Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bear vs. Virus: The Final Conflict

On Saturday night Eric & Chris from Sandy Hook hosted not only gaming but also events of a barbecueish nature. Naturally Mark Casiglio and his son Matt were in attendance as well. I had one hot dog and one hamburger, in that order. Current score: Joe Gola: 914, hot dogs: 0. I think it is very likely that my dominion over hot dogs will continue unabated. Their best hope for a late-game comeback would involve someone inventing a four-hundred-pound frankfurter and dropping it on me unawares, perhaps from a crane. Either that or a number of hot dogs would have to join together to form a larger organism; instead of being a multicellular creature it would be a multifrank creature, and possibly the individual sausages will specialize in function, with some being lung hot dogs, some liver hot dogs, and some heart hot dogs. Instead of blood it would have mustard in its veins, or possibly chili.

All that aside, we also played some games. First on the table was the aforementioned Clash of the Gladiators. The game is fairly simple in concept: the players field a number of teams of gladiators and then take turns attacking each other. The details are a bit more involved, however; each team starts with four gladiators, and there are five different types of gladiator. The team as a whole starts with one die, and each swordsman adds an additional die to the roll. Prong bearers allow one re-roll and shield carriers absorb one simple hit. Net casters disable one of the opposing team members, and spear holders can change who gets to roll first.

One of the problems inherent to this type of game is that of player elimination, which refers to the potential for players to be be kicked out of the game before it is over because all of their units have been killed. Clash cleverly solves this problem by allowing players to take over wild animals after all of their gladiators have met their grisly end. The game goes on until there is only one player with teams left on the board, and then players earn points for men and animals killed and any surviving gladiators.

Eric and Chris had not played before, and I made a point of mentioning how useful the shield carriers are, and they did in fact take my advice. To my surprise the net casters were also popular, and indeed they are a very good choice when there are a lot of shield carriers on the board. The prong bearers were not a very hot commodity, however. I think there may have only been about three in play. Also, because the kids were watching, I was careful to change killing to "capturing" in my rules explanation and said that the little stars stood for "bonks" instead of wounds. Animals were not slaughtered but rather escorted to a nearby wildlife refuge.

After the painstaking assemblage of our teams the dice started flying and chaos ensued. I had a lot of lucky rolls early and broke out to a dominating lead. The dice showed no love for Chris, however, and finally when her elder daughter offered to roll her dice for her I urged her to consent. Sure enough, the little girl threw some smoking-hot dice, and many bold combatants were "captured" at her hands.

Because of my auspicious head start my teams were often assailed by the other gladiators, and I was the first or second player to have all of my men wiped off the board. Undaunted, I assumed control of a ravenous, blood-mad bear and set upon my enemies like a polock gamer on a hot dog. After the dust and fur had settled one person was left standing (I forget who, actually), but I—yes, I, Joe Gola—was the victor. Mark made some bitter remark about my skills at rolling dice...I don't remember precisely what he said, but it was exactly the type of snippy comment one would expect from someone who had just been mauled by a bear.

The game is a strange one, as there is an odd mixture of calculation and chaos; a fair amount of thought can be applied to one's setup, but that means little in the face of extraordinarily good or extraordinarily bad dice rolls. Early on in our game Chris whiffed against me and on the return fire I gave her a nasty pasting, and I actually felt quite bad about it; it was just a case of unusually bad luck on her part. Even so, I rather like the Clash of the Gladiators. If nothing else it's a short alternative to Risk.

As always, I have to mention my goofy little statistics articles that I posted to

How Useful are Spear Holders?
How Worthwhile are Prong Bearers?
How Valuable are Shield Carriers?
What's the Deal with Net Casters?

For our next game we played one of Matt's favorites, the card game Split, which is a clever rummy-like game in which each card depicts one half of a playing card and the idea is to match up the halves. There are three types of match, perfect, strong (different suit but same color) and weak (different suit, different color), and each type of match gives the player a bonus action (take a card, assign a penalty point, and trade a match, respectively).

I made one very unpopular move early in the game, which was to leave a perfectly matched pair of cards on the discard pile for Mark to take, and the rest of the table pummeled me with penalty points for the rest of the round. Despite this and the fact that I was getting a little confused from all the beer that Eric was pouring me, I finished in the middle of the pack and beat Mark.

The final game of the night was Pandemic, a cooperative game in which the players must work together to save the world from four superviruses which threaten humanity. I was the Researcher; my ability was to give away cards to facilitate the curing of disease. Mark was the Operations Expert; his specialty was establishing research stations. Eric was the Medic, who could heal an entire city with one wave of his stethoscope. Chris was the Dispatcher, and she was able to jet the other players around the globe as necessary.

The early threat was from Asia, and we all headed over there to prevent an outbreak. We were able to cure and then eradicate the yellow disease (that's not a crack about Asia, it's just the color of the cube), and we were a turn away from curing at least one more, but we had a chain reaction outbreak in Northern Europe and the human race was destroyed, or at least severely inconvenienced.

Ordinarily I am not enthusiastic about cooperative games, as I really enjoy the fun of the competitive element of gaming, but this was a good group for this particular endeavor, as everyone was chiming in with ideas on how to cope with the situation and no one was dominating the situation. I always find the group dynamics an interesting part of this hobby—I've often thought that you can learn a huge amount about a person by playing a game with him, much more than you would likely learn from an ordinary conversation in the same amount of time—and it was neat to experience the sense of give and take that the game facilitated in the group. Of course it doesn't hurt that they're all extremely nice people, even if some of them get pissy after bear attacks.

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