Our friend Alaric recently turned 40, so he decided to celebrate by inviting bunches of people to his house for the weekend to play games. Hence, my dubbing of the event "Alaric-con". :-) (It's 11:30PM Sunday; Dani is still there.) It was fun.

For a birthday present we bought him Rum and Pirates, which our friend Ralph introduced us to last Sunday. We broke that out yesterday and had a five-player game. Four of us ended with scores of 52, 53, 54, and 55. Alas, the fifth scored somewhere around 75. None of the others had played before, but Char (who won) is very fast at picking up tactics. He failed to say "Arrrr!" upon winning, even though he had called for this earlier.

The concurrent game of Caylus was allegedly half an hour from finishing, so someone pulled out Category 5, a simple card game. This is almost certainly a much older game with the serial numbers filed off, just like the Dilbert card game is just the Great Dalmuti in disguise. Someone said this one goes back to the 60s, but I don't remember more.

That was ok for a while, but we weren't that into it and Caylus was taking longer than expected, so next we pulled out Tsuro. I've written about this game before. It's still very neat. (Is it true that it's mathematically impossible to place your tile so as to run two other people into each other? This was asserted, but I'm uncertain.)

After Caylus finished we shuffled people around. Dani really wanted to play a "quick game of Titan". He loves that game but usually has trouble getting people to play it, because it tends to be long -- "quick game" is sarcastic. So this time he got players, and -- sure enough -- he and one other player eliminated each other on turn #2! Quick game, yes, but not in the way he intended. :-)

I don't dislike Titan, but I'm not enthusiastic about it either. As armies expand it bogs down a lot unless people are very good at memorization (even for your own stuff, let alone others'). In a different context someone summed this up well for me: I'm not a big fan of games where I would do better if I kept written notes. That's not what makes games fun for me. I can generally track suits and the top cards in trick-based games like Hearts, but that's about as far as I'm interested in going.

As long as I'm digressing: Titan is one of those games with a bunch of different types of chits, which must all be taken out and stacked around the board at the start (and sorted and put away at the end). Most game manufacturers do not give you any help with this, so you end up buying plastic trays (if you're lucky and can find them) or bunches of tiny zipper bags. That's a hassle. Two games that get this right: Rum and Pirates comes with a plastic tray that is exactly suited for its pieces, including markers for each slot so you know what chits go there, and the Euro-Rails family of train games come with a plastic tray to hold the roughly two dozen types of tokens (plastic disks). It probably costs as much as an extra 50 cents for the game manufacturers to get that right; I wish more of them went to the effort.

During the Titan game, meanwhile, I recruited people for one of the crayon train games. Alaric owns Lunar Rails, but I thought that would be a little funky for people new to this class of games (we had two newcomers), so we played Iron Dragon instead. The game went more slowly that normal, in part because two people were learning it (and learning the map, and where goods come from), and in part because one of the players was trying to pay attention to other things at the same time. It was a fun game, though. Everyone had met the connection requirement when I won with 260, and one of the new players had about 225.

Dani, meanwhile, took the other early loser from Titan and a few other people who had just showed up and started a game of Talisman. I don't know how that game went (they were in another room). The basic game plays reasonably well in my opinion; I think each expansion set weakened the game. After a couple of hours they declared a winner rather than playing it out.

There were lots of other games going, and people were tracking them on a whiteboard. (Just games played, not the details.) I hope Alaric transcribes the complete list and shares it.

Today we went back and found Alaric setting up La Citta, which was new to all of us. This is a neat game, and I want to play again. Players build cities on a map, initially by placing centers and then by expanding to add farms (food), quarries (income), and various special buildings. Some buildings (like marketplaces and public baths) are required to grow beyond certain sizes; others help you dominate in one or more of three areas: education, culture, and health. During your turn you can take several actions -- like adding tiles to your cities, but also increasing farm production, adding population, and some other "meta-game-level" actions. After players take their actions the secret "vox populi" cards are revealed; these indicate which of those three areas the people are enamored of this turn. People leave cities with fewer points in those areas and emigrate to cities with more points, if they can. If you end up with insufficient population to cover all your tiles, you have to start removing buildings. One of my starting cities was down to two tiles at the end of the game; the other had more than a dozen people in it (and nine or ten tiles, I think).

During the game (too late, of course :-) ) I realized that sometimes you want to limit immigration, by delaying building of the markets and baths that support growth. Bad things happen if your farms can't keep up with your population.

While I thought I was getting whumped, in the end we were all within a few points of each other. I have ideas about what to do differently next time.

I went home after that, but Dani stayed and was hoping to get people to play American Megafauna, which he played at Origins last year. The idea (I haven't played yet) is that it's 250 million years ago and you're playing an evolving phylum. There are biomes with varying characteristics, and you have chances to modify your species' DNA. Specialization helps you dominate but makes you more susceptible to events like climate shifts; generalization makes you more durable but less likely to win out in a tight race for food. It sounds like an interesting game, but for another day.

I had fun, and when I left there was talk about when to do this again. (I don't think we have any round-number birthdays coming up in the next year, so people will need a different excuse.) They started Friday around dinnertime (Dani went then; I didn't), and Alaric took tomorrow off from work and said he didn't care how late things ran. He did get some sleep, but I'm not sure how much. :-)