Monday, July 30, 2012

Malfegor's Boldwyr Processor

Part V of an ongoing series.

Now it's time for the 4 drops!

Abyssal Persecutor - A 6/6 flying trampler for only 4 mana? There must be a big downside. As long as this creature is on the battlefield, every opponent is safe from losing. As he flies around and beats on stuff, most people are going to avoid using actual targeted removal on him. On my side of the fence, I have a number of ways of getting rid of him if the need comes up.

Boldwyr Heavyweights - A card in my deck purely for the LOL's. An 8/8 trampler for only 4 mana? Surely this card, too, must have some kind of drawback. In fact, depending on the deck, this drawback might get me into more trouble than its worth. But I like my opponents casting big creatures, and why not let them do it a little faster. Who knows, I might have some non-targeting mass removal waiting in the wings.

Diabolic Servitude - Repeatable reanimation is a pretty good thing. Bad part is this can only target creatures in MY graveyard. So we will see if I can keep it filled with critters. On the plus side, if Malfegor should ever end up in the graveyard, Diabolic Servitude is ready to yoink him right back into the land of the living. And if Mafegor gets removed from the game with Diabolic Servitude...he's just have to fly right back into the command zone where he belongs!

Fleshwrither - A poor man's tutor for 4-drop creatures. You may have noticed I have a couple extra-tricky creatures here to search up for special situations. The bad part is, the tutoring happens as a sorcery leaving the door open for a good removal spell. Hrumph!

Greed - Lots of card drawing, not quite as good as Necropotence but its what I have in my collection.

Horn of Deafening - An oldie but a goodie. Legends provided a host of really weird artifact effects that haven't been replicated in modern sets. Horn of Deafening stops most creatures in their tracks, preventing all damage and even effects triggered by damage.

Null Brooch - A repeatable counterspell. Pretty sweet to use when you don't have any cards in your hand. People normally forget I have this until they try a spell and it doesn't work.

Pestilence - A nice little boardsweeper you can keep on the board (and out of your hand) until the need arises. If I have Reassembling Skeleton out, I just have to leave enough mana to get him back into play and Pestilence stays on the board!

Phyrexian Processor - A couple posts back I decided 8 was the magic number to pay in life when the Processor comes out on the board. A big enough goon to be a threat to most creatures on the board. And I can make him over and over again.

Plague Sliver - A marvelous 5/5 for only 4 mana. The 1 damage per turn is almost inconsequential. Occasionally you run up against a sliver deck, but that hardly ever happens. Fun fact: this card is actually a reprint of Juzam Djinn in disguise.

Rakka Mar - Makes tokens for not very much mana. These are very similar to Spark Elementals, except they don't have trample and they don't get sacrificed.

Splinter Twin - Makes copies of things. This can be a really convoluted way to get rid of a general. Of course, a lot can go wrong while you gear up to make that one fatal copy. In other less crazy uses, Splinter Twin makes a dupe of just about anything else awesome in my deck, perhaps even Sheoldred.

Trading Post - Finally, the newest addition to my deck. I can use each one of these abilities at different times to give my deck a little push in the right direction. My favorite part is the artifact recursion.

So that's it for the 4 drops. Even crazier than the 3 drops? I believe so. Next up are 5 mana costing spells, which should be coming relatively soon. See you then!

Malfegor's Loxodon Mauler

Part IV of many...

Here come the 3 drops!

Ashnod's Altar - Ashnod's Altar is a endless sacrifice outlet. If I want to kill one of my creatures (say Reassembling Skeleton) I can do it without spending mana, and I even get 2 colorless mana back. This rescues any of my creatures from being stolen from me, or suffering an embarrassing exile due to Swords to Plowshares.

Buried Alive - tutors for 3 of the best, most easily resurrect-able critters in my deck.

Cadaver Imp - I wanted one Gravedigger-type creature in this deck, and Cadaver Imp also flies which helps a ton. You really never know how the battlefield is going to play out, and if you are the guy with the flyer, perhaps wearing a Loxodon Warhammer, you might be able to hold your ground.

Jar of Eyeballs - A brand new card I am trying out. If my creatures start dying left and right, Jar of Eyeballs turns into a pretty decent tutor. And even when things are pretty deadlocked, 2 eyeballs is still a Scry 2 effect, same as a Crystal Ball.

