Friday, April 22, 2011

Mas Magic

Well, I showed up at the Evolution Magic shop yesterday to draft. Considering Spain is on holiday I expected thirty people eager to play Magic on a Thursday. Sadly, we had four and one of them was one of those guys who seems to think since he is in a Magic shop the owner is actually paid to listen to him. When he finally took a pause for breath I asked (in Spanish):

“Tournament today?”

“Yes, draft this morning and Legacy this afternoon.”

“I know, but… is it going to happen?”

He turns to his partner (as in, business partner, not lover) and gives a questioning look. He clearly doesn’t understand what I am asking. I blame my Spanish.

I like this guy. Hell, I like both of them immensely. “I don’t know. It depends.” He smiles and shrugs. It is a motion of “We could do a draft if you want, but I am hoping more people show up.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Twenty minutes later I am on the phone with Wendy asking “Can you look up Forbidden Isle? I saw good reviews for it and we need a new game.” Talking guy has not taken a breath in ten minutes. I hope he passes out soon.

Ten minutes later I have left. I come home, update MTGO and join a draft. Holy crap do I suck! I draft this incredibly bad Black/Green deck without any focus at all, and consider quitting immediately. Instead I win 2 out of 3 matches and get two packs.

I learn a couple of things:

1. Elimination is good.

2. Draft Green fatties and mana Mires.

While this may seem at odds, it actually makes sense… Next time, I’ll explain why…

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Magic in Spain part dos.

This is not at Star City because it is very short and not because I no longer love them.

(Read part one below before reading this if you haven't already.)

Michele takes me aside. “Hilary really wants to play Magic while we’re here. It would mean a lot to him.”

Wendy tells me “Hilary doesn’t usually ask for much. Never actually.”


I don’t actually say that of course, instead I sigh, slump my shoulders and say “okay, I’ll find him a tournament that fits our schedule.” Living in Madrid with two shops within walking distance, which each run two tournaments a day has its advantages. I find us a draft for the next morning. Now, if I was smart, we would have then gone online and actually looked at the cards.

Do you know that thought hadn’t occurred to me until just this moment? Holy dumb.

We show up and I recognize no one but the shop owner who greets me warmly. Hilary has informed me I no longer have to add the 6000 to the front of my DCI number. I pay for my draft and he asks me my DCI number and I tell him (in Spanish) “seven, five, five, eight.” When I stop he looks at me expectantly, waiting for me to continue. “That’s it” I tell him. He does one of those jerk your head back and blink when you’re surprised moves and says “wow, early.”

Yes, my epeen is that big.

We get our three packs and I think of my strategy. Let’s see,

1. Take fatties.

2. ???

3. Profit!

Number two should probably be “smash face” but that ruins the joke.

I don’t know the cards but it’s pretty easy to figure out which ones have infect, trample, metalcraft etc. This is a lot easier than I thought it would be. Also, I am surprised by how much Spanish I have that I can actually read the cards. Not every single word but if I can figure out 80% of the words, I know what a card does. Like “Cruza Montanas” is pretty easy to figure out is “Mountainwalk” and “Destruya la criatura que tenga la habilidad de volar” clearly means “Destroy a creature with flying.”


I end up with 4 metal Rhino’s, an 8/8 generic wurm, a Viridian Corrupter, a Replica of Silvok, a couple other metal fatties, a mantis that has what I think is reach, three mana myrs to accelerate to my fatties and a few guys with infect. Oh yeah – and two Genesis Wave!

WOO HOOO!!! I loves me some Genesis Waves.

Hilary asks me a few questions about the cards he picked and I clarify a few things for him. The last card he ask me about is the Mantis and what does Arrolla mean?

“I think it means reach.”

A guy next to us says “Actually, it means trample.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

Now that is weird. Why would a mantis have trample and not reach? Mantis’ pull things out of the sky all the time. And second, how cool is that to find an English speaker at the draft. Sure, there is always a few but throughout this (very small) draft, I will find that almost everyone speaks it well. Very good luck for Hilary and I.

