Escape from the Sewers! is a disgusting level if you think about it, so I tried not to as I played it, since I was liking it. The level involves a lot of swimming in murky, brown water, which made my stomach turn a little bit whenever I thought about the word brown. So I focused on the weird glowing green aura in places. That and the swimming. I’m reading a fascinating book on cave diving right now, and so the subterranean swimming in this level appealed to me, especially considering the breathing dynamic these underwater levels have.
Also, it was a nice change to have the ‘buzzing flies’ sound effect actually make sense in one of these levels. Often the inclusion of that sound is so random, and randomness in games is something we will only tolerate in small doses. Most things should make sense.
Speaking of which…
After the jump, back to the drawing board
“I don’t believe you.”
“Yes. Every time.”
“I don’t believe you.” Doc paused for a second after saying this. “Okay. If that’s true then why would you even want me to consider playing this game?”
“It’s a good game,” Jack replied. “Really.”
“But if he wins it every time there’s clearly something wrong with it.”
“No…maybe…I don’t know.”
“Then why should I play it?”
“It’s a good game. It is. I don’t know what’s going on. Why he keeps winning it. It’s weird.”
“Uh-huh. Maybe he’s–” A coughing fit cut him off before he could finish the thought.
One thing was for sure. They weren’t going camping tomorrow night. No way. That had been the plan, but it wasn’t going to happen. Doc was almost over his cold, but still not quite there. Heading out to the desert with him in his current condition was not going to work.
Jack heated up the water for the Theraflu. “We’re not going tomorrow.”
“Let’s just bump it back a day. We’ll chill. You can get some rest. We’ll futz about with a couple RTS’s, then go on Friday if you’re feeling okay.”
Doc nodded to himself. He was annoyed at losing a day of his vacation to a cold, but he knew Jack was right. “But what about the other guys?”
“They’ll be fine. Here,” Jack handed him the cup. “Careful. Hot.” Doc blew on it. “Plus, tomorrow’s Thursday. We can do a game night. That’ll soften the blow. Everybody can hang out here and play some games and then the four of us will head out for camping after sleeping in. You’ll be good by then.”
“Yeah,” said Doc, sipping his drink. “And by games you mean…”
“Because I still don’t believe you.”
As they worked through the scoring tally, it became increasingly clear that Gus was going to win again. It also became increasingly clear that Doc was far more versed in expletives than anyone else at the table would have imagined.
“This [redacted] game is [redacted]!” he exclaimed. “Sit on a [redacted] and [redacted]!”
He went on like this for a bit, spitting out the language with mock vitriol, the other three laughing in recognition of the fact that he was clearly feeling better.
“I know,” said Jack. “I know. I told you.”
“I didn’t believe you.” Doc looked at Gus. “How did you do that?”
Gus shrugged, which he’d been doing the whole game.
“[redacted]!” Doc looked at the board again. “[Redacted] the [redacted] in the [redacted][redacted]! How’d we let him get all those points?”
“I don’t know,” said Jack. “I think the game is broken.”
Hank didn’t say anything for a minute, just sat there smiling.
“What are you so happy about? He beat you too.”
“I think it’s hilarious.”
“We’re not playing this again,” said Jack, with finality. “Ever.”
For his part Gus just smiled to himself. He didn’t gloat. He wasn’t a gloater. He also wasn’t much of a gamer, so why he kept winning this board game when the board games of this group of gamer friends scared the shit out of him was completely beyond him. Oh, yes, it was pleasing. Incredibly pleasing. He was the goofball at the LAN party. The comic relief. The kind of guy who was fun to have around for a night of movie talk and Rock Band, maybe a little shooter action, but not the guy you’d invite to hardcore board game night. And yet, every time they played this game he won it. Every time. This made no more sense to him than it did to his friends.
“The game is clearly broken.”
Everyone worked together to put the game away. This was not a matter of sweeping pieces and cards into a box and then shaking said box so that everything settled into random slots. This was a piece of art. Its components were to be protected. Cards had to be stacked. Player pieces had to be separated by color and put into individual baggies. Victory-point tokens went into a separate baggie altogether. The cat had to be kept out of the box. There was a process here.
“Why do you keep winning this?” Doc directed the question to Gus, pointedly. “When Jack first told me, I didn’t believe him. But now…”
“Now you’ve seen it.” Gus allowed himself a tiny bit of pleasure at this response. But only a tiny bit. He knew that the streak would be over all too soon. It was a ridiculous streak. One which he could not explain, but which gave him great joy. A little basking wouldn’t hurt.
“Right. What the [redacted]?”
