Games Unplugged at the Langdon Street Cafe

This past Wednesday, Ben Matchstick hosted Games Unplugged, a board game night, at Langdon Street Cafe in Montpelier, Vermont. These Montpelier game nights have been gradually picking up speed, so we decided to make the trip and see what was up. While Langdon Street’s hosted Geek Week for four years now, the prospect of the cafe encouraging more regular gaming is a cheering one. More game nights all over the state are good. As soon as we entered the cafe, we encountered Kaye, sitting at a table with a game at the ready, almost like she’d been waiting for us.

Uptown turned out to be a quick tile and grid sort of game. Letters and numbers line each side of the grid, not unlike in Battleship. The grid is sub-divided into nine squares, the constituent squares of which each have a different icon. Players have a pool of tiles, one for each letter, number and icon on the board. During the game, players place tiles on the grid according to the type. The 3 tile, for instance, can go anywhere on the 3 column of squares, A can go anywhere on the A row and the street light tile can go anywhere in the sub-square of street light icons.

The point of the game is to build as few groups of tiles — group being defined by a series of tiles formed by adjoining each other horizontally or vertically — as possible using the tiles one draws randomly over the course of the game, a la Scrabble.

Ideally, a player will only ever build one sprawling group, but the luck of the draw may force them to place a tile that doesn’t connect immediately. Then it becomes a matter of finding a way to connect the two groups. If another player has thoughtlessly taken spaces in the grid preventing one from doing so, they can capture those pieces by placing a tile that fits in that space. The drawback to capturing tiles is if victory comes to a tie, two players both only have one group, say, then whoever has the fewest captured tiles wins the game.

Kaye pulled her disparate groups together into one hole, while Sarah and I ended up with two groups each. Having played a game, it reminded me of Blokus in one or two ways, largely in how a long, narrow group stretching diagonally across the board seems to offer more choices to keep all one’s tiles in a single group. Uptown‘s light and easy to play, which is handy, because it’s utterly themeless. Yes, the board and graphic icons are done in an Art Deco, Roaring Twenties style, but they’ve got no connection to the game play I could see. Which is fine for a quick game. So it’s got that going for it, which is nice.

After that, we played a round of Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers, for which we discovered that Kaye’s son is not quite ready. The joys of neatly placing a tile to expand one’s forest in the making failed to secure his attention. Maybe in a couple years.

Then Dominion came out. The Moneylender hit the table, so I decided to try the tactic of trashing my starting copper treasures to get silver. It worked out okay, though I think I should have diversified earlier into buying Festivals and Markets in order to do more in turn. Bob made heavy use of the Black Market, gaining several attack cards that proved useful in a game with only one Moat, also on sale at the Black Market. I ended up with thirty-two or so points, just behind Bob in first and Sarah in second.

By then it was almost 10:00 at night, so we had to take off back to Burlington. While we played, other tables had been going at Dominion, Dungeon Twister and even a round of Munchkin. Central Vermont has lacked a public focal point for regular gaming up until Ben took it upon himself to organize it first at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library and now at Langdon Street Cafe. With time, consistency and the ever-spreading tendrils of social networking, Montpelier’s going to have itself a very nice time playing games as interest grows and awareness spreads to privately hosted groups in the area.

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