Jaya Ballard, Task Mage - This legendary "spellshaper" wrecks other cards left and right. You are always going to run into blue permanents, guaranteed. Guaranteed! Don't even worry about that part. And the few non-blue creatures you find you can still roast. As a last resort, you can use this card as an Inferno to wipe the board. I've used all 3 abilities, and plan to use all 3 many more.

Loxodon Warhammer - A "broken" hammer to strap to any of your disposable creatures who seem to sink back into the earth as fast as you can raise them. The life gain is huge, and almost unavoidable since whatever creature you are using also has trample.

Pawn of Ulamog - Gets me more advantage out of my creatures dying. People are always trying to kill the creatures. Pawn of Ulamog gives me both a chump blocker and more mana. In some sort of dream scenario where I have Pawn, Reassembling Skeleton and Ashnod's Altar out, every single black mana I spend counts as 2 creature kills and generates an additional 3 colorless mana.

Phyrexian Arena - I draw another card every turn. Which helps rebuild my hand after Malfegor comes down. Really drawing cards is always good.

Rockslide Elemental - This is a fairly new card to my deck, so I'm still undecided how well this will work. Either dies immediately, or get really big. Multiplayer games multiply the bonuses, since more killing is generally happening. And who knows one turn I could make this 40/40, equip the hammer and kill someone.

Skull of Orm - Brings enchantments out of my graveyard. Black has lots of awesome enchantments, and normally doesn't have any way to get them back again. With one simple artifact from The Dark, now you can!

Stronghold Rats - This card was added to my deck for pure fun factor. These Rats are completely unblockable, and they force discards around the table. They might die pretty fast, but if they get left on the table for a couple of turns I will be laughing all the way to the bank. Ideally, they would also be wearing Lightning Greaves.

Taurean Mauler - Again, gets pretty big in multiplayer games. Dies right away or does a whole lot of damage.

Wheel of Fortune - Dumps all my awesome cards in the graveyard, and gives me a fresh hand. Sometimes my hand is exactly zero, in which case I just get 7 new cards. Sets me up with reanimation targets in other people's graveyards.

So there are the 3 drops. I've noticed this bunch of cards is significantly more exciting than the previous more utility-minded 2 drops. From here on out, should be mostly crazy explosions and money falling out of the sky. Next up are the 4 casting-costers!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Malfegor's Animated Abominations

Part 3 is here already!

2-Mana-Cost Spells for fun and profit…and my Malfegor EDH deck.

Animate Dead - One of the game's more complicated cards, describing a fairly simple interaction. Animate Dead is very efficient, costs me no life, and is recurable using the delightful Skull of Orm.
Demonic Tutor - Another piece of glorious nostalgia. I am quite positive the most common target for this Tutor over its life still remains Sengir Vampire. Here's a fun fact: from the moment you learn MTG, start filling a jar with pennies. Put a penny in the jar every time you play a game of Magic. After about 5 years, start taking a penny out instead. The interesting part is that the jar will already be empty at this point since you used all the pennies to buy Sengir Vampires. And then you will not want them anymore. In the bright new future of this deck, I have plenty of awesome tutor targets.

Dragon Breath - Interestingly, this card cares about casting cost, not strength or toughness. So in addition to many monsterous creatures…similarly powered wizards get the same haste effect as soon as they enter the game. Tapping Avatar of Woe as soon as it comes into play (after paying only 2 black mana!) is probably going to be as awesome as it gets…but you never know what you might animate out of someone else's graveyard.

Exsanguinate - I have fond memories of cleaning up at a 2-headed Giant competition with this. Until the other team used one too…no fair! If I end up destroying the whole table with this more than once, it may have to come out in order to keep the fun factor at the right level.

Gate to Phyrexia - A good way to get rid of artifacts, especially if I have a lot of token creatures laying around. I remember finding this card in a bulk bin at Shinders back in the 90's and being amazed at the black border. Black on black…can't get much darker than that!

Goblin Tinkerer - Blows up artifacts, If you blow up a 1-mana-cost artifact you get to do it again!

Lightning Greaves - A good piece of equipment, drawing this quickly accelerates the deck into "kill by general damage" mode.

Rakdos Signet - A mana stone with all the colors I need!

