Category Archives: Games

Origins 2008 Wrap-up

Here’s how it went down: Chris Miller and I hit the road in the MVoD at approximately 6:00 Friday morning, armed with a cooler full of bottled water, some geeky t-shirts and our Zoom H2 digital voice recorder.

Friday

  • Arriving at around 9:00, we met Mur Lafferty, Jim Van Verth, the Pink Tornado, Cmaaarrr and SciFi Laura for breakfast at Max & Erma’s, buffet style.
  • Registration. Piece of cake! Pro tip: pre-register; it saves time and money. I decided not to buy any event passes because I wanted to play it by ear. I didn’t even pick up a handy program guide; I was totally footloose and fancy free.
  • The Board Room: Rio Grande Games was giving away two free games with the purchase of a $16 pass to the Board Room. I snagged Crocodile Pool Party and Dragonriders. I wound up selling Dragonriders for $10 to a random guy in the hall about four hours later.
  • While in the Board Room, we played Pandemic with Mur, Jim, Cmar and Laura. I want this game, but it is apparently very scarce at the moment.
  • Lunch at The North Market. I played it safe and went with a known quantity: General Tso’s Chicken. During lunch the phrase “Give in to your sapphic desires!” was uttered, entirely within the context of the conversation.
  • Arkham Horror on Flickr, by codeshamanBack to the Board Room for some Arkham Horror with all the expansions. We were joined by Shannon Farrell and Carlos (whose last name I can never remember). Three and a half hours later, we had to wrap up the game due to time constraints. By the end of the game, Cmar had tapped Granny no less than fifteen times; she was exhausted, but he was not.
  • Eventually we found ourselves gathered for dinner at Buca di Beppo with all of the above plus David Moore, Mario Dongu, Rachel Ross, John and JD. No vicious Internet rumors were started after I finished my linguine. None.
  • Karaoke at The Big Bar on Two in the Hyatt. Paul Tevis nailed Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and Rob Balder performed “Always a Goth Chick”, his parody of Billy Joel’s “Always a Woman.” Everyone else sucked. One whiskey sour, one Long Island Iced Tea and two gin and tonics later, it was…
  • Bedtime!

Saturday

  • Breakfast with David, Shannon, Cmaaarrr and SciFi Laura at Max & Erma’s.
  • Chris had to return home unexpectedly due to an emergency (don’t worry, everyone’s fine).
  • I took a quick trip to Best Buy, where I bought a Fujifilm Finepix J10 digital camera.
  • I met up with Gunnar “Miscellaneous G™” Hultgren and Jon “Man Mountain” Pollom for lunch at The North Market. How many days in a row can I eat General Tso’s Chicken for lunch? The world may never know.
  • Wonder WomanArmed with my new camera, I roamed the halls of the convention center looking for photo-ops. I managed to get a picture of Wonder Woman, but that was about it. I also visited the dealer’s room and carefully avoided the Chessex Bin o’ Hepatitis (more commonly referred to as the big dice bin; I was tempted to pick up some cheap dice, but the idea of rooting around in there just wasn’t very appealing).
  • FeedbackLater in the afternoon, I attended the Heroes and Villains costume contest, sponsored by the Ohio Gamers Association. There weren’t hundreds (or even hundred, singular) of contestants, but there were some very good costumes. Matthew “Feedback” Atherton, winner of season one of Who Wants to Be a Superhero? was the master of ceremonies and he did a very good job and hung around to chat with people afterward. He even did a promo for the upcoming release of Mur’s superhero novel, Playing For Keeps (available on Amazon.com, August 25th). The guy is just too damn likable.
  • Mur “dragged” us to a barbecue where we played Mad Scientist University. The card game was ridiculously fun, owing to some excellent players with truly wild imaginations. I knew we were in for a treat early on when Ralph Melton equipped dwarfs with decoder rings, shrunk them down Inner Space-style and injected them into a human being to decode RNA. We created a bizarre continuity involving vampires, penguins, the Moore sphere, and a fifty-page index written by mosquitos. Much of the game was recorded by David Moore and may eventually be released to the public, but only after heavy censoring by the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Tannhäuser in ProgressDavid had to run off to play the role of an NPC in an ARG and it was Mur’s evening with The Pink Tornado, so Jim, Cmar, Laura and I went to the Board Room and broke out Tannhäuser, which is essentially a first-person shooter board game. I had played once before but opted not to participate, instead providing occasional helpful (I hope) tips with the rules based on my prior experience. I started zonking out around midnight, so it was soon…
  • Bedtime!

