer Dave!
What we played: Battletech, Space Empires, En Garde
Battletech [Colin, FASA]--At least I think this is Colin's game. Could be James', his opponent, I suppose. Colin wrote up a little report for what happened, which I cannot locate right now. Drat! Hopefully it's in my car or game box from that night. All I really remember is that Colin won. Like he does for Car Wars, I noted Colin has a binder full of mech designs, all in clear plastic slipsheets. This edition of Battletech is newer than the one I remember, and replaces the plastic fighting robot figures with color cardboard standup counters. They looked nice enough to me. I know the rulebook was given a graphic and editorial update, similar to the iterations Car Wars and SFB have undergone. (Fortunately, Battletech doesn't have a reputation for increased complexity over time the way those other games do.) Each side commanded at least two mechs, and they finished well before the other game, so it must play reasonably quickly. Hmm, I suddenly recall that Colin managed to kill the opposing pilots rather than have to completely destroy their mechs. Seems strangely like his Car Wars winning strategy...
Space Empires [Mark, Mayfair]--This is an early game from Mayfair, a little ziplock microgame that is a simple representation of a dozen alien spacefaring races going to war. Nothing like a detailed empire management game, each race only has a single type of unit, their starship. All have slightly different combat strength, movement, and a special ability. They're also designated by a single letter, and move & fight alphabetically (which helps to balance their powers). The task is to take your two starting alien races to expand out and control a total of seven races. Destroying any ships defending the homeworld is all it takes to conquer a race, which grants the victor the ability to now build *those* ships, and so on...
Not many micros can accommodate six players! This one does, though that clearly stretched the game to the limit. To win, some players will probably have to be knocked out of the game. That's what happened to me, quite early, leaving me a spectator much of the rest of the night. Randy's juggernaut "W" ships devoured my multiplying race, then took some time building up a defensive fleet. Charles' powerful Borg-like "B" ships were sweeping the sector until he left his homeworld undefended, forgetting how quickly Dave's wimpy "D" ships could warp almost anywhere. However, it was actually Doug who zipped in for the kill, giving himself the muscle to eventually win the game. (Close enough anyway: instead of holding seven homeworlds for two turns, we settled for six homeworlds for an instant!)
En Garde [Mark, Abacus]--In between getting knocked out of Space Empires and getting back in to play on Randy's behalf, I squeezed in one game (five touches) of this fencing card game with Hank (who was not out of Space Empires then, but almost.) This went quickly, and I won 5-0. To play the game well you need to do some minimal card counting, so perhaps asking Hank to play two games at once wasn't fair!
Opinions: I've since played Space Empires one more time, though there were only three players then. I think that smaller number works much better, since it leaves a good number of worthwhile neutral homeworlds to take over, acquiring that race's abilities and edging closer to victory. The difference is that a neutral is defended by a single inactive garrison ship, and of course doesn't require knocking a player out of the game. Even with that improvement, though, I'm not so enamored with the game. A friend in that other game nailed it right on the head when he remarked that this was really more of an abstract game of oneupsmanship, hardly feeling like a science fiction battle between alien races at all. Of course, the lack of politics, economics, and different ship types (within one race) is also what keeps the game as small and manageable as it is. But as we saw, with a large number of players can stagnate, as the game almost starts in some sort of equilibrium state, and the only reason to wage war is a "best defense is a good offense" mentality. Still, this was one I'd been eager to try for a long time, so I'm glad we gave it a go.
Being a two-player game, En Garde isn't always the best for a TVB session. It's so short and small, however, that it's a superb filler game. I need to try this with more of you. It appears to be quite abstract in the beginning, and I'm not denying that it's no real fencing simulation. But before long you see that the strategy of card play isn't so different from the strategy of advances, lunges, parries, and so forth. Which, of course, is the designer's whole idea.
Bonus section! Aldercon: Not really a convention, more like a collection of gamers for a weekend of open gaming, hosted and organized by Bill Alderman, formerly of TVB. :-) Though I'd intended to go on Saturday for a longer time, those plans changed and I attended on Friday night. It opened a little late, so I got to meet Charles in the parking lot and one other local gamer (Rodney?). From that we discovered a group rather similar to TVB meets every Friday night at the Match Play game establishment in Mt. View. I think one-night admission is a modest $3 or something, and they play from about 7-midnight or as late at 2am. When Bill arrived and the doors opened, we met a few more people, including a couple I'd only known via the net: Chester Hendrix and Rich Irving. Chester, who's designed some gamekits, the Bastogne or Bust wargame, and an S&T issue game, wanted to show us his latest idea, a military dice game. With a full table of people it was taking longer than he'd promised, and a few were grumbling (in a polite way!). Though not having the time of my life, I thought he had a good concept that just needed some more development. Bill showed some "tough love" and told Chester we'd had enough, time to try something else. :-)
At that point we had enough people for a few games, so a few groups formed. Charles joined a WizWar game with as many as six people (right?). Colin & James were about, though I don't know what they ended up doing (maybe James was in WizWar, too). I saw Dune in Bill's stack of games, and very much wanted to try that recommended game. We only had four players, unfortunately, but gave it a go anyway. Rich Irving knew the rules, Chester had played years ago, while Bill and I were newbies. We played the Bene Gesserit, Guild, Fremen, and Harkonnen, respectively (pardon spelling errors--I never got through the book!). I made not one but two completely bonehead plays early on that practically crippled me, I think, but chalked that up to inexperience (being generous to myself). I thought this was a long game, and perhaps it is with a full table of six playing competently. As it was, however, at the first opportunity Chester's spice-rich Guild and Bill's formidable Fremen formed a formal alliance, giving Rich and I just one turn to displace them from victory. We didn't make it, though came close. I don't suppose that odd game really showed me how it usually plays, but I saw enough to see its appeal. Even if you don't care for or about the novel, the game is very good, with lots of interesting mechanics. The leader+army abstract combat system really stands out in my mind as being well designed. Does anyone who regularly attends TVB have this game?
Now with about two hours left before most of us wanted to leave, and seven players milling about, we tried to think of a good game. Guess what we ended up with? Ben Hvrt!! And to my surprise several people had heard of it, one even owned it, and there was definite interest. Songofagun!! Anyway, this time I decided to leave my game tinkering by the wayside, and try to play the game straight. Our intent was to run three 3-lap races, but we only managed two in that amount of time. With that many players, the card auction really takes some time. I took pains to make clear to everyone before the game that chariot movement was entirely random except for shrewd play of the few cards we each had. I think that helped. In any case, the first race was run, I came in second, and once again Ben Hvrt's economic problem surfaced: the winner of the first race makes so much money that he can dominate the subsequent card auctions, which help him win again. Well, that's partially true. To help diminish that I entered a bidding war with that other player during the second auction, eventually dumping all of my money into the pot and still losing the card. But it cost him dearly, and now he *had* to win the race to recover his money. Had I done this early in the auction, that might have left him with less cash than the other players for the rest of the cards, but as it was I did it toward the end. Oops. It hardly mattered, though, as he developed a nasty case of "leaderitis," causing the other six players to dump on him throughout the race--he finished dead last. I snuck in at third, but no doubt lost much money on that race.
From that experience I now think the most enjoyable way to play Ben Hvrt is to keep the card auction, but don't use money to decide the winner. Instead, just run a single race and get the winner from the finish line. I'd choose a 6-lap race, which puts lots of cards into the game and lets the randomness of die rolls even out a bit (and the actual racing never takes as long as the auction). Money means nothing after the race starts, so the idea is to use all of it during the auction to get more than your fair share of cards through clever bidding.

May 27, 1997
Who was there: Hank, Charles, Mark, Paul, Hans, Arlette, Randy, Sterling, Doug, and newcomer Mike! (Been a while since we've had a newcomer!)
What we played: Family Business, 1830, Star Traders, Quirks
Family Business [Sterling, Mayfair]--Early birds Sterling, Randy, and Mike kicked off the night with this game. Don't know a thing about what happened, so someone fill me in, please!
1830 [Hank, Avalon Hill]--Hank got to break in his new acquisition from the net with Paul, Charles, Hans, and myself. Paul and Hans are experienced with this complex game, Charles had played the computer version a few times, Hank had merely read the rules, and I had...well...heard of it. :-) I don't know about the other newbies, but I was barely hanging on during the rules explanation (no slam on Paul!), but picked up the play as we went. I still had no idea as to any real strategy, but the pros were pretty helpful with advice. Hank started with the B&O, Hans went out west, Paul grabbed...uh-oh, memory failing. In any case, Hans did his thing, Paul did his, leaving the three newbies on the dense east coast. Hank made a mistake that allowed me to go in to New York *and* keep him out. Without that, I would've come in dead last, I'm sure. I bet Hank will never do that again. As it was, Paul won, while I just edged out Hans for second. By the way, we didn't quite finish the game, but came darn close, calling it on time probably about one more stock+3 operating rounds before it would have naturally ended. That was surprisingly good, taking just four hours to play the game including instruction.
The rest of the night's report comes from Doug:
Star Traders [Doug, Steve Jackson Gmes]--When I walked in Randy, Arlette, Sterling and Mike were setting up Drunter and Druber but it only plays four so they shelved it in favor of my copy of SJ's Star Traders. This is a slightly silly game of carrying cargo, with the object being to amass enough cash and prestige to petition the Emperor for an Imperial Mission, the completion of which wins the game. It had been a while since I'd played it so after a quick perusal of the rules we got it set up (mostly correctly) and off we went.
Randy started with the nice "Navigator" card which allowed him to make all jumps at one difficulty less than printed (jumps are difficulty 1-6, based upon distance). He used this ability to good effect throughout the game often taking the longer route of short jumps at assured success. Sterling's "Hero" didn't help him that much (gets one extra prestige per delivery in addition to the 1-4 normally awarded based upon distance) and newcomer Mike chose the "Engineer" which allowed him to add extra engines (for more moves per turn) at half price. Arlette really did well with "Lucky Lou", a card which allows additional luck card draws, often allowing her to mess with the rest of our plans. I went last and chose badly, taking the "Insider" which only gives three additional bases at start. Play was pretty regular, and after about an hour Randy petitioned first, quickly followed by Mike, Sterling and finally Arlette. I only got enough prestige to petition once, and it failed badly knocking me so far down I never recovered. The race to complete the Imperial missions was nip and tuck but Mike edged out the others using his superior mobility.
Quirks [Doug, Eon]--Randy was about done in by this time so we went for the short four player Quirks. A truly goofy game, you attempt to get your mutant creations into the top of the three ecological niches: plant, herbivore, and carnivore. Your choice of nice to play in is by random draw, which allows you to either mutate your critter if you are already in either the top or bottom spot, or challenge an existing creature in that niche to move up and replace it. Along the way the climate changes so the plant eating "Gn-ar-oon", so hardy in the jungle, is quickly overcome when the deluge turns the world to ocean. I can't remember too much of the actual play but we all had a good time trying to pronouce the names of the various creatures. I got really lucky and captured the top plant and herbivore niches, and a few turns later got a couple of runs at the carnivore niche allowing my Vulture prairie dog to overcome the prehensiled tailed seal flippered thing that Sterling was trying to fob off as being a Jungle dweller. Victory was mine, at least until the next asteroid strike.
[Now back to Mark again...]
Opinions: Wow, what a session. I've wanted to play Star Traders, Quirks, and 1830 for a long time. I chose the classic (wasn't sure when I'd get another chance). Boy, there's a lot of depth there. The individual game mechanics really aren't complicated at all, but the sum total of them is a lot to absorb. Certainly the strategy takes a lot of thought and subtlety, and would take me several plays to gain a level of comfort with the game.