Reassembling Skeleton - The ultimate recursive creature. What Drudge Skeletons should have been, it only took 18 years for them to get right. I can discard Reassembling Skeleton, sacrifice him, chump block with him, he don't care he just wants more.

Twisted Abomination - Another piece of land searching, and he's also a decent sized creature in a pinch.

Only 10 2-mana spells? Hope this deck doesn't end up being too top-heavy. Oh wait, this is Commander, Bwahahahaha!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Malfegor's Demonic Voltaic Power

Coursing through the Internet tubes, here is Part 2 of my Malfegor EDH Deck Presentation.

All 1-Mana-Cost Cards

Death Spark - Looks pretty worthless, doesn't it? Death Spark is included in this deck because it has AMAZING synergy with my general, Malfegor. Playing Malfegor causes me to discard all my cards. If I have at least 1 creature in my hand, Death Spark can be easily recouped into my new now-empty hand on the next turn. This gets me back into the action faster, and provides extra "not important" cards for discarding purposes as the game continues.

Devil's Play - I am trying this card out. It provides a useful Blaze effect you can cast again from the graveyard. Very useful if I end up having to discard it to Malfegor, as the card will still give me some benefit later down the road. The three red mana for the flashback cost is a little heavy, but should be manageable later in the game.

Executioner's Capsule - Threatening Terror-style effect I can get out of my hand quickly and onto the board. Once on the board, the effect is mostly uncounterable so even blue generals will have a problem with it. Only big weakness I see is the target creature has to be non-black. This has fouled me up previously against both Sliver Legion and Sliver Overlord.

Entomb - New addition I'm trying out. A tutor for graveyard-synergistic cards, this could even pull out a tucked general who could then be animated with any number of spells.

Evil Presence - More land destruction, creatively executed. Am I going overboard?

Expedition Map - Land searching done right. I can go find any land…colored sources if I need it or Volrath's Stronghold if I already have my mana on track.

Greater Gargadon - A 9/7 tank, and it costs me only 1 mana to cast. While the Gargadon percolates in the "suspend zone" you can sacrifice creatures, land, artifacts, just about anything that was going to die or get blown up anyway.

Goblin Balloon Brigade - The best 1 drop goblin ever created…that can fly. The perfect card.

Sol Ring - 2 mana springs from 1 mana. As amazingly useful as it is nostalgic…this card has grime and grit on it from my first days playing Magic in my high school cafeteria and in the back of Math Club.

Reanimate - Just got this card. I fear the possibility of sacrificing too much of my life for something really cool. I will have to see what my friends put into their graveyards.

Voltaic Key - I have nothing game breaking to use this with, so Voltaic Key will work in my deck as intended…providing extra uses each turn for my many cool artifacts.

Malfegor's Spinerock Stronghold

Thus begins a 6 or 7 part post of concentrated EDH format deck building FOCUS!

Once again, I feel compelled to undertake an examination of the card choices of my Malfefor Commander Deck. Last time, I seperated the cards by use. This time around I'm going to go by mana cost. Could be a mistake. Could be less informative. We will see.

Today you get: The Lands (there are no other 0-mana cost cards)

For starters, there are 8 Mountains and 6 Swamps. I like Mountains and Swamps because they come down on the battlefield untapped and ready to go. They count as basic land if you are into that kind of thing. They make colored mana which is almost always useful. Yep, land is really awesome.

But sometimes, you want to sneak a little more utility into your land, so you want colored mana producing land, with benefits.

For producing red mana, I include Spinerock Knoll and Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep.

Spinerock Knoll, aka Ol' Gassy Pants, is for casting big spells fast. I have a couple of big spells I would love to whip out at uncomfortable times for my opponent. The 7 points of damage requirement is usually easy to meet. Especially in multiplayer Magic, as the damage does not technically have to come from you. As long as an opponent takes 7 damage, you are good to go.

Shinka is awesome. Almost better than a basic mountain in every way. Comes into play untapped, and turns any large legendary creature into a formidible blocker/attacker. 

For producing black mana, I include Spawning Pool, Bojuka Bog, Crypt of Agadeem and Shizo, Death's Storehouse.

