Thursday, March 6, 2008

My Gaming History

The news of Gary Gygax's passing saddened me although I never knew him personally. His game has influenced my life (and many other gamers) in countless ways. I had many good times playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends during my adolescent years and beyond. Reminiscing about AD&D prompted me to think about my formative years in gaming and I decided to go ahead and summarize my experiences here. Ah the nostalgia...

I was always interested in games and sports. I thrived on competition and always wanted to "be the best" at whatever activity I was doing. My grandfather did play me in Checkers, my brother taught me chess, and we played a few card games as a family during vacations. However, I mostly played games with my friends.

The first non-traditional boardgame that I remember playing was TSR's Dungeon! I still have a copy of it in my closet. This was a dungeon-crawl boardgame and my first D&D type experience. I remember looking at some maps my brother was drawing (he was 10 yrs older) and being interested in the game he was playing. I learned later that this was Dungeons & Dragons. I first started playing D&D when I was about 8 yrs old and I played the Keep on the Borderlands B2 module with the old D&D rules. I had no idea what I was doing except learning how to roll dice to fight monsters, but I got started and the experience evolved into something quite different.

I would later learn the rules for Advanced D&D (AD&D) and inherited the original hardback rulebooks from my brother as he didn't stay interested. I learned about playing a role playing game and how it was very different from any boardgame. First of all, there was no board! The game was created and played like a movie/play/story with the players "acting" as the lead characters while the Dungeon Master (DM) would design the plot and play the roles of all the characters in the game including the villains and monsters the players encounter. The DM was the author/director/referee and his goal was to make the game experience fun for the players. It was such a revolutionary concept to think that people could play a game without winners/losers and just enjoy it for the experience of playing. AD&D would be a fixture for Role playing games (RPGs) for decades and it appealed to me on many levels -- Fantasy themes, combat, good vs evil, imagination, creativity, and rolling lots of cool looking dice!

While I was still 10-11 yrs old, I picked up another role playing game called Champions. I was already a comic book reader (mostly Marvel comics Avengers, Marvel Team-Up, etc) and Champions was a RPG that allowed players to create their own superheroes and have comic book style adventures. The greatest design element in Champions was the character creation process. In AD&D you created a character primarily by rolling dice for various attributes like Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence and these attributes defined how inherently capable he/she was at being a Fighter, Thief, or Wizard. Champions gave you the capability to design your characters abilities and powers and make them the values that you wanted! If you wanted to build a character with Superman or Spiderman's powers then you can. You were only limited by your creativity. The game also had a built-in balancing mechanism where you had to pay for your powers with points and any points over a threshold (usually 100pts) had to be paid for with Disadvantages (Kryptonite, Aunt May, etc). So I could build a 200 pt hero but then he would need 100 pts in disadvantages while a 150 pt hero might not be as a capable but he wouldn't have as many "issues" with only 50pts in disadvantages. I have no idea how many characters I made in Champions but there were a whole lot more created then ever adventured in the game because the process was great fun on it's own. Champions and AD&D also taught me a lot of math calculations including fractions, rounding, formulas and probability (the first bell curve I saw was in one of the AD&D books).

I played many RPGs in Chicago and then when I moved to Atlanta I started playing many games with friends and my cousin who lived in Alabama. These games included: Risk, Grand Imperialism, Knights of Camelot, All the King's Men, The James Bond RPG, Marvel Superheroes RPG, SPI War of the Ring, Gamma World, Saga, Viking Gods, Gladiator, Wizards, Talisman, Dungeonquest, Chainsaw Warrior, Bowl Bound, Paydirt, Block Mania, Blood Bowl, Chaos Marauders, Fellowship of the Ring, Kingmaker, Axis and Allies, and Fortress America. Most of these were themed around Fantasy or Role playing games or created by companies in those markets TSR and Games Workshop along with the famous Milton Bradley big box series like Axis and Allies.