May 14, 1997
Who was there: Hank, Charles, Mark, Randy, Paul, Arlette, Doug, and Sterling
What we played: Arab-Israeli Wars, Air Baron, Wiz War, Panzer Leader, Express, Ali Baba
Arab-Israeli Wars [AH, Hank]--Hank's report: "Charles' Egyptians crush Hank's Israelis. Israeli player made the mistake of standing to fight when he could have ran and then ran as Charles picked off enough units to win handily." Uh, the "ran and ran" part sort of confuses me, but I think I get the drift. Besides, I like seeing at least some wargames being played at TVB! This was a pretty small, one or two board scenario. Looked like less than a dozen units per side.
Air Baron [AH, Mark]--Hank and Arlette rolled in just in time to join Paul and I for another round of this great game. Well, we couldn't have really played without them, not with just two, but maybe we could've brainwashed Randy into trying! Luckily, that wasn't the case, and we had our own brainwashed gamer, Arlette, still recovering from oral surgery earlier in the week! Couldn't have shaken her up too bad, though, since she managed to win. We were playing the 4-player West setup, and she took Houston-Atlanta-Dallas(?). Our first time playing with the advanced game, it definitely added some spice and a little length (mostly in the form of expensive fuel hikes, which drag everyone down). I had a bucket of cash to ride out both fuel hikes, saw nearby Hans crumble before my eyes, and still couldn't capitalize on that position. Grrr... A few more like this and I'll become a classic dice-whiner like some other gamers who shall remain nameless... :-)
Wiz War [Chessex, Randy]--Doug and Sterling showed up a bit later, giving Randy a chance to use his nice Chessex edition of this beer & pretzels classic. A three-player board is a little odd, L-shaped. I guess the wraparound-arc-thingie evens things out a bit, but I'm still not sure the middle position is as good as the ends. Perhaps the players can offer some opinion. I don't know who won, though I think Sterling. At least I think Sterling managed to do Doug in, judging from their discussion about interpretation of a particular card. Now I also recall hearing that Doug and Randy both started with no number cards, unlike Sterling, which would certainly skew the early game. Ah well, cruel fate can take form in shuffled decks as well as the roll of fare ware attack dice!
Panzer Leader [AH, Hank]--Again Hank provided me with an after action report: "Hank's Germans and Charles' Americans butt heads at Artain. Both sides took heavy losses initially and then the game bogged down. The crews of Charles' heavy tanks spent the game cowering while the American infantry slogged across the river on a flanking move that took just long enough to develop for time to run out." This time I saw more units on the board, all concentrated in a tight area around this city on the river. I think I heard this is a small part of the famous Battle of the Bulge.
Express [Mayfair, Hans & Arlette]--The Air Baron crowd took up a very different game, this train-based card game. I played this years ago at a con, and thought it was just a rummy game with cards. Either I'm remembering it wrong, or that time I played a simple version of Express. The actual game certainly has rummy-like melding, but also some interesting train tie-ins, like the namesake express train, and some decent mechanics, notably passing cards to your partner, and Mille Bornes-like hazards and remedies. Paul taught us the rules, then teamed up with Hans. Arlette and I opposed. There were the usual misunderstandings and poor plays of a first game (at least on my part, I know), but it worked okay. I remember I ended the game by "going out," but cannot recall what the final score was, or who won.
Ali Baba [Abacus, Doug]--This one was played a few sessions' back, too. As the large wooden token Ali Baba makes his way around the game track (by card play of the players, so not random, though not with complete control, either), players hire a variety of bandits, represented by cards. Before long, Ali Baba starts landing on spaces where those bandits may get caught, according to a die roll and separated by color into risk/return groups. Eventually Ali Baba makes it all the way around the board, and everyone totals their money in hand as well as what their thieves are worth (and important bonuses if you have Monopoly-style sets). Along the way there are just a few opportunities to freely trade with other players, where everyone tries to complete sets and unload needless risks. I was looking good up until one or two turns before the end, when a red thief die roll obliterated my chances. Sterling was the big winner, as I recall.
Opinions: Though I only half-heartedly spectated during my other games, the two tank wargames seemed downright approachable. Of course, I note that they were playing a pretty small scenario, and it helps that one or both of the players had the die roll modifiers and other special rules seemingly memorized. Not too many times did I see a nose stuck in the rulebook. Well, I guess I'm just a pushover for wargames, especially all the old classics I missed. Someday someone's going to have to teach me Afrika Korps!
Air Baron and Settlers must be our group's big hits. Sort of a collective favorite, if maybe not anyone's top game on a personal list. I'd only tried the advanced rules once before, in a lunchtime game that really didn't have the time for it. As I expected, these do make the game longer, but perhaps not so much. I don't think they add much simulation to the game (which is hardly a simulation anyway), but they do add some nice chrome. With experienced players, the basic game takes not much more than an hour, so if the advanced game only increases that to 90 minutes I guess I like it. We'll have to try it again with these rules next time.
Express just wasn't for me. I recall Hans commenting that this was a better train card game than Freight Train (also published by Mayfair, now ICE). I had the opposite opinion, however. Oh, for all I know Express is better as a *game*, in terms of mechanics, play, etc. But it doesn't feel much like trains to me. Freight Train does, for reasons I'm not sure I understand. It's veneer of train theme is also pretty thin, being basically a stack management exercise computer scientists would love (or hate), but it's got *just* enough style to win me over. Clearly, different strokes for different folks.
What can I say about Ali Baba? What *nice things* can I say about Ali Baba? :-) No, that's not fair, as I had a good time, as did everyone else playing. Lots of laughter, cheering, and so on. Any game that has that going for it deserves some praise, and maybe a replay. Certainly those matrixed thief die rolls are dramatic. I guess I was just put off by my complete fall out of the running by a single endgame die roll. On the other hand, this might be a great game to play with nongamers like kids, some spouses, and other friends.

April 30, 1997
Who was there: Charles, Hank, Angela, Doug, Sterling, Randy, Mark (low turnout this time--what happened?)
What we played: Ali Baba, Assassin, Air Duel, Quebec 1759
Ali Baba [Doug, Abacus]--Everyone but me was there to play this first game. Doug tells the tale, "Randy won, edging me out by 25 pisasters. Angela was the only unfortunate to actually go bankrupt. The game was slightly spoiled by my poor shuffle on the first round resulting in far too many sets being made, but the large number of arrests happening against those sets more than made up for any gains the receiving players might have had."
"I made a diplomatic error by declaring that I was the only player above the starting 2500 piasters during the midgame accounting. Randy assures me that he will make sure I rue that remark for a some time."
Assassin [Charles, AH]--The same gang was starting up this game when I finally showed up. Doug bailed out to play something with me. Charles reported: "The game went well with everyone able to travel around Europe with the usual difficulties. Hank was making great use of the hazard cards such as breaking down other players cars, derailing their trains or a simple snow storm. Randy had particular difficulty leaving Warsaw with numerous snow storms and a train derailment. Angela did the best by being able to travel to 8 cities before the game ended. I used an espionage agent to look at Angela's cards since she seemed particularly eagar to get to London where I was. She in fact did have the Assassin card. I was able to get out of London just as she arrived. Eventually it was Sterling who made the only hit against me in Warsaw. Fortunately I was able to counter with an Interpol Agent card. The winner was Angela with not only the most cities traveled to but also the farthest distance from Sterling who was holding the Assassin card at games end. 1st:Angela 2nd:Randy 3rd:Hank 4th:Sterling 5th:Moi"
Aside: Oh yeah, Sterling claims to have never won a game after his first night with TVB, when he cleaned up. Just wants to get all the bragging rights he's entitled to for that. And Doug brought up the injustices I've laid down in these reports about his poor performance in the past, truthful and otherwise. You'll see that the rest of the evening's events should help his ego at the expense of mine! :-)
Air Duel [Mark, OSS]--Doug and I did a playtest run of this jetfighter combat game. Obviously, I'm not supposed to say much about the game yet, but those that were there saw it. I can report that Doug blew me out of the sky handily, I played very predictably in an effort to regain energy lost from an early Immelman, while he cooly lined me up and gunned me down with cannon! Oof!
Quebec 1759 [Doug, Columbia]--Actually the publisher went by a different name back then--Doug will have to remind me. He took the defending French (& Indians), I the marauding British in my first foray into block wargaming. This is simplest, quickest, and/or smallest of them, and uses area movement instead of hexes. The more numerous French must defend against the stronger British forces, which start the game across the St. Lawrence River. Though only one area counts for victory, the French would be foolish to concentrate all defenses there. That's because geography works in their favor--the British can only shuttle four (or maybe just two!) units across the water per turn, and the victory city cannot be assault from a beachhead anyway. So it takes the Brits some time to deploy their forces, and that's the French opportunity to harass and weaken the initial armies that cross the river. Doug explained that there really are just two basic British strategies--cross the river immediately, assembling the British monolith on the opposite shore, and march toward the final battle, juggernaut-style. The other is a slower deployment upriver, which partially reduces French supply (in an simple, abstract way), and may spread the French out thinner, though they do have more time. I tried a foolish half-n-half strategy, and the victim of a divide and conquer in reverse! Doug bit his tongue, but I squeezed the post-game comment out of him that his son did better than I on his first try! Did I mention Doug's son is 6 years old or something? Hmm... :-) Next time!!
Opinions: Until I hear from everyone else, this will be tiny. I only played two games, and cannot publicly comment on one of them. Quebec 1759 was enjoyable, to be sure, and quick enough to try again and again. I'd really like to try a larger block game, too, as this one has more of a chess-like feel to it, between the area movement and limited destinations. I've read comments on the net that some people don't care for dice vs. dice games, such as this one, War At Sea, and AH's Smithsonian series. I quite like dueling dice, in moderate doses. Meaning, if the more traditional single throw of the dice plus lookup table (CRT) would make a game appreciably shorter & quicker, then I'd prefer that, but otherwise give me the "tactile joy" of pitching dice! Only thing more fun would be specialty dice with a cannon on one side intead of just looking for sixes. (For my roleplaying group I'm already doing that, sanding off the images from poker dice, which are cheap at $1 for five.)
Doug adds "Getting the odds right would be tricky using such a coarse statistical table as is traditionally used with CRTs, especially with the three column battle format this game uses (you would have to resolve each as a seperate roll, at least). It's also worthy of note that there can be at most 31 separate battles in this game, with the mean probably being more like six or seven. If each battle lasts three rounds or so that's only 18 to 21 die rolls per side (if you have enough dice on hand to represent each pip in the battle.)"
Besides that, the wooden block mechanics are simply great, elegance in game design. Limited intelligence and easy multiple step losses, plus simple infantry formations, all of which become intuitive on the first try. (Though that reminds me that some special rules and units for artillery would be great.)

April 16, 1997
Who was there: Hans, Arlette, Randy, Charles, Hank, Angela, Paul, Mark, and Sterling.
What we played: Acquire, Gangsters, Power Lunch, Settlers of Catan, and Mustangs
ACQUIRE [Hank, Avalon Hill]--Yes, I was the one who said I couldn't figure out how to enjoy this game, but now that I've played a bit with a small computer version, I was ready to play. Randy, Hank, and Sterling were old hands at this classic game, while Angela was more of a newcomer than I! I thought I was doing well, but ended up in the middle of the pack (at best). Meanwhile Randy looked like there was nothing going right for him, but his mergers for other people also served to grow his majority-held Festival to a 40+ chain monstrosity. At the closing bell, it was enough to win him the games by a comfortable margin.
GANGSTERS [Charles, Avalon Hill]--Paul, Charles, Hank and Arlette played this one all night. Charles writes, "The heads of the 4 families (Paul, Arlette, Hans, Charles) decided to battle over the control of the racketeering, prostitution and gambling of Chicago. The winner is the first one to control any 10 joints, all joints of 1 color or the first one to $10K dollars in cash.
"The game went on longer than I had anticipated. If there is a lot of gang violence, the game can drag on for a very long time. We agreed to 1 final round at 11pm when my thug was able to rough up some people for money and entice the best public into one of my joints to finally get me over $10K in cash. Hans was coming close with a joint victory with 8 joints owned. Paul had a very powerful racketeer and thug. Arlette's racketeer was spending a lot of time with the vamps of Hans and Paul much to the chagrin of Arlette. In hindsite it would have been better to use the alternate victory condition of playing to a certain time limit and then the winner is the one with the most cash totaled with the value of their joints."
POWER LUNCH [Sterling, Mayfair]--The same gang that finished Acquire shifted over to this odd little game. It's a five-suited rummy game, with the interesting tweaks that your melds must be placed onto dining tables on the simple board depicting a restaurant, and there are anywhere from 3-7 seats around them. The real hook of the game are the political and media celebrities on the cards, who can also be placed as melds if you devise a sufficient reason for them to be having lunch together. Everyone votes on that, and the meld is picked back up if not found worthy! Though it was always a better play for me to use the standard rummy plays, I was dying to place my George Lucas and Mikhail Gorbachev with someone's Ronald Reagan to discuss copyright infringement of Star Wars! I ended up winning, largely by going out first and therefore avoiding being stuck with a scandal card in hand.
SETTLERS OF CATAN [Hank, Mayfair]--Randy took off, leaving four players left for this modern classic. I went first, securing a near-monopoly on stone, making me a frequent target of the robber. But Hank did something similar, scoring lots of wheat and quickly building to a wheat port. Sterling and Angela had more balanced strategies, but Hank and I were in position to turbo-charge the game. That's what happened, with me building cities quickly, but not fast enough to beat Hank's multiple settlements and Longest Road.
MUSTANGS [Mark, Avalon Hill]--The Gangsters game was still going, and Hank & Angela left, leaving just Sterling and myself. The best two-player game I had with me was this introductory wargame about WW2 dogfighting. Of course, and introductory wargame still tends to be more involved and slower-playing than most any general boardgame, but it went okay. We played just the basic rules, pairing up a two-plane element of P-51's (late model, D perhaps) flown by Sterling versus my element of ME-109s. I don't recall which model I picked, but it was an odd one, having massive armament but sluggish performance (perhaps this was a tankbuster version, but it worked okay against American planes!). The planes were picked for similar ratings in the rules, hopefully giving us a fair fight. The planes strengths & weaknesses played out as expected, with Sterling finding it easy to turn onto my tail, but then struggling to score many hits. I was forced to play more of a vertical game, diving for speed and half-looping to get a frontal shot (though the game thankfully has a very simple 3D element, rather like the old Richtofen's War, with much better maneuvering rules). We each managed to shoot down one of our opponent's planes, and called the game after the standard 8 turns. The remaining planes were each damaged, but mine had taken more hits and wouldn't been shot down in a few more turns.
Opinions: Interesting to play Acquire and Freight Train in the same day (the latter at lunch). I guess not everybody agrees with me, but I see a definite similarity between the two games: the struggle for first or second place, reacting to other players' acquisitions, random appearance of game pieces but you can see what's coming, etc. Of the two, Freight Train definitely has more flavor to it, which I enjoy. Of course, knowing how to play Acquire is like having seen the film Casablanca--you need to experience those classics just to learn the basic history and vocabulary of this type of entertainment! I enjoyed it, and will play it again, on the computer or in person, but it won't ever be one of my personal classics, I suppose.
Power Lunch is just okay as a rummy game (which I'm not especially fond of anyway). Better to do away with the number and suit designations, just make it a party game where everyone must decide why the characters are having lunch together to "meld" them. Then vote, per the rules. Trouble is, that requires a set of players fairly equal in terms of the current events knowledge. Maybe as a contest of two big teams. In any case, not the best match for our group.
Settlers. Blast, when will I learn how to place my initial settlements! :-) As someone just posted on the net, I think there's a whole subgame within Settlers about opening positions. I won't be so bold as to make comparisons to chess, but there's definitely a lot to those initial two rounds. Though this game isn't at the top of my suggestion list (I've played it several times this year already), I'll play it at the drop of a hat. Now that just about everyone in our group has played at least twice, we're able to quickly launch into an involving game. I love how the game accommodates players who think through every placement and roll of the dice at the same time as the players who prefer to sort of go on autopilot. I'm really looking forward to ICE/Mayfair's forthcoming American editions of Settlers expansions (Seafarer, the two player card game, and sister game Entdecker).
Mustangs was lightning fast by wargame standards, still a little slow to a boardgamer. Still, I really like it! I've gone on record against games that have you add up lots of die roll modifiers, something this game is certainly guilty of. I guess that's my largest complaint about the game, though, and it's not a big one. Picking maneuver chits and cross-referencing them with your plane's performance rating is a little involved, but still quite playable. And for such a simple game played with the basic rules to delineate plane's performance according to speed, dive speed, climb/dive, separate loop, roll, and turn rates is quite amazing. I forgot that I had in the car my MicroMachines bought especially for this game: two Zeros versus a P-40 and P-38. Next time!

