Some day, I will take to heart the lesson of cramming too many people into games that I know from experience degrade in quality with an excess of participants. Dungeoneer is a case in point, as I’ve related in the past. However, that didn’t stop me from doing so this Tuesday, albeit with a mere five players, only one more than recommended.
This time, I finally got to break out Call of the Lich Lord, the epic level set, bringing the heroes back to the titular crypt from Tomb of the Lich Lord, only now everything’s tougher. I can’t compare Call of the Lich Lord to Tomb of the Lich Lord directly, only the two heroic level sets I’ve played, Vault of the Fiends and Realm of the Ice Witch. For starters, the relatively difficulty is comparable, except that it’s much easier to get around in an epic level dungeon, because everyone starts with four movement points, instead of a piddly one or two. That makes a big difference when a hero has to make vast strides across the map because some vindictive player stuck the location of a quest at the far end of a long chain on passageways and nasty chambers. One of Alex’s quests required him to visit the Shrine of Angrihm, which was secreted behind the War Room, Throne of Despair, Greater Troll Bridge and a passageway. The Arch Lich Lord clearly felt the importance of keeping his religious preferences private.
The game played well, but due to the extra player, it went on long; we played for almost two hours before Luke achieved his third quest by slaying the naga queen. Like the last time we played with too many people, there was also a greater pressure on resources than was entirely comfortable. In the late middle and through the endgame, the Adventure deck was chronically small, as everyone had lots of monsters and treasures in play. At one point, Elliot worked his discard and draw in such a way to possibly pull the single healing potion in the game, which he desperately needed to pull back from the brink of death. We found out later he actually drew the card, but didn't have Glory enough to use it.
After that odyssey, everyone took a stretch before a game of Hex Hex. It’s a game of magical hot potato I first played at the afterparty of OGC and fell in love with. Players play cards to pass a magical hex around the table, doing their best to give it away in as annoying a manner as possible. Once somebody has a hex they can’t pass, maybe because the hex maddeningly compels the intended victim to pass it to the left and they lack a card that will do that, it explodes, decreasing their Voice score and increasing that of the person to sling it at them. At the end of a round, the person with the most voice lays down the law, creating a new rule to apply thereafter. It’s quick, light, silly and meant to be played until someone gets sick of it.
There were two moments in the game that I choose to learn from. The first is when one of the newcomers to the game remarked a few turns in he didn’t mind learning the rules in play. I think he meant it in good spirits, but it made me realize I’d completely forgotten to give the game more than a cursory explanation. Usually when I teach Hex Hex, I go beyond, “It’s magical hot potato. Send the hex to somebody else using the card,” and into details of what some of the cards do and especially the existence of the Hex Hex and Hex Hex Next cards, which tend to be the cards people learn about by being victimized by them. Unfortunately, that nigh I didn’t think to do that and I regret it. I try to be a better teacher of games than that.
The other moment came in the second round of play. The winner of the first round had laid down the rule that whenever a player deflected a hex, they had to randomly swap a card with the player they targeted. This, we learned shortly, meant that players with no cards got a freebie from the people targeting them. This also made much harder to kick people when they were down, because by doing so, you’d give them a card with which to fight back. That, plus some funky interactions with Fate, a standing effect where players order their cards and set them face down on the table, to be drawn as needed to deflect hexes, generated some amount of consternation. The table was split three-two on how to handle it. I felt people shouldn’t get something for nothing, which was the minority view.
We went with the democratic ruling for a few passes, but when the issue cropped up again and we realized some of the less obvious flaws of the ruling, I exercised set owner’s prerogative. I’d bitten my tongue before and let the thing go to a vote, but felt then I should have been more forceful expressing my will. When it came to a head, I don’t think I was rude about it, but I got some stick for having not said anything sooner. It’s something else to bear in mind in the future.
Interestingly, having looked over the FAQ on Smirk and Dagger Games’ website, I can see where it might fit the spirit of the game that an intended with no cards would get a freebie, while the hexor loses one, but it did mean every hand would take longer until people were playing their single remaining cards to deflect a hex elsewhere.
It was busy elsewhere in the game space as well, as you can see above. There were games of Le Havre and World of Warcraft: the Adventure Game — and didn’t I feel weird for once not playing the game that was still going at 11:00 PM after everyone else had left. Across the aisle, Brennan taught Settlers of Catan to a friend and her own friends, the first friend having received the game as a gift and requesting a tutorial to help her understand the rules. All in all, it was a most impressive Tuesday night for board games.