Saturday, September 22, 2007

Catan tourney!

I had the privilege this week to take part in a 32-person Settlers of Catan tournament with my wife's maid of honour Tara. It was a great time, and rather than just give you the results, let's go to the replay!

Friday night: Shark Tank

On Tuesday I sent out an invitation to several of my fellow Catan-addicts living on the east coast, asking if they'd be willing to spar a few rounds online to help prep me for the tournament on Saturday. 6 people quickly replied, and we were set for gaming at 7 PM EST. I played 5 games of regular Catan, and in short, my boardgaming self-image took a few kicks in the junk, showing my lack of practice losing all 5 with some in ignominious fashion. They did me proud, using a fair number of the underhanded tactics I'd used on them in years prior. I did manage to pull out a win in the last game, a cut-throat game of Cities and Knights that helped me salvage some pride, but that was it for the Ed highlights. Here's hoping it was enough.

Saturday afternoon: Round I - Preliminaries

Tara and I came running in just as the tourney was starting, begged the moderator to let us in, and thankfully he did. This entry would be much shorter otherwise. I then pay my entry fee and take a seat at a table. Tara sits at another, and the games officially begin. I get to place third in my first game, and I hate placing third. Eww. It's also tournament rules, so that means we place a settlement and a road first, then a city and a road, and then another road third. I don't like tournament rules, but I'm not hosting the tourney, so ya gotsta suck it up.

My starting numbers are 3,4,5,6,8,11, heavy on ore wheat and sheep. Amazing numbers. I should steamroll this game. The dice proceed to show either 7 or 9 or 10 at least two thirds of the time, and darned if the other people don't make a game of it. I'm far enough behind that I'm genuinely worried about ending last, when a flurry of good rolls in a row comes my way (without 7s), and I'm able to place a settlement and turn over a VP for the win. I had the shakes from all the black tea I drank (over a half litre at that point), but I'm 5 tourney points to the good, no help from a first-time player who gets instructed to place her city on a coastal spot where I was hoping to build, and who was raped trading-wise by the more experienced players.

Tara was lucky enough to have a teenaged kid at her table that played dumb for the first 2/3 of the match and got some of the same treatment as our n00b, including all kinds of generous advice on what to do next and trades that shouldn't have happened. The kid won the game in about 25 minutes with a 4-point turn, and everyone else learned too late that they were being sharked. Tara finished in last because of it but was cooler with it than I'd have been.

Round II - Preliminaries (a.k.a. Ed Is An Idiot)

In the second round I got to play with all the other round 1 winners and Tara was at the last place table. As we were making placements I had a moment of complete stupidity, and placed on spots that while it gave me all 5 resources, my numbers were as follows: 5, 9, 10, 9, 10. That's right. I took a fantastic 5-9-10 with my first placement, but chose a 9-10 coast ore-wheat placement for my city, and that was pretty much the end of me. Specifically, the 9 rolling 3 times and the 10 rolling once did me in. For my part, I created a longest-road-stealing contest between the other players to buy me some time, and it did help me trade/steal my way to a 3-way tie for second place at the end. 7 Tournament Points total for me, and a guaranteed spot in the semi-finals.

Tara sat at a table with outright morons. She would prefer that I don't go into more detail, so I won't. She finished that game in a 3-way-tie for second, ending her day with 3 tournament points.

With four hours between the preliminaries and the semi-finals, we went home. It's a 15-minute drive and the atmosphere, while interesting, is not as good a draw as Natalie's cooking.

Saturday night: Round III - Semi-Finals

I drove back by myself about 20 minutes before the semi-finals were to begin and this time had a few minutes to get ready before the event actually started. I also laid off on the caffeine, which helped considerably.

