I don’t play this version of Settlers of Catan anymore with my REAL GAMER FRIENDS. We only play what we call “vanilla” Settlers when we’re introducing newbies to the gaming hobby. Like Wil Wheaton was doing here. And so I wonder: Wil, do you play the Settlers Cities & Knights version? Because you should know that’s the only way to play this game. Really.
Anyway, here is my John Madden-ish rundown of last week’s episode of Tabletop (see my first post about this cool new internet show here), and this time around I think Wil pretty much summed up their game of Settlers of Catan in one profound sentence: “The Robber is a dick.”
The show gave us a statistic about halfway through the episode that I think anyone wanting to play the game should know: seven, the number that makes the Robber do his thing in Settlers, SHOULD only come up about 18% of the time. But these are dice, and dice are fickle, and in this game the Robber reared his ugly head about 29% of the time. Really, the Robber to me represents a negative play experience, but I see no other way to deal with the unfairness that “7″ spaces on the board would represent. So I deal.
But yeah, he’s a dick. And yeah, we’re assuming the Robber is male.
Besides the proliferation of sevens in this particular game of Settlers, three other things struck me about this episode.
First was Wil’s insistence on making the “wheat on” pun work. I’m not going to say anything else about it; it just stood out….
Next was that, after two episodes, Tabletop obviously has a formula: Wil sits down and plays with one white guy, one Asian guy, and one white woman. I personally look forward to when a black dude plays a game with him (although I’m gonna shake my head while simultaneously laughing if they play something like Betrayal at House on the Hill and the black dude bites it first).
Also, I think Wil ought to reach out to the real gaming community and have a couple of fat guys on the show.
Although what he REALLY needs to do is have someone on the show who will laugh at his jokes about having wood. He made the joke that pretty much every person in my gaming community has made at some point, and it fell flat on his audience of fellow gamers. C’mon. “I’ve got wood for sheep” is one of the funniest lines EVER in the world of gaming. It’s a lot funnier than “wheat on” puns… which I won’t mention.
Finally, I’m gonna disparage James Kyson’s game play. I have NO IDEA how intelligent Kyson is in real life, and maybe he was just acting for this episode, but holy shit he played poorly.
Example #1: Early on, Wil was offering him two bricks for one wheat. The camera aimed at Kyson’s hand and we saw that he had two woods, a brick, a wheat, and a sheep. We’d also just seen that Kyson was lacking roads and was getting cut off by Neil Grayston. Had he traded the wheat away for the two brick, he’d have been able to slap down TWO roads and get out of his corner, AND he’d have had three quarters of what he need to build a Settlement once he was out. You have to build roads early on in Settlers, folks, because you can’t spread out otherwise. Kyson neglected to do this and turned down Wil’s generous offer.
Example #2: He says at the end that Neil Grayston came out of nowhere with the win. “I didn’t see it coming,” he said. Well, the episode was truncated, and we the audience didn’t see everything, but even we saw Grayston get:
An additional Settlement for 1 point.
A City for 2 points.
The Largest Army for 2 points.
And the Longest Road for 2 points.
Seven points, James Kyson. You only need 10. You didn’t see that coming?
So… Neil Grayston, the “white guy who’s not Wil Wheaton” won. Which is obviously also part of the formula, because LAST episode Sean Plott, “the white guy who’s not Wil Wheaton” won.
I dunno, man.
I’d like to make one more point, which is effectively a final plug for the Cities & Knights variant of this game: A lot of times in games of vanilla Settlers, we found that once you became a clear front-runner the way Neil Grayston did, experienced players simply stopped trading with you. This gets frustrating to the front-runner, AND it pisses off people if you DO break down and trade with the front-runner AKA The Great Satan. Generally speaking, the person who’s in SECOND place has the better shot - he or she is within grasp of the win, and people are more willing to trade with him or her. There’s a lot of these “hang back a bit” games, and they get old after a while.
With Cities & Knights there are several paths to victory AND there are work-arounds for the front-runner, should the trading well dry up. It’s a more complicated game, for sure, but it’s far less tedious in the end game, and the wins are much more satisfying.
Especially if you manage to get your Wheat On.
Did I say that out loud?
Seems like every month brings my geekhood further and further into the mainstream - some of the best TV shows on right now are a geek’s wet dream: The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, etc. This year will see the release of movies like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and The motherfucking Hobbit - all geek fodder to the extreme.
Geek tech, geek culture, geek literature - all are moving more and more into the spotlight, out of the esoteric and into the fore. The only thing that pisses me off about it is that it waited until I was in my 30s to go in that direction. I wasn’t all that cool until I became an old man.
And now there’s an entire internet channel that gives itself totally to all things geek: YouTube and Felicia Day’s Geek & Sundry.
In particular, I find myself drawn to the “TV show” called Tabletop - Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day’s brainchild, wherein Wil has a group of “celebrity” guest stars play him in a board game. The inaugural game for episode one of Tabletop was Small World, a Days of Wonder game and a perennial favorite of my gaming group, so naturally, I HAD to watch the show. And then, when it was done, I HAD to write this - an analysis of everybody’s gameplay, and a brief review of the game itself.
I personally see myself as sort of a geeky John Madden, giving post-game commentary. YOU might be saying, “Jeez - only some sort of geeky fanboy would do an analysis of a BOARD game, breaking it down blow by blow like that.”
