Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Marshmallow Art of War

This past Saturday we had a Marshmallow War with the youth group.  Unlike some other similar events, I have done in the past this one did not have a higher purpose.  It was a fellowship event that existed for the simple reason of getting the teens together for some good clean fun. 

We got soaked, mosquito bitten, and there was an accident that led to a black eye but all seventeen people who participated had a blast.  One of the things I noticed is how something as silly as shooting marshmallows at each other with PVC pipe can teach some of the basic strategms of warfare. Here are some of the things that I observed.

Perhaps the most obvious one is that posistioning is important. Any advantage that can be gained by terrain should be exploited. We played in an area that was mostly brush and it did not take long for everyone to hug close to the path edge hoping to get a smal advantage from the brush cover. Along the same lines, flanking and avoiding being flanked is huge, but I think that is obvious. The other strategy learned is that defense is always safer than offense. The burden is truly on the attacker and this gives the defender more options.

Even more important than positioning is morale. Morale is what really wins battles. Now it seems kind of odd that morale would actually factor in to a game of capture the flag with fourteen people but it really did. Here are three experiences that illustrate this. First, I was engaged in a fire fight. We were both shooting at each other. I called for help from a team mate and soon as he started moving our way my opponent ran away and we were able to really press the attack. This also illustrates the importance of numbers. If possible a side always wants to amass more numbers at the point of attack than the defender. Again this is common sense, but it is important. We purposely played so that part of our team floated between attacking and defending. These floaters were not suppose to engage but only back up the people engaged, son that we would have superior numbers.

Another example of the importance of morale is a time when I was holding a path cross roads, and we were outnumber 4-2. If we retreated then the other side would have most likely achieved a breakthrough. The other person on my team wanted to retreat but I ordered him to hold the line ( yeah, I think I may have really said that). He did hold, took one of the other team out and then got himself. I was now outnumbered three to one, but I held and ended up taking out two making it one on one. We shot each other, ending the engagement. I did not retreat because I knew if I did we would lose. If invested in the cause, then the very real possibility of defeat is a big morale booster.

The final morale example comes from a time in a game when both sides had broken down in cohesion, and because everyone was split up, everyone was on their own. I ended up in a one on one encounter. Given how inaccurate the marshmallow shooters were, it was an even fight. I charged at him anyway. Despite, now having the defensive position, his morale faltered and he retreated. The appearance of strength was actually more important than actual strength.

The final war strategy revealed from the marshmallow war was the importance of leadership. Myself and another youth leader functioned as the default leaders, and when we were actively leading the teens on our side, things went better.

So I have written all of this while at a RIM conference where the topic is conflict management and I doing so I realized these general strategies of warfare really apply to all interpersonal conflict. In an argument we do not usually think about flanking but that is what we do. We look for arguments that might catch others by surprise.

In our interactions with others, winning at all cost should not be the goal. When we have conflict in relationship, we shouldn't view it as a battle to be won. When we start viewing our conflicts as battles and using tactics of war, then the only real casualty will be relationships.

Sadly we as people are usually quick to escalate an argument to the level of a battle. When we do we stop looking at the other person as a person. They are now an enemy. We start looking for ways to take the superior defensive position, look for flanking opportunities, and find ways to demoralize.

They have not talked about people using these strategies at this conference, these are dots that I connected. It can be helpful to know the tactics that people may use in s disagreement. However, what I need to learn is how to disarm these situations, instead of fighting back.

