[Games Unplugged] Prosperous Evil Touching

Main Street, Montpelier, Vermont showing the s...

See that corner shop on the left, Rivendell Books? That's on the corner of Langdon Street, at the other end of which is the eponymous cafe. Image via Wikipedia

Last Wednesday, Langdon Street Cafe in Montpelier hosted their monthly Games Unplugged night. It’d been a while, probably since June, that I’d been down for Games Unplugged, so I wanted to check it out. Between traffic, weather and finding something to eat in downtown Montpelier, it was about 7:00 that Alex and I walked in the cafe door, to find a game of Tsuro wrapping up. Game night and bartender Ben revealed the Gen Con prerelease copy of Dominion: Prosperity that a certain area gamer had kindly loaned out for the evening. We fell on that almost immediately.

Prosperity‘s supposed to be all about lots of buying power and high victory point totals. I don’t disagree with that. Workers’ Village is Village with +1 Buy for an extra coin’s cost. Goons is a snazzy little six cost card that not only behaves like Militia, but gives +1 Buy, and then rewards 1 victory point for every buy you make that turn. That victory point is a token that goes on a little mat each player gets, kinda like treasure that a Pirate Ship in Seaside accumulates. My reasoned reaction to Goons is it’s overpriced for something whose main effect is Militia, but I think it’s what let me win the game; by keeping the other players down to three cards several turns in a row, they weren’t buying victory points as often as I was. The game ended when I scooped up the last two Duchies, recognizing it was probably best to end it then before either Alex or Bob had the opportunity to do so themselves.

After that we got into a probably ill-advised game of A Touch of Evil. It was nearly 9:00 by the time we started, which was much too late considering four of the five players had a commute home on their to do list. In this game against the spectral horseman, we jumped straight into the advanced game in cooperative mode, a bit because Alex had read the rules on his own, but mostly because we’re gamers in that way. Thoughtful? Sensible? Not we!

This one went a lot longer than the game at Quarterstaff. Partly because there were five of us at the table, but also because we were using more rules and probably being more conservative than we needed to — or maybe not conservative enough. My character, Inspector Cooke, was knocked down to one wound at least three times, which meant he spent a fair bit of time at the doctor’s office. Otherwise, he was often trapped in the blacksmith’s shop by roving barghest hounds.

Once the cafe cleared out for the evening, Ben kindly put the soundtrack included in the game on the sound system. It was . . . not great. More amusing in its cheesy synthesizer effects than anything. It added a different sort of flavor of horror to the graphic design of A Touch of Evil, which is fairly dark. The illustrating photographs up the cheese factor, admittedly, but the music just put it over the top. So if that was the intended effect, kudos to the composer. During this power, however, the music mostly provoked groans and took us out of the game for a couple minutes.

After an hour of battling hounds and ghost soldiers, we decided to skip to the showdown, when the heroes attempt to vanquish the villain once and for all. We stumbled through assembling the hunting party, figured out the thought-dead reverend was actually helping the horseman all this time and commenced to rolling dice. The victory was not without its toll. At least three of the five heroes fell to the horseman, maybe four. My character certainly died, though he managed to take the horseman with him, which prompted some speculation as to how he ran through the ghostly rider in the midst of being tramped beneath the hellish mount’s hooves.

Langdon Street Cafe’s a funky little place to play board games. It was pretty laid back Wednesday night, which was good for gaming in peace. Their Geek Week last spring was a lot noisier and crowded, although that was certainly better for the cafe, I’m sure. I’d like to visit for Games Unplugged more often, but an hourish drive keeps it as an occasional trip for me. Having a co-pilot along certainly helps with the drive home, so thanks to Alex for performing that duty.

I have a little dream that some day in the future, there will be an open board game event every night of the week all over the state. Right now, there’s Tuesdays in Burlington and Wednesdays in Lebanon, New Hampshire, which is practically Vermont for the people living in the Upper Valley. Gamers Grotto in Bennington doesn’t seem to have a set board game night yet. Hopefully Langdon Street Cafe will build a long-standing weekly board game institution. Montpelier certainly deserves one.

[Tuesday Night Board Games] A Light Caress of Dubious Morality

Munk, Nonny and Cedar (left to right) exaggerate expressions of pensive pondering over A Touch of Evil.

It’s difficult learning a new game. I have more than a couple on my shelf right now I’ve never played because curling up with a rulebook is something I just don’t do — role-playing and board games, alike, mind, but I’m thinking in particular of 1960: The Making of the President. That was the source of the Read ‘Em ‘Cause You Got ‘Em and Play Everything Quest post series, after all.

So it’s rare that I’ll come into a game and immediately try to play it. But that’s what we did two Tuesdays ago at Quarterstaff Games, with a borrowed copy of A Touch of Evil. It had been my intent to at least read the rules before Tuesday evening, but that didn’t work out. So I flipped through, trying to figure out how the game goes while the other players sorted tokens and shuffled cards. Fortunately, not only is the game not overly complex, but it also has an introductory mode, where the monsters aren’t quite so tough. The one wrinkle we did introduce was going straight to cooperative mode, where the rulebook suggested starting with a competitive game.

Our heroes struggled against the evil vampire and his hordes of . . . bats. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great, either. We spent a lot of time wandering around the border, not having anything really terrible happen to anyone. I say that acknowledging nothing bad happened to my character. I think Cedar got KO’d more than once or twice.

A Touch of Evil is set up to be either competitive or cooperative, which leads to some elements not making a whole bunch of sense in one version or the other. For instance, there are town elders, who can be useful to the solitary monster hunter — provided they don’t secretly turn out to be evil, which may be the case, depending on the dark secrets they hide from the world. One of the things to do in game is investigate those secrets. In either mode, that makes sense, because elders can turn on the hero(es) at the worst possible moment, when they go to showdown with the villain. And that makes a lot of sense and is clearly an issue to deal with in competitive mode, when everyone’s on their own. But in coop, it never really seemed to be a problem. Partly because we played it wrong that first time at Quarterstaff, because apparently dead elders who were secretly evil did, in fact, only fake their deaths and return to help the villain in the showdown. Even then, though, it seems to be a matter of how long one waits to go to showdown. The more Mystery cards are drawn, the better the odds of the villain offing town elders, as there are a number of cards that do just that.

This was a very rough play for me, because I wasn’t very well prepared and spent what felt like a lot of time flipping through a rule book, trying to figure out the niceties as well as basic elements of play on the fly. I played A Touch of Evil again a week later, which I hope to write about in a bit, and it was nearly as rough, because we tried to leap to the advanced play rules, which introduced several more complications which none of us were sufficiently familiar with to remember every time they should have applied.