Sunday

  • At 10:00, we met for breakfast with the gang and Max & Erma’s. How many days in a row can I eat the same buffet for breakfast? Three.
  • After breakfast, David, Mario and I returned to Room 929 to record The Secret Lair Origins Report. Assuming I didn’t completely fail my Use Zoom H2 Digital Recorder roll, we should have that posted in the next couple of days.
  • At noon, I dashed to the dealer’s room to buy AmuseAmaze, a word game that I thought Laura might enjoy. By some stroke of luck, I found the rest of our merry gang playing some sort of card game and managed to say my goodbyes before dashing back to the Crown Plaza to…
  • Pile my luggage and loot onto a cart, load up the MVoD and hit the highway.

And that pretty much wrapped it up for Origins 2008. With Mr. Miller soon moving to the Los Angeles area, I don’t know whether I’ll be inclined to attend Origins 2009, but I do know that my next convention is Con on the Cob in early October.

Gamestuff: No One Lives Forever 2

No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s WayNow that my office is 80% clean (pictures to follow soonish) and I actually feel comfortable spending time in it, I’ve been playing No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s WayNo One Lives Forever 2 borrows a bit from the Rambo and Dark Forces school of title generation. The full title of the first game is The Operative: No One Lives Forever, but everything pre-colon has been dropped for the sequel (much like Jedi Knight 2, which dropped the original Dark Forces name from the first two games in that series, or Rambo III which did away with First Blood).. Last night, I wrapped up the final two “chapters” of the game.

No One Lives Forever 2 and its predecessor (both developed by Monolith Productions) are first-person shooters that take place in the late 1960’s and feature Scottish superspy Cate “The Fox” Archer as an operative for the international anti-terrorism organization, UNITY. Thematically, the games are a cross between the FlintOur Man Flint (1966) and In Like Flint (1967), both starring James Coburn as freelance superspy, Derek Flint. and Austin Powers movies, spoofing the superspy genre made popular by Ian Fleming’s James Bond. The humor is brilliant, but doesn’t in any way detract from the core sneak-and-shoot mechanic of the game.

The “sneak” part of the mechanic isn’t quite up to the standards set by games like Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell and Looking Glass Studios’ Thief, but it’s certainly no slouch. In fact, the stealth implementation in NOLF 2 is considerably improved over its predecessor. That said, there are still occasions in which Cate should be hidden from her opponents and can still be spotted, which proves to be rather annoying.

The “shoot” aspect, on the other hand, is very satisfying. Throughout the game, Cate wields melee weapons (Japanese katanas, Indian tulwars and a stun gun disguised as a mascara kit) a variety of handguns, rifles, machine guns and shotguns, a crossbow (my personal favorite ranged weapon, featuring four different flavors of ammunition) and a host of superspy gadgets (most of which are disguised as items Cate might keep in her purse: lipstick, compact, perfume, etc.) and improvised weapons. The array of weapons available is dependent upon the mission but, apart from one or two stealth-heavy missions, The Fox is almost always well-armed and NOLF 2 is a very satisfying FPS.

The locations and opponents are nearly as varied as the weapons; H.A.R.M. (an evil organization whose acronym is never explained) operates around the globe and Cate is sent to Japan, Russia, India, a secret undersea submarine base and even Akron, Ohio to thwart their nefarious schemes. Along the way, the intrepid operative battles countless tommy-gun-toting mimes, female ninjas, H.A.R.M. thugsIn the original NOLF, the Indian H.A.R.M. thugs had some of the funniest dialog, often shouting “Do not be apprehensive about this apprehension!” when pursuing Cate and “Hard rain is falling!” when she shot at them. The thugs (Indian and otherwise) in NOLF 2 say things like “Oh, man! Now I’m bleeding!” when shot or “I’m not taking the blame for this” when they find one of their comrades dead or unconscious. and a few genetically-engineered super-soldiers (shades of Captain America!).

As varied as the locations are, they have one thing in common: they are all very, very pretty. Every stage of No One Lives Forever 2 is a work of art, both visually and aurally. The graphics are crisp and clean, the ambient noise subtle, and the background musicA special edition of The Operative: No One Lives Forever shipped with two CDs: the first contained the game and the second was a soundtrack disc. The soundtrack has a wonderful 1960s “feel”, much like the music from the Austin Powers movies. The soundtracks for NOLF and Homeworld (a real-time space sim) are tied at the top of my list of best video game music (with Medal of Honor: Allied Assault coming in second). sets the mood perfectly (especially the eerie theremin that plays when Cate is in H.A.R.M.’s underwater base).