April 2, 1997
Who was there: Hans, Arlette, Randy, Doug, Charles, Hank, Angela, Paul, Mark, Colin, and James.
What we played: Freight Train, Air Baron, and Der Fliegende Hollander
FREIGHT TRAIN [Doug, Mayfair]--Doug, Randy, Hans, and Arlette played this one. Doug writes, "We started off really oddly, with an insufficient shuffle on a sorted deck. Lots and lots of cars came out in sequence, making the first day really weird. Little conflict over who would try to control which train types given that whoever filled the row last would grab three identical cars right away.
"Second and third days went smoothly. I won, albeit with a small enough margin that it could have gone to Randy or Hans without a little luck on my part."
AIR BARON [Hans & Arlette, Avalon Hill]--Charles, Hank, Angela, and Paul made room for one more, me, to squeeze in just as they were starting. It proved to be the most interesting game of Air Baron I've yet played. Paul lunged into immediate fare wars to gobble up the cheap spokes around the south/midwest, but stalled early and thought he was done for. Angela quietly and uncontestedly bought the pricey spokes around LAX. I don't recall exactly where Hank started (Houston?), but ended up migrating to the unexplored southeast. Charles and I butted heads from turn 1 over the lucrative northeast (to our common detriment, I'm sure). In about the standard 60-70 minutes it looked like we had a winner, Angela, who'd locked up the west coast and was starting to rake in some cash. There was an error on her market share track, however, leaving her something like $10 shy of victory. By this time Paul had established a good hold on the center of the country (DFW-DIA-HOU), and was in position to grab some of her spokes. Then it looked like he would win. Finally my slow & steady strategy with international routes and jumbos paid off, and I took Chicago and New York hubs in one round. Now even I looked like a possible winner, with Charles hanging on by fingernails. That seesaw went on for 2.5 hours, quite long for this game! In the end, Hank scored $80 on two pulls on London on subsequent turns to augment his strong southeast position and win the game. Whew!
CAR WARS [Colin, Steve Jackson Games]--Colin and James took to the deadly streets again, this time in an arena that featured jumps! How do I know that? Because that's how James lost again, driving too fast over one of those and sailing out the arena entirely! Wonder if Colin got in a few shots at the exposed underside before he cleared the wall...
DER FLIEGENDE HOLLANDER [Hans & Arlette, ???]--Arlette claims she hates this game, which they got as a wedding present, but always wins. This was no exception, as she beat myself, Hans, and Paul. She and I each had good initial hands, and won large amounts of bidding cards early on, but in both cases Arlette's holdings were better. Paul seems to have been stymied by a poor intial selection of cards (colors opposite of mine and Arlette's, so the ghost ship always went the wrong way for him).
Opinions: I've now played Freight Train once myself. Though I think it's got some good gameplay (similar to Acquire, which I'm now appreciating, but a better presentation), the game has some physical limitations. In short order the game is a real sprawl of cards, ones that you must scan at every turn to see what position everyone has. Different colored freight car tokens would be just the ticket, but even some clearer cards would be an improvement. Rather like the criticisms of the Mayfair edition of Settlers, you have to stare at a card for a second to tell what it is. Most of the card is just white/textured background, the actual freight car takes up just a fraction of it. The typeface used for the name of the freight car isn't the most legible, and some cars look quite similar at first glance (ore & box, hopper & coil steel, piggyback & tanker). If this was intended as a design feature, it's a poor one. The variable ending points throughout the game are quite a good mechanic, however, as it avoids goofy last turn strategies. Best of all, the game fools me into thinking this has something to do with trains (it doesn't), while Acquire never once had me thinking of hotels. Besides, my son would get a real kick out of the train pictures. Might have to pick it up just to play some simple "games" with him.
My reaction after that game of Air Baron is an odd one. On the plus side, it really was a fantastic battle. At several points I felt I was within arms reach of winning, but had to slow up to combat an opponent instead of furthering my own goals directly. I suspect everyone else felt the same (well, maybe not Charles! :-). That's certainly a good aspect of any game. But it went on so long (for this type of game, with a heavy luck element), I wouldn't enjoy it as much if this is the way it usually played. Since that night I've played the game twice more, both with three players (east). The first time the game again became a defensive struggle, going long. The next time I tried a different strategy, which failed, leaving most of the board to the other two who snatched easy hubs, then collected fast money to a quick victory. Hmm. Need to play it some more, which must be a good sign in itself. (I'm also ready to try the advanced rules now. Some of those look quite interesting.)
Der Fliegende Hollander was enjoyable, but not one of my favorites. It has several interesting and "gamey" systems built into it (bidding, voting, card play), but the sum of it has a more mechanical feel than other more focussed games. Actually, I guess this is similar to my feelings about El Grande. In both cases, however, I need to play the games a few more times to gain familiarity with them, then make the call.

March 19, 1997
Who was there: Mark, Doug, Charles, Hank, Hans, Arlette, James, Randy, Sterling, Paul, and newcomer Angela (Hank's wife!)
What we played: Medici, Die Seidler von Catan, Der Erbraffer, El Grande, The Settlers of Catan, Gettysburg, and Fox One
MEDICI [???, Paul]--A bidding game played by Paul, Hank, Angela, Randy, Mark, and Sterling. Charles ran away and Randy perhaps wished he had! This was the limit for the game, though it was still taught and played in not much more than an hour. There was a wide spread of scores at the end of three rounds, with Paul out in front.
DIE SEIDLER VON CATAN [???, Hans & Arlette]--The latecomers started what was supposed to be a quick game while we finished Medici, but this one went on for a long time (for this game--easily 90 minutes). Guess who won? Hans.
DER ERBRAFFER [Ravensburger, Paul]--After Medici, Randy took a breather and opened up a seat for Doug to join this game where the players compete to direct money and heirlooms down about four generations of a family tree. The goal is to siphon off the wealth at some of the heirs each player "controls" via random cards dealt at the beginning of the game. Doug says, "The end was amusing, with Sterling and I wrestling over ownership of the $8,000 bust and the $12,000 vase, plus assorted cash. Sterling had the last New Will between us but Hank jumped in at the last second and shifted everything to me, clenching my victory. Give that man a beer." Yes, Doug won another game. :-)
EL GRANDE [???, Hans & Arlette]--Our group's second try at this award winning game. Hans, Arlette, Doug, James, and Randy gave it a shot. By the midgame Doug was way out in front: "I got stuffed by unwittingly decent game play in the midgame which put me far ahead going into the last two turns. Might as well stick a "kick me" sign on my back and be done with it. Ended up fourth in a field of five. Hans did say that he was surprised at how close we all ended up as usually one player is a runaway victor. Had I been less than clueless that may have happened." Hans won, by the way.
THE SETTLERS OF CATAN [Mayfair/ICE, Hank & Angela]--The American edition of this great game saw Hank, Angela, Paul, and Sterling battling over an ore-poor island. That put a crimp in city construction, no doubt, leading to two of the longest roads I've ever seen in this game! Paul ultimately won the road bonus and the game, using every one of his wooden segments!
GETTYSBURG [TAHGC, Charles]--Avalon Hill has produced several games covering the famous battle of Gettysburg. This one is part of their American History Series, Smithsonian Edition (or something like that). It plays very light and quick, giving Charles (Union) and Mark (Confederates) a chance to try the first day's conflict in just an hour. The Union took the day.
FOX ONE [One Small Step, Doug]--OSS has recently tried some small standlone games, either to support or at the expense of their small game-in-magazine publication Competitive Edge (was Gamefix). Two of those are card games, including this noncollectible one of jetfighter combat. Oddly enough, they have another small game on the same subject currently in playtest. In any case, Doug's Russion MiG-23 managed to make short work of Mark's F-4 Phantom (whichever model does *not* have guns for close-in dogfighting--ouch!). Actually, Mark could have done much better by waiting for the Russian plane with its smaller fuel capacity to have to leave the protection of some cloud cover. However, that was neither much fun, nor seemed realistic for supersonic jets, so I dove in and got shot up.
Opinions: I think bidding games are an acquired taste, meaning they aren't especially enjoyable at first--largely due to unfamiliarity, having no clue what to bid on something. After a couple plays, though, you get the feel for the game, and can enjoy the subtleties of multiplayer interaction in that setting. Or at least, that's how it feels to me. Though I still don't care for the most abstract of games, I find bidding games (often having little bearing on their game's subject matter) quite fun! Medici is an outstanding game of that type, simple, subtle, and nice to look at.
Doug's comments on Der Erbraffer: "A slightly morbid game, especially given the fact the the best way to increase your chances of eventually inheriting is to arrange for one of your ancestors to come into wealth and then immediately kill them, thus locking the swag into your side of the tree. Probably would be much weaker with less than six people playing."
Actually, I found it to be better with just three people the one other time I played it. The reason is that there are only three hourglass cards to be played before any generation dies off, and with a few players that gives each a chance to make a couple plays. But with six players, there are times an entire generation might die off before you have a chance to play any cards, which reduces your ability to affect the outcome.
Gettysburg was a big hit for me, just as the other wargame was a few sessions ago (Across Five Aprils). I suppose that confirms that, although I strongly prefer short games, the simulation aspect of a good wargame has a very strong appeal all its own. Finding good wargames that play to completion in a TVB session takes a little work, but the fact is there are quite a lot of options. For now I still prefer to play more than one game per night, thus limiting any desirable game to about two hours. Perhaps not so far down the road I might like to play a good wargame as long as 3.5 hours, which would certainly present a lot more options. In the meantime, A5A is good, as is AH's entire American History series. Charles has Gettysburg, Midway, Guadalcanal, Battle of the Bulge, and I'm about to get Mustangs. That would only leave D-Day, and it might be a touch long for us anyway. I'm eager to try Gettysburg again, this time with a couple of rules tweaks (especially a 2d6 roll in place of 1d10).