The top 16 players were in the semi-finals (from the starting field of nearly 32), and I found myself at a table with people that were cool to game with, even if it looked like they were taking the game very casually. Choosing second I got a *much* better spread of numbers this time and ended up with just about everything good except for the 8s (my loss, the 8s were ore and wheat). Two people put their entire strategies around building on those 8s and I was cool with letting them. I learned my lesson from the 9-10 game. Problem is that the 8s rolled early and often, and they soon had a collective 4 cities on them when I was still looking to get my game underway. Luckily they didn't start carding, or the game would likely have been over very quickly. I bought four quick development cards, got one soldier and three VPs, which is great if you get them in the late game. This was the very early game. I needed robber control to keep the 8s from continuing to kill us, and it just didn't happen.

I found out right then that there was only one more round, and that only the winners of the four semi-final games went on to the final game. I assumed that with 16 people it was two rounds and most points. Oops.

About 2/3 of the way into the game, when I had 4 points I picked up a monopoly card and decided it was time for a gamble. I rolled a 7 and placed the robber off the 8s, which put the other guy not on the 8s into apoplexy. The other two knew better than to "help" at that point. The only things rolling heavy for me were wheat and brick, so I figured it was worth a shot to try getting back into the game. The other guy not on the 8s told me with every dice roll that I made a mistake and that the robber should be on the 8s. I just shrugged and waited for my turn. Luckily the 8 didn't roll for a little while, and on my turn, when I had another hand full of wheat and brick, I did roll an 8 to a chorus of "see why the robber should have been there?". I proceeded to play the mono for about 7 ore and used it to build a city and a settlement and buy a development card. The other guy not on the 8s got reeeeeal quiet at this point. I finished my turn, handed him the dice and he proceeded to roll a 7 and put the robber on the 8 ore.

The game came down to the final turn, and if the guy on my right hadn't rolled a 7 on himself to cost him half his hand, this entry would be done about here. As stories and blog posts like this go, he did roll a 7, didn't robber me (I was in last at 6 points), he didn't have enough cards left afterward to use his ports for what he needed and had to pass the dice. I had a settlement in hand, so I played that, flipped my three VPs down and announced my 10 points to looks of genuine shock on the other players faces. It's nice to play a game with people who don't know me now and again.

Round IV - Finals.

Mine was the third game to finish, and after about another 20 minutes or so I met all three of the other people playing in the final round. I talked with them a bit beforehand to see what they were like, and of the three, there was one guy named Neil that immediately stood out, I couldn't say for sure why (Furem fur cognoscit et lupum lupus, perhaps.) The other two looked just, well, happy to be there. If I can get their real names I'll add them later, but I remember the blonde woman was named Shannon or something close to it. There was the aforementioned Neil and another guy that I'm going to call John because his style of play turned out to be eerily similar to that of John S., a guy I used to play Catan with in Ontario.

I'll explain that.

John S. is a very nice and smart guy that would would say and do things in games of Catan that were so out of place that I am convinced they were part of a psychological experiment on boardgamers. But more on that later.

Before sitting down, one of the moderators brought out his personal Settlers of Catan 10th Anniversary Special Edition Chest Set, a $300 Catan set that contains pieces for Settlers and the Cities and Knights expansion. It's very pretty, and he offered it for us to play the finals with if we wanted. We'd all have to say yes, otherwise no deal. I was hesitant, because I've seen games played on it and I can never tell the colours apart or really get a feel for the board layout because unless you're standing over it you can't see all the roads and settlements and pieces played by other players. I said as much to the other players, but also that if they were all interested in using it that I'm cool with it too. They'd never seen this set before and were all eager to play on it, so that was the setting for the final game.

It took about a half hour to set up the board, but I will admit it was a pretty board once it was done. I rolled a 12 in the initial roll-off and took an 8-5-10 Ore-brick-wood spot, completely missing a 9-6-5 wheat-ore-wood spot in a different area. For my second placement I still needed wheat and sheep, but there was nothing good to be found unless I took a coastal spot. This was no time to be ultra-conservative about placements, though, and I was still scared of doubling up on any numbers after the 9-10 incident. I ended up doing something I don't know that I've ever done in Catan, going without both wheat and sheep and taking a 9-4-3 brick-wood-sheep spot to spread out my numbers. It helped a lot that it was near enough to an 8 wheat and a 6 sheep as well as the brick and wood ports that I decided to take my chances building to what I needed.