Beautiful locations, fantastic soundtrack, engaging story and exciting gameplay all combine to make No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s Way an excellent gaming experience. Among single-player first-person shooters, I rank it behind only the original Deus Ex for bringing the fun.

Gamestuff: The Lost Gentleman

The 18th of August slipped quietly by over a month ago and I failed to mention that I lost my gentleman’s bet with Miscellaneous G™. Longtime readers will no doubt recall that Miscellaneous G™ felt I would be unable to complete two PC games in twelve months’ time; his feelings were strong enough to warrant a wager on the matter.

“You are such a gadabout, sir,” proclaimed he, “that it is entirely outside the realms of your capacity to complete both Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast and Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption in the time it takes the very Earth upon which we tread to complete a single revolution around yon source of light and life!” At which point he gestured to the noonday sun, for we were in the parking lot of the Chipotle Mexican Grill and that brightest of stars was indeed high above our heads.

“Sir, you are a scoundrel!” said I. “Your words cut me to the quick! I’ll not have such aspersions cast upon my character, even though there be none but you and I to hear them! This is an affront to decency and honour ((Under normal circumstances I would have said “honor”, but the manner of speech had inexplicably ascended to and beyond high-falutin’, so I felt the extra vowel was necessary.)) and I have little recourse but to prove you mistaken!” Had the weather been cooler, I would most certainly have been wearing gloves and the outrageous nature of his claim would surely have compelled me to remove one of those gloves and strike him soundly across the cheek with the supple leather.

Thus was our wager struck, and I set about to demonstrate to Miscellaneous G™ the cut of my jib. In short order ((Four months later, actually. Not a very short order at all.)) I had installed and conquered Jedi Outcast, much to my esteemed friend’s dismay. Shortly thereafter, I installed Vampire the Masquerade and was making considerable progress through its blood-sucking story; by all appearances, I seemed poised to successfully restore my impugned honor.

I don’t recall the precise nature of that which diverted my attention; whether it was a shiny bauble or a calamitous catastrophe, I know not. Certainly, it could have been either. Whatever the particulars, my unwavering resolve was tested and found lacking. Or, at the very least, wavering. As I have previously stated, the 18th of August has come and gone, and it was precisely one year previous to that date when my attention span was deemed suspect. The wager is lost, for Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption is unfinished; Christoff is cursed to walk forever in shadow and the fair and virtuous Anezka remains lost to him.

As for me, I am shamed and broken, my honor besmirched and sullied. Miscellaneous G™ has quietly triumphed, and though he does not crow like the cock at dawn, I see the glint of victory in his eye and hear the lilting song of conquest in his voice, ever a reminder that he has beaten me. I am no stranger to bitter defeat, but I feel the icy grip of this failure upon my heart and I despair, for it is as though I will never know warmth again. At least, not until I finish No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s Way.

Gamestuff: Free RPG Day

Free RPG Day - 23 June 2007Today was the first annual Free RPG Day, during which nearly 300 hobby gaming stores across the United States gave away free role playing game quickstart rules and adventures modules to their customers. A handful of stores in the Cleveland area participated, including I’m Game, an excellent gaming store in the Great Northern Mall (about 45 minutes from the International House of Johnson).
I’m Game StoreI met J.J. “Working Man” Lanza and Victor “Tangent” Cantu (Fist Full of Comics and Games) at I’m Game to check out the free swag. There were a dozen or so different sets of quick-start rules and adventures up for grabs, including:

  • Quick-start rules for White Wolf‘s upcoming release, Changeling: The Lost.
  • A preview of the science-fiction RPG “Septimus”, from West End Games.
  • “Dungeonbattle Brooklyn”, an adventure for the Xcrawl campaign setting from Goodman Games.
  • “Goblin Lake” a solitaire adventure for Tunnels & Trolls from Flying Buffalo.
  • “The Pig, The Witch and Her Lover”, a Warhammer roleplaying adventure from Black Industries.

We also interviewed Wendy Kerschner, co-owner of I’m Game, and “Jeff Venture”, an employee and RPG-enthusiast who — after our interview — ran a demo of “Temple of Blood”, another freebie adventure from Goodman Games. The interview will be up on the Fist Full of Comics and Games website in the next few days, and will probably make an appearance in one of The Harping Monkey feeds, too.

Geekstuff: May 2007 Roundup

One of these days I’m going to write another real blog entry, but for now a little of the stuff that’s currently flipping my geek switch will have to suffice.