March 5, 1997
General comments: The format of these updates continues to evolve. That makes it sound like I have some goal in mind for them, and I do, actually. I'm trying to tell the story of what games were played, then have a section at the end with opinions about the games themselves, mine and yours, if you like. This is making the whole thing much longer, but email is cheap. Just hit the delete button if you don't like it. And if you do, please let me know.
Oh yeah, this was our sixth month anniversary for the Tri-Valley Boardgamers! I met with Charles, Hank, and Colin last September 9 for our first session, playing two games of Air Baron. I'm very pleased with how things have developed. Though it's sometimes a bit tight for us at KK's, Kerry is committed to having a place for us to play. We've added many more people, and new ones still trickle in. We've also gone from having one group play two games to more like two or three groups playing a half dozen games, total. I'm finally getting to play boardgames again! Yea!!
Who was there: Mark, Randy, Hank, Charles, Sterling, Doug, Hans, and newcomer Paul! (It's been a while since we had one of those!)
What we played: K'ap T'ai Shap, Fast Food Franchise (twice), Das letzte Paradies (twice), Take It Easy, Mah Jongg, Razzia
K'AP T'AI SHAP (Chinese dominoes) [n/a, Randy]--While waiting for the full contingent of Fast Food Franchise players to show up, Randy broke out these as a good filler game. Well, the gameplay itself is sort of routine, a rummy-like set making game, there's something sublime about those beautiful glossy black dominoes that seem to weigh a ton each. Randy, Sterling, Charles, and I just had time for one round in which Charles won.
FAST FOOD FRANCHISE [TimJim Games, Sterling and Paul]--There was enough interest and preplanning to get two four-player games of this going. Sterling, Randy, Hank, and Charles played the first game. Sterling's Pizza Pavilion empire did battle with Hank's Burger Brothers, with sideliners Steak & Salad (Charles) and Whole Donut (Randy) failing to make the grade. I understand the dice were against Randy, landing on advertising spaces time and again. Sterling finally claimed the prize, earning $1M.
Charles: "In our game of Fast Food Franchise, We all started out OK except Randy. He kept landing on advertising spaces. I made the mistake of starting with the Steak & Salad, an expensive franchise. Randy was the first one out followed quickly by myself when I landed on Sterling's Pizza empire. Hank and Sterling battled it out with I believe Sterling hitting $1M first. I thought it was a fun game. Luck plays a big role similiar to Monopoly, but you need to know how to take advantage of good luck when you get it."
Sterling: "Hank had the best start putting up burger joints everywhere. Randy had the longest string of bad luck, and didn't really land on more than three or four markets until it was too late in the game to make a comeback. Charles had a good run with one Steak and Salad market and a whole bunch of Ice Creams on the last streach before you got back to Start. I started out lousy and didn't open up my first Franchise until both Hank and Charles had at least two markets. However, once I was able to put down a few Pizza Markets I started to go pretty good. I was the first to really start trying to connect all his markets of a certain type. This enabled me to catch Hank a couple of times and break up his giant Burger Brothers Chains that were fortunatly only one Market each. Hank quickly learned from this and started putting his family style markets into connected chains and became the second Giant Corporation. Hank and I then started taking money from everybody and Charles and Randy were weeded out. So it ended up a race to 1 Million between the two of us and as luck would have it, I reached it first. (Though I think that if Hank had played a little smarter at the beginning and connected his Burger chains I wouldn't have had a chance.)"
Randy's version of what happened: "Hank's early success was with his burgers. Along came Sterling with his pizza & Hank hung in with his Denny's chains. Charles did OK for a while with his steak houses, but got swamped by the early leaders. My chicken chain never *did* take off; I spent far & away the large majority of the first half of the game on the damn Advertising Available spaces!! It looked like a relatively even race between S & H until the last couple of rounds, but the entire path from Strategy to Taste Test was pizza joints. That made the outcome pretty much enevitable to at least 1 of us."
The second game was played by Paul, Doug, Hans, and myself. After one aborted start where we missed the Investment Opportunity for an empty-handed player to start a corporation, we tried again. Doug jumped on Steak and Salad, Hans took Burger Brothers, Paul ran Chicken Surprise, and I had a go with Whole Donut. The high upfront costs for Doug's corporation left him thin and vulnerable in the beginning, but he pulled through. When Hans had a string of bad luck in the form of two crippling strikes (courtesy of Doug!), it was curtains for him. That left Doug with the opportunity to join chains and become a force in the game. My donuts expanded quickly in one uncontested corner, and I was less than $50,000 away from pocketing a victory at one point. That was where I crested, however, and shortly thereafter I was crushed between the Chicken and Steak titans. They seesawed a bit, with Doug's Steak 'n' Salad restaurants ultimately the winner. "Beef, it's what's for dinner."
DAS LETZTE PARADIES [???, Paul]--Hank had played this game at lunch with Paul and I, so he was able to quickly teach it to the first group of four. Teaching the rules is one thing in this curious little secret bidding game, learning how to win is something else entirely. With two games already under his belt, Hank was the only "experienced" player, and won. I heard so many trees were planted the naturalist's bonus was nil.
Later the other group of four tried this game (actually the last of the night). Hans, our foremost strategist, was at a loss for what to do (I like this game already! :). Doug played the same "what the heck do I know" method that won him FFF, while Paul and I (who'd also tried the game at lunch, each winning once) played to win. Of course, only one of us did, and that was Paul.
TAKE IT EASY [???, Hans]--I'd requested Hans bring this intriguing little puzzle-like game. Upon a second try I think I'd do better--I know I'd play differently. Hans had a low score (for him), and Paul won.
MAH JONGG [n/a, Randy]--Randy broke out his second set of monolithic asian game pieces of the night to--forgive me--shanghai Sterling, Charles, and Hank into playing this ancient game. Charles wrote me that he was somewhat lost during the game, while Sterling and Hank did okay. Hopefully Randy knew what he was doing, as he's clearly a longtime player, even treating us to what must be the old "passing wind" joke. :-) They managed to play 3 hands (16 would be a full game).
RAZZIA [Ravensburger, Paul]--A bluffing card game. There are six speakeasy/gambling houses laid on the table, each accumulates a random increment of money each round. Each player is dealt a hand of gangsters and police, each having a colored designation for one particular speakeasy, and a die face symbol. All players secretly play a card at once, then reveal them. Any gangster card that is the sole visitor of a speakeasy that round pockets the joint's money. If multiple gangsters are there, the one with the highest die face decides how to split it up. The rest can accept this, or challenge it. To challege, the players roll a die, and add their gangster card's die to it. Winner takes all. Now when a cop shows up at a speakeasy all alone, he takes nothing, but if there are one or more gangsters present, he pockets the money (can you say payola?). If there are two or more cops and some gangsters, the cops divvy up the money in a manner similar to multiple gangsters.
A key element of the bluffing is that every round the dealer randomly adds money chits to the gambling houses, but gets one that is discretionary--he can place it wherever he likes! If it's a big monetary amount, placing it on a particular location can give away your intentions to send a powerful gangster there...or maybe a cop, hoping to shake down the other contenders...or maybe it's a ruse, and you go somewhere else?
Opinions: After pushing for it for many weeks, I was underwhelmed with Fast Food Franchise. I guess it was still a little too much like Monopoly for my tastes, primarily in the way luck plays a big part. More accurately, the influence luck has at the late stage of the game. Other games such as Settlers are pointed out as having a considerable luck element, but no single die roll can make or break you. In FFF, near the end when the price for landing on an opponent's market was a few hundred thousand dollars (or a quarter of the winning total), those dice were too powerful for me. On the other hand, there were some really good improvements over Monopoly, adding real placement strategy to the holdings as they sprawl across the abstracted map of the US. Oh yeah, seems another small improvment might be to streamline some of the money transactions: running the low-budget donut chain, I was constantly making change with singles. No biggie, though.
I really enjoyed The Last Paradise, even as I don't have any clear strategies forming. I know they're out there, it's just my unfamiliarity with bidding games that's holding me back. The following week I played Medici, whose bidding isn't secret, but the flow of the game is similar. I think the thing that I find interesting--and what turns other gamers off--is that there is almost no "absolute" strategy to take, it's all relative to the other players. So the interactivity is at its highest in terms of strategy, even though we have little direct effect on each other. Or something like that. :) Other comments about the game:
Sterling: "I think that because of the way this game limits money, it makes it really tough on people who make mistakes early on."
Randy: "'No comment' is a comment. ;-)"
Charles: "I think Randy, Sterling and myself were just playing along not really figuring out the strategy. I never really care much for bidding type games. I don't see the fun in it."
My objections to abstract games are quickly disappearing. Maybe not entirely, as I'm not eager to play Checkers or Go any time soon, but something like Take It Easy wouldn't have been on my play list a while ago. Now I tend to like those, the shorter the better. Not that there's a lot of repeated play potential for a game like that (for me, anyway), but it's still fun. I think there must be something of a "sweet spot" where you're fully familiar with the rules and strategies, but haven't played the game enough to become bored with it. Hmm, I suppose that could be true of many games. With complex simulations I never get the rules sufficiently ingrained. And with Magic I can remember encountering that sweet spot, then playing past it, which is why it doesn't grab me so much any more. Burnout, perhaps.
Razzia was a delightful game. Lots of flavor, simple to play, but with plenty of room for strategy and a comfortable amount of luck. At some point I want to pick up a copy for myself to try with my roleplaying friends (who are becoming more willing to try other games--we played Settlers and Mille Bornes last week). Hans made a good comment that we weren't having too many encounters of multiple gangsters/cops. Perhaps with 3-4 players it would be a good idea to not play with 1-3 of the speakeasies, also stripping out the corresponding character cards. That would decrease the elbow room, adding to the conflict and tension. Might draw the game out a bit, but it plays so fast already I bet it won't suffer.