Then a tactical game called Battletech came out and I was hooked on a new boardgame. Battletech allowed players to play a combat simulation game where you control your 20-100 ton Mech's which are giant armored robotic looking vehicles armed with lasers, missiles, machine guns, and other weaponry. The sci-fi game produced by FASA had a great back story and it was fun to "blow up" the opponents by destroying armor in various locations and either causing it to overheat, hitting the ammo and igniting a chain reaction, or even blowing up the "head" where the pilot controls the Mech. Teams of Mechs could form Lances (4 Mechs) or Companies (3 Lances). The structure allowed for Battalions (3 Companies) but those battles were resolved with Mass combat rules. The game incorporated Fighters and Dropships too along with Infantry and Tanks which allowed you to simulate invading a planet or running an imbalanced forces scenario. This game was addictive and I can remember playing Mechwarrior (RPG addition to Battletech) for many all-night gaming sessions.

Battletech and Role Playing games along with Axis and Allies were played in High School and even at College. I can still fondly remember some of the battles and adventures that we had during that time. After college, I got married and started working in corporate America in Nashville. Gaming was pushed aside for awhile except for traditional games Monopoly, Scrabble, etc that I played with my wife.

Back in college a friend of mine introduced me to a card game where you played a spell caster and the cards were the spells you used to duel against your opponent. It looked okay but I was too busy and financially strapped to start on a new game. Well, in Nashville I met a co-worker's husband who introduced this game to me again and I became hooked on Magic the Gathering. My lovely wife unknowingly bought me a Starter pack from the 4th Edition because she saw how much I was interested without realizing how "interested" I really was... This game was another great evolutionary design in gaming. Yes, I know that it is a marketing and huge money pit but the game itself is pure genius. The idea that you can take a group of cards and build your own deck by combining elements from the cards together into a consistent and cohesive design is incredible and very, very, VERY, addictive. I invested more dollars than I care to admit into this game but I absolutely loved it. I played this game for several years in the late 90's and into the next century. Then played it some after moving back to Atlanta before I made the next change in gaming.

I remember reading about a game based on the Lord of the Rings but one where players worked together in a cooperative game (this was around 2000 or 2001). It was designed by some German by the name of Reiner Knizia and being a Lord of the Rings fan I was keenly interested. I bought the game along with both expansions and learned about a site with similar "German" games called Boardgamegeek. I also found out about an Atlanta group that met at a hobby store and run by Ward Batty. One Sunday night, I made my way over to the store and played Paris Paris and Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers there. It was great to meet other people with similar interests and most importantly I got a contact for a boardgame group that met in Acworth. This would be the group that I joined and even though the founder has since moved to Texas, we have continued to meet and play boardgames. I've been playing with this group for 5+ years now and I have played more games than I knew existed. I am blessed that both of my children have a real interest in games and a wife who has become quite the gamer herself (even if she won't play RPGs or wargames).

Thanks Mr. Gygax for an incredible eye-opening experience that brought me into the wonderful world of gaming.
Rest in Peace.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Lack of Updates

I haven't posted many updates recently for a variety of reasons...
1) My schedule has left me less time for boardgaming (two kids in sports and other activities)
2) Since Christmas, I've been spending more time on PS2 games (Guitar Hero, Final Fantasy, etc)
3) I decided not to post all my game group sessions (although I will add some from time to time).

I'm really enjoying the time with my children. This spring I will be assistant coach for my daughter's soccer team and also for my son's little league baseball team. They grow up quickly and so this takes a lot of time. They also are really enjoying more boardgames than ever and we play as a family on a regular basis. Some new Christmas games that were hits with the kids were...

Zooreka - this is a Cranium game that lets players move around collecting cards to build habitats for their zoos. It is simple (and we added a few house rules to make it more interesting) but the kids really get into the theme and the game is very colorful and tactile.

Ice Cream - this is a light card game but again the theme is what attracts the kids (particularly Heather).

Zooloretto - sure it is a light game for Game of the Year but the kids are both able to play it and it has opportunities for theme to win. Also, tactile with a fun theme. (is there a trend...)

Hare and Tortoise - a classic german boardgame that uses a lot of math skills and really leverages "position" in a race game. My son enjoys it but he has trouble with the decisions (he is only 6) however he likes to roll the die on the Rabbit spaces. Heather, on the other hand, is quite skilled at calculating the amount of carrots to spend to optimize her moves and cross the finish line. A great game for math oriented children.

David and Goliath - a fun card game that I purchased primarily for when we get together with non-gamers that like trick taking games. It is light and has some unique twists that make it fun to play regardless of the cards you are dealt.

