Sunday, April 20, 2014

Kosmos Two Player Series - Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation by Reiner Knizia

As you might guess, Confrontation is based on the Lord of the Rings books and films and features artwork by John Howe who did artwork for the movies. One player plays the Fellowship whose goal is to get Frodo and the One Ring to Mordor while the other plays the forces of Sauron trying to either kill Frodo or get three evil minions into the Shire. If any of these goals is met, the game ends with a win for that player.

The Fellowship is ready to move out.

The board represents Middle Earth with sixteen areas such as Moria, Eregion, Gondor and Dagorlad The Shire and Mordor can hold four pieces, the Mountain spaces in the center can hold only one piece, while all others can hold two pieces. There are a few other geographical features which affect movement, including a tunnel through Moria which is great for the Fellowship, unless the Balrog stands guard.

Each player has nine pieces in the game, each with a unique power and each representing a member of the Fellowship or an individual or group working for Sauron, such as Saruman, the Witch King, Orcs, or Shelob. On your turn, you move one of your pieces one space forward (a couple pieces can move more than this or move in different directions). If there's an enemy piece in that space, you fight. Since you can't identify the enemy piece from the back, there is some risk involved in attacking. (If this sounds familiar, it is similar to the game Stratego, although Confrontation requires a LOT more thought and strategy.)

The powers of the characters are mostly thematic and add to the fun of the game. For example, Aragorn has flexibility of movement and can attack in any direction, not just forward. The Flying Nazgul can attack any single Fellowship piece anywhere on the board. Gimli automatically defeats the Orcs if he encounters them while Legolas automatically defeats the Flying Nazgul. Sam's strength is only 2, but if he's in a space with Frodo and they're attacked, he takes Frodo's place and his strength becomes 5.

Combat is a simple affair. Each piece has a combat value ranging from 0 to 9. Each player plays one of his hand cards to add to his value and the highest total value wins. The losing piece is removed from the board, while ties result in mutual annihilation. Each player also has Magic cards which can be played instead of a number card. These allow you to retreat, ignore the other player's number card, automatically kill both pieces, etc. The Dark player's cards have higher number values and the Fellowship player has an extra Magic card.

The Honored Dead await the next game.

What's remarkable about the game is how well balanced it is. Despite having eighteen game pieces, each with a different power and different goals, the two sides are evenly matched. I've played dozens, maybe hundreds of times, and it all comes down to strategy. There is no luck involved.

To make sure we both had an equal chance, Carol and I agreed to play the best out of three games. For the first game, I randomly drew the Fellowship. While Frodo managed to move towards Mordor and avoided death, he moved a little too slowly and before he could evade the last of Sauron's minions, Carol moved three pieces, the Black Rider, the Flying Nazgul, and the Orcs, into the Shire for the victory.

We switched sides and Carol took over the Fellowship to nearly identical results. Frodo evaded capture but I was able to get the same three pieces, the Black Rider, the Flying Nazgul, and the Orcs, into the Shire. This was a bit unusual because games usually end with the death of Frodo or the dunking of the One Ring.


For the final game, we randomly drew and I was once again the Fellowship, which had lost both previous games. I was more careful this time not to let Carol get any three pieces too near the Shire and combat took a huge toll on our pieces. But I gave as good as I got, resulting in my last four pieces being the four Hobbits which I thought was cool. Sam, Merry and Pippin gave their lives to save Frodo and soon it was the lone Hobbit against three Dark pieces. Carol did get one character into the Shire, but seeing that her remaining two pieces were too far away, I slipped Frodo past them to Mordor to destroy the One Ring.

Frodo in Mordor for the win.

Coming up:  For our twentieth game, we become pulp space heroes in Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Kosmos Two Player Series - Times Square by Reiner Knizia

Times Square is about competing night club owners trying to get the popular celebrities of the day to frequent their club.The board consists of a seventeen space street with a manhole in the middle. Players draw and play cards from the deck, allowing them to move the celebrities to get them to their side of the board. Each celebrity has special movement rules, so the game is a constant back and forth tactical challenge.

The celebrities in the game are Saucy Sue, whose cards allow her to move only one space at a time; Saucy Sue's two Bodyguards, who can move 1-2 spaces but must always stand on opposite sides of Saucy Sue; Handsome Hal, whose cards move him 1-3 spaces; and Dancing Deb whose cards will move her 1-5 spaces or back to the manhole cover and whose cards can be used as a joker to move other characters. Finally, there's Champagne Charlie, who can't be moved with cards, but moves toward a night club whenever Saucy Sue and both her Bodyguards are on one side of the manhole or when a player moves any celebrity onto their night club entrance spaces.