Star Wars Roleplaying Game. My copy of the core rulebook for the new “Saga Edition” has been shipped from Amazon and should arrive in a few days. I’m looking forward to digging into this one, as from most accounts the changes made by Wizards of the Coast make for faster, more cinematic gameplay than was possible using previous editions. Ken Newquist has posted a review on SciFi.com and more thoughts in two separate Nuketown posts.

Game Night. On the 29th, Chris Miller, Miscellaneous G™ and I got together intending to play Primetime Adventures, the roleplaying game in which players create a television series then roleplay episodes of the same. We got a little carried away during the creation phase and before we ever got around to deciding who our major protagonists would be we had outlined the major story arc for season one leading up to and including the cliffhanger season finale. I’m not sure whether we’re going to pull it back into Primetime Adventures or take it in another direction, but it was three solid hours of a very interesting creative vibe and we could all see a lot of potential in the end result.

Habeas Corpses by Wm. Mark Simmons. I bought this book at the airport in Oklahoma City because I didn’t relish the idea of three hours on two planes with nothing to read. Had I realized that Habeas Corpses is the third book in a series, I definitely would have bought something else. As it was, I was in a bit of a hurry and the cover doesn’t in any way indicate that it’s part of a seriesNot that I saw anything on the cover but cleavage and bare midriff., so I put my money on the counter and rushed to my gate. It’s a decent read that involves, vampires, werewolves, Native American tribal spirits and Nazis. I would give it a wholehearted recommendation except for one thing: the puns. I could understand giving the protagonist a propensity for punnery, but it seems like every one of Simmons’ characters spews puns left and right and after a while it just gets annoying and detracts from the story.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth. This is quite simply the best movie I’ve seen in recent memory. Over the past few evenings, Laura and I have been watching Pan’s Labyrinth with director Guillermo del Toro’s audio commentary. It’s clear that this project was a labor of love for del Toro, and his commentary explores everything from mythical elements in the story to how scenes were lit to how Doug Jones’ faun makeup changes during the course of the film. Unfortunately, del Toro has a voice that puts Laura to sleep after about fifteen minutes, so it’s taking us a bit longer than usual to get through the commentary track.

Game Night: 15 May 2007 – Marvel Heroes (Part 1)

Marvel Heroes
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I think I’m going to build a Gamesignal and install it on the roof above the garage, with a switch downstairs in my office. Then when I want the Game Night crew to assemble I’ll just flip the switch, a powerful beam of light will bisect the sky and our emblem ((Note to self: we need an emblem; and a theme song.)) will shine brightly in the darkness for all to see, ((Projected on the … uh… stratosphere, I guess; or perhaps a giant screen in geosynchronous orbit.)) signaling Chris, Gus, Jeff and Miscellaneous G™ that the time of the gaming is upon us.

Yeah, that’s definitely the way to go.

As it stands, Game Night is coordinated via e-mail, which seems pretty mundane by comparison. Unfortunately, due to some manner of SMTP wormhole or IMAP confuddlement, Jeff didn’t receive confirmation that Game Night was go for launch on Tuesday and he was understandably absent. I’ve got to believe the Gamesignal would be far more reliable.

Miscellaneous G™ and Chris arrived at the International House of Johnson shortly after 7:00 and gaming commenced around 8:00, following consumption of various snacks and chitting of various chats. We decided upon Marvel Heroes, foolishly thinking that we could complete an entire game before Gus’ scheduled 9:00 arrival time. As it was, we hadn’t quite managed to finish an entire game round before Gus arrived. We briefly considered switching to something else, but then decided to simply deal Gus into the game already in progress.

The idea behind Marvel Heroes is fairly simple: each player commands a team of heroes who troubleshoot mysterious occurrences (called Headlines) in and around Manhattan. Successfully troubleshooting a Headline means collecting Victory Points; failing means the heroes get sent home with their web-shooters or adamantium claws between their legs (embarrassing and uncomfortable).

Unlike Arkham Horror, another Fantasy Flight title we’ve played at Game Night, players in Marvel Heroes aren’t cooperating with one another to overcome a common foe, they’re competing against each other for Victory Points. It wouldn’t do to have the heroes battling one another, though, so to aid in foiling their opponents each player controls a Master Villain — the nemesis of the team to his or her right.

We began by assigning Hero teams and Master Villains as follows:

  • Miscellaneous G™: The Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and Hulk). The Avengers’ nemesis,The Red Skull, was controlled by Chris.
  • Chris: The Marvel Knights (Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Daredevil and Elektra). The Marvel Knights’ nemesis, Kingpin, was controlled by KJToo.
  • KJToo: The Fantastic Four (Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Thing and Human Torch). The Fantastic Four’s nemesis, Dr. Doom, was controlled by Miscellaneous G™.