Race for the Galaxy - Currently my favorite new game from Christmas. I haven't taught Heather yet (although she is good at San Juan) but this game is really fun. I think it appeals to my Magic the Gathering desires for intricate card combinations and interactions. Race is a game in the vein of San Juan but with more varied cards and strategies. Brian Bankler has many articles on this game on his blog the Tao of Gaming.

Lord of the Rings Confrontation - I've had this game for some time and really enjoy it but my wife doesn't like the artwork and she won't play it with me often. However, Matthew has shown an interest in it and we have played several games now. He seems to be getting some of the strategies and I give him both variant cards but he lacks the strategic thinking to really elevate his game to the next level -- he is only 6!

I have busied myself playing on our new PS2 (yes, we are behind in video game technology) recently and haven't played as many boardgames. This week I played Guitar Hero I and II and finished both games on Medium difficulty. Now I'm trying Hard and it is HARD to complete songs (which is a good thing because it is fun to play even if you can't finish the song).

I'll try to post some more game reviews and strategies over the next few months.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

2007 in Review

2007 Games Played
This was the first year that I tracked all* of my boardgames played during a year. In 2007, I played 486 total games (146 unique). A little more detail is in order here:

Top 5 Games played in 2007 (# plays)
1. Fairy Tale (34)
2. To Court the King (26)
3. Uno (19)
4. D&D Labrynth Game (15)
5. San Juan (12)

Fairy Tale was a huge hit with my family. We purchased it for Christmas in 2006 and it became a favorite "filler" for my daughter and son. To Court the King was very popular with Matthew since he could roll a lot of dice, but his favorite game in 2007 was the Dungeons and Dragons Electronic Labrynth Game that I have had since the early 80's. It is still a clever game with plenty of luck but also with some great thematic elements and it is still very playable after over twenty years!

Top 5 Games played in 2007 (at least 60 min in length)
1. Chess (11)
2. That's Life! (9)
3. Power Grid (7)
4. Wits and Wagers (7)
5. Transamerica, Ra, and Marvel Super Heroes (6)

Most of my games are played with family but I was surprised at the number of single plays I had (particularly within my game group). I played 61 titles only once and 52 of those were with my game group. In fact, I only played 14 games more than once with the game group and only 4 titles more than twice: Bang! (8), Power Grid (5), Shogun (4), Last Night on Earth (3), and Caylus (3).

While I'm doing lists I thought I would add a few top 10 lists...

Top 10+ Games I own
1. War of the Ring - My favorite game and I love the theme
2. Puerto Rico - Elegant design and superb multiplayer game
3. Power Grid - Just got the Power Plant expansion
4. Magic the Gathering - I don't invest in the game now but it is still a great design
5. Ra - My favorite risk taking game
6. Caylus - I still prefer this to the Magna Carta version
7. Amun Re - Great Knizia game
8. Settlers of Catan - Still an addictive classic
9. Lord of the Rings - I like both Knizia LotR games but this one I can play with the kids
10. Princes of Florence / Mystery of the Abbey / Ticket to Ride - 3 games that I just had to add to the list.

I would really like to play Tigris and Euphrates more so that I can adequately rate it against these others. Also, World of Warcraft and Race for the Galaxy are new in 2007 and they will both probably find there way onto this list soon. -- speaking of new games.

Top 10 New** games in 2007 (+ Christmas 2006)
1. Race for the Galaxy - Just got it Christmas and I really enjoy this game
2. World of Warcraft the Boardgame - Long but extremely addictive for me
3. Fairy Tale - It has been fun to see my kids learn this game
4. Age of Empires III - Very fun after one play
5. To Court the King - I really like advanced Yahtzee
6. Shogun - Great game but dry theme hurts it a bit
7. Fury of Dracula - I would like to try some more games of this one.
8. Zooloretto - Fun for the family
9. Citadels - A lot of fun with a large group
10. Marvel Super Heroes - Rating has dropped over time but I still like the theme
11. David and Goliath - Great "gateway" game (and I couldn't stop at 10)

* ALL actually refers to games played with family/friends and doesn't count solitaire games or online games.

** NEW for me (not necessarily published in 2007)