On your turn, you play as many cards of one color as you wish to move a character or characters. You may alternatively lure a character (except Dancing Deb) to Handsome Hal by moving them there without playing any cards. Once that's done and you've redrawn up to eight cards, you then move Champagne Charlie if appropriate.

If a player gets either Champagne Charlie or Saucy Sue to their night club entrance, they win. Otherwise, you go through the deck twice and when it runs out, whoever has Saucy Sue on their side of the board wins.

After much jockeying back and forth, neither of us could get Sue or Charlie to our night club to end the game. As we came to the end of the deck the second time through, Carol had Saucy Sue on her side of the board while I had one final turn, giving me an opportunity to win. Unfortunately, I didn't have the necessary cards in hand and couldn't bring her back to my side. Carol wins Times Square.

Coming up:  One of my favorites, wherein Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring face off against the forces of Sauron in Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Kosmos Two Player Game Series - Dracula by Michael Rieneck

Oooh! Scary!  Dracula was a new acquisition, purchased after we started this series. In Dracula, completely unsurprisingly, one player plays Dracula while the other is his nemesis, Dr. van Helsing. Dracula's goal is to find all five Victim cards, adding them to his undead horde, while van Helsing is searching for Dracula's five Coffin cards. You also have four energy cubes which represent your life points. Lose your last energy cube and you lose the game. Carol played Dracula and I played van Helsing.

Each player has his own unique set of fifteen Encounter cards and ten Action cards. The Encounter cards are played face down on the board throughout the game and when one of the players moves onto the card, he may flip it up and encounter it. In addition to the Victim and Coffin cards, there are Vampires and Vampire Hunters (Companions) who will battle the other player and Symbols of Power which will damage the other player. 

The Action cards are played from your hand and determine how far your figure can move on the board, your combat strength in that turn, which color barrier you can place and may give you a special action (like taking an extra turn, picking a card out of the discard pile or giving you a bonus in combat). You only play one Action card each turn.

The board is a four by three grid depicting the streets of London with Dracula starting in the Harbor in one corner and van Helsing in the Carriage House in the opposite corner. Each player secretly selects six of his Encounter cards, puts all twelve cards together and shuffles them, randomly laying the a card face down on each space on the board. Then, each player draws five of his Action cards and you're ready to play.

On your turn you may move your figure as many spaces as you want, but the Action card you play must have that many movement points or you lose energy cubes for the excess. Once you stop on a space, you look at the Encounter card there. If the card you encounter is one of your own, you pick it up and may swap it with one of the Encounter cards not in play. You may then continue moving. If you encounter one of the other player's Companions, you fight the goon by playing an Action card and comparing combat strengths. If you win, the Companion card is discarded and replaced with one of yours. If you lose, you give up an Energy Cube. After you've moved and played your Action card, you may move one of four colored barriers which restrict movement to help you steer your enemy into dangerous areas.

The multi-purpose Action cards are an interesting twist. You may start the turn intending to play one with high movement points or a particular special action, but once you arrive, you find you need a higher combat strength in order to defeat the Companion on the space. Do you play a different card with fewer movement points and lose the energy cubes or be forced to play a different special action? There's also a heavy memory component as you need to remember where your opponent has played certain cards so you can avoid them and track the target cards.

Despite each player having unique Action cards, the game seems pretty balanced. Carol and I jockeyed back and forth for position, trying to find our target cards without getting beat up by the Companions. I was more successful in hunting down and defeating Carol's Vampires, but stupidly encountered Dracula's Amulet twice, losing two energy cubes in the process. After another encounter, I was down to one energy cube. I had found three of Dracula's Coffins and Carol had found three Victims when I stumbled on another of her Vampires. None of my cards in hand could win the combat, so I lost my last energy cube and the game.

All the cards turned face up after the game.

Coming up:  Dueling nightclubs compete for patrons in Times Square.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Kosmos Two Player Game Series - Odin's Ravens by Thorsten Gimmler

In this game, each player represents one of Odin's Ravens (see how that works?), Hugin or Munin, in a series of races. The winner of each race gets points based on how many spaces ahead he is when the race ends. You can also get three points in a race by winning "The Magic Way" competition. First player to twelve points wins.

The flight path is a series of nine terrain cards, each with one or two types of terrain. The cards are laid out at the beginning of each race so that no two types of terrain are in a row. Each player has his own deck of cards and starts the round by drawing five cards. Finally, a Magic Way card is turned up which shows either two types of terrain or one type of terrain and an Odin card.