February 19, 1997
Who was there: Mark, Charles, Randy, Doug, Sterling, Hans, Arlette, Colin, James, Hank
What we played: Car Wars, Chill-Black Morn Manor (sort of), Family Business, Der Fliegende Hollander, Kuhhandel, Across Five Aprils
*** This session report kicks off a couple of changes, namely some general comments up front, the near abandonment of planning for the next session, and the introduction of my game critiques. I've been sort of doing the latter already, but now I'll make a more concerted effort to keep my opinions distinct from the descriptions of the games. Just something I want to do! :) ***
While waiting for everyone else to stroll in, Randy told us a bit about the previous weekend's Dundracon. He played Age of Rennaisance, and liked it quite a bit, despite losing badly! Even though this one is supposed to be shorter than its cousin Civilization, it's too long for our group, alas. The same goes for 2038, the only economic "railroad" game Randy likes, in part due to the science fiction setting.
However, on the subject of long games, when last at a game store I noted the back of 2038's box mentions something about a shorter game lasting three hours. The TimJim game I have, Time Agent, is also long at 3-6 hours, but I've heard somewhere on the net (Game Cabinet?) there's a variant that should ensure it finishes within 3. I'm going to look into that. Finally, I've learned that 1830 has a respectable short games, also requiring about 3 hours. Now, I know Randy and Doug won't come near 1830, but Colin enjoys it, and I'd like to see what it's all about. Anyone else? Colin, can you tell us anything about that "short" game?
A few games brought and looked over but not played this time were my Gunslinger and Master Labyrinth, Sterling's Star Trek starship dice game, and Doug's Quirks, Tyranno Ex (with snail bites on the box!), and a couple more I'm forgetting. I'd like to try all of those, though it will take me a while to study up on Gunslinger.
I haven't completely given up on planning for next time. I recall Sterling said he could be at the next one on March 5, but then would miss then next one or two due to a business trip. Sounds to me like we should give Fast Food Franchise a try next time, then, since he's the one who has it. (Actually, I think Randy does, too.)
Now, on to the games...
CAR WARS [Steve Jackson Games, James]--For the first time, Colin and James had someone else join there semi-regular Battle of the Buicks (or Nissans, in this case). That someone was me, playing the game for the first time in the better part of a decade. And since this game keeps publishing material, I feared my understanding of the game would be obsolete. Pleasantly, that wasn't the case at all. I think I saw one new weapon I wasn't familiar with. The 10-phase movement chart was whacked in half to five phases, a definite improvement. The rules for checking the crash tables must have changed a bit, so I just let James tell me what to do there.
The scenario we tried was a "cats and mice" arena, two powerful cats versus four mice (not necessarily smaller). James and I took the cats (I was given ultra-powerful Maxima to compensate for my rustiness with the game), while Colin took the mice. The Maxima was a good, solid design, with a turreted laser, flaming oil jet, ram plate, good armor, and good acceleration. James' Rocketfire had some heavy duty flamethrowers to either side, and rockets in front. The mice featured a minedropping-machinegunning compact, a mid-size with five (!) MGs to the front, a luxury with serious punch to the front: blast cannon, rocket launcher, and vehicular shotgun for kicks. There was one more mouse, but I can't recall what it did.
The arena was such that the cats started in the center, each of the mice in the corners, protected by walls. So the first turn or so the cars are trying to decide who's committing to which path, the mice out of the protected areas, and the cats after which mice initially. James went after the mouse I've forgotten. They missed each other at first, though the minedropper compact took a long range shot and peppered his backside a bit. Before long that scary luxury was in sight, and a big shot from it opened Rocketfire like a can opener. The only good thing was that the damage blew out the powerplant instead of the crew. So James' car became a stationary weapons platform, with poor LOS due to the walls.
My Maxima and the 5-MG mouse had one quick short range exchange of fire where no one hit, then I wheeled around to chase the little minedropper, leaving some flaming oil in my wake. Should've put it on automatic, I think, though the mid-size still chose to not chase me. I was already moving at a good clip (I think the whole game I never let up on the accelerator, and this was a 10 mph accel car!). Those mines were on auto, however, leaving me no way to go around them. So I went right over, lucked out on the die roll, and they didn't detonate. By that time I had both of the little mice in my sights. Decisions, decisions! In the end I fired at and rammed the one that James first tangled with. That barely got through some armor (partially metal), but was enough to make him lose control, and the little car rolled. The big lux managed a long range shot to open up my right side, then I made the mistake of staying on the offensive, going after the minedropper and exposing that weak side to the 5-MG car, which finally connected and blew my two-man crew to pieces. Bummer.
CHILL-BLACK MORN MANOR [Pacesetter?, Doug]--Doug, Randy, Charles, Hans, Arlette, Sterling, and Charles took a stab at this game, but bagged it after the first turn. Doug explained that he took the first turn, and promptly died on a random result. No fun, and on to the next game.
FAMILY BUSINESS [Mayfair, Sterling]--"Went just about as all games of this one do, with a lot of tit for tat kind of card play. Sterling used a St. Valentine's Day massacre on a bunch of cards, including one of his own, which was a little different. Other than that it came down to whoever was fortunate enough to be last in line when the number of gangsters drops below six." -Doug [Hans won, I believe.]
DER FLIEGENDE HOLLANDER [???, Hans & Arlette]--"First time I'd played that one. Did pretty good in the opening, bilking several out of some cash by making them pay to where I wanted to go anyhow. Got trashed when I dumped stock too early though and ended up with stuff that wasn't as valuable as the others. Narrowly avoided complete disaster when I ran out of cash to bid on moving the ship for the last couple of turns, which could have turned nasty had the others moved it onto a color of which I had all my holdings in. Still came in close to Hans [the winner again] so I don't feel too bad." -Doug
KUHHANDEL [???, Hans & Arlette]--"Didn't "get" this one at all. Didn't diversify enough and was shut out of the critical trading phase at the end. I'm not sure if we've reviewed this one before so I'll give a quick rundown:
You start with a certain amount of cash (something like 130 or so.) Each player may turn over a card from the deck and auction it off or opt to trade cards previously purchased with an other player having the same type of card. Such trades cannot be refused.
The auction is pretty simple, with players calling out bids until a high price is made. The auctioneer can then sell the card for that price, or opt to buy the card for himself and give the cash to the high bidder. Completely zero sum. If mule cards come up for auction, fresh cash comes into the game (first 10, then 50, then 100, then 500 for the four mule cards.)
Trading is more complex, involving both players making sealed bids on the card(s) being traded. High bid gets both (or all four if two sets of two are being traded) cards, paying the loser. At the endgame, the deck is exhausted and so all players must trade until no more sets are left open.
[This isn't quite right. The person initiating the trade makes an offer. The other player may then accept the offer (blindly), or make a counter-offer. All money cards enchange hands, and the higher bidder gets the animal in question. I can't remember what happens in case of ties... -Joe Huber, email friend of Mark's and a part of a game group similar to TVB near Boston]
Scoring is by sets. A complete set is worth the printed value (from Chickens, worth 10 for the set to Horses, worth 1000.) Multiple sets increase the value of all sets, however, so a complete set of four chickens and four horses is actually worth (2*10) + (2*1000) = 2020. Three sets are worth three times, etc. Cash in hand is valueless at the end of the game.
Hans diversified early and ended up simply outbidding Sterling to capture the most sets. I ended up with a single set of pigs for a pathetic 650 points. I'll stay off the farm, I think." -Doug
ACROSS FIVE APRILS [Victory Games, Hank]--After trouncing my rebels twice in the Pea Ridge scenario, I guess Hank was looking for fresh meat, and found it in Charles! The thing is, Hank played the Confederates this time, and made it look easy. When I strolled over after finishing the Car Wars game, he had the first of three victory locations (Elkhorn Tavern) completely secure, and was giving Charles real grief at the second, the Union HQ near the center of the map. The one remaining VP location near the bottom looked out of reach, but you never know. With neither side having a decisive victory after nine turns, the game is scheduled to go on for about six more, when the Union must hold all three locations to have any victory. It was almost 11:00, and Charles looked in no shape to kick the rebels out of Elkhorn Tavern, so they called the game then for the southern boys. Whew! Hank attributed it to some fortunate chit pulls so that combat went his way. There is certainly a bit of that to this game, but I think he was being modest.
Observations: I'll include these in the email session reports, but on the website they're going to go on a separate page. If I don't care for a game you like, please try to explain to me what I'm missing--I love to discuss and debate games! But it may end up that we just have different opinions.
CAR WARS--The only game I played this time, so the only one I can really discuss. Way back in high school, I was the first one of my gamer friends to buy this game, and its chief proponent. Back then it seemed to play a little slow, but was just such a cool idea, that of weapon-equipped cars on the highway and in the arena, it was fun anyway. The car construction rules, especially, gave me lots of fun with the game even when there were no opponents around. Now things have changed. Everyone points out that Car Wars has grown and grown, often making disparaging comparisons to Star Fleet Battles. That's incorrect, though. The variety of weapons and other equipment has grown by leaps and bounds, but they just give more options rather than cause oneupsmanship. And the rules are essentially intact, and not so bloated from the early days. If you play with preconstructed vehicles, especially, the game is not so different from almost 15 years ago. One of the few changes immediately obvious was a simplification, actually, from 10-phase movement to 5-phase. Less obvious are some changes to the crash table that make it less dangerous to drive fast while manuevering. Kudos to SJ Games for that.
Unfortunately, all is not roses. The game just plays too darn slow for my tastes today. And I think the problems can be traced to two aspects of the game. Neither one is rules complexity. Even though our game took a few hours, very little of that was with our noses in the rulebook, trying to resolve something. No, the real slowdowns came from die roll modifiers and the movement system.
Die roll mods have become a real thorn in my side for Steve Jackson designs. GURPS is choking on them. Illuminati and especially INWO suffer because of them. Car Wars doesn't need anything to slow it down, and there are plenty. A typical combat has us counting the mods on fingers, "Okay, it's 9 inches away, so -2 for range, -1 for shooting at your front, -1 for your speed, +2 for my targeting computer, +1 for my gunner's skill, and +1 for sustained fire -1." Yes, they all make sense, and add to the simulation qualities of the game. I'm not sure what to eliminate, but something has to go. Interestingly, Ogre/GEV had no die roll mods, and even TFT avoided them, two of Jackson's other top designs. (I always thought it brilliant that difficulty in hitting a defending opponent was handled by rolling 4 dice under your DX instead of 3. WEG's Star Wars and Ghostbusters systems use something like it, too.)
The last one is a biggie, one that probably can't be changed and still call the game Car Wars: the movement system. (Though that won't stop me!) It's a miniatures system, and it takes too long for someone to simply move the car straight forward since they need a ruler or other gimmick (like the turning key). Heck, that's why wargames went with squares and later hexes--to regulate and standardize movement! Though I'm not sure anyone will ever want to play the game with me, another game project now on my to-do list is a version of modified Car Wars using micro machine figures on a hexmap, with fewer die roll mods and a big list of stock vehicles.

February 5, 1997
Who was there: Mark, Hank, Charles, Colin, James, Sterling, Hans, and eventually Arlette :)
What we played: Across Five Aprils, Scotland Yard, Car Wars, Kulhandel (sp?), Rise of the Luftwaffe, Condotierre, and The Great Dalmuti
Across Five Aprils [Victory Games, Hank]--Oooh, I'd been wanting to play a historical wargame for some time. My intro to gaming was with small hexmap wargames, but typically science fiction ones. Now, perhaps as I've grown older, I've developed quite a bit more interest in history and historical games. I still can't stomach games that take many hours to play, though, and of course they'd never fit in a TVB session anyway. So when Hank emailed me, requesting recommendations for ACW games, I mentioned this one first and foremost. He promptly hunted down a good used copy at SF's Gamescape, and gave me a copy of the rules to read for our next session. I thought the rules and entire game are outstanding, a real improvement from the grognard games of the 70s, 80s, and even 90s.
For our first try we picked the shortest and smallest scenario, Pea Ridge. The map was only the size of a sheet of paper (I guess about 20 hexes at the longest). We flipped for sides and I took the Confederates, Hank the Union. Charles watched to learn the game. In retrospect, I needed to take my two groups of units (about ten counters total) and swoop down on two of the three victory locations, then hold on for dear life as the Union reinforcements trudge in. Instead, I squandered time and units in the north, and before long was dreadfully outnumbered. In the south, the dice were against me, though I helped by sacrificing one of my best units. Drat! The -1 morale/quality rating almost all of my units had was a difficult obstacle. But Hank and I are going to try again during lunch at work, and maybe the results will be different! (We did, but it ended about the same. I made it a better fight, but still failed to control any of the three victory locations at the end of the game, even one of which would have been a minor victory. --MJ)
Scotland Yard [Ravensburger, Sterling]--I've heard good things about this game. While waiting for others to show, Sterling and Hans gave it a go, even though it's normally played with more people. I understand Sterling was the robber/thief character, while Hans played each of the cops trying to track him down all over Europe. By the end Sterling was chuckling and Hans was shaking his head, so I guess we know who got away! :)
Say, this game is often mentioned in the same breath (or message) as Games Workshop's Fury of Dracula. Does anyone have that game and can recommend it? Might it be good for the TVBers?
Car Wars [Steve Jackson Games, James]--Those monsters of the midway, Colin and James again took to the streets (arena, actually) to duke it out in armed and armored cars. This time, Colin handed me a post-it with a short recap of the game. Looks like it was a mismatch battle between two larger cars, The Cats, versus double the number of smaller ones, The Mice. Good idea! The Cats included RamRocket and Maxima, while the Mice fielded Suzuki I, Rocketfire, Annoyance, and Autogunner. Interesting names, those...
If I tell you James ran the Cats, and Colin ran the Mice, would that give away who won? :) Yes, James once more came out on the short end of the stick in their matchups. Rocketfire (mouse) set RamRocket (cat) on fire. With no way to extinguish the flame onboard, its driver escaped. Maxima (cat) was then left to take on the other three mice (just three? I guess Rocketfire must have died somewhere). Being a bigger car, it took several hits, but finally Annoyance (mouse) put in the killing blow. Sounds like an interesting game.
Kulhandel [???, Hans & Arlette]--Charles bailed out on watching the A5A game (I was clearly losing by that point) to join Hans and Sterling in this European card game. From what I saw, there are two sets of cards: the numbered bidding cards are dealt out to each player, while another stack of farm animal cards that are bid upon. (The game's title means literally "Cowbusiness," though perhaps over here we'd call it Horse Trading. Whatever.) The goal is to buy up sets of various animals, which have different point values. So without even knowing what he was doing, Charles pulled off a win. He had fewer sets than Sterling or Hans, but he had the big value animals like horses. Looked like quick fun.
Rise of the Luftwaffe [GMT, Mark]--My copy of this game, an overdue Christmas present, had arrived, so Hank and I took a stab at it. I hadn't read the rules, though, so we were going from memory of the previous session. I don't think we did it quite right, especially regarding engaging restrictions on the wingmen. Oh well. We tried some more powerful planes than before, P-38s (powerful, but undergunned) versus FW-190s (good all around). We'll try again when I've read everything.
Condotierre [???, Hans & Arlette]--The Car Wars guys went home, but everyone else stuck around to join in on this eurogame. Hans and Charles had played before, I think the last session. Another sort of card bidding game, though this one has a map to indicate what we're bidding on (Italian city-states, I believe). The cards are beautiful, as is the rest of the game. The really peculiar thing is this magnificently large metal figure (about 3 inches tall) of a man on a horse, which is only used as a marker to show what city-state is currently being contested! The cards are an assortment of numbers, but the real strategy comes from the specials: birds that allow you to take back a played card, winter which makes each card only worth a single point, drums that double your points only, the key which resolves the bidding instantly, the bishop which nullifies the bidding, and the heroine with is worth a healthy 10 points, and is immune to the other special effect cards. Similar to Dalmuti, the game rewards whoever is winning by giving them more cards. But since everyone is free to gang up on the leader, I guess it balances. It encourages aggressive play, in any case. Hans won this one. (Someone we didn't know was watching the game the entire time, and now I'm kicking myself for not inviting him into the group. Oh well.)
The Great Dalmuti [WOTC, Hank]--Hey, this might be a frequent closer game for us, at least until we burn out. Arlette had showed up partway through Condotierre, so she joined to make six players. This time we all new how to play the game, and the results were a little different. They were for me, anyway, as I spent most of my time in the Lesser Dalmuti seat, and that's where I was in the final point count, too, behind Arlette. A far cry better than I'd done the first time. Most of all, everyone has a good time with this game.
What to do next time: You tell me by replying to this email! Colin and James invited me to join their Car Wars game again, and that's starting to sound pretty good, especially if we can use stock cars that aren't too fancy, like something from my good old AADA vehicle guide, or something that's in the rules (I have DCW). I'll bring my stuff next time. I've got one favorite arena/race track. This would give Hank and Charles the chance to play A5A, or maybe Gettysburg 88. What else?

