Burning Dan Recap 1: Gloomhaven Delivers

Another successful Burning Dan is in the books.

For those of you not familiar, Burning Dan is an annual summer gaming event that takes place in Frostburg Maryland. It is invite only and really is just my family and few friends and their families, but we like to pretend it’s an exclusive Gaming Conference. Mostly it’s just an excuse to get together twice a year (the winter version is Dan Con) in Frostburg and play games and enjoy the company of good people. It started after I moved to Frostburg from Delaware and my friends were worried about me since i started counting the number of cars turning around in front of my house.

See this post for more info on Burning Dan / Dan Con!

Now Burning Dan is a big event for me every year, so to celebrate this year I saved the unboxing and first play of the current #1 Game on Board Game Geeks Top board game list… Gloomhaven.

Now I had heard alot about Gloomhaven since it came out. We had made it a priority every year at Dancon/Burning Dan to play the previous #1 ranked game Pandemic Legacy the previous years, so when we saw that it was overthrown we were very interested in checking out Gloomhaven. There was only one problem. Okay, two actually.

Problem #1:

$140 bucks for a board game! Woah! Thats a bit extreme! (I thought until actually opening the box. more on that to come)

Problem #2:

Well thats an even bigger problem.

Gloomhaven was a kickstarter game that had a limited production run, during boths of it’s initial releases. This made finding the game on the primary market difficult.

You COULD find it on the secondary market (ebay, amazon resellers, etc.) but that led to even bigger problems!!

Up to 2 x the retail price on the secondary market!

Definitely problematic.

So ultimately I went awhile before buying the game. In the meantime, I read everything i could about the game. I watched Tom Vasels Dice Tower review 3 or 4 times, and pined for it to be available again.

Finally a friend of mine notified me that the 3rd Production run of the game was about to happen and it SHOULD be available sometime in June. I asked my wife for it as a Fathers Day Gift and she relented. I placed my Pre-Order and waited.

It finally came in when I was out of town on vacation! I frantically called a friend in town and asked them to bring it in before it got ruined by rain or wild animals looking for a good board game to play. When I got back from the beach i saw this:

So excite.

BUT I was scared to open it! so it sat on my table for the next few weeks, still in it’s shipping box, waiting for the right moment. Little did i know, my wife opened it while I was out of town… oh well. At least she didnt open the box itself!

Nick Pancake for Scale

Finally I had the nerve to unbox it during Burning Dan. We live streamed it on twitch for the world to see. I think we had 5 viewers. We then dove in and learned how to play.

Wow.

The Game:

Gloomhaven sure delivers. It’s like a GM less D&D campaign in a box. The rules are slick and easy to learn, as intimidating as they seem. The components are top rate and the miniatures are very detailed. Not an item exited the box that I wasn’t thrilled with. The monster and bad guy miniatures are card board figures, but that’s fine and not disappointing.

The mechanics are really neat and different. No Dice. “What?!” you are probably saying? I know right! Instead it uses a modifier deck for each character and bad guy to add some randomization. The action deck is really neat as well for the characters. Every character/class has a unique action deck of 2 actions they can take on each card. A Lot of variety there. It also adds a level of resource management that can be missed initially. when you are out of cards you are exhausted.  Leading to some interesting dilemmas as you “Lose” cards from your discard through out the game until you are out of cards!I f all of the characters run out of cards, you lose the scenario. You need to use the cards to move, fight, etc. Do you spend a few previous resource cards to gather the loot from the dropped bad guys? Or do you just try and finish the scenario! These are tough decisions we learned about the hard way.

A few negative things about the game to bring some balance to this post, like balance to the force. One is the number of players. Only 4 players max, which makes it tough to play at Burning Dan since there is often 8 – 10 people playing board games. Luckily this year the wives wanted to nap, Shasta just wanted to watch, and we had a few people who didn’t attend, allowing us to play a 4 player game guilt free. The number of players keeps the game as a challenge instead of just having a bunch of PCs to throw at the dungeon. It also keeps the game moving quickly with little downtime. The game says scenarios should take 30 minutes per player, and the dungeons do ramp difficulty based on the number of players through adding in more monsters or increasing the level of the monsters or their status (standard or elite).

One other negative is it is possible for a player to be knocked out early. My character was brought down to 0 hps in the first round of the 2nd battle in the 2nd scenario (first game played on our second time playing). The sad part is it was maybe  15 – 20 minutes in to our second playing of the game. So I was “exhausted” and could not be revived. Even worse the women folk had all just gone into the hot tub, and i didn’t want to be a creepier and be the only guy in the hot tub. I tried to watch the Union/Onion Snakes play vs the Portland Timbers, but they were getting smoked… so i fell asleep on the couch instead.