Brick and wood were the order of the day for me, and I quickly had all five settlements down, including building to the 8 wheat (and the wood port) and another spot at the 8 ore. The problem was that the 8 wasn't rolling, just the 4 was, which was getting me two wood per roll and driving the people on the 6s nuts (the 6s were really dead, too, for some reason), but wasn't enough to get me the cities and cards that I needed, so I sat at 5 for a while. Add to this the fact that John, sitting beside me to my right would get 3 wood on every 4 roll. I'd hand him his three cards, announce that I was taking two for myself and then with. out. fail. John would start asking everyone what they'd trade 2 for 1 for his wood and wouldn't let it go. Shannon and Neil didn't have many cards, certainly didn't need wood (they both got wood on a 5s which were also rolling heavy), and me sitting with almost as much wood as he had, on the same numbers he had. And yet, on every 4 roll (it rolled at least 25% of the time for the first half of the game) he'd ask for trades and couldn't be convinced that it hadn't suddenly become scarce.

My cell phone rang about halfway through the game, it was Natalie calling. Natalie's and our friend Neil's readings at the Multi-Arts Festival had finished and I invited them to come and check out the finals. I gave directions and about10-15 minutes later they arrived. In that time I'd managed to finally put together a city which I put on my 8-5-10 and made a failed attempt to take and keep longest road, which got the other three people to suddenly become amenable to John's trade offers for wood and brick so he could get LR back, which he did quickly. My attempt also earned me the majority of attention at the table, which brought my production to a halt for quite a while, sitting at 7 points with five settlements and a city. Also, Neil began, in his own words afterward, "to whine a bit" when his numbers weren't rolling and got a few head-shaking trades because of it. I couldn't believe it worked, especially in light of the 6s coming back to life, but it did. For a little while, anyway. Eventually I managed to convince the other players to put the robber back onto his 6 sheep, keeping Neil from running away with the game entirely.

Natalie described me out loud as "manic", and asked what I'd eaten. I hadn't had much to eat that day and she offered to get me something from the mini cafeteria nearby, and I was very very happy for that. In the next while the 6s continued to roll heavy, letting Neil (now getting 4 sheep and an ore on each 6, with the sheep port) back into the game in fine fashion.

I was still winning, courtesy of one 8 that got me what I needed for my second city and 8th point. It wasn't a big lead, though, and the dice certainly weren't helping my cause. It was at this point that a guy that Shannon knew approached her, asked how she was doing (6 points, tied for last, but with Largest Army), found out what the prize was, and was told I was in the lead. He proceeded to lean over and cuff me on the front of my hat with the back of his hand and say "Stop winning!".

I'm sure the guy was just socially awkward and thought he was being playful. I'm sure the caffeine I'd had didn't help matters, but you just don't do something like that to people you don't know and haven't met, and it really pissed me off. I stopped what I was doing, made firm eye contact and told him in a Don't-Fuck-With-Me voice not to do that again. The guy backed up, put both hands in the air and started apologizing, evidently afraid that I was going to come over the table at him. Everyone was staring at either him or me or both, and I said it's all good, that's just really not cool and let the matter drop. Natalie was sitting beside me at this point and didn't say a word. The guy left and the game resumed.

At this point I had 8 points, all on the board, Neil had 7 with a VP down, John locked up Longest Road and Shannon had Largest Army. I needed two points, and there was no way the game would last three turns for me to take Army away and John had locked up Longest Road, so my options were to either roll 8s (I put my second city on the wheat, so I'd now get the cards for an entire city on an 8 roll) or fish for VPs with very poor odds. The rolls that weren't 8s were 6s, it seemed, so either I was going to take this or Neil was. On my turn I managed an 8, put the city down and the other players did a quick count to see if I'd won. I noticed a small crowd had gathered now, watching the board and trying to decipher what was actually going on, much like we were.