Well, no shit. Look at the title of this post, why dontcha?
So anyway - Wil does a fine job of succinctly summing up the Small World rules. I fucking wish I had graphics and terminology bubbles floating around me whenever I tried to teach people how to play board games. Every person I’ve taught, with the exception of the Holley brothers, thinks I do a great job teaching games. But when I think of all the time and the strain on my voice that I could have saved had I had quality TV production backing me up….
Small World, by the way, is an excellent game - actually simple in its rules, but comparatively complex and immersive in its strategy and execution. If you’re into gaming and you haven’t tried it, or if you’re thinking about branching out beyond Monopoly and Scattergories, check it out. It’s great.
And now, here’s my blow by blow commentary on Tabletop, Episode One: Small World.
1) On the show, the first player up turned out to be Jenna Busch. Not to be confused with THE Jenna Bush, though at first I myself missed the extra c in her last name. THIS Jenna is a popular and prolific geekdom writer, and I would assume because of her proclivities that she’s really smart - smarter, in fact, than THE Jenna Bush. Judging by her opening move in Small World, though, I’m more hesitant to give her that credit.
First, she chose a combo called the Hill Sorcerors. And why did she choose the Hill Sorcerors? Was it because they’re a great combo that could potentially score her a bunch of points? No. She chose them because she played magic-users a lot in the role-playing games that she likes.
Now, I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt with her choice. After all, this was supposedly her first time playing Small World, and she was going first, so she had to choose her opening combo SOMEHOW. I’m also willing to give her the benefit of the doubt on her opening play - she came in on the board on the side closest to her, something admittedly difficult for newbies to resist, but something you must resist if you’re going to play this game competitively.
You see, the key strategy to Small World is to maximize your limited number of unit tokens. Jenna started with nine. Not many. But there were a couple of places where she could have come onto the board and potentially gotten five points or more on her opening move. She didn’t do that. In fact, she conquered nary a hill, which were available, and would have given her extra points. She conquered two mountains instead.
Of course, maybe Wil failed to explain to Jenna the difference between a hill and a mountain.
2) Next up came Sean Plott, strategy commentator on a number of online games, known on the internets as Day(9). Sean’s funny - I hope Wil and Felicia have him back - but apparently he is also mildly retarded. He grabbed the Giants, a race that thrives on exploiting a position on mountain spaces, and he took exactly ZERO mountain spaces in his opening ploy.
And why at this point was everyone avoiding taking the cheapest available race/power combo - the Forest Halflings? They’re REALLY GOOD opening game.
3) Next up, Grant Imahara, of Mythbuster’s fame. Grant DID choose a great race and power combo, and with it he had a whopping NINE point opening turn. HOWEVER, the show failed to explain how much it costs to get races that are deep in the selection list. Grant’s Pillaging Orcs were five deep, so he technically only netted four points on his turn. Sean’s Giant’s were only one deep, and he scored eight points on his turn, so he netted seven. Better play. Even for a mildly retarded guy.
4) Wil Wheaton himself went next. Wil may know the game well, but the Forest Halflings would have given him potentially nine points at NO cost. His 12-point turn cost him two (net 10), and he only got seven dwarves to play with (just like Snow White, only without a prince to save him when the dwarves failed), and his “Wealthiness” (you gotta watch the episode to understand) was a one-time shot, so the lead he established with his opening move was tenuous.
5) Here’s an observation of something I found amusing: In between rounds, in those cutaway shots so popular in shows like this (and Ghosthunters and Mythbusters and American Pickers and Pawn Stars) Jenna said Wil was “very helpful to newbies like me.” Bullshit. If that were true, he would have told you how retarded your opening move was. And he would have explained to you the difference between a mountain and a hill.
6) Also in between rounds, Grant went on and on about how he beat up Sean the first round, and that he hoped it didn’t come back to haunt him later. Well, dude, of course it will. This is Small World. Revenge is NEVER cold - it’s always steaming hot, like fresh shit. Just you wait.
7) Fortunately, as time went by, the players seemed to be getting the hang of it - Jenna’s Dragon Master Tritons worked well. She played them well, and Wil even seemed ready to give her some good advice at one point - in a roundabout sort of way. Sean accidentally stumbled into a great situation with his Heroic Ghouls. And then Jenna uncovered at the very end the AMAZING combo of the Berserk Amazons. If only someone had access to that power combo before - it’s a game-winner.
Since the episode was edited, I’m left, of course, wondering how long that combo sat on the table like the Forest Halflings did, waiting for some retard to pick it.
8 ) I’m not gonna tell you who won. I want YOU to be as surprised as the people playing were, and if I told you, you’d be less inclined to go watch Tabletop next week - and I think it DESERVES to be watched. And commented on.
Instead, I’ll leave you with these three final observations.
9) People piled up on Grant at the end of the game. Imagine that.
10) The episode was only 30 minutes long. Be prepared. Small World, though relatively short compared to many board games, still has a play time of about an hour and a half. If you’re playing it and your game goes longer than the 30 minutes Wil’s did, you’ll now know why.
11) At the 21:07 mark, Wil called Grant the “barefoot Kenyan guy”, and I had to pause for a second to check whether I was wearing shoes. Because see, if I had been playing, I’d have annihilated them.
I would have been the barefoot KENYON guy.