January 22, 1997
Who was there: Mark, Hans, Arlette, Charles, Hank, Bill, Sterling, Randy, and Doug
What we played: Naval War, Family Business, Condotiere, Lunch Money, RoboRally, Down in Flames, Hollander (?), and Icebergs whew! that's a record for us!
Naval War [TAHGC, Charles]--This was a quick filler game for Charles, Randy, and myself while waiting for others to show up. As Charles said, though it's got a complexity rating of 1 (on a 10-point scale), maybe that should be 0.5! Everyone starts with a mixed fleet from a variety of countries or years, each rated in gun diameter and a damage capacity. Then you start shooting at each other with simple action cards. Aircraft carriers, mines, and torpedoes add a little strategic element to the game, but basically you can park your brain in neutral. That's okay for a filler game, and it does at least provide a rudimentary education on which of the world's ships are (were) powerful, which are not. Okay as a filler. I thought I was doing pretty well in the beginning, but Randy's minefields for three points decimated my fleet, and I was out first. Charles clung to dear life with his aircraft carrier for quite a while, but Randy finally drew the fire cards needed to polish him off.
Family Business [Mayfair, Sterling]--By the end of the previous game just about everyone had shown up, so we split into two groups. Sterling, Hank, Doug, and myself gave this game a go, which I'd heard some good things about. Oddly enough, it was similar to Naval War in that the gangsters on the cards were all historical, but don't really figure into the game. It's a card game through and through, with plenty of card game mechanics, rather than any sort of simulation of mob warfare. But a handful of unique mechanics give the game its identity, notably the brick wall where gangsters in trouble are lined up, soon to be mowed down, one or two per turn. And the turn order of the players jumps around a bunch, too. Besides, there's something satisfying about putting out a Contract (card) on Bugsy Seigel, or announcing that Frank Nitty is On the Lam! The blood really spilled on this game (it has to, since to win the other players six gangsters each must be killed), but I squeaked out a win.
Condotiere [???, Hans & Arlette]--Charles and Randy joined Hans and Arlette in one of their favorite games from Europe. Charles wrote, "The winner is the 1st person to control 4 adjacent provinces in Italy. We all started out rather equal with everyone controlling at least 2 provinces. Hans, Arlette and myself got to 3 provinces in the next round. Arlette proved too strong and was able to conquer the 4th province even with Hans and myself battling her."
Lunch Money [Atlas Games, Doug]--This was the game some of the Magic players picked up at our last session. The same group from Family Business moved on to this card game, now joined by Bill (who was in need of some violent release after an aggravatingly long drive in the rain!). This game is brutally savage, right on the cusp of what I'd call wickedly funny. A little further, though, and... For those that don't know, this game is a schoolyard brawl between little girls. You play simple cards to kick each other. And stomp feet. And elbow smash. And "pimp slap." I haven't even mentioned the biker gang style weapons yet, have I? If this was done with cartooned figures on the cards, it would be hilarious. But much more daring, the publishers used photos of little girls, with captions to make you shiver, then bust out laughing! Still, not one I'd show my mother...
This is one of those games that you win by staying out of the limelight as long as possible. I went for some flashy attacks early on, and was rewarded by being the first one out! Bill played more shrewdly, waiting until the end to unleash some combinations (which were my one gripe with the game--it needs a few extra cards printed up as cheatsheets, as we were all reaching for the rules on these combos. Either that or get more game info on the cards themselves.) Sterling and Doug dropped out, and it was just Hank and Bill. I think Hank managed to use up all of Bill's defense cards, and finally offed him. Lots of luck in this one, and backstabbing galore. Don't take it seriously, and it's another fun filler.
RoboRally [WOTC, Randy]--After Condotiere, Randy broke out this game for that group of four. For an American game, it's almost gorgeous, with rigid glossy mapboard sections, and a unique lead (or whatever they make 'em out of these days) figure of a robot for each player. Charles: "The idea is to program your robot to pass by one "flag" on the board and then finish at another flag. We played with only 2 boards although more boards are available for longer games. Hans was the best "hacker" and got his robot to complete the circuit first. I thought that the game was too random, both for good and bad effects. It also is not a very good multiplayer game since very little interaction occurs between players." I should add that I've heard to increase player interaction you can devise scenarios/boards so that the leader must backtrack, "running the gauntlet" past the other robots to get to the winning flag.
Down in Flames [GMT, Bill]--Yes, the veterans of Family Business and Lunch Money (and I played Naval War) took up another card game! This one is slightly more of a simulation, though, doing its best to depict WW2 dogfighting. I'd heard much about this, and got it as a Christmas gift, so was anxious to play. Each player takes a plane and a wingman's plane. The three newbies, Sterling, Hank, and myself took the Brits (the first with a Spitfire, the others with Hurricanes), versus old hands Doug and Bill, with their BF-109s. Each plane is rated for performance (maximum hand size), horsepower (card draw), bursts (limits play of attack cards), and damage capacity. It's a simple system that works very well. Most of the cards are either maneuver cards, used to tail or lose an opponent, or attack cards that do damage. In a way that reminds me of Magic (Doug will chafe when he reads that), the cards and cardplay are almost trivial, but take on a greater meaning due to their interaction. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, in other words.
And it may do a fair job of simulation, too, since as expected the RAF trounced the outnumbered Luftwaffe planes in this game. It played quick enough that we tried again, this time two on two, but I forget the result.
Hollander (?) [???, Hans & Arlette]--One last eurogame for the other table. This one finished in an hour, I think. Charles: "It is a nice simple game that we were able to finish in 1 hour. The players are stock holders in a shipping company. You bid to control where the ship markers moves on the board to either gain money or force others to spend money. It is a good multiplayer game with lots of player interaction and simple to play." Sounds good!
Icebergs [TSR, Mark]--Reaching deep into the game backpack, we decided to wrap up with this unusual microgame. Such small games with flimsy components, but small price tags, quick play, and occasionally innovative ideas are a favorite of mine, as well as Doug's. Multiplayer micros are rather unusual, since most of them are hexmap wargames. This one is by Tom Wham, the same guy who designed Awful Green Things (and other fun, silly games). In this each player takes a freight ship, piloting it across the northwest passage in a race with the other ships. The winner is the one that goes to the other side of the map and back first, with the most cargo. There are lots of ice floes and icebergs on the map, which impede or prevent movement. And they move, too, since on each movement die roll the player can opt to move his ship, some ice, or both. Any time you move the ship you use fuel, though (whether one hex or six, the same fuel is used). And when you collide with icebergs, you lose one fuel or one cargo, your choice. With five players, it was quite difficult to clear a path through the ice, since if it looked like you might jump out in front, four other players were happy to close you off again. Bill ran into that very situation, as everyone worked to keep him from winning. That and a fortuitous die roll gave Hank an opening, which he siezed, and then won the game.
What was planned for next time: I've had my fill of non-simulation games for at least one session, which is why I've planned to play an American Civil War game of Hank's, Across Five Aprils. Charles may join in, too. That should take up most of our time, though maybe there will be time for a filler, too. Other games? Who knows?

January 8, 1997
Who was there: Mark, Hans, Arlette, Charles, Colin, James, Hank, and Bill
What we played: El Grande, Car Wars, The Great Dalmuti
El Grande [Hans im Gluck, Hans & Arlette]--Like Settlers, this is another German Game of the Year award winner. The Game Cabinet has a in-depth review, but briefly Mark, Hans, Arlette, Charles, and Hank each represent lesser nobles (Spanish barons?) vying for control and dominance of various regions of Medieval Spain. Actually, it's considerably more abstract than that, as we compete by placing wooden markers (our caballeros) about the map, largely restricted by a variety of special cards. Whoever has the most caballeros in a region after turn 3, turn 6, and the final turn 9 gets points, with lesser amounts for second and sometimes third place.What adds considerably strategy to the game, I thought, was the fact that the cards are segregated roughly according to power, and a variety are turned face up each round, to be sort of bid on by the other players. And depending on your position and the cards available, there are times you might not want the most powerful card...though you may need it anyway so that you can go first. Hmm, much to think about there. As we've come to expect for most European games, the components are quite nice. Hans & Arlette brought this one back with them from their European holiday, along with a few others we hope to try in the weeks ahead.
In the game we played, I thought we were all chugging along nicely until the first scoring occurred after turn three. Suddenly Charles was way out in the lead! Whether by chance or ingenious plan I couldn't say, though he stayed out ahead of the pack all the way until the very end. The rest of us were clustered rather close together in score, but I expect that's typical for this game. Everyone starts from a comparable (but not equal) position, and after only three turns that hasn't changed too much. Okay, it did for Charles. Anyway, now I started to figure out what was going on, as fellow newcomer Hank did, too, I suppose. Meanwhile, Arlette and especially Hans started putting their plans in motion. (Gotta watch that guy closely...) I definitely started to understand the game more then, most apparently when I understood what a mistake I'd made on the turn before! By turn 6, Hank had drifted behind, Arlette and I were close, Charles was still out in front, but Hans had caught up. As in Settlers, by the latter third of the game there was insufficient elbow room for everyone to place their pieces according to plan. Some positions were unassailable, others a questionable sink of resources. Decisions, decisions...When the final score was tallied, the trends from the eariler period continued: Hank in back, Arlette and I in the middle, Charles up ahead, but Hans was gaining points fastest of all, and won the game. One of these days we need to make a graph correlating game winners to game owners... :-)
Car Wars [Steve Jackson Games, James]--The Car Wars game wasn't in the back room this time, since that was occupied by some kids playing around with an electric guitar. Go figure. They set up at the table next to us, and set to dueling. (I know these guys would appreciate at least a third player. Ian, where are you?!) I didn't follow the ins and outs of the contest, but the result sounded similar to the previous encounter: Colin's high-accuracy design led to the perforation of James' side armor...and his driver, too! James pointed out that his gunner was still kicking and had live weapons, but what was the point? :-) They wrapped it up.
The Great Dalmuti [WOTC, Bill]--The El Grande players plus Bill decided to give this card game a try. Hans & Arlette had brought their set, too, having played it quite a bit over the holidays. Having about an hour and a half, we played only to fifty points. This time Charles' luck turned, and he found himself the Peon tasked with shuffling quite a bit. So did I. Hank was a career merchant, while Bill, Hans, and Arlette typically filled the upper ranks. But not always, though. The game was fun even when losing. Seems like it really needs five or six people for a good game, making it not quite suited for a pick-up/filler game. But perhaps it would work well enough with as few as three. I expect we'll get the chance to try, as Doug also owns it, and now I heard Hank went out and bought it!
Oh, and guess what the half dozen people left over from the Magic gathering were playing at the same time: the card game that Doug's suggested a couple time, Lunch Money! When they saw that we were playing Dalmuti, someone said, "Hey, you're supposed to be playing boardgames!" :-)
What was planned for next time: I've almost given up on planning, since we never do it anymore. The closest we come is probably intending to play the games we didn't quite get to this week! In that sense, I suppose Doug and I may play our microgame They've Invaded Pleasantville, Charles and Bill may take a stab at Knights of the Air, Colin and James may be ready for more Car Wars, Hank may want to try his newly acquired Across Five Aprils, and Hans & Arlette may spring another Eurogame on us, Condotiere. Down in Flames was also considered, and may prove to be a good match for our group, being a card game with heavy doses of combat! Bill has a set, as does Doug, and I may be getting one. (I think we only need one! :-)