Two of the next three rolls were 6s, and I saw that Neil would be able to take Longest Road and win, but luckily he didn't. I actually blame the 3-D board for that, he didn't have the best view of the area where all his pieces were, and on a regular board I'm sure he'd have seen how to take LR away. He ended up trading a metric tonne of sheep to build a city and didn't have the cards to create another point. This despite John making several offers for trades, which only stopped when I told him that if he trades with Neil, Neil wins the tournament right now. It either shamed him or convinced him to stop trading, I don't know which. Neil ended up having to fish for a VP in the development card deck and didn't get one. He passed the dice to John rolled a 6 and again started asking the two people with 9 VPs for trades. The three of us immediately said no and told him to please stop asking. He built more roads and passed the dice to me. I had three wood in hand, and the only things that could save me were a 5 (which would give me three brick and let me build three roads for the win) or an 8, giving me my fourth city. Anything else and Neil would have it for sure on his turn.

I rolled an 8.

Neil saw it, stood up, said a genuine Congratulations! and shook my hand. I placed the city, said that was 10 points and Shannon and John stood up and we all shook hands and said we had a lot of fun. Even if I hadn't won I certainly got my entry fee's worth of entertainment out of it, and despite my whining and nervousness in-game, I really wasn't terribly scared to lose or as crazy about winning as I used to be in Ontario. I was kinda sad that the games were all over, having finally had the chance to play some really competitive games in person.

I know that there are some in Ontario and New York that won't believe that, but to prove it, there's a Cities and Knights tournament scheduled for the Sunday that I'm skipping because of football season. Well, and because I figured that I couldn't possibly have enough good karma left to do any damage there after all the lucky bounces I got in the regular tournament. (:

The first-place prize was $100 in gift certificates to a nearby gaming shop, and they took my picture to display the following year with all the other tournament winners.

I got Natalie to take pictures of the mid-game and ending boards, and I'll post them when I can.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Gaming, Post-PAX

This post is really more of an addendum to my PAX entry than as a separate one, but some of this stuff does need 'splaining. It's just a list of games that I now want that I didn't before, games I'd heard of that I now want after trying or seeing more in-depth at PAX, and some that I'll be buying the second they're available.

Picross - DS - Already purchased.

We played several multiplayer games of this via DS download play while we were in line for the PAX opening. We were both addicted to the point where we asked a few locals for directions to the nearest EB games so we could pick this up immediately. It's a simple puzzle game that is really best played with at least two other people. If I described the game play you wouldn't believe anything else I'd written, so just find someone with it and play against them.

Rock Band - 360 - Now Interested.

Natalie and I waited in line for about half an hour to play Rock Band at PAX, and it was worth the wait. Fantastic game, but I don't know that it's going to be worth the cost, as it's the most fun when you have four people there with their own instruments, but I don't know that I'd be nearly as interested in the single-player version, Drum Hero, Bass Guitar Hero or Better-not-sing-with-vibrato Vocal Hero.

The way I see it, that means that Rock Band is really suited to be a Wii game, as Nintendo is the console intended for people who mostly play multiplayer games with friends in the same room.

Supreme Commander - PC - (sob)

I still have a 10-year-old copy of Total Annihilation. I have the Core Contingency expansion and the pseudo-sequel TA: Kingdoms. I consider the franchise better than the Command & Conquer series and, at the risk of my Korean readership, better than the Warcraft/Starcraft series. However, every time I mentioned Total Annihilation to friends I got the same blank unknowing stare, and I'd sigh and leave it on the shelf. Bad timing, poor marketing, whatever, it just never got the recognition I think it deserved. Skip ahead many years and we have Supreme Commander, the latest from Chris Taylor's RTS line, and the first in many years. I saw this game, drooled over the screenshots and just wanted the game the minute it was released in stores. I managed to avoid buying this game not by remembering how few people I knew that were interested in playing this, but by knowing that my system, once a fantastic gaming rig about 5 years ago, wouldn't be able to run it without dropping under 10 frames per second.

Then I spoke with the developers. They told me about several ways to make Supreme Commander run pretty smoothly even on my PC, and now I'm back to square one with it. I'll see if I can't post my own review of it when I break down sufficiently to get a copy...