Teams assigned, it was time to get cracking. The basic unit of the game is the Game Round, which is broken into three phases: Setup, Planning and Mission.

During the Setup phase, the game board is prepared. In the first round, six new Headlines are placed on the board (one for each area of Manhattan), four Story cards are dealt onto the Story track, and various tokens — indicating such things as the current Game Round, Victory Points for each team and Trouble Level — are placed on their appropriate tracks. In subsequent rounds, the Story track is advanced, the Game Round advances, and Headline cards are dealt into locations that were investigated in the previous round.

The planning phase is where all the strategy takes place; well, in theory, anyway. Team receive Plot Points based on a number of factors and spend those points to activate heroes and play Ally cards. The idea is to activate heroes whose skills and troubleshooting levels best suit one or more of the available Headlines.

Right. Boring. Where are the epic battles? Where are all the shield-throwing, web-slinging, Hulk smashing, eyebeam-shooting beatdowns?

Fear not, true believer! Once we get past all the setup and strategery…it’s clobberin’ time!

The Mission phase is all about applying boots to the posterior and taking note of monikers. Okay, there’s some other stuff going on (like moving heroes, healing heroes and such), but it really boils down to action. In fact, each Mission phase is broken into five Action Rounds. Typically, the first action is to move your team to a location and the second action is to introduce your heroes’ fists to some villains’ faces.

In the first round, Miscellaneous G™ sent Thor and Iron Man to Lower Manhattan, Chris sent Elektra and Spidey to Brooklyn, and I sent Mr. and Mrs. Reed Richards to The Village. Instead of troubleshooting in the second round, Miscellaneous G™ chose to take a Story Action and build up his hand. The real action started with Chris’ turn when Elektra investigated rumors of mutant monsters prowling the sewers beneath Brooklyn.

Any time a player troubleshoots a headline, all the other players have an opportunity to play cards (Villains and Agents) that make it more difficult for the hero to triumph. When Elektra descended into the sewers, she didn’t find mutants waiting for her there; she found The Vulture, a Villain card that I played from my hand. Once a Villain has been played, he or she becomes the Lead Villain for that encounter, and the other players can play additional cards as backup effects — cards that allow the Lead Villain to use sneaky tricks during combat to gain an advantage or otherwise inhibit the hero.

Unfortunately, The Vulture is an old man, and apparently senile to boot. Why he chose to confront Elektra in the confines of the sewer rather than engaging in an aerial battle amidst the towering skyscrapers high above is anyone’s guess, but the end result was a trip back to Codgerville Prison and Chris picking up several Victory Points.

Meanwhile, in another part of the city, the ever-elastic Mr. Fantastic investigated the origins of a mysterious column of energy, only to find that it was yet another fiendish plot by Latverian dictator and Darth Vader wannabe, Dr. Doom.Never mind that Dr. Doom made his first appearance fifteen years before Darth Vader. Though the bad doctor wasn’t actually present, his machinations were felt in the form of an increased Trouble Level — one of several ways in which a Master Villain can attempt to alter the outcome of a Mastermind Headline. Miscellaneous G™ (controlling Dr. Doom) could also have opted to arrange a direct encounter between Mr. Fantastic and the Master Villain, but chose not to; instead, Chris played Avalanche as the Lead Villain and Miscellaneous G™ threw the Crimson Dynamo into the mix as a backup effect.

Much to Doom’s dismay—not to mention Miscellaneous G™’s, as his disdain for Mr. Fantastic is the stuff of legends—Avalanche proved to be no match for the leader of the Fantastic Four, and I collected the sweet, sweet Victory Points. It was a promising start for me, but little did I know how quickly my fortunes would take a turn for the worse.

When Thor arrived on the scene in Lower Manhattan to investigate reports of a UFO crash, instead of little green men he found a big green-and-yellow man: Electro. For those who may not know, Electro’s claim to infamy is his ability to manipulate electricity, while Thor is the Norse god of thunder who wields the enchanted Uru hammer, Mjolnir, and says “thee” a lot. Smart money was on Thor, and the son of Odin did not disappoint, leaving the only real question whether I should say that he hammered, nailed, or pounded Electro.

