Last year, I wrote a tragic tale about my botched attempt to bring Thunderstone Advance to the table. Basically, I wanted to play it so bad I all but forced everyone into it. Then, when the signs were clear that the game wasn't going over, I, consumed by my determination that Thundestone was an awesome game, continued to push. One by one, every other player lost interest. A few of them even got frustrated and just bailed. I knew shortly after that evening that it would be a long, long time before I ever got Thunderstone to the table again, if ever. Sure enough, I haven't played a full game of it since.
And tonight, to my great sorrow, history has repeated itself, with Archipelago.
Like previously with Thunderstone Advance, I take full responsibility for tonight's failure. I've always known the Landing's great weakness; it's too loud, too big, and too late in the evening to be a good venue for a heavy game. It's not impossible...I've successfully brought Terra Mystica and Mansions of Madness to the Landing with great success...but I believe those were exceptions that proved the rule. I, once again consumed by my own hubris, thought I could make it work. I was wrong. Again. As I packed up Archipelago and heard everyone's half-assed "that was interesting," I knew I might as well have tossed this beautiful, $60 game into the trash on my way out the door. It's not that the players didn't like the game...they did...but they weren't hooked. None of them had the gleam in their eye that they did the first time I brought Arctic Scavengers, or even Terra Mystica to the table. Board games, like people, only get a single chance to make a first impression. If Archipelago ever gets to the table again, it won't be at anyone else's request; it'll be me, pimping it again.
So, to be specific, here's what happened: I set up the game. Set up took a long time as I bumbled around with all the pieces, got them organized, and prepared the play area. That was the first problem, right there; the players who were mildly skeptical to begin with had nothing else to do but stare in horror at the ever-escalating boards, tokens, and hexagons filling both of the tables we pressed together for the game. By the time I was even ready to explain anything, half the players were deep in conversation with each other.
Another bad sign was my sacrifice to emcee/referee the game. Though this sounds like a good, even noble, thing to do, it is almost never a good idea in practice. The person teaching the game, especially one as complex as Archipelago, has to be the most motivated, interested person at the table. Without any vested interest in the game, I'm automatically crippled in that area. Combine that with the noisy venue, the distracted players...and I was ready to quit after round one. And I wasn't even playing.
Interestingly, the shenanigans were actually quite low, and most of them were even correctable without compromising the game. Everything was starting to click with the group just as one of the objective cards popped, and the game ended. That right there was the kiss of death; the moment I knew that if I ever want to play Archipelago again, I'm probably going to have to move across the country. How many board games made no sense to you at first? Then you played it, you got used to it, and then began to have fun? For me, that's about 70% of all the games I've ever played. Well, with Archipelago, these players saw the game make no sense, they played, they got used to it...and it ended, just before the "we began to have fun" step.
I blame this on the poor decision to play the short game. Now having watched it unfold, it's clear to me that the long game is the "default" mode of play. Had we been playing the long mode, players would have been "Getting it" after we were only a third of the way through the game, and then they'd have plenty of time to adjust their strategies and actually enjoy themselves. Contrary to what one would think, the short and medium games don't appear to be for newcomers; they seem to be for seasoned Archipelago professionals who want to get a complete game in quickly.
So, yeah....this was a rough night for me. After that awful game, I walked into the nearby bar, took two shots of Patron, and stumbled back into a game of Panic On Wall Street. At least that game never fails to be a spectacle.
Am I being dramatic? Maybe. Maybe I will get another chance to play Archipelago (or, I should say, a first chance). Maybe some of those players will wake up tomorrow morning thinking about it, curious to give it another try. That proved to be the case with Conquest of Nerath. Granted, I haven't played Conquest since...
It didn't help that some Stuff happened at one point during the game, too, pulling me away from the table with a phone call. I don't really want to talk about that, though. But even without that, the game was a massive letdown, and I'm left wondering if I'm even going to bother going back next Friday. Or the Friday after that. I'm so done with the silly party shit. Panic On Wall Street and Avalon are about as low as I go, these days. Don't get me wrong; I love a good round of 20-Minute Card Game That Fits in a Tin as much as the next guy, but dammit I need something I can sink my fucking teeth into, son! Something that I play all evening and obsess about the next day. Where the hell did all those people go? Why are people suddenly so goddamn allergic to games lasting longer than an hour? I know part of it is my chosen venue, so maybe it's time for a new one...
Oh, well. Back to X-Com on my iPad. I'll just pretend I'm playing it with other people. Man am I pumped for the X-Com Boardgame! As long as it plays under 60 minutes, of course. And doesn't have too many pieces.