MarioKart DS - Gonna hafta...

Okay, this is a game I'm listing because my gamer ego took a bit of a beating at the hands of teenage snakers in games of MarioKart DS while we waited in line to get into PAX each day. The game was released nearly two years ago but was one of the most popular titles played while waiting in line. As shallow as I will look to admit this, I might have to pick up a copy of this just to be more than 8th-place fodder in races next year... (:

Dr. Mario - NES
- Have already looked up its Virtual Console release date

I didn't play many 1980s console titles when I was a kid because I grew up with the Commodore Vic-20 and the C-64, which were a lot of fun all by themselves, but don't seem to have the same nostalgia as the NES/SNES/Atari 2600 consoles do.

At PAX, Natalie and I went to a console freeplay room and sat down to play Dr Mario, a game Natalie played a lot as a kid and really liked. I figured the least I could do was give it a shot and sure enough, we played for a half hour in what seemed like five minutes. If we didn't have a panel to attend or three other things to do right then I'm sure we'd have played all afternoon...

When we got back I looked it up on the Wii Virtual Console and it hasn't been released, and then found this link confirming that there isn't even a solid release date for it yet.

As a side note, Brain Age 2 actually contains Dr. Mario, and I suppose that'll have to suffice until we see Dr. Mario on the VC.

Halo 3 - 360 - Mayyyyybe....

Thank you PAX. After seeing the Omegathon final, Natalie is now that much closer to being interested in a 360. Her eyes lit up for the first first-person shooter game since Goldeneye. I asked her semi-seriously if she'd be interested in a 360 between Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Bioshock and now this, and she gave me a definite maybe. Maybe means that there's a chance that Natalie will play a first-person shooter with me that isn't Goldeneye.

As an aside and no offense intended to Goldeneye fans, I was an exclusive PC gamer for years before playing consoles seriously, and for all the hype of FPS games on consoles, there is no FPS game on consoles that compares to Half-Life 2 or large-scale multiplayer gaming played at 1600x1200 resolution. Having come into the console game years after Goldeneye, I respect how much people love their first FPS, they're welcome to it, I just don't share it.

All that being said, it would be very cool to play an action game with Natalie, and it'd be a way if I wanted to try Oblivion or other cool-looking titles that won't make it onto the Wii.

Besides, I'm finished the only Wii shooters I own (RE4 - 3:12 speed run! w00!) and Call of Duty 3...

Metroid Prime 3 - Wii - Yes. Eventually.

Saw this in the Nintendo display area, and it looked very cool. Never having finished a Metroid game before, I'm not going to get it immediately, but I'll look for a used copy over the next year or so.

Fire Emblem Wii - Purty.

I've played two Fire Emblem games on my DS and enjoyed them both a lot. This one was also in the display area at the PAX Nintendo area, and while I didn't get a chance to play it, I recognized the gameplay and I'd like to try it out.

On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - PC/XBLA - Nice! Me want!

I couldn't write this without mentioning the upcoming Penny Arcade game. It's turn-based strategy/action game, with Tycho and Gabe and a giant fruit fucker as major characters. Looks very cool, and yet another reason to get a 360. Eventually.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Post PAXum Depression

Okay, it's now time for my post-PAX wrap-up, summary and review.

Short version: It was awesome. We're bringing a group next year.

Long version:

For starters, I'm going to respond to my last post, mostly because I've just eaten a huge breakfast at The Galaxie and I have no creativity right now. But da-amn, what a breakfast.

Item #1: Claustrophobia.

Status: False!

Fully expected it to be wall-to-wall nerds elbowing and kicking and shoving, and this was nowhere near the actual truth. PAX took over four floors of a massive convention center, and had separate rooms for panels, console gaming, tabletop gaming, handheld gaming, a huge expo hall for companies to advertise new stuff and hand out swag, an equally massive PC area (separating the BYOC area from about 400 computers they had donated for public use), and with tonnes of room left over to throw about 1000 person-sized bean bag chairs for sleeping, handheld gaming, free wi-fi use for people bringing laptops, and very few people bumpings-into.