Spawning Pool gives you a 1/1 regenerating blocker very early in the game, which is nice to immediately stop attacks of opportunity. Doesn't fly, unfortunately. Sometimes your opponent will choose to use something like Swords to Plowshares on your skeleton, exiling the land in the process. It feels bad at first, but this is probably a best-case-scenario in disguise after considering what else in your deck he could be exiling.

Speaking of exiling, Bojuka Bog exiles a graveyard pure and simple. Sometimes this will be really good, and other times you'll hardly notice it. The 2 times I want to exile a graveyard:

1) When my opponent is doing something degenerate, usually in green and sometimes involving Eternal Witness.
2) When I'm almost ready to cast Living Death and I don't like the quantity or quality of monsters in an opposing graveyard.

Crypt of Agadeem will make a lot of mana, assuming I get plenty of black creatures in the graveyard. But if I can't, at least it will reliably produce 1 black mana every turn.

Shizo, Death's Storehouse is similar to Shinka in total awesomeness. Granting "unblockable" to a general (anyone's general!) is a quick way to knock out other players.

Perilously close to the writing of this blog post, my deck also included Ebon Stronghold and Keldon Megaliths. I originally added them simply because I had the cards, but after considering it…the effects really just aren't worth it. Sure, it can be fun to ping things sometimes. But both of these lands come into play tapped, and especially for Ebon Stronghold, I can see myself drawing it at a crucial time and ruing the day I ever put it in a sleeve. This has happened to me in the past with another terrible-for-EDH card, Shivan Gorge, and there was not a high enough roof I could find to release it from.

I also used all the dual color mana sources in my collection: Rakdos Carnarium, Graven Cairns, Blood Crypt, Sulfurous Springs, Dragonskull Summit, Veinfire Borderpost, Akoum Refuge, Tainted Peak, Auntie's Hovel.

For Tutor Land, I have Evolving Wilds, Terramorphic Expanse and (proxy!)Bloodstained Mire.

Finally, the icing on the cake. The Colorless Sources. Land with awesome abilities that I am willing to trade in my ability to reliably cast my spells for.

There are 4 cards I winnowed it down to.

1) Mystifying Maze

A pretty good land for stopping the random assaults!

2) Strip Mine and Ghost Quarter.

I'm having a tough time deciding if my deck really needs 2 land-destruction lands. Especially since they both only produce colorless mana. The problem is that when you really need to destroy a land, you need to do it as soon as possible. Sometimes a crucial land can mean the difference between success and failure. So they both stay in for now.

 3) Volrath's Stronghold

My deck dumps an incredible quantity of creatures into the graveyard. In just about every deck the Stronghold is good…in my deck is is above average in goodness. If you can make the game last for any length of time, this land is a tutor for whatever card you want out of your graveyard. And you can use it every turn!

And there you have it. The most important part of a deck, the foundation to your dark MTG tech. This list does not include mana-generating artifacts, which will be covered soon in their respective posts.

Next up, 1-mana-cost cards!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tyranny of the Vacant House: Santiago De Cuba

Another brutal game of Santiago De Cuba under my belt, and a feeling I must write again of the woe brought by letting your pesos run out.

Pesos are used in a couple of different ways. In fact, exactly 2.

1) Paying your driver advances the car one space for every peso. When you move the car, you get one free space and every space after is peso time.

2) Paying the pickpocket (poor, misguided El Zorro…he robs his victims, then gives the spoils to someone else?) is a fairly painless way to avoid having to give up something more valuable, like a good or a victory point.

Since the gamers on are often clever gentlemen, the more debased and unholy a strategy the more likely it will be picked up and used at every opportunity.

In a 2-player game of Santiago de Cuba, it boils down to this: if you allow your opponent to get any significant peso advantage, you are a dead man. Tthe world suddenly becomes a cold and inhospitable place.

I have dished this out and I have taken it. No matter how many trips your driver might take you around town, if you are peso-poor you always seem to be visiting the same place.

The worst location to be in Santiago: an empty vendor stall.

Empty vendor stalls don't have goods to give you. And you can't even move your pawn to a building to gain any additional benefit. You just sit in the car and wait for your next turn.

The strategy is super effective! And so prevalent. Every game I now play, the first place I "own" with dirty Alonso the Lawyer is the damnable newspaper publisher and his vendor-stall closing abilities.

