Christmas has come and gone; S. Claus brought a sack of games to the Lopez house. No, that’s wrong; we bought games for each other (and, in my case, for myself — explanatory exposition follows).

The twins and I were down at the game shop for the weekly Heroclix tournament when they asked me if I wanted any game stuff for Christmas: “You want some Star Wars Minis boosters or something, Dad?”

“Nope,” I replied, “you can buy me a game I’ve been wanting for a while and didn’t get around to buying yet…”

Sam actually introduced me to this game. During one of the game shop’s semi-annual “72 Hours of Gaming” events, a guy brought in Tsuro. I didn’t get to play (as I was involved in the Heroclix event that was going on at the same time), but Sam drew a bye in one round and had the chance to try Tsuro while he was waiting. He spoke highly of it, saying it had a fair bit of strategy to it despite being a game in which a player can learn the rules in about ninety seconds. I love games like that (I was a big fan of Penté back in the day, which is also easily learned but hard to master).

Sam was right. The boys went in together on a copy of Tsuro as a Christmas gift for me, and we’ve been playing a ton of it over the past few days. You can knock out a game in about fifteen or twenty minutes (less if you play quickly), so it’s not like you’re inventing a ton of time and consequently playing for blood. It’s one of those great games that inspires lots of jokes and trash talk; win or lose, everybody walks away smiling. And it’s one of those rare games in which having a lot of players actually makes it better (Tsuro can have up to eight players). I highly recommend it; bright children as young as five or six should have no problems learning it, but it has enough strategic depth to keep adults coming back to it.

All three of us are suckers for the various ‘Clix games (with the exception of Horrorclix, which we despise, and Haloclix, which we never bothered with). I recently bought a couple of booster packs of Mechwarrior just for the bits; we wanted some mecha figs to use in Cody’s Robotech RPG campaign. Browsing around online three weeks or so ago, I discovered that Starter Sets of Mechwarrior: Age of Destruction were selling for $7, so I sprang for three of them: two for the boys for Christmas and one for me (which I didn’t open until Christmas Eve, so as to not tip off the kids).

We haven’t tried it out yet. The Basic Rules are only a few pages long, but the stumbling block for us is that the stats aren’t in the same places as in other ‘Clix games (it’s a really easy transition from Heroclix to Mage Knight because the stat locations correspond between the two games). The Advanced Rules are pretty long and somewhat involved for a ‘Clix game. The jury’s not out on this one; it hasn’t even started deliberating yet. But, as Cody said, “Why’d they have to screw up the stats?”, so we’ll have to be feeling a bit more ambitious before we tackle Mechwarrior.

Speaking of Mage Knight, I found cheap cases of the Lancers expansion online, so I bought a case for each of the kids as a Christmas gift, plus one for myself (here again saving it for Christmas). Sam is still cracking boosters even as I type this post, but Cody and I have already opened all our boosters and sorted our 192 figures apiece. We’ve fought one battle so far this week; my Elvish Lancers carried the day over a mixed Goblin/Orc army and a second force of that stinking death-worshiping Necropolis Sect, despite some very unlucky rolls early in the fight.

Finally, my lovely bride gave me a computer game for Christmas, HPS Simulations’ Campaign: Antietam, which encompasses everything from the beginning of the Second Manassas campaign (Cedar Mountain) through the end of Antietam, including “my” battle, South Mountain (the only state battlefield in Maryland and my place of employment for the last two summers).

Mere words can not express my profound disappointment with the map for the South Mountain battle; it’s so wrong in so many particulars that it’s going to take a separate blog post to point out the errors. While I really liked the Campaign: Gettysburg and War of 1812 games by HPS (the Gettysburg game contains some excellent map work), the South Mountain map in Campaign: Antietam is such a huge, reeking, steaming pile of suck that I’ve removed HPS Simulations from my blogroll and links, and it’s doubtful that I’ll buy another game from them in the future. At $50 a pop, the least one can expect is that their games’ battle maps be somewhat accurate; the South Mountain maps bear no resemblance to the field as it was then or now.

More on Campaign: Antietam later, after I’ve looked at its Antietam battlefield map; I haven’t had the heart to check it out yet.

Have fun! — Steve