Item #2: Energy.

Status: True. Energy was directly proportional to proximity to Wil Wheaton, and inversely proportional to proximity to Uwe Boll.

This one wasn't really in question, but it was still cool to see people excited about what they were doing or where they were in pretty much every room. And that's a lotta rooms.

Item #3: Swag.

Status: True.

Yes, there was much swag. We had to make room in our closets because of the new shirts we acquired and Natalie's new Halo3 messenger bag.

Okay, the messenger bag and two of the shirts were merch, but let's not split hairs, here.

Item #4: Pictures.

As promised, I took lots of pictures. I also negotiated (read: whined) Natalie into letting me put them on my facebook profile, about 100 in total. Here are samples.

Consider me one of the latest big fans of Wil Wheaton. He gave an amazing keynote speech at the PAX 2007 opening, and was able to sit in the same chair for about half of the weekend, signing autographs, shaking hands and smiling long after I'd have run out of energy. We finally got into line about halfway through the last day of the event, and he was as happy to talk to each of us then as he was when he started. Very nice guy, approachable and personable. Here's hoping he can make it next year.

Here's a picture of a moment I don't think I'll ever forget. A while ago Tycho sang a song called My Belruel which someone posted the audio of on myspace. Natalie heard it days before we went to PAX and loved it. During the first PA Panel where they set up two mics for the gamers in the audience to ask questions, Natalie lined up and asked him to sing it again for the live crowd. He did just that, and there were links for video of it posted on YouTube the next day, like this one. When I heard Tycho start singing it felt like the perfect song to wave a lighter to. I don't have a lighter, so I did the next best thing, which was open my DS and start waving that over my head. Either I had a hand in starting that or the rest of the crowd had the same idea I did, because there was a sea of nerd lighters all waving by the end of the song, iPhones and regular phones and DSes and at least one laptop. Unsurprisingly, the crowd reaction when Tycho finished was really really cool. Fantastic moment, that, and my wife started it.

Item #5: Boobs as currency.

Status: False!

Surprisingly, there were a great deal more women at PAX than I anticipated based on photos of the 2006 event. I think it's cool to see that women are coming out in far greater numbers to events like this, to the point where I hope that it becomes a non-issue for me to see them at future events.

Item #6: B.O.

Status: False! (sic)

Yes, you heard right. There was a fantastic combination of enough room combined with a lobby from a group of people that all wore shirts that said "Real gamers shower." Not counting the concerts where everyone was shoulder to shoulder, it was a decidedly non-B.O.-smelling event. Here's hoping it's not unique to this year...

Item #7: Exhaustion

Status: True.

PAX is a massive event. I contend that at least three people could go, each attend different events every day and never once overlap. Probably 5 or 6. Trying to take in everything is just not do-able, which we learned to the detriment of our feet this year. Next year I plan on signing up for at least one tournament, spending more time in console free play, and just taking things slower in order to appreciate where we are at PAX rather than neurotically checking the schedule every half hour to see if there's something we're missing. It's going to be awesome either way, I'm sure.

For all those interested in attending PAX, here are some things not to miss:

• Cool keynote speeches

• Omegathon. Halo 3 played with $5k and a trip to the Tokyo Game Show at stake, thousands of people in the room watching on big screens, and speakers so loud every explosion was felt as much as heard. Awesome.

• PA Panels. Always good fun there, and the occasional kick in the junk.

• The beanbag chairs. Gotta get your lounge on.

• The swag. I got enough free clothing to pay for my 3-day pass twice over.

Things to bring next year:

• Console controllers and possibly games. People who brought controllers got preference in the console freeplay areas, and didn't have to borrow them from the desk.

• More people. The more people you know or meet, the more fun you have here. I expect a crowd next year. It's also cooler to share cool stuff with people than to gloat about it on a blog.

• DSes. We brought them this year, and it was easily the fastest way to meet other people, as there were always 5 or 6 multiplayer games of some kind going on that you could jump into at any time.

• Ear plugs. Those concerts are very loud.

That's all for now.