Chris, meanwhile, had moved Elektra to Queens, where she found several horribly mutilated bodies… and Hydro-Man. Now, Hydro-Man is essentially made of living liquid and can control nearby bodies of water. Even so, he’s still a second-rate villain in the Marvel Universe. Elektra, on the other hand, is a Greek ninja assassin ((No, seriously, Elektra is a Greek ninja. And an assassin. A Greek ninja assassin. Oh, and her last name is Natchios, which doesn’t sound at all like “nachos”.)) who was killed by Bullseye and then came back from the dead. That’s pretty badass. On the other other hand, Hydro-Man was being assisted by one Mortimer Toynbee, also known as The Toad. The combination of Hydro-Man and His Amphibious Friend proved too much for poor Elektra, and the villains (wait for it) mopped the floor with her.

Elektra’s ignominious defeat marked the end of Game Round One, as well as the arrival of Gus. Rather than abandoning the game in progress, we decided to give Gus the X-Men, shuffle the nemeses around a bit, and continue the ongoing battle for truth, justice, and a slogan that didn’t belong to a competing comic book company. Excelsior!

Gus sat to my left and took Dr. Doom’s green hoodie from Miscellaneous G™, who in turn donned the maroon-and-purple helmetAbsolutely not double entendre. of Magneto, the Master of Magnetism. Our musical chairs mini-game complete, we proceeded to Game Round Two.

To be continued…

Game Night: 20 March 2007 – Arkham what?

The International House of Johnson was full of gamers last night! Miscellaneous G™, Chris Miller, Gus and Jeff (another new addition to the crew) assembled for Game Night. We didn’t get started as early as planned, so we ditched Arkham Horror in favor of something a little lighter: Chez Geek 3: Block Party from Steve Jackson Games.

Chez Geek 3: Block PartyChez Geek is an absolute riot. The players are all roommates in a single apartment, seeking to goof off as much as possible in order to win the game. The prime commodity in Chez Geek is Slack, which can be accumulated through such activities as surfing the Net, sleeping, watching television and the even-popular nookie. There’s also Slack to be had through conspicuous consumption — buying books, booze, food, weed and other stuff — and just hanging out with friends.

Each player has a Job that defines his or her Free Time, Income and Slack Goal. Some Jobs, such as the Slacker, have loads of Free Time but very little Income while Jobs like Corporate Drone offer a high Income but not much Free Time. Cards granting Slack or inhibiting a roommates’ ability to acquire Slack are played from the hand, which is replenished at the beginning of each turn.

We played Chez Geek twice; once with four players and the second time with six. The first game was over fairly quickly, but the second went quite a bit longer.

Game One

  • Security Guard (me) – This guy doesn’t have to spend Free Time when he plays Sleep cards. That’s a nice perk; unfortunately I didn’t draw a single Sleep card the entire game.
  • Slacker (Jeff) – Truly shiftless, the Slacker sacrifices Income for Free Time. He can play a lot of Activity cards each turn, but his low Income makes for some pretty pathetic shopping trips. He’s kind of like the brother-in-law who crashes on your couch for six weeks after Spring semester, playing Xbox instead of getting a damn job.
  • Tech Support (Chris) – This poor sap is the polar opposite of the Slacker; the tech support rep has an above-average Income but almost no Free Time. On the bright side, he can play Computer Games or Surf the Net without using Free Time.
  • Web Designer (Miscellaneous G™) – Not a bad gig, if you can get it. The Web Designer gets a Slack bonus whenever one of his roommates plays a Surf the Net card.

The game had a promising start for me. I made a call to my buddy, Mr. Enthusiastic, and he was more than happy to come over. Then I went shopping for some booze, in the form of a White Russian (I do love the Kahlua).

Alas, Mr. Enthusiastic is a fickle fellow; he bounced from one room to another throughout the game, taking his 2 Slack with him. Any time a roommate managed to acquire 3 or more Slack in a turn, they had a good chance of wooing Mr. Enthusiastic away from another player. Before the first turn was over, Mr. Enthusiastic was long gone from my room. To add insult to injury, he was replaced by Can’t Handle It Guy, a pantywaist who rendered my delicious liquor completely useless.

Thanks to a couple of lousy die rolls, I didn’t get rid of the booze-inhibiting Can’t Handle It Guy until late in the game, and I never really recovered from the initial one-two punch I got in the first turn.

Meanwhile, Jeff the Slacker was feeling the pain of having almost no Income. He discarded a couple of high-price items, including the Wide-Screen TV, but managed to Surf the Net (giving Miscellaneous G™’s Web Designer bonus Slack) and score some Cast Party Nookie.

Chris managed to hold his own, playing a couple of Surf the Net cards, using his Free Time to shop for Used CDs and then coaxed Mr. Enthusiastic out of my room.