Finally one of the really cool things about Gloomhaven is the scenario/legacy play. The game IS a legacy game. You place stickers on the board, rip cards up and write on the game board with a sharpie. As the designer of the game Isaac Childres says: ” You’re already writing on your board. Embrace it.”. Truth Bomb Issac. I loved the feel of the world evolving and changing around you as you play. Road and City events give the world a broader feel then just the adventures in the scenario book. And the random dungeon card adds alot of replay value outside of the scenarios.

Those negatives aside I think I have to agree with the hype. Gloomhaven might be the best board game I’ve ever played. It scratches all the right itches for a d&d esque game without a GM. Lets you have character advancement in table top fashion, something you can pull off the shelf and play quickly and rules that don’t confound or befuddle you 4 beers in.

So the game gets a 5 Beer Rating (out of 5 Beers) from me!

Speaking of which:

The Beers:

So Gloomhaven is a bit complex. And you CAN easily lose the scenario if you are not paying close attention to your cards and whats going on. Losing the scenario means you all lose! And it’s not fun to ruin everyone else’s fun because your cards are blurry from that 2nd DFH 120 Minute IPA.

So with that I’d have to say you need to stick to some low ABV drinks. Something like a Seaquench or a All Day IPA. Jake likes his PBRs and Fred his Natty Bo.

Stayed tuned for tomrrow’s post about Fiasco!!!

The Dearth

It has been almost 2 weeks since I’ve played a board game, and that makes me sad.

Now I’ve had some chances to play video games, mostly with my kids. We play alot of Super Mario Kart 8, Mario Party, and some Smash brothers. My son is obsessed with Mario and my daughter has a Wii U we play on.

We also have played some Red Ball on the ipad recently, and it’s a lot of fun too.

I have had the opportunity to play a few video games on my own when I’m not driving to Delaware or hanging out with the kids. Usually at like 1030pm after everyone is in bed, so I’m pretty tired at that point. But it’s what I’ve got.

Darkest Dungeon and Sunless Skies are the 2 I’ve played the most recently. I had a lot of optimism for Sunless Skies, as i love Fallen London, but the game is still in open beta, or early access or whatever they call it now adays on steam. The fragility of the ships in that game make me sad though, and I feel like i die way too much. Also i keep getting lost and find myself just playing a trader. I was hoping for more of an RPG with a rich story, but nothing yet. I’m not done with it yet though.

Darkest Dungeon is a fun one I get back to every now and then. It’s a quick pickup game that i can jump into without too much thought, although i always forget the optimal party combinations for the various runs and inevitably lose a valuable high leveled Vestal.

So the video games have been keeping me going, but I really truly miss playing table top games. I haven’t even played our d&d campaign in nearly a month, and I’m traveling again this week for work, so hopefully we can then.

BUT there is a shining light out on the horizon. A glimmer of hope and joy that I can ALMOST touch. This weekend is Burning Dan.

I’ve mentioned Burning Dan and Dan Con previously. These are the biannual events where friends from Delaware come out and we game and drink and carouse and just have a grand old time. I hope i can make it till then!

<3 <3

The Alpha Gamer (or How I learned to love Pandemic)

The Games:

An Interesting conversation came up in the BurningDanCon chat this evening (more to come on what BurningDanCon is later).

We were all cooing over H and N’s son O competing with his father over their Rule Lawyering of a specifc rule in Pandemic, (Specifically Outbreak expansion of one color/virus into a city with 3 cubes of another color/virus),

Rules Lawyer Senior and Rules Lawyer Junior
Rules Lawyer Senior and Rules Lawyer Junior

when I remembered an article i was reading about one of the biggest problems with with co-op games like Pandemic, Arkham Horror, Forbidden Island (which is a big hit with The Little gamer), Forbidden Desert, and to a lesser extent Shadows over Camelot.

The Alpha Gamer.

You should read the article in question here (https://www.kotaku.com.au/2017/02/games-i-will-never-play-again-pandemic/) for a nice reason on why these games can be problematic.

In short the problem comes with more experienced, assertive, and/or knowledgeable players who have (or think they have) a good strategy in mind for the game being played that they want to direct or quarterback the other plays to.

Usually it can be great in certain instances for one player to help coordinate the team (or players) to come together and form a cohesive strategy to defeat the game. This makes sense! How else can you win if your not all working to achieve one goal and solve the problems?!

The problem comes when it feels like the one player is directing everyone else’s plays at the table and there is not an equal level of participation around the table. I’ve certainly been in that position before (honestly only once i can remember, we’re all pretty Alpha at times), not wholly the fault of the other player (Hello Whiskey), but it can be incredibly frustrating when you are and it feels like you are just an extension of another player turn.