Hugin and Munin
On your turn you can play up to three cards from your hand. The basic action is playing a flight card with a specific terrain to move your raven forward onto the next card in the flight path (for example, if the next card is a mountain, you play a mountain card and then move your raven onto that card). If you don't have the next terrain, you can play two matching cards as a joker to move onto the next card. Awesomely, if there are multiple cards with the same terrain ahead, for example, three lake cards, playing one of that type of card moves you all the way to the end of that terrain! So there's a big advantage in manipulating the terrain cards in the flight path.

How do you manipulate the flight path? Also available in your deck are Odin cards which give you special actions like rotating or changing the order of the terrain cards, placing the Odin marker in front of your opponent which requires them to play an additional card to move onto that terrain, adding landscape cards to the end of the line, rearranging your auxiliary stack, or moving your or your opponent's raven forward or back one space, respectively.

The Auxiliary stack on the left, the draw deck in the center and the discards on the right.
Another option is to play a card face down to your auxiliary stack, which is the key, unique mechanic in the game. In addition to playing three cards from your hand each turn, you can play up to three cards from your auxiliary stack, allowing you to play a maximum of up to six cards. The trick is, you have to create the auxiliary stack as you go by playing cards face down onto it. There's a complication, though, because you may not change the order of the cards. So if you need a card from your auxiliary stack that's under another, too bad, you have to play the card on top first. This requires a good deal of thought as you have to carefully plan the order in which you play cards into the auxiliary stack so that you can later play them in a devastating move.

You may also play a card to "The Magic Way". This card has to match either the terrain type or Odin card on The Magic Way card turned up at the start of the round. This card does nothing for you during the race, but the player who plays the most cards to The Magic Way by the end of the race gets three points.

The Magic Way
Finally, at the end of the turn you may add a new terrain card to the end of the flight path. Generally, you only do this because your opponent is close to winning the race and you hope to stop them. This can backfire because if they do finish, the get an extra point for traveling one more card.

Carol came out of the gate strong and won the first race by a whopping four cards and also played the most cards to The Magic Way for a total of seven points to my zero. I came back the next race with five points, two from the race plus three for winning The Magic Way. I won the third race by three, taking the lead, eight to seven. Carol won the next race by one card plus she won The Magic Way, making the score going into the last race eleven to eight. Carol then trounced me in the fifth and final race, scoring three for the race and three for The Magic Way for a final score of seventeen to eight.

Final scores:

   Carol      7 + 0 + 0 + 4 + 6 = 17
   Bob        0 + 5 + 3 + 0 + 0 =   8

Coming up: We visit Victorian England for a confrontation with Dracula.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Germantown 03/31/14 - OUTER SPACE

Attendance:  19

  • Leslie Barkley
  • Paul Czarnota
  • Dave, Andrew & Corwin Fair
  • Nick Ferris
  • Henry Ho
  • Randy Hoffman
  • Rebecca Holte
  • Doug Hoylman
  • Bob & Carol Jones
  • Sarah Pimsler
  • Eric & Laura Reinhold
  • Gordon Rotter
  • Arne Schwettmann
  • Alf & Cynthia Shupe
In anticipation of this, the fifth Monday of the month, we decided we would start having theme nights on every fifth Monday. For this inaugural session, we went with OUTER SPACE! All games (except Qwixx, which we played A LOT) had an outer space theme.

Games Played (scores in order of place):

Space Beans - Dave 34, Corwin 33, Laura 30, Eric 27, Bob 27, Rebecca 25
Race For the Galaxy - Leslie 40, Gordon 26, Cynthia 21
Race For the Galaxy - Eric 32, Gordon 30, Paul 27
Battle Beyond Space - Dave 26, Laura 22, Cynthia 15
Continuum - Leslie 72, Bob 65, Rebecca 60, Corwin 56
Merchants of Venus - Henry 1676, Randy 1612, Alf 1105
Qwixx - Gordon 69, Dave 65, Paul 44
Qwixx - Paul 109, Dave 85, Henry 85, Gordon 74
Qwixx - Dave 89, Randy 72, Paul 62, Henry 56
Qwixx - Paul 67, Randy 59, Dave 49, Henry 47
Qwixx - Randy 116 Henry 61, Paul 46
Cosmic Wimpout - Bob 305, Leslie 210, Corwin 205
Cosmic Wimpout - Leslie 405, Corwin 385, Bob 0
Battlestar Galactica (with expansions) - Carol, Doug, Nick, Sarah, Andrew won as human. Arne lost as Cylon.
Qwixx - Paul 68, Randy 63, Henry 62, Leslie 41
Qwixx - Henry 59, Leslie 59, Paul 27, Randy 22

Battle Beyond Space image by a_traveler on BGG.