December 18, 1996
Who was there: Mark, Hans, Arlette, Sterling, Charles, Randy, Colin, James, and Hank
What we played: Streetcar, Car Wars, Air Baron, Settlers of Catan
Streetcar [Mayfair, Mark]--As I'd hoped, we managed to play a quick game of this one I've had untouched since I open the shrinkwrap on it last summer. (It was played at our session in late October--see below--but I wasn't part of that game. Now I'm ready to spring this on my family over Christmas!) Randy, Charles, Sterling, and I started in, but within less than two turns Hans and Arlette showed up, so we started over to include them. Good thing, too, since Hans had played the original German edition before (Linie 1), and recognized immediately a few rules I'd missed. Oops. All straightened out, and the game filled to its capacity of six players, we started again. This was the shorter, two-stop version of the game, but with all of those competing players it wasn't long before we had twisting tracks stopping at every location on the map, and eventually every trolley terminal. I finished my track first, and bravely set out into a nest of stops I didn't need. Charles and Sterling followed soon after, then Hans. Randy and Arlette got their tracks in line, and we were all speeding along. Unlike me, Hans had spent a few extra tracklaying turns to try to build a route with fewer unnecessary stops. But it was Charles who completed his inaugural run first, opting for a technique just in between ours. Hans commented that this American translation had one improvement over the original in the way the trolleys are moved (more strategy in this version, while the German one uses a die roll. Too much luck after all of that deliberate tracklaying.) I was pleased that the game had some obvious strategy, but never bogged down, even finishing in about an hour, even with six players. Might be a good "filler game" down the road, too, though there are probably lots of other good, short games we've yet to try.
Car Wars [Steve Jackson Games, James]--Colin & James were itching to blow things up, and took this arena game to the unoccupied back room. To my surprise, I could understand their car designs, even after being away from this game for a decade. Apparently the latest Car Wars Compendium did a good job reigning in the wide world of Car Wars into a well-edited whole, even halving the number of movement phases to increase playability. Anyway, they played a two-on-two arena combat. I can't recall James' designs too well--something simple with MGs out each side and in a turret, plus the second car. Colin took his Team Toyota with a precision combat philosophy: accurate VMGs with skilled gunners, and perhaps targeting computers, too. That proved to be the winning strategy, too, since they emerged from the back room after a couple hours to report the driver of one of James' cars was shot dead with one of those VMGs while doing a bootlegger reverse! The car completed the reverse okay, and still had an alert gunner, but the rest of the fight was a foregone conclusion then, and James conceded. These guys would like to start playing Car Wars more regularly, and are soliciting any who'd like to join in frequently or just once in a while. I might do the latter sometime, though frankly, I've been wanting to try some house rules to speed up play (many pulled from SJ Games' own Mini Car Wars). We'll see.
Air Baron [TAHGC, Charles]--The Streetcar crowd swapped one six-player game for another, and Randy volunteered to sit out, making room for Hank. Again we played the basic game, which still sounds to me like the best way (the advanced rules add more color, but lengthen the game). With a full lot of players, this time we played the entire board, all hubs. Along with the good reviews of this game are some criticisms that there's just too much luck. It's largely a matter of personal taste, of course, but I think the luck is just fine, since to win the game you really have to know how to adjust your play based on your varying luck throughout the game. And even the basic game gives you some options to do that, strategic decisions to make (more so than in Settlers, for instance). At any rate, Hans did exactly that, building slowly, strongly out of LAX. He had some luck on the chit pulls, and used it the right way, never striking out with fare wars until the turn before he ultimately won. I, on the other hand, uselessly butted heads with Sterling over the cheapo midwest hubs, and was virtually eliminated from the playing field. And I finished horribly, with no market share, one dollar to my name, and a couple two-bit spokes. Oof!
Settlers of Catan [Mayfair, Mark]--With just enough time for a short game to cap off the evening, we pulled out trusty Settlers. Hans has played it quite a lot, but still enjoys a game. Heck, even I've now played it four times in about as many months. Charles and Arlette decided to sit out. Sterling was the only newcomer to the game. We played it with resource cards face up, which can make trades a little faster. Hans was in the lead from the very beginning, wisely choosing to build at the intersection of some stone hexes, even though they had modest frequency numbers. The desert showed up in the very center of the map this time, and I felt it constrain our building a little bit, especially regarding long roads. Hans upgraded to cities much earlier than I'd seen done in my other games. I'll have to try that next time. He won, obviously, stealing the longest road card at the very end. (I still wonder if that is overvalued at 2 victory points.) Next time we might try the variant I'd read about where all of the tiles--water and land--are shuffled together to make a Land o' Lakes sort of landscape. Then roads over water (bridges) are built for clay-wood-sheep. Interesting.
What was planned for next time: Hmm, once again we didn't do much planning, perhaps because we weren't certain when our next meeting would be! It was scheduled for January 1st, but the shop isn't open that night. Instead of waiting until the next normal date on January 15, we've shifted the schedule up a week to meet on January 8. What should we play? Hannibal sounds like a candidate for some, and King's Bounty was suggested. Colin and James might be ready for more Car Wars, and Doug has been pitching Lunch Money for a while. Then of course there might be some new choices that Santa brought us, or something Hans and Arlette bring back from their holiday in Europe. Well, Happy Holidays to everyone, and I'll see you on January 8th.

December 4, 1996 (our first Wednesday!)
Who was there: Mark, Doug, Hans, Robert, Steve, Jeremy, Sterling, Charles, and newcomer Randy Futor!
What we played: Wiz-War, Ben Hvrt
Wiz-War [Jolly Games, Doug]--Finally! I've been pitching this game for months, based on a couple games played a few years ago. Had fun then, and I had fun now, too. Doug actually had two sets (one unopened before that night), and Randy brought one besides (the larger, more deluxe set from Chessex). Everyone but Hans was there at the start, so we neatly split up into two games of four each (the max without expansions). Sterling transmogrified the board into an odd L-shape in our game, and was quickly rewarded by having both of his treasures stolen, and he was out of the game. While I trudged my first treasure home, Randy met an unfortunate end from Doug's spectacular back to back Sudden Death and Fireball. Poof! Randy's wizard was so much ask on the tiled floor. Doug also had a treasure stashed, and we both raced for one more game-winner. We each grabbed a treasure, but our paths crossed more than once on the return journey to our bases. A couple lucky spells of mine were enough (barely!) to delay Doug, giving me the win.
I didn't hear the outcome of the other game, though a few choice exchanges between our father/son pair let everyone know the game had the appropriate "screw thy neighbor" flair! :)
Ben Hvrt [Cheapass Games, Mark]--Robert, Steve, and Charles left early, but Jeremy and Hans joined Doug, Sterling, Randy, and me for a couple rowdy rounds of this funky little game. It's a gamekit I picked up at a recent convention, being marginally about a chariot race. As a racing game, it is simplistic and heavily luck-driven. The game relies more on the various specialty cards played during the race, the auction to buy those cards in the beginning, and a big pot of money for the race winners to divvy up (winner takes half, second place takes a third, third place takes the sixth remaining).
Personally, I thought it was silly and fun, with great cards like Golly Moses, Well-Aimed Cat, Offensive Language, and drivers with special abilities. But others like Doug thought the luck component was just way too much. Now, I won the game, which probably biases my opinion. And I had a good enhancement for my chariot (bigger wheels). However, I also did well the same way I won the more serious Circus Maximus in an earlier session, by leaping out in front and doing what I could to stay there: most of the nastiness between chariots is triggered by passing or being passed. I just had to be careful when lapping someone! I'd like to play again, but I don't know if anyone else will! One thought would be to try it with those "three-sided" dice (a d6 with 1,2,3,1,2,3). Also, no races should be just one lap, since it takes lots of luck to win those, and then the winnings make you flush with cash to buy special cards at the next auction.
What was planned for next time: We didn't really determine that. Randy had brought Hannibal, which he'd like to play. So would I, and Hans may have been interested. Seems like something Charles or Hank might like, too. Also King's Bounty, which caught Doug's eye. I'd like to squeeze in Streetcar so I'm ready for nongamer relatives over the holidays. Then there's Hank's Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond... which is supposed to be a really quick, silly card game (like 15 minutes!).

November 18, 1996
Who was there: Doug, Hans, Arlette, Robert, Steve, Jeremy, and newcomer Sterling Wright! (That's right, even I missed this one)
What we played: Take it Easy, War at Sea, Quests of the Round Table, and (shelving Wiz-War again, in honor of my absence!!)
Take it Easy [FX Schmid, Hans & Arlette]--With only Doug, Hans, Arlette, and Sterling there in the beginning, they started with this light & simple game that still rewards skill and clever play. (See the previous session's report for more info). I haven't yet heard who won this game or if they played more than one.
Quests of the Round Table [Gamewright, Doug]--This non-collectible card game has each player taking the roll of a squire, trying to rise to the rank of Knight of the Round Table through the play of Story cards (quest, tournament, and event) and Adventure cards (foe, weapon, ally, armour, and test). Doug reports, "This game is really quite good, well balanced. We all [had] a good time (with Hans in an early lead but soon to lose it due to expending too many cards to get there)...We finally finished it a rather tight ending, Sterling going over the top with an astounding run of good luck pulling Ally after Ally. A veritable army he was."
War at Sea [TAHGC, Steve]--Steve (Allies) once again broke out "old faithful" to challenge his son Robert (Axis) for a filler game while Quests was wrapping up. His report: "Robert built up a huge lead at the beginning of the game. A combined German, Italian operation in the South Atlantic put a major hurt on British Forces. The allies where coming on strong at the end, but Rob's early excess of POC (points of control) provided a cushion that was impossible to overcome."
[Doris & Frank, Hans & Arlette]--(Note that "Doris & Frank" is the publisher, while Hans and Arlette are the TVB owners of the game!) Everyone played this one. Again, Doug's report: "Seven is an odd number to play, so there was a little debate on what to do next. Finally it was decided to go with the card game theme again and we entered into a six handed game of , with Arlette abstaining. This game is the closest thing to the mythical "Fizzbin" I have ever played.
"Mü is a game that can apparently be played several ways, all using a special deck of 60 cards, in five colors. Each card has a value and a point score. You deal out the entire deck, and then bid cards by revealing them to the other players. The hid bid (most cards revealed) becomes President, with the second highest being Vice-President. A tie for president results in a loss of points for the last player bidding into the tie and a small gain for the first, and such a tie ends the hand. If there is no tie, then the VP selects a trump from his/her revealed cards (color or value), and then the President selects an "uber-trump" which can trump the VPs trump. Now the President selects one other player to partner with. Finally card play begins with the President leading any card. In rotation all players must follow color (if they can) or play any other (if they cannot). High value takes the trick, with the highest trump (or "uber-trump") being higher than all else. The object is to take point values (not always the high value cards, for example 9s, the highest value cards, are worth no points but sevens are worth two). If the president and his or her partner can capture a certain number of points, based on how many cards they bid, they get a bonus. Score is based on points each player captures, plus the bonus for the Prez and partner. If the President and Partner fail to get the requisite number of points, then the President (only) suffers a penalty based on how far they missed their target and all other players (save the feckless partner) get a bonus of half the penalty.
"It's all very confusing, as you might guess. We started to figure it out late in the evening, and we had fun doing it. Sterling won again, which is a good reason to make him play something with dice in it next time! 8-)"
What was planned for next time: Nothing, really, so I'm expecting to get that game of Wiz-War in for sure! This will be our much-advertised schedule shift to Wednesday night, which might gain and lose some people in the group. We'll have to see. Doug said his storytelling card game One Upon A Time drew some interest. I have a similar sort of game with a horror slant called Dark Cults (purchased on reputation+bargain price). Oh, and there are the little gamekits that Hank and I each bought at Slug-A-Thon, Ben Hvrt and Before I Kill You, Mister Bond.... The latter is "rated" at less than 10 minutes per game, so it seems the perfect filler from 7-7:15 while waiting for others to trickle in. I would definitely like to play Streetcar before Christmas (so in the next two sessions). And I'd love to try Charles' Air Baron again, maybe with more people.
Lastly, check out my Slug-A-Thon report, where our group was represented in force! :) Merchant of Venus sounds like a good candidate for our group, though if no one has it already, I may decide to buy Star Traders instead.

