Saturday, March 08, 2008
First of all, let me extend thanks to all of you who expressed your concerns over the past week. It's nice to know there are people out there who will let you crash on their couch, take you out for karoke, or just listen while you run your mouth for ridiculous amounts of time. It is my nature to retreat and analyze at such times of high stress, so I appreciate the time and space everyone allowed me, as well as the many offers of support I received. Thanks.
(Here is yet one more example of a smooth transition being almost impossible...)
The first game to come off the shelf (almost 2 weeks ago now) was a game that arrived at my doorstep a few years ago courtesy, once again, of Big Bri. Solotaire (Milton Bradley, 1973 (I was only three when this game came out, how bout you?)) is an odd hybrid of poker, keno, and bingo, in my best estimation. You can play it by yourself, which is the only reason that I can come up with for the name of the game, as it has nothing at all in common with the widely known game of solitaire. At least in any version that I am immediately familiar with.
The board for this game is a 5x5 grid of card sized pockets that are tipped slightly towards the player. This allows for a card to be played in each pocket, while at the same time keeping the top half of each one clearly visible. Now, while I was fortunate enough to have been given a set with all of its original parts included, should you happen to acquire a copy of this oldie that is without it's original deck of cards, be aware that only bridge width cards will fit into the pockets on the board. Not that I actually believe for a split second that you will ever, ever, in the course of the span of your entire existence, actually need to know that unbelieveably ridiculously esoteric bit of trivia. But I have the satisfaction of knowing that that may spur someone out there to go to incredible lengths just to prove me wrong.
Play begins by shuffling the standard deck of playing cards and dealing five, face down, in a line from the upper left corner of the board to the lower right corner. This is the starting setup for the basic game and the few variants described in the rules, which are printed on a half sheet of paper folded in the middle. If you take out the pictures and all the empty space, they probably could have gotten the whole thing onto the front of a 3x5 card. (Translation: the game is very, very simple) Play then proceeds by drawing the top card from the pack, looking at it, and placing it on the board next to any card already on the board. This continues until all 25 spaces on the board are filled. The face down cards on the diagonal make initial placement of cards rather speculative. But as soon as a pair or better is played to the board, you may then reveal one of the face down cards. Once you get these cards exposed, you gain some slight degree of perspective on where cards drawn from the pack should be played. But not much.
Madness! you may say, but allow me to explain the goal, if I may. The object of the game is to score points by playing your cards to the board in such a way that they form poker hands in the rows and columns. These rank, just as in poker, from the lowly one pair, to the grand and exalted royal flush. Points are awarded based on the rank of the hand made and range from 2-100. Once the grid is filled with cards, each row across and each vertical column is checked for scoring poker hands and awarded points. The total of the 5 rows and 5 columns is your score for the game. Should you somehow manage to subvert every know theory of random distribution and perhaps buckle the local space/time continuum with a localized wormhole effect, you just may be able to reach the maximum possible score of 625. Since I happen to be fresh out of plutonium this week, I usually score around 50 or so points.
The game itself is insanely benign. It reminds me of something my grandparents would have been able to play with each other. By the same token, it may be simple enough to bridge a multi-generational gap and be suitable for players at great differences of age or intellect. If you can find it, keep a copy on hand so that when the folks get tired of trying to play Guitar Hero with the kids and grandkids, you can send them to the kitchen with it. Keep them quiet and out of trouble, you know. Now, if you're one of those people who can play solitaire on the computer for hours and hours and have a kick-ass time, you may want to try and find this game. Me, I can sit and deal a couple of games, and then I vary carefully pack it back in it's box, and put it back on the shelf. I like having it in my collection, not only because it is in fantastic condition, but also because it is the only game I have that has a celebrity's picture on the box (Lucille Ball). Now, if I still had that copy of How To Host A Murder, I would have 2 that fell in this category (Vincent Price).
I'm still not sure why I grabbed this one for Kittyluv and I to play while we waited for some others to show up. Not my best selection, I must confess. We worked our way through a few rounds, and probably would have been just as entertained had we sat and counted the swirlies on the ceiling.
After that somewhat disappointing start, we moved on to Blokus (Educational Insights, 2005). By that point, the Princess Cowgirl had arrived on the scene, and the three of us sat down with this interesting tile placing strategy game.
