[Tuesday Night Board Games] The Beginning of the “Play Everything” Quest

Settlers, seafarers, knights and the cities in which they dwell.

Following on from Wednesday’s post, wherein I realized there are games I own I have yet to play, The first step to rectify this situation was to bring a sampling of those to Quarterstaff Games this past Tuesday night; in particular: Fence & Fenceability, Save Doctor Lucky and the Doctor Lucky Ambivalence Pack, in addition to the more usual suspects.

Waiting for everyone to appear, I roped some folks into trying out Fence & Fenceability, a pseudo-Cheapass game in that it provided a rules sheet and unique cards, while requiring a deck of playing cards. Fortunately, that’s just the kind of thing I have in my Cheapass gaming kit: a pair of playing card decks retired from the Flamingo Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, as made occultly famous by Tim Powers’ novel about mystic poker, Last Call.

Fence & Fenceability is one of those games high on theme and silly jokes. Players take turns in the role of the Artist, someone who’s counterfeited a great work of art — examples include McStarry Night and Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam West — and Fences, people bidding to buy the forged masterpiece. The number cards of the deck act as money, which is supposed to be bid in pairs. A fencer puts two cards on the table when bidding, one face up and the other face down. In theory, they’re a pair. But they have the opportunity to bluff — regulated by a supply of three bluff tokens, one of which has to be spent at the end of a successful bluff — by putting down two non-matching cards. The Artist has to decide whose bid to accept. The revealed 10 is juicy looking, but it could be a bluff, meaning it would be more beneficial to take the less appealing 5. If the Artist is taken in by a bluff, the Fencer scores the piece of art and the face-up bluff card goes into a community pool, which can be used in future bids to form sure bids with matching cards, meaning the Artist knows exactly what they’re going to get. The deck’s face cards have various meta properties: prevent a deal, exclude someone from bidding, etc.

It’s just as well we started playing with the intention of only going a couple turns, because we found enough holes in the rules to make long term play questionable. There’s no indication of what happens to a bluffer’s face down card or if or when players ever get to refill their hands. I can see where it would be a fun game in a relaxed environment where the point is to hang out and — probably — drink freely. It’s not so great for a store-based game night when there are more people rolling in who want to play something crunchier.

After that, everybody broke out into multiple groups. One knot took off into space with Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game — which I admit I still have not played; I’m just waiting for the right set of circumstances, honest — while a trio went to settle the island of Catan and try out a pair of expansions Alex had burning a hole in his tote bag: Cities & Knights and Seafarers. Meanwhile at my table, we decided to have it all with Chrononauts, zipping through the past and future at will.

"Village and a Smithy does what now?"

Chrononauts was fun as always, but I got distracted a little way in. A friend of mine from work brought some of his own game-playing friends along to learn Dominion. I set them rolling on their own, glancing over now and again. The nice thing about Dominion is once players learn the steps of a turn — action, buy, discard, draw — everything else is them figuring out the uses of the cards. I heard some excellent hoots and hollers from their table, and I think they’re sold on getting the game for their club.

Once they were done with the set, our table got in a couple rounds of Dominion, including a spectacularly ignominious set-up that included the Thief, the Spy, the Witch, a bunch of extra action cards and the Moat and Chapel. So you’d think we’d be well-equipped to deal with Curses, right? I ended the game with -2 points, thanks to have more Curses than victory points. Somehow the Chapel I bought never coincided with Curses in my hand — and the game ended early because people blew out decks. I think Munk bought six or seven Villages by himself during the time I foolishly bought Silver cards for other people to steal. I know now that, when given the choice, it’s better to use Thieves than Spies.

After that was a game of Kill Doctor Lucky to round out the night. But in the name of the quest to play everything, I pulled out the Doctor Lucky Ambivalence Pack. It’s a pair of expansion boards for the Doctor Lucky franchise. On one side is a non-sinking ocean liner, the SS Afgang, stand takes the place of the J. Robert Lucky estate in which so many people have tried to do the old man in. The other side shows the Hotel Dubois, which is very distinctly on fire, from which Doctor Lucky must be saved.

Right off the bat, I had a brain fart on the rules, which Andrew happily caught. The short version: if you’re riding the Lucky train, drawing cards and moving in such a way that the doctor reactivates your token, you can’t play move and room cards. Otherwise you can wind up with over a dozen cards in hand after a single “turn,” as Munk managed.

After that, the game settled down. For me, most of it went to learning the new board, seeing where all the rooms went and where one can hop on the Lucky train. The doctor moves around the board on his own accord, following the numbered rooms. If he enters a room with another player, it becomes their turn. So it’s possible to plot one’s move to farm lots of cards, providing ammunition to try to kill him and prevent others from doing so. I spent a lot of time hanging around the Sitting Room and the Foyer because I had the Bad Cream and Monkey Hand, both of which are tough weapons to beat in their respective rooms.

The interesting thing about the Afgang board is there are new and rather glaring dead zones, where Doctor Lucky doesn’t normally go. A player who ends their turn in one of those dead zones, like the enormous Dining Hall in the middle of the ship, is relying on long odds they’re going to have another turn any time soon. But on the other hand, the Dining Hall connects to a large number of other rooms, making it an excellent way point for getting from one side of the ship to another. Interestingly, one of the optional rules the Ambivalence Pack includes is that Doctor Lucky doesn’t activate players out of turn until everyone’s had at least one turn. I think that’s something I’ll try to incorporate into future plays.

The way Kill Doctor Lucky works, everyone has one opportunity to prevent someone from successfully killing the old man, moving around the table in turn order. So it often falls to the last person in line to pony up the bulk of the failure cards as everyone else strenuously protests they’ve got a fistful of moves and weapons. If the last person in line really doesn’t sufficient failure points, the game ends right there. This time, I had the failure points, but it was getting close to 11:00 and the Battlestar players, of all groups, had finished before us, so I gave the win to Andrew.

Final score: two games played that I hadn’t previously, including the Doctor Lucky expansion board. The first was a bust, the second was pretty good. Next week: not sure, but it’s probably going to be another Cheapass title, because I have a plethora of those unplayed.


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