In my last game, this didn't stop my opponent from winning. But it did force him to use a higher level of strategy which was at least entertaining for me (and probably even more for him). We both won. Although he won more with an actual win. But instead of staring at a closed set of double doors, I got to see a car expertly driven around town raking in an insane quantity of fruit before cashing it in for twice the victory points I was expecting.

Completely broken, I think not. But a communal driver in Cuba's second largest city must be ready for all the sneaky methods of getting ahead his comrades might employ.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A brief study in Pokemon

One of my favorite days in recent memory was discovering that my son was interested in Pokemon: The Trading Card Game.

This, I thought to myself, this is something I can understand.

The rules and makeup of the game are eerily similar to Magic. Energy replaces mana and pokemon replace creatures. Trainers and items replace sorceries. There are no instants.

In other ways, it is an entirely alien game. Both coming from the same root of collectible card game, Magic and Pokemon have branched in their evolution with some completely divergent design decisions.

Do you remember the double-faced card situation back in the first two Innistrad blocks? Pokemon's been that way ALL THE TIME. Only instead of having two faces, you have to have a separate evolution card in your deck to take your basic pokemon up to the next level.

Starts out as Pikachu

Ends up Raichu. I had no idea!

Pokemon is like that in EVERY EXPANSION.

Now if you didn't know this strange fact until now, you're probably next wondering how this could possibly ever be workable. Because Pokemon has been around just as long as Magic, and they continue to dump fresh card designs into the market at about the same pace. A comprehensive collector needs multiple closets to hide his perversion, just like in Magic.

Must be a pain in the butt to match up basic and evolved Pokemon, right? Not as bad as I feared because of the next startling revelation.

There are multiple Pikachus! Instead of taking Lightning Bolt down a notch and renaming it Shock, the madmen down at the PokiPalace or whatever their headquarters is called just kept making different designs with the SAME NAME.

If you search the poki-net, you are going to see the same pokemon have been in tons of expansions, they have the exact same name, and they all have different abilities, energy costs and health points. Total pandemonium!

And evolved Pokemon don't care which version they evolve from, as long as it has the same name you are good to go. The combo possibilities are endless and something I will have to think about more.

Right now, my eternal opponent and I are just fighting it out with the Black and White Training Kit.

I found an unboxing video, which highlights a number of other differences I want to point out.

1) This kit includes 2 "starter" half decks you can later combine into 1 full-size deck.

2) The kit includes a plastic pokemon "coin" for resolving coin flips. There are a LOT of coin flips in Pokemon, a observation I will explore farther in another post.

3) What isn't shown is this kit also includes a double-sized playmat for use by both players. There are spots for all the fields of play. Deck, discard pile, active pokemon, benched pokemon, prize cards, a spot for everything. Both sides have a brief setup checklist to make sure you don't forget anything. And then both sides have a brief checklist for going through a typical pokemon turn. This has been insturmental both in making sure my son doesn't forget anything, as well as making sure I don't forget anything. Because I forget a TON, which can be frustrating to a 7-year-old.

4) Finally, this kit includes COUNTERS. Pokemon keep their damage over turns, and there are about 6 different "conditions" from sleeping to burned to paralysis that can befall a pokmon. So lots of counters are nice to have, and its really nice to see them come in the starter kit. Hello Wizards!

10's, 50's(for the big-rolling Pokemon), as well as burned and poisoned status conditions

Hopefully he gets a stack of pokemon cards for his birthday, then we are going to get down to business on this whole "deck-building" thing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

M13's New Land for Trading Everything

New land spoiled for the M13 set…released in deliciously cryptic German.

4 mana for an artifact is always ok in my book. Especially for a laid back card like this that is only going to work for a "long game" deck…the ideal EDH scenario.

According to the translators at MTGSalvation, "Handelsposten" contains the following FOUR abilities:

1) 1 mana, tap, discard a card: You gain 4 life.

Discarding a card is not a very good trade for 4 life. If this were the only ability, this card would already be in the dumpster, and I haven't even got one yet. I would be throwing other people's copies in the dumpster, and laughing manically while doing it.

But sometimes you do want to get rid of a card in your hand. In this regard, it's a least better than One with Nothing. Say you wanted to put Animate Dead on your Butcher of Malakir or something in your hand. Then it would be good.

And sometimes you want to pump your Rakdos Pit Dragon. I have had this situation happen as well.