The Blokus board is an unbelievably plain silver plastic affair with a slightly raised grid that divides the surface into a 20x20 field of squares. The playing pieces are most reminiscent of Tetris shapes, but in jewel toned translucent plastic. The pieces are also sightly grooved so that when they are played on the board they stay firmly in place and don't slide around, much like a deluxe Scrabble board. The pieces range in size from 1 to 5 squares, and each player starts with an identical set of 21 pieces. To begin the game, the first tile you play has to cover one of the four corner squares. After that, each subsequent tile must touch one you have already played, but only at the corners. Pieces of the same color can never touch on a flat side. Play ends when no one can play a tile anywhere on the board. A penalty of -1 per square of unplayed tile is applied to anyone unable to play all their tiles. Players who do manage to play all their tiles score +15. If the 1x1 tile is the last tile they play, and it is the last tile in their stock, an extra bonus of +5 is added to their score.
This game has all the hallmarks of a classic game, and, given how many awards it has won, I am not the only one who thinks that is the case. But you know those goons at MENSA. Always up to no good. Anyway, it has a very simple set of rules, a totally equal starting point for all players, and a basically nonexistent randomness factor. All of which, in my book, are things to look for in a classic game. Another feature is the exceptional balance between attack and defense that a player needs to maintain to be successful. And, after sitting down with four players, all at differing levels of skill, the balance inherent in Blokus meant no one was prematurely routed from the game. It was lots of fun with multiple players, and far more challenging than I had thought it would be.
While I made mention of the fact that the board itself is rather unimpressive, as play progresses and more and more tiles are laid, it morphs from a drab silver plate into an ornate work of art. Unless the people who invented the game beat me to it, I am working on a way to light the board from below, which should provide a most lovely gaming experience.
Last up to the table this particular evening was Munchkin (Steve Jackson Games, 2006). As a formerly fanatic collector of just about every single thing TSR ever printed (not that I ever got a lot of use out of them, I just collected them), I can really appreciate anything that takes a humorous swipe at the elitist world of role playing games.
**DISCLAIMER** Long have I railed against colllectible/customizable (is that even a real word??) card/game systems for bringing about the death of the role playing industry. I mean, anything that ends up with TSR being owned by Hasbro simply cannot be good in any form. Now comes the time when I may have to at least nibble on the corner of my words regarding this subject. While not exactly customizeable (that damn word again...) or collectible, it is indeed expandable, which I know will be sufficient to get me into long, drawn out semantic arguements with any number of people. Tough nuts. I don't care.
Munchkin is a completely card based game, so there are no maps, record sheets, endlessly confusing tables, or fistfuls of dice to roll. That's kind of a shame, since that was a big part of what made D+D fun. All you need besides what comes in the box is something that lets you keep track of what level your character is (rocks, poker chips, gallstones, midgets, or anything like that). What then, you may rightly ask, is there to assist me in my battle against Munchkin foes like the level 10 Floating Nose, the level 2 Large Angry Chicken, or the preposterously scary level 18 Squidzilla? Well, the game is as full of ridiculously helpful items as it is rife with exponentially nasty enemies. To aid you in your quest to become a level 10 character, you may find such handy things as the Tuba of Charm, the Electric Radioactive Acid Potion, and the Nasty Tasting Sports Drink.
If what you've read so far hasn't clued you in, the game is a riot. Gamers and non-gamers alike can enjoy the backhanded humor of the game. The simple, yet hilarious illustrations on the cards themselves are often as funny as the results that the cards produce when played. I mean, on this particular evening, my character spent a good portion of the game with a chicken on his head. Not to mention what happened to Kittyluv. And don't always rely on your fellow players to not screw you over. This is not only condoned by the rules, it is frequently encouraged.
We managed to squeeze in one game of Munchkin before we called it a night, and didn't quite get all the gameplay kinks figured out. The one thing that became fairly obvoius really quickly was that you should be prepared to die quite often in the beginning part of the game. Beyond that, I just had a lot of fun with this one. I hope to pull this one out more often, and maybe even invest in a few expanders. If you wanna come over and try to defeat the level 1 Potted Plant, or take your chances encountering the Duck of Doom, feel free. But I will warn you that I've got my eyes on your Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment, so don't turn your back for too long.
*Gloom and Dilbert have taken their places on the shelves.
*Gotta get those records copied for Kitttyluv....
*Will winter ever freakin go away???
*Did Thoreau set out to give me a crisis of conscience, or did it just happen to work out that way?*At what point does it become problematic to hear you contractor say, 'It'll be one more day....'