By the way I typed this on an iPad, so I am sorry for any mistakes.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Top Ten Board Games (2011 Edition)

For the past two years in May I have posted a list of my top ten favorite games.  Between 2009 and 2010, there were several changes because of different games I had played.  In 2011, there are once again several changes.  As I thought about my favorite games this year, I realized that most played does not equal favorite.  There are some games that I really love, but because of long play time or (more likely) long set up time, so as of May 2011, here are my top 10 favorite games, in descending order the more dramatic effect possible:

10.  A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Board Game
Last year at number seven, I had Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game.  Those two games are made by the same company, and both games are heavily thematic and require a little bit of luck.  Even though we play Last Night on Earth more and despite Last Night on Earth being about Zombies I like this game more.  I like this game more because the narrative in the game is stronger.  In Last Night on Earth it is humans vs. zombies so it feels more adversarial.  In this game, it is versus a game controlled villain.   The narrative of this game really comes through, and every time I play I feel like I am taking part in an interactive pulp horror story.  As the picture shows, the set up for this game can be a bit of a pain, but every time I have played it has been a satisfying experience.

9.  Yomi
Yomi is the newest game on the list, as it came out at the very beginning of 2011.  Yomi is a card game that simulates fighting video games.  At it's core, Yomi uses a rock-paper-scissors mechanics.  Both players decide on playing an attack, a throw, or a block/dodge.  The cards are then revealed at the same time.  Attack beats throw, throw beats block/dodge, and block/dodge beats attack.  It is possible to pull of combos and special moves in this game.  
Yomi also has a lot of trying to figure out your opponent.  There is a lot of "I know that they know that I want to attack, but since they know that  I know that they know . . . " type of thinking going on in this game.  I really like that. 

8.  The Resistance
Last year, I included Ca$h and Gun$ on the list, and said that if I was going to play a group with six players, then I wanted it to be that one.  The Resistance has become my large group game of choice.  There is a game, Mafia, that I have played with youth groups a lot.  Mafia is a fun game, but it has a fatal flaw in that players get eliminated and once a player is eliminated they do not come back.  The Resistance has all of the fun of Mafia without player elimination.
The idea of The Resistance is that everyone is part of a resistance movement against an evil government.  However, some people in the group are actually government spies.  The group will vote on people to send on missions.  If a spy goes on a mission, then they can cause the mission to fail.  If no one causes the mission to fail, then it succeeds.  If there are three successful missions, the resistance wins.  If there are three failed missions the spies win.  For the Resistance members, the game is all about figuring out the spies, and for the spies they try not to get caught.  This is a high social interaction game. 

7.  Agricola
This game dropped a couple of spots from last year, but it is still a game that I enjoy.  Agricola is a game about farming.  That may sound dreadfully boring, but this game is absolutely brutal and intense.  Agricola is a worker placement game, which means everyone has workers they can place on the board which enables certain actions.  However, there are NEVER enough workers to do everything that one feels like they need to do.  This problem is compounded by the fact that only one player can use any one action spot on a given turn.  So players are always competing (especially for wood!) for various spots on the board.
I have an odd relationship with this game.  Every time I play this game I get a little frustrated at it.  About a fourth of the way through the game I feel completely screwed, and like I have no chance of pulling anything off.  However, by the end of the game my farm has for the most part come together, I have a reliable way to feed my farming family, and everything is running well enough.  Even if I lose the game, there is a lot of satisfaction from feeling like I have a job well done.

6.  London 
At the beginning of this year, I listed Manouevere as my favorite game of 2010, and London has number two.  However, you will notice Manouevere is not on this list but London is.  I suppose that means along with being my 6th favorite game, London is also my best game from 2010.
In London, players are rebuilding the city after the great fire of 1666 and taking it all the way to 1900.   While there is a board component to London, it is a fairly small, yet important, part of the game.  For the most part London is a game of hand management and card interaction.  Players will build cards to their city by putting them in front of them.  They will then activate these cards for points and resources.   The game features a lot of tactical decision making, and interesting card interactions.  We have only had the game for a few months, but we have already played it several times, and we will be playing it a lot more. 

5.  Small World
Small World continues to be one of my favorite games.  This game is based around a light conflict theme, and the game is all about making the most of one's turn, each and every turn.
One of the complaints I had about Small World is that during the last few turns it can grind and become very mathematical as everyone begins calculating the optimal move to eek out the most points.  However, a fairly recent expansion, Tales and Legends, fixes that.  Tales and Legends adds a random event each turn.  Players know which event is coming, so they can plan ahead some, but the expansion reinforces the idea of making every turn count. 

