Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Quiet, but still unseemly, I gloat

So I've still not been posting much, despite my hopes about trying to think my way from a zine into a journal, and despite too several gaming sessions since my last post. Thirteen games across 3 sessions in that week and a half .

First there was a visit from Tony and Di, which saw 4 games of Settlers, 5 games of Ivanhoe, and a couple of nice curries (one chicken, as requested by Di). The question of the strategy and tactics of robber placement was as thorny in that night's 4 games as they'd been in the games played the last time we'd got together. We ended up split 2-1 on the issue, with Tony and I in favour of a strict application of picking on the person in front, and Di preferring something else.

I have to say that I believe the 'pick on the person in front' strategy holds up for these reasons:
  • Hindering the person in front is statistically most likely to keep the game open long enough for someone to overtake the then leader, and so going on to win, and that could be you.
  • To pick on players for reasons of spite is to invite counter-finking, which is likely to hurt you when you're behind and can therefore afford it least; and this all the more so since there are no wider opportunities for finking in Settlers, making vendetta play weak in any event- it's just the robber after all.
  • Otherwise, it seems to me that your choice of robber placement can only be based on some notion of bucking the odds, which is a mug's game.
Obviously you're going to suffer if you end up in front. I have 2 answers to that:
  • That's the game, so deal with it!
  • Get yourself a soldier ASAP. Keep this as insurance so that you can move the robber as soon as it lands on one of your regions (this was crucial to my winning those 3 games the last time we 3 played Settlers).
Di won 2 games that night to Tony's and my 1 game each, so you could take that as evidence in favour of her alternative robber tactics, but my 3 wins the last time have to be taken into account too! All of that aside, it's also worth noting that Tony's win was his first since July last year. I'm sure it was worth the wait!

Di 2
Tony 1
Me 1

Tony was up for more games after all that Settlers, so it was off to the tournament field. We ended up playing 5 games. Nothing to report other than the score.

Tony 2
Me 3

Andy and Tony were both keen to play this again after our last outing, so I was quite happy to give it another go. We moved on to the 3rd dungeon in the basic set, with the addition of Donald to the party. Andy was again cast against type as the evil Overlord, while Donald went for his archetypal doughty warrior, Tony chose a ranged combat specialist, and I went for another wizard.

The benefits of a 3rd hero are too obvious to need detailing, but the way that Descent works means that there are downsides to this too. So, the stats of the Overlord's minions vary according to how many heroes are in play, and the players will have less time to complete the dungeon the more heroes there are. On top of that, planning the heroes' turn is just that touch more likely to unravel when you have more players' actions to coordinate.

It took us 2 sessions to finish that dungeon, but that was due to factors external to the game (I was cooking my first ever Sunday roast, Donald had to leave early, and there was no way I was going to let him miss out on this culinary landmark!). The final session probably took more time to set up than it took to play because Andy finished us off with relative ease.

This second unheroic defeat nothwithstanding, I enjoyed the game, and am growing more fond of Descent each time I play. The dungeon-bashing theme is irresistable; the challenge level is rewarding; and the representation of the archetypal details of the genre is satisfying. This overall successful mix comes at a price:
  • Rules which, while not illogical, are certainly fiddly enough to require a certain amount of mastery before you can get the most out of the game.
  • A playing time long enough so that Descent isn't a casual pick-up game like, say, Settlers or Ivanhoe. Most gamers're going to have to put aside all of an afternoon or evening gaming session to get through a game of Descent.
  • A veritable pile of components that are certainly pretty, and useful, but which are really going to have to be carefully organised with ziplocs or somesuch to avoid unnecessarily increasing an already significant setup time.
I imagine that some readers might be put off by some or all of these details, but they are worth the effort. I have to say that Descent really is what I hoped it might be when I first talked about it last June, "a real breakthrough in dungeon-bash boardgaming". It's certainly going to see a lot of action on my gaming table in the months ahead. And that'll be starting next week, when it'll be my turn to have another go as the Evil Overlord. I'd better get to work practising my Mwah hah ha's...

Oh, and by the way, Descent has the peculiarity of a non-reciprocal LOS situation, ie. I can see you but you can't see me. Anything in a pit has LOS to whatever is adjacent, but nothing further away, while you always have LOS to what's in a pit regardless of range. We all thought this was odd, but I've figured that the situation is based on what LOS does:
  • It allows ranged attacks, so that having LOS into a pit from range represents 'lobbing' your attacks into the pit.
  • The Overlord can't spawn new monsters in squares into which heroes have LOS, so heroes in pits naturally can't see very far.
In other words, the rule's actual effects aren't quite as odd as you might think at first sight.

Andy 1
Donald, Tony and me 0

And stuff
Andy had an ailing ancient work computer to attend to on Sunday so that he arrived late. With time to fill, regular readers won't be surprised to hear that the rest of us started with a game of Settlers. With hindsight, I have to say that Donald and Tony didn't really have much of a chance in this game: my setup gave me an ore/grain on a 6 and brick plus lumber on an 8. I also grabbed a quick lumber port so that I was in a strong trading position too. The laws of probability didn't fail me, and I was able to build most anything I wanted when I needed it. I established a strong lead in the midgame which I never lost. In the end I was left with a choice of winning moves.

One neat moment in the game came when Tony was threatening to break Donald's longest road by building a settlement right in the middle of it. A series of robbers (thanks to yours truly) stripped Tony of his vital resources just as he was ready for that build, then, when he finally collected what he needed, he couldn't afford to build the settlement because by that time I'd built a fistful of roads myself. And so he'd've given the longest road and thus the game to me on the spot. That was fun.

Having to leave early too after securing his Evil Overlordship, Andy only had time to fit in a game of Ivanhoe before he left. Again I can only report that I won.

Donald, Tony and I finished off with a game of Nexus Ops. This was new to Tony, and Donald and I had only played it a couple of times before ourselves. The game was a hit with Tony, and I proved once again that early occupation of the Monolith is the key to victory. I must also confess a significant rules mistake: you can only play Special Mission cards to gain VP in your own turn. I'm pretty sure I gained at least 1VP from this mistake, but I suspect I wasn't alone in that, and I certainly didn't gain so many more that the eventual outcome was changed. Still, d'oh!

Di 2
Donald -
Tony 3
Me 7


And that completes the account of my Neroesque escapism of recent days. I guess I'll have to return to reality and present my own global economic rescue plan to the G8 next week. Problems, problems, eh? :b

- As I was saying only yesterday...

No comments: