[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.

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.