Unfortunately, all the net surfing proved to be our undoing; every click of the mouse added Slack to Miscellaneous G™’s total. A couple of turns, some Power Outage Nookie and a bottle of Old Ragnarok later, the Web Designer was only one point away from victory… and then Mr. Enthusiastic showed up with two more Slack points. Game Over.

Game Two

  • Corporate Drone (Jeff) – This all too familiar lackey makes a lot of dough, but has very little Free Time. He’s also got the highest Slack Goal of any Job in the game.
  • Waitstaff (Chris) – Ah, food services. You work your butt off trying to make a buck, but in the end your fortune falls to the whim of the diner. Income for this Job is variable, like your tips. On the bright side, the Waitstaffer gets one bonus Slack for every Sleep card he plays.
  • Envelope Stuffer (Laura) – It’s not the most exciting Job in the world (nor the best paying by far), but it has its benefits: the Envelope Stuffer doesn’t use free time to play TV cards.
  • Bike Messenger (Miscellaneous G™) – The nice thing about being a Bike Messenger is that Free Time and Income are perfectly balanced. The not so nice thing is that they’re both pretty low. The Bike Messenger also gets a bonus for playing Weed cards.
  • Graphic Artist (me) – The money is decent, but Free Time is almost nonexistent. Why does the Graphic Artist get a bonus for playing Weed and Cigarette cards? Who knows, man? Who knows?
  • Pizza Delivery Driver (Gus) – Like the Waitstaffer, the Pizza Delivery Driver’s Income is variable. He also gets a discount when purchasing Food. Yum!

This game had more of a Screw Your Neighbor feel than the first round. We had two additional players and everyone was more than happy to stick it to their fellow apartment-dwellers.

Chris managed to make himself a target early in the game by amassing a lot of Slack very quickly. Victory was well within his reach, so we all started ganging up on him. Laura hit him with cards that blocked his attempts to Sleep and anyone with a TV card in their hand was quick to cancel most of his other activities.TV is unique among the Activity cards in that it can be used to cancel an opponent’s activities. “I think you’ll watch History Science Theatre Y2K instead of going shopping…” or “Going to get some Nookie? I don’t think so. Looks like you’ll be watching a marathon of The Why-Files.” They’re good for thwarting attempts to play high-Slack cards, but they still give the thwartee one Slack point.

Laura and Gus were also formidable opponents, and both had victory within arm’s length multiple times. Gus was taking full advantage of the Pizza Delivery Driver’s discount on Food cards; he was able to play several of them for free, but his feeding frenzy was cut short when Hungry Girl invaded his room and raided the fridge. Laura, in the meantime, was proving to be quite the lush, downing both a White Russian and a bottle of Old Ragnarok. She combined her love of libations with an affinity for NT Server Doccos, certainly an odd combination. Even so, she didn’t quite manage to drink her way to a win.

I suppose I should blame myself for the outcome of the game. In my final turn (how could I have known), I played Chinese Fire Drill, forcing all players to pass their hands to the player on their left. This left Gus with a couple of my cards that he quickly put to use, but we were all still keeping an eye on Chris, who looked to be on the cusp of snatching the golden ring.

We should have been watching Jeff, whose turn fell between Gus and Chris. Sure, he had an impossibly high Slack Goal and almost no Free Time at all… until he got Gus’ hand. Jeff played Get a Life, giving him three Free Time but preventing him from playing Sleep or TV cards. He also played Jonesing and stole some of Gus’ yet-unscarfed Food. The rest of us had been so intent on stopping Chris that we had little left in reserve to stop Jeff. He stole, shopped, and sexed his way to a seven-point, game-winning Slackathon and all we could do was watch.

Game Night: 27 February 2007

Marvel Ultimate AllianceThe evening began with Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which may be the last great game for the Xbox Classic. Miscellaneous G™ and I continued our assault on Atlantis with our Femme Fatale squad (Invisible Woman, Marvel Girl, Spider Woman and Storm). S.H.I.E.L.D. sent the heroes to investigate a coup in the undersea kingdom that appeared to have ties to Doctor Doom’s new villainous organization. The heroes found that Attuma, a warlord who believes he is fated to rule Atlantis, had stolen the throne from Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Attuma was using sonic emitters — devices apparently supplied by Doctor Doom — to play havoc with the Atlanteans’ emotions and turn them against Namor and all surface dwellers.

At about 9:30, our special guest gamer, Gus, arrived. We turned off the Xbox, examined the vast array of board and card games at our disposal (most contained within Miscellaneous G™’s awesome Geek Box) and Monsters Menace America, which none of us had ever played (in fact, it had not yet been removed from its cellophane womb).