November 4, 1996
Who was there: Mark, Hank, Charles, Robert, Steve, Doug, Jeremy, Michelle, and newcomers Hans and Arlette! (We already had a father-son team, and now we've added a husband and wife!)
What we played: Insecta, War at Sea, Take it Easy, Die Siedler von Catan, (shelving Wiz-War yet again, double-drat!)
Insecta [FMG, Doug]--Doug, Mark, Hank, Michelle, Jeremy, and Robert all played this unusual game. In it, we all designed custom-mutant bugs, choosing from a variety of available heads, legs/wings, and abdomens. All but Doug formed a team intent to battle their way from the bottom of a subterranean hive past different real-world bugs, hopefully reaching freedom above ground (?). The game is low on component aesthetics, with paper or cardstock maps and counters, though each "good guy" bug is represented by a rubbery toy insect for atmosphere (but lousy stacking!). I'd heard before that this game requires teamwork to succeed, an unusual quality for a multiplayer boardgame. And we had a decent mix in our invertebrate army: Robert and I took slow, powerful armored bugs rather like beetles. Jeremy and Hank each designed flying venomous "strike bugs" a la wasps. And Michelle was actually the fastest with her jumping bug that could spew powerful pheromones from its abdomen, which proved invaluable.
We survived the first encounter with a juicy cricket (who escaped before we could eat him), some small flyer, and the formidable walking stick. Gobbled up the remains, and that was enough for our team to fully heal and/or morph to the next bug stage of life (instar). Battle #2 saw us actually look like a coordinated team, disemboweling a praying mantis in short order, and using my acid-ball abdomen projector thingie (these things are real, not science fantasy!), I destroyed a remaining bug without seriously hurting my teammate in the same hex. The next battle, alas, was to be our last. The bad guys had a blaster beetle this time, and it promptly blew Jeremy's bug's head clean off! No recovery from that! Likewise Hank's bug was completely immobilized (severed legs) and near-useless. Some little larval creature sprung out of hiding and was able to finish him off. Michelle's bug was also immobilized, but not before using her pheromones to brainwash the blaster beetle and useless damsel fly to fight on our side. A couple turns later we mopped up, but it was 10:45, so we called it a night. We'd actually only played two of six levels in the full game, so this one clearly takes too long to play in our session.
My impression of the game is that it needs a healthy dose of lightening up. There was a lot of laughing and cheering associated with it, but it often seemed to bog down. Basically the game felt like a beer & pretzels game, but it played like a more involved wargame. I think it takes itself too seriously. It was still fun, though, and I'd like to try it again with fewer players some time (I think it would move more quickly that way).
War at Sea [TAHGC, Steve]--Steve and Charles took up the Atlantic version of the game they tried two sessions ago. This one is supposed to play more quickly and/or shorter, and that was certainly the case, taking just two hours. This was Charles' first time, and Steve's first in many years, so it should be even faster next time.
Charles' report: "My Axis were able to gain some sea areas at the start of the game with the Italians making a good showing at the start. My breakout attempt with the Bismarck to the South Atlantic was a dismal failure. The weight of the British home fleet started press the smaller Axis fleet for the rest of the game. My U-Boats were ineffective against the intense ASW of the Allies. Steve won on turn 7 (turn 8 is the last turn) with 10 POC."
Steve's version: "The Royal Navy was triumphant in the end. The Jerries and the Idies had Mr. Wilson's Navy on the run for a while, but by 1944 the Axes Navies were but a memory!"
Take it Easy [FX Schmid, Hans & Arlette]--While waiting for the other games to end and join in another, Hans and Arlette played this game, which Hans describes as: "Everybody has a set of the same tiles. One player draws tiles at random. The others select the same tiles from their set and each tries to fit them as good as possible on his board. Complete lines of the same tiles give you point and who manages to make the most points wins. As simple as that." The Game Report Online has an in-depth ~peter/tgr/tgr11/takeiteasy.html"review, too.
Die Siedler von Catan [Frankh, Hans & Arlette]--Hans & Arlette broke out the original, German, edition of this game (The Settlers of Catan here in the US), playing with Steve and Charles. I wanted to take a look a the slightly different components, but didn't get a chance. From what I could tell, the hex tiles are more garishly colored, featuring illustrations not photos, but are easier to distinguish at a glance. The little pieces are identical, and of course the cards are printed in German. They were able to finish it right at 11:00 with Hans getting to 10 points first although Steve was doing his best to build an autobahn around the entire island!
Actually, before this game Hans and Arlette were setting up (?) some smaller tile-based game. I didn't see what this was, and don't know if they actually played or gave up in favor of Siedler. They also brought something else I think I've seen before, Mü, but didn't play.
We didn't really discuss what to play next time--except for Wiz-War, of course!! Hopefully we can work that out via email during the next week. As for me, at some point I'd like to play some more microgames (with at least Doug if no one else is interested), Air Baron again, Down in Flames, Cosmic Encounter, Settlers again, Streetcar, and possibly Illuminati. A little further down the line I'm thinking of some "heavier" military wargames that could still be finished in one night. That's a pretty stiff requirement, but I've got a couple ideas, notably France 1944 [Victory Games] and Ancients [3W], neither of which I own now, but hope to in early 1997! Someone else has suggested Hitler's War [Metagaming/TAHGC], but I'm less sure this can be played in our time available. Anyone else interested in these?
Oh, I'm starting to print these web pages out for display at KK's, and will probably try to drop off some off at other local stores.
Lastly, don't forget Slug-A-Thon is coming up the this weekend, November 9-10. The whole weekend is $18, or $13 for just one day. I'll be there, so will Hank and Bill. I'm attempting to get into the official games of Merchant of Venus, Junta, and History of the World, with Settlers of Catan as an alternate. Hank is shooting for Advanced Civilization and Eurorails.

October 21, 1996
Who was there: Mark, Hank, Charles, Colin, James, Robert, Steve, Doug, and newcomers Jeremy and Michelle!
What we played: Circus Maximus, Streetcar, Outpost, Up Front! (shelving Wiz-War yet again, drat!)
Circus Maximus [TAHGC, Hank]--Hank, Mark, Robert, James, and Colin. The first three took two chariots each to fill out the field of eight. Perhaps like real life, or at least Ben Hur, everything was turmoil around the first curve. Colin ended up 180 degrees from his start the previous time with the similar game Speed Circuit, getting a very slow start from which he never recovered. Didn't help that he lost his whip on the first attack! My speedster chariot leaped out in front, never really contested until the exciting finish, while my lumbering "war wagon" received more ram damage than it dealt due to an unfortunate misunderstanding of the ram rules. :-) Ah, well. By the second lap, if not before, the field thinned out considerably due to lost wheels, wounded horses, and other calamities. There was also at least one "suicide" involved when Colin pushed the envelope beyond reality, and Robert (I think) drove into a wall in order to join the newly forming game of Outpost! That left my chariot and Hank's pair of them in the race. Some whipping and jockeying for position boiled down to the final turn where the initiative-determining chit draw would also determine who crossed the finish line first. It was me, grabbing the third egg and the victory lap!
Streetcar [Mayfair, Doug]--Doug, Jeremy, Michelle, Charles, and Steve played this combination track-laying, train-racing game. It went a little longer than I expected, but don't know much else about it. There were some hoots & hollers, but us chariot-racers were louder. :-) Michelle, one of our newcomers, won. (I own this game, too, by the way, but haven't played yet.)
Outpost [TimJim, Michelle]--Michelle convinced Doug, Robert, Jeremy, and Charles to start this game. From all reports, it's really too long for most of our sessions, but Michelle had recently acquired it, I think, and really wanted to have a go at it. I can certainly understand that! And from what I gathered, though they didn't finish, they played long enough to see that Doug was on his way to victory, cornering some market on something.
Up Front! [TAHGC, Hank]--Hank and I played basically a pickup game of what may come to be a reliable backup game. We played the basic Patrol scenario, all I've ever played, and once again I failed to realize the importance of patience. I suspect the right to play the game is to take some shots at the opposing squad, pinning enough men to reduce their firepower (notably any LMGs), then move your own squad forward. I tend to attempt this in the reverse order... I lost!

October 7, 1996
Who was there: Mark, Hank, Doug, Charles, Steve, Robert, and newcomers Bill and James!
What we played: Victory in the Pacific, Up Front!, Shapeshifters, Speed Circuit, and more Up Front!
Victory in the Pacific [TAHGC, Steve]--Steve has been a fan of this game for a long time, as well as its smaller/shorter predecessor War at Sea (and the combination variant from The General called Victory at Sea!). Charles wanted to give this classic game a try, perhaps to get ready for next year's Avaloncon tournament? In a stroke of genius, Steve provided Charles with a photocopy of the rules during the previous week, so they were just about ready to start right at 7:00. Charles took the US forces, Steve the Japanese Imperial Navy, and promptly trounced all over the Pacific. They played for hours, with Charles clearly on the defensive, but had to call the game on account of time (11pm) just as the enormous US reinforcements were ready to come online.
Up Front! [TAHGC, Bill]--Actually, there were five boxes of Up Front! there that night, two each from Bill and Hank, plus my box. Bill is an old pro at this, and Hank used to play it a lot. Those two took to a game right away, and from the expressions on Hank's face and the comments he made, I think he was being taught a lesson! Bill naturally plays with all of the rules, basic & advanced. Hank does, too, but was a little rusty at them. (Me, I've never made it past the basic rules.)
Shapeshifters [FMG, Doug]--Doug whipped out this quick game for a three-way match with me and Robert. I had my set, too. It was a capture the flag sort of scenario, and both Doug and Robert quickly transformed to aerial creatures for speed over to the map's island which held a hidden treasure. I, meanwhile, plodded along in human form, casting spells to conjure a magical sword and shield. Doug looked on in amused disbelief. The two speedsters made it to the island and took a couple turns hunting for the goody. Robert came up with the prize and made a beeline for the map edge to escape with victory. Doug had chances to score a couple hits on Robert, but never enough to stop him or make him drop the prize. With basically no magical energy left, Robert trotted off the map for the win. I was still on the other side of the lake with my worthless sword and shield! :-/ Next time!!
Speed Circuit [TAHGC, Colin]--Colin had suggested this game on our first meeting, and I was glad to finally get a chance to play it. We were joined by Colin's friend James and Doug (who'd played the 3M version of this classic). I took a very middle-of-the-road car (no pun intended), mostly to learn the system. Colin took something I'd call the "loophole special" which had lowest acceleration and top speed, enabling it to exploit a flaw in the rules regarding gunning the engine. Not sure what James took. Colin started in front, and stayed there on three laps of the first course, two laps of the second before we just said he won. For such a simple game, it has a surprising amount of simulation value, and I learned something.
Up Front! [TAHGC, Bill]--After Shapeshifters Robert went on to join Bill and Hank in a three player game. I think Hank fared about the same. :-)

September 23, 1996
Who was there: Mark, Hank, Charles, and newcomers Steve, Robert, and Doug!
What we played: Settlers of Catan, The Creature that Ate Sheboygan
Settlers of Catan [Mayfair, Mark]--Hurray! It's always nice to get a chance to play a game for the first time. Although it's only a four-player game, we sort of accommodated everyone by having Steve and Robert double up, ruling the yellow team by committee, and Doug taught everyone to play (he'd played the original German edition plenty of times). It took longer than I expected (about two hours, including instruction), but further games should take closer to an hour, I suppose. The father-son team won!
The Creature that Ate Sheboygan [SPI, Doug]--I first met Doug electronically through my other gaming endeavor, the Microgame HQ. So it was fitting that we should dig out a classic old micro for our face-to-face meeting. I'd heard many good things about this game, and was eager to play it. With Settlers taking as long as it did, we opted for the shorter introductory scenario. Less human forces, fewer monster options, and no firefighting. I took the humans, and made pretty short work of Doug's monster. But it was clear that the game really needs to be played with all its bells & whistles to really shine. This is a micro, after all, and it's pretty lightweight even with all of that!

September 9, 1996 Our first meeting!
Who was there: Mark, Hank, Colin, and Charles, all newcomers in the sense that we'd never met before, except via email
What we played: Air Baron
Air Baron [TAHGC, Charles]--This was the one we'd decided on via email in the weeks before our first meeting, and we managed to get in two games using the basic rules and still get out by 10pm! There was time for one more! Doh! Anyway, the first game saw Charles become thoroughly established in the northeast and along the neighboring seaboard. Colin was doing well, too, but he couldn't tackle Charles alone, and Hank and I weren't much help. Game one goes to Charles, the guy who owns it. Hmm...
For game two, I went into immediate fare wars to make a grab for the so-so midwest and southwest hubs, and was successful. Hank struggled again, and once more Charles starting conquering places like Chicago, Detroit, and Washington DC. This time, however, Colin had the expensive but lucrative west coast locked up, and started raking in the dough faster than anyone. As before, if the others had joined forces to topple Colin, it might have been possible, but without that level of cooperation, he went unchecked. Me, I was just happy to be doing quite a bit better the second game!