But ability #1 is hopefully the least useful of the Trading Post's abilities.

2)  1 mana, tap, pay 1 life: Put a 0/1 white Goat creature token onto the battlefield.

Sometimes all you need is a creature, and any creature will do. This 0/1 Goat is pretty fun just in the fact it's a Goat. But you are also going to be chump blocking with that Goat. And don't forget (at least in my case) giving him completely implausible equipment no Goat should really be carrying around.

This Goat is ready to even things up should an errant Barter in Blood or similar spell come down. Not to mention provide a painless sacrifice target for the numerous other artifacts EDH players love to have around.

3) 1 mana, tap, sacrifice a creature: Return target artifact card from your graveyard to your hand.

Happy Feet! Sometimes you need a creature, sometimes you need to get rid of a creature. This is certainly the most powerful, most useable effect. Sometimes you will get into games where opponents will relentlessly try to steal your creatures. Trading Post offers yet another way to deny them the pleasure of using your own weapons against you.

And in exchange for this valuable service you get to take an ARTIFACT out of your graveyard and put it back in your hand? I love artifacts, and I especially love replacing a creature targeted with lethal damage with a fresh artifact in my hand. What if that artifact is Wurmcoil Engine? Indeed!

4) 1 mana, tap, sacrifice an artifact: Draw a card.

Sometimes evil people blow up your awesome artifacts. Or maybe you just want to kill your Wurmcoil Engine for some reason. When that happens, why not get a card out of the deal?

After carefully reviewing each of these abilities, I can only conclude that Trading Post is the most awesome thing ever.

Yes, yes, not every deck is going to want this. But most of my decks will. Trading Post truly shines (like most artifacts) is decks using colors that normally don't get these abilities. I use a lot of red. Typically poor in drawing cards, token creation and especially pulling artifacts out of my graveyard. Black players take note, too. Ability #3 is a kind of holy grail in resurrection abilities, seen only very rarely.

So Trading Post is now on my watch list. And hopefully the 4 mana cost will keep the chase-y-ness down unlike that awesome land I saw the other day.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Prêt-à-Porter, Part Deux

Normally it doesn't take several plays for me to wrap my head around a game. Normally, I may not absorb the optimal strategy for a game right away…but at least I can go through the motions until I get to the end!

In my first play, Pret-a-Porter threw me for a loop harder than any other game in recent memory.

not so hot anymore, are you?

On my second play the going was tough at the beginning, with everyone repeating the same rules sections over and over again like a bunch of moon-blinked barn owls. The multiple player aids available on BoardGameGeek did help a little.

But the final breakthrough was the result of calling a time out over the (now multi-copied) rule book, and going to do something else for a while. It was hot outside. My brain full of incomprehensible information, I wandered outside and let the information percolate during a long soak in the pool under a 100ºF sky. Excessive sun drives some people insane, but on that fateful 4th of July my brain received the extra vitamins or whatever it needed and a proper play sequence was finally initiated upon my return inside for dinner.

There are 12 turns, divided into 4 cycles. Each cycle is composed of 2 "preparation" turns during which players take contracts, buy materials, hire employees and acquire various other advantages. After the 2 prep turns is a fashion show, where the scoring happens. So 2 regular turns, followed by a scoring turn, repeated 4 times.

The preparation is (nowadays) classic worker placement. Each position on the board has a maximum number of places, and each player has 3 workers to place as the turn goes around the board. Depending on the spot, you will have to race to place your worker before the location is full!

copied from the rulebook

Contracts are laid down face-up in the gray section, buildings in the red and employees in the blue. Materials are purchased from your choice of 3 different suppliers: a local merchant, a warehouse distributor or a fancy (and expensive) direct importer. The middle column is where you lay out the all-important designs you'll be trying to complete for the next fashion show.

During my first turn, I placed a worker on Contracts, Design and Materials. I was then able to acquire a design (to add to the 2 designs I started the game with), shop at the warehouse to buy materials for two of my designs (to complete the two that made up a collection), and attempt to pick up a contract. Unfortunately, the contract I wanted was scooped up by another player, leaving me with picking up a Contract that didn't help me very much (Sales Rep).

During my second turn, I managed to snag another design for my growing collection and also buy materials for that design.