4.  Warhammer: Invasion
Photobucket In middle school through high school, I was all about collectible card game.  I have played 8 different CCGs at various points.  I love the idea of making my own deck, but I dislike the money pit aspect.  Warhammer: Invasion gives me the best of deck building without the random, expensive booster packs.  Every month or so a battle pack comes out with 20 new cards, and I can get the battle pack and have all the cards.  I have really enjoyed building decks in this game, and I also really like the game play.  Warhammer: Invasion is a resource management game.  Along with managing resources the game offers a lot of potential for card interaction and neat card combos. 

3.  Race for the Galaxy
In 2009 and 2010 I listed Race for the Galaxy has my number one game.  This year, it has fallen two spots.  I still really like Race for the Galaxy.  I still like the clever use of the cards and the tactical decisions the game offers.  Race for the Galaxy is still our most played game, and I still really enjoy it.  However, if I am honest with myself I probably do enjoy the other two games a bit more.
One of the reasons for this is neither Abigail and I care a whole lot for the newest expansion for the game.  Mostly because it adds prestige.  Prestige is another form of points that comes from playing certain cards.  The problem with prestige is there is no guarantee a player will get prestige cards  in their hand.  There is a bonus for being the prestige leader, so if one player gets prestige by luck and the other player does not it gives an unfair advantage.  I suppose we could play without the expansion ,but neither one of us like that for reasons we are not sure. 

2.  Dominion
That is a picture of every card currently available in Dominion.  With each and every expansion, Dominion gets better because more options are available and new combos are revealed.  Most of the games I like are tactical, which means most of the important decisions are made turn by turn.  Dominion is a very strategic game.  At the beginning of the game, 10 cards are available for purchase and players need to figure out which cards they want to buy as the game progresses.  They will use the cards to enable them to more efficiently buy victory point cards.  Everyone starts with a small deck of cards, but as they buy cards their deck grows.   This game is always fun and seems to be infinity replayable.   

1.  Memoir '44
The picture is of everything that is currently available for Memoir '44.  We have all of that except for the bag to the right, and one of the paper maps that is in there somewhere.  Memoir '44 has a really long set up time, which is why it does not play as much as some of the other games.  However, Abigail and I both really like this game.   The game simulates WWII battles.  Players have a hand of cards that they use to command units, and to battle players role custom dice.  The game system is very simple but it is very flexible.  Terrain tiles are placed on a blank board to create a wide variety of battles.  The game has 173 published scenarios right now.
The most recent expansion for the game adds a new board that is bigger, and deeper than the normal board.
These breakthrough maps  are very unique to play, and are just yet another way to enjoy this game.  Even though we do not always play it, when we do I really enjoy it every time we play.  For now anyway, Memoir '44 is my favorite game.   

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Gen Con 2011 Hype!

This past Sunday was event registration for Gen Con opened up, and I signed up for events.  I was already at a really high level of excitement for Gen Con, but now that has gone even higher.  I am really looking forward to those four days in August.  I am still trying to find the best balance for the perfect Gen Con experience.  Last year I participated in 9 ticketed events.  This year, I will be taking part in 12.  This increase was a conscious decision, because last year I felt like I spent to much time meandering around the great dealer hall.  There is a LOT to do and see in that main hall, but it is also a huge time sink and it can become very easy to just end up spending a lot of time doing nothing but walking around. 

While you may or may not care about my plans are, I am super excited.  Posting my plans is my way of sharing the excitement :)

So here is everything I have planned right now for Gen Con.

On Thursday, I will begin the day bright and early by playing in a Zombies!!! event.  In two of the past three years, I was signed up for a Zombies!!! event but canceled both times.  This year I will start with it.  This is suppose to be a Zombies game played on a 3D board, and using some new rules for Giant Spiders they are play testing.