Monsters Menace America
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Monsters Menace America is a board game in which players control giant monsters rampaging through North America. Each player also controls the deployment of one branch of the military. The object of the game is to gain health and Infamy by stomping cities, military bases and other locations (typically tourist attractions and monuments such as Carhenge, Graceland and Mount Rushmore) in preparation for the Monster Challenge, a monster-on-monster brawl that determines which monster reigns supreme.

We started out slowly, fumbling through the rules a bit and not certain what our strategies should be, especially around the deployment and movement of military units. I played Toxicor, a towering radioactive purple blob, and controlled the Air Force’s fighter jets and cruise missiles. Toxicor first appeared near Lake Ontario and stomped all over Cleveland and Detroit, completely ignoring the smorgasbord of cities along the eastern seaboard.

In Florida, the monocular menace known as Zorb (played by Gus, who also controlled the Army) trashed Tampa and mauled Miami, then started making its way up the east coast toward Boston and New York. Each stomped city grants the stomping monster additional health points, and larger cities provide big bonuses. Zorb was heading for a veritable feast and there was nothing to slow its progress, save a handful of National Guard units.

Meanwhile, on the west coast, Gigantis (an oversized praying mantis played by Laura) destroyed Los Angeles, Phoenix and several military bases, despite the brave Air Force pilots’ valiant efforts to stop the insectile marauder.

Miscellaneous G™ quickly learned that Megaclaw’s lair near Montana wasn’t an ideal starting point, due to a lack of major metropolitan areas in the region. His plan to amass Infamy tokens (which could be traded for extra attacks during combat) was working well as he demolished Carhenge and other nearby attractions, but Megaclaw’s health was not rising as quickly as those monsters who were decimating the coastal regions. Unfortunately, Miscellaneous G™ had to leave before the game was over, so the hideous Megaclaw was retired, as were the Navy’s fighters and nuclear submarines.

Realizing too late that Zorb was on his way to becoming unstoppable, Laura and I sent our combined military forces to the east coast. Again and again Zorb was attacked by Air Force cruise missiles and Marine Corps rocket launchers and fighter jets, but city after city fell to the creature’s deadly gaze and it grew ever more powerful. Even the mighty Mecha-Monster, a special unit I drew late in the game, proved to be little more than a minor annoyance to Zorb the Inexorable.

After twenty locations had been stomped, the Monster Challenge began. Zorb challenged Toxicor, who was sorely outclassed. The poor toxic blob had a mere 8 health points (not to mention zero Infamy tokens) compared to Zorb’s 40, and was soon reduced to a purple stain that stretched from Syracuse to Rochester. Gigantis put up a much better fight, cashing in six Infamy tokens and beating Zorb to within an inch (or perhaps a dozen Health points) of his life. The awesome might of the terrible eye proved too much for the massive mantis, however, and Gigantis was ultimately destroyed.

I have to admit that I completely dropped the ball in terms of strategy with Monsters Menace America. I don’t know what the hell Toxicor was doing, but it sure wasn’t collecting Infamy tokens and increasing his health in preparation for the Monster Challenge. Granted, I had a few unlucky rolls after destroying Detroit and Cleveland that resulted in Toxicor getting almost no benefit from their destruction, but it was foolish not to sweep over to New England and start wreaking havoc.

Even though my strategy was lacking (okay, nonexistent), I still enjoyed Monsters Menace America a great deal and would definitely like to play it again. It’s a welcome addition to Game Night, which is itself mutating into something new; once 4+ hours of video gaming every other Tuesday after work, its scope has expanded to include board and card games and a growing list of attendees. An epic game of Arkham Horror looms on the horizon, but Doctor Doom and his Masters of Evil cannot be allowed to succeed in whatever fiendish plot the masked monarch of Latveria is hatching.

Gamestuff: Jedi Outcast (Complete)

Jedi Outcast @ Amazon.comI derive an inordinate amount of satisfaction from the completion of video games, and Jedi Outcast is no exception. In fact, this particular triumph is especially sweet because it fulfills half of my gentleman’s wager with Miscellaneous G™. Now all that remains is finish Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption before mid-August and the victory will be mine!

The following is an account of the last four chapters in the saga of Kyle Katarn’s journey in Jedi Outcast. If you’ve not played the game, you should be aware that the landscape ahead is riddled with spoilers, lying in wait like so many laser trip mines.

Continue reading Gamestuff: Jedi Outcast (Complete)