When the first fashion show came around (London), I was sitting pretty with a vintage collection containing 3 fully completed designs. The judges were concerned mostly about quantity and quality (the judging standards are different for each city) and at the end of the show I was in the lead and raking in the dough.

And like many members of the nouveau riche, I unfortunately became distracted by my wealth and lost a bit of my focus.

Instead of attacking the design pile like a junkyard dog going after a bone (as I had in the first cycle of turns), I hired an accountant to manage my money. I purchased a building to help expand my empire.

These were all good things, but when the next fashion show rolled around I had only 2 designs in my collection (using 1 I had earned and the other design card I started the game with). I still made some stars with my collection ("trendiness" was what the judges were looking for this time around), but I had a smaller bank roll to start the third cycle of turns.

My accountant was doing good work, mind you. The books were indeed cooked. Of the 8,000 I was paying to maintain my fashion company, 7 of that was getting funneled right back to me, leaving a net loss of only 1,000 every turn.

To the right of me, the next player over had misjudged his finances during the game and things were getting about as bad as they could get. He ran out of money at the end of a preparation turn and received an emergency loan (the kind where a guy drives out to your house in the middle of the night with a briefcase full of cash). Then the next preparation phase he had to take out another emergency loan to pay the interest on the first emergency loan. So I was feeling ok.

But to the right of HIM, that's were the problems were brewing. This upstart player directly across the table from me was starting to get the hang of things.

I should mention at this point that not all fashion shows are weighted the same. The first fashion show of the year visits one city and awards one city worth of points. But then the next fashion show of the year visits 2 cities, then the next 3 and finally the last show in December visits an awesome 4 cities (and scores 4X the points).

So the fashion show I did really well on was actually the lowest scoring fashion show, worth only 1/4 of the points of the last fashion show.

Well, by the last turn of the game he/she had accumulated a few buildings and employees to get a solid lock on public relations, as well as help secure a large collection of designs that put the "me" of the first turn to shame.

You see, each design has a style: children's, vintage, boho, sport and evening wear. A collection presented at a fashion show has to be all of one style. My opponent had discovered a building that let him/her (husband/wife team, always dangerous) restyle designs to all one style (vintage).

sports design

boho design

vintage design

Scarfing up a bunch of designs, magically making them the right style, and saturating the market with positive PR, ended up cementing the win for them. But, to tell you the truth, I was having so much fun it didn't really matter all that much.

I really had my doubts after the horrible experience the first time around. But this is actually a really fun game with a really different theme. It's hard. If you can play this game with someone else who has played before once or twice, it could mean all the difference.

But if you can get over the hurdles, there is a reward on the other side.

Game reviewer Tom Vassel gave the game a mostly positive review. For negatives, he was a little worried about how the rest of his gaming group would handle the somewhat feminine card designs and the overall fashion theme.

I say, if they can't handle the theme you need to find some people who do! If there is one thing Pret-a-Porter can do in spades, that is filter out the riff-raff. If you are too cool for fashion, that is often a warning sign to a host of other problems.

And the game was undoubtably made with love. The designer of Pret-a-Porter is Ignacy Trzewiczek, who is more known for his games taking place in post-apocalyptic wastelands.

Fact is…fantasy and fallout and the two things that "sell" in the board game hobby market. If you are going to go out on a limb as design "science fiction" or the ultimate horror of horrors…a fashion show economic engine…you have to really like what you are working on. You have to have a vision.

This is the video of Ignacy demoing his game at Essen 2011, and you can see the enthusiasm coming out of every pore.

I made it all the way through one game of Pret-a-Porter after about 24 hours of sweating, brain-busting rules discussion. The actual game, for the most part, was as smooth as butter. After I was done, I wanted to play the game again. What better endorsement can a game receive?

The variety of choices available, and the fact that you are only seeing a small fraction of the game when you play, means the next time things might be entirely different. The fashion shows will be in a different order. I will have different employees, buildings and contracts to choose from. Regardless of what happens, there is no greater joy than watching your fashion label flourish as the game progresses.

I will tell you, there was a dark time when I questioned my purchase. But now that dark spot on my heart is healed, probably thanks to the TV spots I ran in cycle 3 of my fashion empire. If he ever reads this, thank you Ignacy!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thurn And Taxis: Going Postal!