The next event I have on Thursday is a Warhammer: Invasion tournament.  However, right now I am slightly worried.  The "real" tournament is on Saturday, but Abigail will be with me on Saturday.  Despite being good at the game, she does not want to play in the tournament and she does not want to wait on me to play, so I am playing in the "practice" tournament instead.  Unfortunately, as of right now I am the only one signed up for it.  Hopefully, that will change.

Assuming, I do not go far in the tournament at 1pm I will go to a Malifaux rules demo (if I miss the demo it is ok, because it was a free ticket).  Malifaux is a "weird" west miniatures game that I think look really neat.

The next event I have on Thursday is a full game of Dust Tactics.  This game is a miniatures game/board game hybrid.  I am assuming since this event is being run by the company that makes the game that we will be using the pretty pre-painted models.

The final event that I am doing on Thursday is the one that I am running, which is also a miniatures game.  This one, Tombstones n' Tumbleweeds, is a Wild West games.  In it two players will play bank robbers trying to get out of town while the other two players play a lawman posse.
I need to play this game several times over the summer so that I have the rules down inside and out, so if you would like to help me out and play a game that would be awesome :)

In a lot of ways, Thursday is my miniatures day.  I love miniatures games, but Abigail really dislikes them.  This means I do not get to play them very often, so I am getting my fix on Thursday.  If the Warhammer: Invasion tournament ends up not happening then I will probably try to find one more miniatures event. 

On Friday, Abigail will be with me and we are going to begin in the morning by playing a learning game of Empire Builder.  Empire Builder is a train game that is part of the "crayon rail" series.  Abigail has really wanted to play a crayon rail game, so this is the perfect opportunity for us to do this together.

We do not have much scheduled during the rest of the day, so that we can take in the dealer's hall together.  In the evening, we will be playing in a Memoir '44: Overlord game together.
Memoir '44 is one of our favorite games, and Overlord is a really great way to play it.  We did this last year, and had a blast.

We actually have a hotel room next to the convention center on Friday night so in the evening we will not have to drive home.

On Saturday the day will begin with another miniatures  game.  One of my highlights last year was playing a game ran by John Bobeck, author of the Games of War.  The only event that he was running that did not conflict with anything else was at 9:00 AM.  It will be a 90 minute small squad game set in Vietnam. 
I am really looking forward to it.

We will not have anything planned until the mid afternoon the rest of that day.  At 3:00 PM we will get to play a game of Small World: Underground
 Small World is one of my favorite games, and this is the sequel.

After Small World we will then play in a Race for the Galaxy tournament.  Race for the Galaxy is our most played game, and it is one we are both decent at.  Last year we played in a tournament for this game, and I finished second. 

Finally, on Saturday we will end it with the "Mayfair Open Gaming Shindig.  We debated between getting a library pass for Saturday evening or doing this, but our biggest fear with the library pass is we would have difficulty finding a game we both wanted to play.  Plus, it cost more AND we would not be able to use all of the hours so it felt kind of wasteful.  This Mayfair event will have snacks, give us a glimpse of some unreleased Mayfair game, and get some open gaming in. 

Of course, for our Friday and Saturday plans to work, we have to find someone to watch Connor first .. .

On Sunday I plan on once again going to the Gen Con Christian worship service.  After that, I will be hosting my RPG event, The Society of Crime Fighters.  This game will last a good four hours, so that will pretty much take me to the end of Gen Con. 

That is all of the scheduled events.  Along with what is scheduled, Abigail and I plan on demoing a lot of games in the demo hall.  I am most excited about checking out Fortune and Glory at Gen Con.
This is a game made by a company who has a couple of other games I really like.  The game is made to emulate pulp adventures (like Indiana Jones), and it looks really good.  We will also spend a lot of time demoing Mayfair games so that we can collect the Catan resource ribbons.  Every year Mayfair gives out ribbons for trying their games, and a complete set earns people special Catan promo items and a 50% off coupon.  

Now I just have to wait for August to get here.  However, since June and July are SUPER busy I think the time will probably pass fairly quickly.