And now to the beatings portion of the day. My first opponent is playing a nice three color deck while I am with mono green and fatties. Shocking, I know.

I get off to a nice fast start, metal mana dork, blow up his artifact with my viridian, play a Metal Steed and then a Rhino.

Then I play another.

He’s been back pedaling the whole game, on the defensive the entire time and I just keep turning guys sideways. Joshie told me long ago MTGO needed a button that said “Wakefield” and when clicked meant “Swing with everything!”

He’s throwing chumps in the way and then I tap my two mana dudes, tap all my lands and “Ola de Genesis” for six. He reels. I get four lands and a couple guys. Next turn I Ola de Genesis for ten and he extends the hand.

He mulligans down to four, plays a swamp, slumps.

Me: “Dude, dude, dude, another dude, another dude, Rhino. Sorry man.”

Hilary has lost his round but took his opponent to three.

Round two my draw is nowhere near as spectacular in either game and my opponent actually knows how to draft whereas I simple know how to collect Green cards and add forests to my deck. He beats me in two quick ones, we shake hands and I think “When am I ever going to learn that fliers win you drafts? When am I ever going to learn that one simple fact? How many years have I been playing this game?”

I go to McDonald's for a burger and when I return Hilary is just leaving the store and says we’re done. “What?”

“Yeah, it’s only three rounds today and you’re my next opponent. I got what I needed and we can play at the apartment.”

“Okay, cool, I’m just going to go in and say goodbye and thanks.”

You know what? I had a blast.

In fact, I’m going to post this, then check the web to see when the next morning draft is. Maybe you’ll even see an article up at Star City soon.

Hilary and Michele enjoying one of our favorite restaurants and one of our favorite meals in Spain. A rare sliced up steak that comes on a plate so hot you can cook the food on it if you want it more done.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Magic in Spain

Hilary and Michele have arrived in Spain. We showed them a lot of Madrid yesterday and then we came back to the apartment, I carved us some jamon, and we talked until way past dark. This morning I have made them bacon and eggs for breakfast. Wendy jumps in the shower and I am at the computer, Hilary and Michele are relaxing on the couch.

Michele asks, "Do they have a comic store here? A place to play Magic?"

"Yes and yes. I used to play at two different game stores and there is a comic shop."

"Not all in one?"


Hilary pipes up with "I want to play Magic while I'm here."

"Good luck with that, I don't have enough cards for two decks right now."

"No, I mean in a draft."

"Do you understand Spanish? Because all the cards are in Spanish."


"Because I've had over two-hundred hours of classes and I can't read the cards flawlessly yet. Do you know the latest set by looking at the pictures and knowing what they do?"


"You would have as much luck in the draft just showing up with a deck of playing cards. Ha! Nine of clubs bitch!"

We all laugh.

Michele says "Why don't you go down, pay them your entry fee and then just leave?"

And again we all laugh.

Well, everyone but Hilary who just glares at us.

Welcome to Spain.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Small World

If you read the reviews on Amazon, I'm in the vast minority but I was very disappointed in this game. I read all of the reviews and bought it for Wendy and I for her birthday. We've played it seven times in five weeks, once with four people, and we're pretty much done with it.

Small World has all the things I was looking for, but failed to deliver. I like a fantasy theme. I like a simple concept that is supposed to be difficult to master. I like the counters, the board, the extra player instruction sheets, the layout, etc. In fact, I like everything about this game except the actual gameplay.

It is somewhat similar to Risk in the fact that you have a board with different hexes you are trying to take over with your clan, be it elves, dwarves, giants, amazons, sorcerers, orcs etc. Paired randomly with each clan is a special ability. Some abilities make it easier to hold hexes you occupy or give you more gold coins at the start or make it easier to conquer certain hexes.

Sounds interesting, right?

The trouble is, the ability to conquer a region is simple math. Take over an empty tile for two of your men. Take over a tile with any sort of cardboard on it, add another man. Cardboard could be a mountain tile, a fortification, or an opposing army. At the end, score a point for each hex you occupy.

We found there is almost zero strategy to the game. All of the strategy is in what race you pick first.