Postal delivery has seldom been a popular game theme, so the choices for a prospective postmaster-in-training are few and far between. Still, someone has to delivery the mail…and it certainly isn't going to be the lackadaisical talent sitting across from you at the table!

After all the chaff is removed from the post-office genre, one sparkling board game jewel remains, and that is Thurn and Taxi. A thurn is an archaic German device for delivering mail, and a taxi takes its name of course from the delivery vehicle. Or I could be entirely incorrect on that, my dictionary doesn't see to be particularly useful in this case.

If you have ever played Ticket to Ride, you will find the game a good starting point for the mechanics of Thurn. Instead of drawing colors of trains, players draw city names from a face-up row of cards replenished after every draw. Playing a card stakes your claim to a city, allowing you to start a mail route there.

Putting down a post office on a city does not block other players from taking the city, but there are bonuses to getting post offices down in specific spots. Filling one region entirely gets you points. Get at least one office in each region (there are 9 of them, if you look close) will score you some more points. Building longer routes increases your "carriage" number, which is like levels in an RPG. At the end of the game, your carriage number is

Whatever you do during your turn, one thing you must do is place at least one city. And because of the strange permitting requirements back in ancient Bavaria, you can only build one postal route at a time. Once you decide to work on a non-connecting city, your previous route needs to be closed and scored before any more progress can be made.

Similar to Puerto Rico, there is also a small role selection mechanic, as each turn you can choose from several super powers represented by Bavarian villagers. The postal carrier lets you add a second city to your route on top of the first. The post master lets you draw an extra card. The administrator lets you refresh the card selection with 6 new face-up cards. Finally, the cartwright lets you upgrade your "carriage" even if you are 1 or 2 cities behind when you close a route.

As to strategy, thinking ahead very important. Long-range planning must be used, and you must also make the room to take advantage of the random face-up cards made available by the time your turn comes around again.

Taking a card the person next in line obviously needs for their route is always a popular choice if you can afford to do it. On the other side, choosing to draw from the top of the deck instead of the faced-up selections allows you to conceal your card from your opponents (otherwise drawn cards are open information) and these can prove quite valuable in disguising how far along your plans might be.

But the overaching path to victory is always being able to go in 2 directions at once. Working on 2 or 3 different goals, and then completing whichever one your cards allow you to do. Being able to capitalize quickly on some sudden luck is essential, because your adversaries can always jump ahead a few cities if they really need to, thanks to the meddling postal carrier.

And sometimes you just lose, because someone else happens to get all the cards they need for route perfection.

End game with 3 players

If you like Ticket to Ride, Thurn and Taxis should be a shoe-in to your collection. Game play is also relatively fast, since information is revealed during other people's turns and most everything is open. When your turn comes around, you should have a pretty good idea what to do.

If there is one fault I can give Thurn and Taxis, I would say the game could use just a little more theme. Like I said before, the postal route genre is pretty slim pickings. Let's try to add some actual postal delivery among all the usual route building. But that's a bit of a nit to pick.

Play Thurn and Taxis online for the glorious price of FREE at Yucata.

Friday, July 6, 2012

New Podcast Review: "Flip the Table" on Transformers

I just finished listening to a podcast that managed to touch me like a podcast seldom does.

One of the first gifts I ever remember buying for someone else was the copy of Transformers The Adventure Game I bought (or more precisely, my parents bought) for my cousin who was somewhat into Transformers at the time. True to how the typical kid brain processes develop, I was far more into Transformers than he was…and thought the board game was the coolest looking thing I could think of.

The very first episode reviews the star-crossed Transformers and found it just as sucky as I did when I helped my unfortunate cousin assemble the components some 26 years ago. But not only do they heckle the game, they try to get inside the head of the people who originally crafted it. Why are there 2 dice? Why are there 54 cards? Flip the Table goes into the thinking of the time period, and the traditional game expectations during the period the game came out. In a time before  the concept of "cooperative" games, it's perfectly rational for each player to be an Autobot competing against each other (although it is somewhat odd that each Autobot is the SAME Autobot…Optimus Prime).

I often wonder how Chutes and Ladders and Candyland has managed to survive all these years. Transformers The Adventure Game is an example of the type of terrible cash-in challengers the game industry in the 80s tried to produce.

I can't wait to hear their take on American Idol: The Collectible Card Game.