I just want to move my piece!

There is another possibility here to consider. Maybe the Alpha Gamer is just stepping up and into the role due to my love of whiskey and/or my shitty style of game play… I’ll admit I’m not a ponderer when we’re playing games and can get irritated if I’m waiting too long for my turn (5 + 6 player Lords of Waterdeep just kills me when it comes to downtime). I prefer to take my turn, make my move, with a little bit of consideration for sure, but certainly don’t want to hold up the game. I personally think this is an obvious positive character trait, but everyone else calls me an Agent of Chaos for reason and I’ve been blamed for our teams failures once or twice due to my lack of optimal usage of my characters special abilities. (See there’s a reason this blog is titled as it is.)

Reading a few other articles on this, it seems one of the ways that game designers have been trying to combat the “Alpha Gamer” is through the use of hidden mechanics, like the traitor in Shadows over Camelot, the hidden cylon in BSG, and the unique style of hand display in Hanabi. (I haven’t played either of the last two games there, but THATS WHAT THEY SAY!)

That being said, i do really enjoy Pandemic. While we’ve only won a few games of it around our table, we’ve always had a great time playing it.

We’ve also played a few “Months” of Pandemic Legacy Season 1, and have failed every single time. N just recently got Pandemic for his BDay so lets hope he’s practicing and getting some good strategies for our next go round.

Another variant of Pandemic that we have in the library is Pandemic: Reign of Cthuhu.

Me and my gaming Bro Dogs were originally brought together by work. Actually besides work we were originally brought together by playing the table top RPG Call of Cthuhu. So this alternatively themed version of Pandemic was a big hit with our gaming group. It also helped that we won on our first play through.

I also recently picked up a copy of The Captain is Dead, another Co-Op game in the same style and with many of the same mechanics as Pandemic. Thematically The Captain is Dead hits more buttons for me then Pandemic or even Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu. I’m more of a Sci-Fi guy, and a huge star trek fan. This game is basically an episode of the late 60s TV show, but with the captain dying instead. It even includes a “Red Shirt” character that is easy to kill but respawns (as another “Red Shirt”) on the next turn!

The Captain is Dead includes a count down deck, which tends to make bad things happen, and good team combos to boost and encourage assisting fellow players. I was drawn to it initially more for the nifty artwork. See below I think the box art is great not to mention the board and character models.

The Captain is Dead

It really brings out a  60s/70s era vibe, (which makes me think of an old video game with similar art style, Evil Genius.

Before i derail this post too much further, I’d like to just come back to the issue of the Alpha Gamer again before closing up. In reviews I’ve read of The Captain is Dead they mention the Alpha Gamer problem as well, so I’m curious to see how it plays out. One nice thing about the Alpha Gamer conundrum is that it allows games like this to be easily played solo, something that works well for me being out in Western Maryland and with 2 kids. Just play as 2 or 3 different characters and use the normal 3 player rules. Keeping track of the different hands is as easy as laying them down in rows so you don’t get confused. This is a strategy i picked up playing the Dresden Files Cooperative Card game from Evil Hat which i really enjoy.

For Pandemic in particular i think playing the rules as written with not exposing your hand really helps to mitigate the potential of someone becoming the Alpha Player. Yes you can talk about what cards you have but through that communication the possibility of cooperation and shared ideas really starts to shine through. I think most play throughs where I’ve run into this problem we’ve always played with our hands exposed, allowing someone to step in and really take over a game like they would if they were just running 3 or 4 characters at the same time.

For those of you out there how do you deal with Alpha Players? Are there some games you find are more susceptible to this phenomenon? Do you specifically avoid games to combat this? Let me know! Drop me an email or comment below!

The Beer:

Finally as part of my theme for my new blog my drink pairing for Pandemic.
A nice thing about an Alpha Gamer is he takes away all responsibility on you to contribute if you don’t want to! He’s kind of like your Designated Driver when you’re playing. So If that’s the route you are going, hit the hard stuff. Some whiskey, some run, maybe some shots of tequila. All are good ideas. From a beer perspective break out a double IPA and go to town. Living in Maryland I’ll recommend the Double Dog IPA from Flying Dog.

Now for me, I’d probably go with a nice mid range IPA. I’m really enjoying the Sweet Water IPA right now and if your on your first or second you probably have enough cognitive function to contribute. If the game gets out of hand or you got some slow play going on, kick into number three and let the Alpha take over.

If you are the alpha, stick with some diet coke, some bud light, or maybe a nice session beer like an All Day IPA from Founders. Good stuff.