Funny how a day when I wasn’t planning on doing any gaming at all turned into me gaming for a little bit which eventually morphed into me being there for about eleven hours. Plans change, opportunities pop up, and away you go. Good practice for our upcoming game day this Saturday, I suppose, although hopefully I’ll get in more games than just two.
Star Wars: Imperial Assault — I’ve talked about this game before, except that was the campaign game, which is more of a classic dungeon crawl game with a Star Wars coat of paint on it. This time around, we were playing the skirmish game, where two players build opposing squads and fight it out head-to-head. And this wasn’t just any skirmish game; this was a full-blown tournament, with prizes and everything. You needed to have a finely tuned squad to make it through three rounds of play with the most mission points scored to take home the grand prize. So it made perfect sense that I went into after actually owning the game for all of ten minutes.
See, I’d bought a friend a ticket to this year’s Dice Tower Con when they were selling out rapidly and he didn’t have the cash to get one. He promised to pay me back, and, by a rather circuitous route involving two different Secret Santas and much unnecessary apologizing on my friend’s part, he did so by giving me a copy of this game. Which I wasn’t able to get until he arrived at the store about fifteen minutes before the tournament was set to start. I knew I’d be playing, and I tried looking at some squad ideas online, but without the materials in front of me, I felt like I really couldn’t get a grasp on what was going on. So I picked one of the pre-made squads from the rule book and figured hey, there’s no entry fee, nobody here has really played much skirmish, at the very least, it’ll be a fun way to kill the afternoon while we all get some practice.
And I ended up winning the whole thing. So much for preparation.
As for the skirmish game itself, it’s a much different experience than the one Fantasy Flight provided with X-Wing. It’s scenario-based as opposed to straight-up head-to-head, and instead of playing until you wipe out the other side, you score points for accomplishing mission objectives and defeating enemy units. The first player to reach 40 wins. So while there are still tactical decisions to be made, you really don’t have the same kind of time to position as you do in X-Wing, since you have two countdowns, essentially: the time limit of the match and the 40-point limit you’re both racing towards. Even if I hadn’t won, this mode of the game was a total winner, which makes the complete Imperial Assault package one of the best games out there right now. Which means I have another Star Wars game where I’ll be buying lots of little plastic…
Magic Realm — One of the perks of being friends with a game store manager is that closing time is a sort of fluid thing. If he wants to play something and is willing to stick around after hours, well, he’s got a key. So we’d planned to play Magic Realm, a relic from the age when board gaming meant hundreds of cardboard chits, lots of charts, rule books with double columns of tiny type and indexes, playing times that soared past three hours without breaking a sweat, and an overall attitude that seemed to say, “Let’s see Monopoly try that!” What Magic Realm really reminds me of is someone going back in time from today to 1979 and trying to recreate a modern MMO using only existing board game mechanics. Because that’s the essence of this game: explore, fight monsters, earn rewards, all randomized with die rolls and charts and counters rather than ones and zeroes.
We’d done a brief play of this previously and while I’d found it kind of dry that time, I was assured a large part of that was the relatively one-note character I’d chose to play (a dwarf whose primary combat skill was to do the same thing over and over again, potent but dull). This time around I chose a white knight, and while he offered more variety, I still found the combat system as impenetrable as I did the last time. It has so many factors and variables, and comes down so much to luck, that all the decision-making you’re forced to do feels a little moot. I enjoyed the exploration and treasure-hunting aspects, but having to actually fight monsters — the bread and butter of most fantasy games, and a big part of this one — just didn’t capture me. I ended up winning, although by having the least worst score out of anyone than by actually being successful (this is a game where just surviving is considered a success).
We actually wrapped up halfway through the game’s four months of simulated time after about three hours of play (see, I wasn’t kidding), and in the immediate aftermath, I was ready to write this one-off as simply not for me. Thanked my friend for bringing, and for the admirable job he did constructing the game from scratch, as it’s long since out of print. And yet it nagged at me, like something caught between your teeth, annoying yet compelling. And I found myself qualifying my “never again” statements with, “Well maybe if we played a full game…” Yes, frustrating at three hours, but maybe it’ll really shine at six.
I never claimed this board gaming thing wasn’t a sickness.