[Tuesday Night Board Games] The Dominion of Space Alert in a Small World

Alex (right) points out an element of the Small World map.

This week, board games at Quarterstaff were entertaining, albeit non-momentous. Some newcomers came by. I helped teach them Small World, which I somehow contrived to win. I eked it out by one point. If I hadn’t taken the Spirit Elves and thus gotten one extra point a couple turns because of one little hold-out in decline that the Hill Giants and Something-something Skeletons ignored, I would have come in third. The top three scorers were right on top of each other, like 88, 89 and 90, something close like that.

After that, we ran through a couple tutorial sessions of Space Alert. One day I will play this game in normal mode, with all the elements and threat decks and such. It’s just that every time I play, we’ve got a new player. Space Alert just isn’t a game it seems fair to throw a newcomer into full bore, so we run through a couple tutorial missions and by then, everyone’s ready to move on to a different game. I still haven’t played with internal threats and the security droids, for crying out loud — nor actually read the rulebook that far, so shame on me for being unprepared to push the level of play upward.

Then came two rounds of Dominion. With two new players, one of whom had a single play under her belt and the other had never heard of the game before, I took a different tactic than I normally do. In addition to explaining cards, verbally narrating my turns to show how things work and making some suggestions on what might be useful choices for the other two players to make, I also played as well as I could. In the past, I’ve taken a more easy-going approach in teaching a game, sometimes not making optimal choices so as not to outpace someone who’s just learning the game.

This time, I played exactly as I would have in a game with experienced players. My rationale was to show by example, explaining why I did what I did, in addition to the usual elements I put into teaching a game. The results were lopsided, but I think it worked out well for the players.

The first game I ran away with by some silly number of victory points. The second game they walloped me hard in return. I think my score was somewhere in the teens and they were both in the high twenties. For whatever reason, I just couldn’t get my buying power together in one hand that game. I choose to think that means I’m a damn fine teacher of the game, at least when it comes to that introductory setup.

[Tuesday Night Board Games] From Cold Space to the Fiery Abyss, By Way of the Neolithic

This was a red letter date in gaming for me: I actually declined a game of Arkham Horror — mostly because of the stuff I had lugged to Quarterstaff. Since I had lugged it, I was damn well going to play it.

Andrew mistakenly fired the rocket tube allocated to Crewman Amber as a sleeping berth.

I appear to have a comfort plateau in Space Alert. I brought the game to Quarterstaff for the second week in a row, thinking that now people knew the game, we could move on to more difficult missions. Instead, given my own lack of familiarity with the next lesson in the tutorial book, we just played through two scenarios we’d already done, both of which I think we lost for want of sufficient coordination.

It was a disappointing experience for me. I feel like I haven’t learned the game well enough to lead other people through it, so playing well relies on playing with the people who more readily grasp the programming and resource management. They were off playing the new Neuroshima Hex: Babel 13, so it was the newbies and non-programmers bumbling around on board the Sitting Duck.

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Shakedown Cruise

We played Space Alert on Friday night; the first four tutorial missions, to be precise. I was more than mildly unnerved by Alex and Munk’s ability to almost instantly assess threats and determine what needed to be done. It felt a lot less like RoboRally and more like a timed Pandemic.

This is by no means bad, of course, but it did show me how vastly different a game can seem depending on how one plays it. Makes me wonder what it would be like to be really incisively analytical.

[Border Board Games] Poutine and the Hazards of Deep Space

Saturday afternoon, Alex, Sarah and I made the trek up from Burlington up to the uppermost reaches of the Northeast Kingdom, right on the US-Canadian border, to the town of Derby Line, specifically. Richard and Bethany Creaser host Border Board Games at the Derby Line Village Hall the third Saturday of every month. The Creasers have put this on since at least September, but this is the first solid opportunity we’ve had to get up there.

This is the "medium." Your mileage may vary.

I have to admit the prospect of poutine was a strong secondary motivator. I had never had the opportunity to try genuine Canadian poutine before, and Pizzeria Steve is literally two blocks from the border crossing. On learning our destination, the Canadian border guard shrugged and said, “It’s your stomach, not mine,” as he waved us through, but we pressed on, catching up with the Creasers at the restaurant. I am pleased to report that poutine is delicious and cheese curds squeak as you chew.

On our way to the village hall.

After an amusingly longer exchange with the American border checkpoint, we got back to the village hall in time to meet new arrivals. Eric and Jessica, new arrivals to the area, came to check things out. I volunteered to teach them Dominion while the others mixed the basic set with Dominion: Intrigue. Every time I teach this game, the people learning it show me what my own assumptions about the game are. This time, while I think I laid out the basic turn better than I have in the past, I occasionally went a little too far into the more advanced choices that come up. I guess I did a good job, though, because Eric and Jessica both kicked my ass, getting thirty-four and thirty-three victory points, respectively, to my twenty-one.

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