Turn 1. You then attack from one side of the map and expand as much as possible.
Turn 2. You gather up your extra men not occupying a tile and repeat.
Turn 3. Repeat turn 2. You now have almost no troops not occupying a spot.
Turn 4. Put your race into decline.
Turn 5. Choose new race. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until game ends on turn 8 or 10 depending on the number of players.

Every single game is like this. The only thing that changes is the race and the power and that isn't enough strategy for us.

We really wanted to like this game but it's no Carcassone. I bought that for her for Christmas and we played two hundred and fifty games with it before we got tired of it. I don't know if it's not enough randomness, not enough variety, having to constantly look at the rules to see what race or ability does what - but honestly - we got bored with it before even ten games. I know that if we played it fifty times it would be easier to remember the races and powers by heart but for the first few games it takes a bit to set up, the tiles fall sideways into the tray, you constantly have to look at a diagram to see where in the token tray the race you're looking for is...

I know I said there's no variety and then seem to contradict myself by saying there's so many races and abilities. The thing is, the races and abilities just aren't that different. Some guys get more points if you occupy a swamp or a mountain or a farmland or a hill. Or a mine or a tile with a magic power symbol on it. That's not actually many special abilities, that's one. Some abilities or races conquer swamps easier others, Farms easier, or tiles adjacent to mountains. Again - that's not variety, that's one ability being given a different name for what's on a different tile.

If you are looking for a new game, I would go to Amazon and read the reviews. Like I said, Wendy and I are in the vast minority of people who didn’t like this game.

I was unable to find any worthwhile video about Small World to link to this post. Sorry.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Wendy and I are gamers. I’ve shown her a few video games and she’s shown me a few board games. My friends from college have always been into the more heavily tactical board games sometimes referred to as European games. I’m referring to games like Settlers of Catan, Diplomacy, Axis and Allies, etc.

I have never joined them in their love of these games, preferring Dungeons and Dragons or video games. But, I needed something to bridge the gap between games like Scrabble and video games for Wendy and I. I wanted something that wouldn’t take us eight hours to learn, was good for two players, heavy on strategy, high replay value, and more complex than typical family board games.

What I found was Carcassone.

The game consists of pulling tiles out of a bag and connecting them to existing tiles already on the board. You start with one tile on the board that contains a road, a field edge, and the beginning of a city. You pull your first tile and it could contain a piece of a city, an ending to a city, a road, a field, a monastery, etc. Each piece can only connect to an existing piece with similar features. A road can only connect to a road. A field can only connect to a piece with a field edge to it. A city piece can only connect to a city. Tiles vary in the fact that they can have fields, roads and city edges all on the same tile or they might only contain a road and field or only a city piece or a crossroads or even two separate city pieces. To add to the strategy, you have to claim each road, field, city or monastery with one of your “meeples.” These are little pieces of maple in the shape of a small person about half an inch high. (Maple + People = Meeple.) You place them on each city, road, monastery or field (farm) you want to claim. Each turn you draw another piece out of the bag and can end a city or road, getting one of your meeples back, or continue building onto a city, road, or farm.

The game takes about forty-five minutes to learn straight out of the box, or, if you are lucky enough to have someone that already knows how to play, they can demonstrate and explain the rules to you in about five minutes.

If I was smart, I would have looked on the web and found a video that taught us how to play, like this one…

This game has the perfect mix of easy to learn combined with hard to master and polished off with a dash of randomness that can lay waste to the best laid plans.

We loved this game.

I cannot stress this enough. We loved it. Each day we would finish work, play a few games of Carcassone and maybe watch some TV before heading to bed. On the weekends we would sit on our terrace, sip wine in the sun and play Carcassone. We played fifty games, then bought an expansion, played another fifty games, then bought another expansion, repeat another two times.

In addition to all that, it scales well with up to five people being able to play.

I would guess we played two hundred and fifty to three hundred games, some lasting as long as two and half hours with all the expansions added in before we finally had sated our lust for the game. We still play it occasionally, but are on the lookout for something new.