Kosmos Two Player Game Series - The Pillars of the Earth: Builders Duel by Stefan Feld

Our fifteenth game was the one with the longest name in the series, The Pillars of the Earth: Builders Duel, based on the popular fantasy novel by Ken Follett. You can see in the picture below that the box is thicker than most of the others in the series, although the added depth doesn't seem necessary. There's also a full size, 2-4 player, The Pillars of the Earth game that we've played at GCOM Germantown and it's really good, although completely different.  

In Builders Duel, one of the players builds a cathedral while the other builds a fortress. Each building consists of three sections, each of which requires three processed resources to build. During the game, players collect raw materials such as sand, sheep, stone and wood, process them into finished goods, and then add them to their building. The first player to complete his or her building wins.

Bob's Fortress
Actions are assigned through an interesting mechanic. Each turn, nine action cards are laid out in three rows. The start player places his three markers on each card in a column, each card in a row, or diagonally. The other player then has to place his markers the same way, but must overlap exactly one card with the first player. The players then have an "auction" of sorts using seals to see who gets the card they both chose. Once that's done, both players take the actions on their cards.

The seals are double-sided coins, a personal one you keep permanently and neutral seals you collect and spend throughout the game. Values on your personal seal are 2 on one side and 3 on the other, while the neutral seals are 0/5, 1/4, and 2/3. During the auction, the first player takes a seal of his choice and flips it (yes, flips it in the air like a coin) to determine his bid. The other player then contributes as many seals as he wants, flipping them in turn, until he passes the value of the first player. At that point, the first player can contribute more seals until he retakes the lead, going back and forth until there's a winner. Once you use your personal seal, you may contribute no more. All neutral seals used are discarded after the auction.

The auction is interesting because you can go for a big score and use the 0/5 seal if you have it, but you may flip the 0 side, while the personal seals offer a guaranteed 2 or 3 value, but you can then add no more. Of course, if you spend all your neutral seals, you're vulnerable in future auctions until you can acquire more, so you need to choose your battles carefully.

The action cards get you raw materials, allow you to process raw materials into finished goods, buy neutral seals, allow you to sell wool in order to get more coins, switch the start player, etc. Once a player has completed his actions, he may apply processed goods to his building at a cost of 2 coins for one, 6 for two and 12 to build an entire section of three. Additionally, the first player to build a particular section gets a bonus of coins, seals or a free resource conversion.

The game ends when a player has completed his building or when four passages of three rounds each are completed. The player who completed his building first, or whoever has the most complete building if neither is done, wins.

Carol's Cathedral
I started out with an early lead after Carol spent all her seals, allowing me to win the extra card for a couple of rounds in a row. Hilariously, both of us frequently forgot the build phase of the turn which meant we missed a couple of opportunities to add to our building. Near the end, Carol caught up and going into the final turn both of us were within striking distance of finishing our building.

During the final turn, the game came down to one final card we both needed to win. The auction was close and would be determined by one final flip of the coin; whoever won the toss would be first to complete their building.

I won the toss, finished my fortress and won the game. It wasn't entirely satisfying winning like that, but it sure was exciting.

After four losses in a row, Bob wins Builders Duel.

Coming up:  Mythological creatures race at the behest of a god in Odin's Ravens.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Germantown 03/17/14

Attendance:  18

  • Gabriel Copley
  • Dave, Noreen, Andrew & Corwin Fair
  • Nick Ferris
  • Jenn Glinzak
  • Doug Hoylman
  • Bob & Carol Jones
  • Sarah Pimsler
  • Eric & Laura Reinhold
  • Rebecca & Gordon Rotter
  • Arne Schwettmann
  • Alf & Cynthia Shupe
Welcome, Jenn!

Games Played (scores in order of place):

Machi Koro - Dave, Andrew, Jenn, Nick
Blokus Duo - Sarah 11, Arne 16
Medici - Carol 94, Randy 84, Laura 81, Noreen 78, Bob 75, Eric 67
8 Minute Empire - Nick 40, Dave 38, Andrew 26, Jenn 24
8 Minute Empire - Dave 16, Andrew 11, Nick 11, Jenn 10
Qwixx - Sarah 89, Bob 73, Noreen 46, Arne 20
Big Points - Eric 39, Laura 24, Carol 24, Randy 20
Shadows Over Camelot - Alf won as the traitor, Cynthia, Rebecca, Gordon, Doug, Gabriel
Black Spy - Sarah 19, Carol 25, Arne 43, Randy 44, Noreen 89, Bob 100
Ghost Party - Arne -14, Sarah -14, Carol -18, Randy -19, Noreen -20, Bob -28
Bruges - Nick 63, Dave 52, Andrew 49, Jenn 39

Ghost Party image by Jonan Jello on BGG.

Posted by Bob on 04/05/14.