Gus smiled. He shrugged, again. “I’m not pretending or playing dumb. I really don’t know.”
“Stop shrugging like that,” Jack said, folding the game board carefully. “That’s what he does. Plays dumb so everybody will help him.”
“You play dumb so everybody will help you,” Gus replied with his schoolyard dopey voice.
“Good one,” said Jack.
As they finished packing up Endeavor, there was a sound at the front door.
The assembled group had just settled on a game of San Juan, which Hank had picked upon drawing the short straw, when two other dudes strolled in, laying two new games on the table. One of which was called 7 Wonders. Hank immediately switched.
“That one,” he said, pointing to 7 Wonders.
Six guys gathered around the table, picking placards while Graham, who had brought the game, explained the rules and dealt the cards. As the banter escalated, someone mentioned the ridiculous success Gus kept having at Endeavor. Before either of them knew how they got there, bets were being laid against Jack on whether Gus would win this new game.
“No,” said Jack, good-naturedly. “He just won at Endeavor but that game’s broken.”
Graham regarded Gus for a moment. “I don’t know.” He narrowed his eyes, making a show of sizing him up. “You know what? I think he’s got a shot. Yeah, he’s Gus, but…you know what? I have a good feeling about this. I say Gus will win. So what should we bet?”
“We’re not betting,” said Jack, somewhat amused but mostly just focusing on his game placard.
“Yeah,” said Gus. “That’s nuts.”
“Okay.” Graham ignored them both. “If Gus wins you have to buy him a coffee.”
“Didn’t you hear what I said?” Jack asked. “Not betting…and he’s not winning.”
The debate on who would bet what went right on through as if he’d never spoken at all, as if both Jack and Gus weren’t even really there. They looked at each other in a mixture of confusion and amusement. Jack mouthed, Whatever. Gus responded with, Yep. Then together they quelled the betting talk and set the game in motion. The actual playing of the game was the whole point, anyway.
In the end Gus and Jack tied, which meant that the victory went to the guy who had the most coins. Gus had the most coins by a longshot.
“Did that really just happen?” said Doc.
“This game is dead to me, too.”
As another game was put away, the four guys who would be heading to the desert discussed what games to take on the trip.
“I’m in charge of that,” said Jack.
“No. We’re not bringing Endeavor anywhere, ever again.”
“Oh come on. We should bring it!” Doc was needling now.
“There’s too many pieces. It’ll get ruined.” Jack looked at Doc sharply, then glanced over at Gus, noting the slight smile on his face. “Cut it out,” he said. “We’re not bringing Endeavor to the desert. And as a matter of fact, I’m getting rid of it.”
Everybody laughed as Jack put the game into his board game closet, including Jack. For all his grousing, he was enjoying this. It was inexplicable, but also pleasing. When someone you’ve taught a game beats you at that game, it reflects well upon you. It’s annoying as well, to be sure, but he was good at teaching games, and took pride in that. Plus, he too knew the streak was about to end.
“Then what are we bringing to the desert?”
Getting the Ring to Mordor would prove to be his undoing. Or rather, more importantly, keeping said ring out of Mordor would prove to be his undoing. So, for all intents and purposes, Gus was basically the Sauron of the trip. Except for the fact that he was horrible at posing any kind of threat whatsoever to the forces of Good.
He remembered playing Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation years before, but after driving for three hours and then setting up camp in Joshua Tree, he was not exactly of a mind to recall the strategy. He got the basic concept, but very little of the nuance. Hank, for his part, caught on immediately and played Jack to a draw on his side of the bracket of their impromptu tournament. This was pretty cool. The other side of the bracket pitted Gus against Doc. They settled down to their game.
From the outset it was clear that this would be no Endeavor. For one thing, Doc was entirely comfortable with this game, so comfortable that he set up his pieces in a matter of seconds and turned his attention to a new novel he had started on the trip. He continued going back to the novel through the first few turns of the game. This was not some sort of strategy he employed to unnerve his opponent, he just knew where he stood. He was like that classic image of the bored master swordsman, fighting with one hand while paying attention to something else. Where he’d had to learn Endeavor as they played it the night before, he was teaching Gus as they played The Confrontation against each other. Actually, schooling would be a more appropriate term.
Gus was utterly lost. He sat there at the campground picnic table staring at his characters, studying the numbers and text on the cards as Doc read.
Jack cruised by with some firewood. “You might as well just set them up randomly,” he said.
“You could help me, you know.”
“You’re a jerk.”
In the first round of their two-round game–The Confrontation is played twice every time, or at least this is the serving suggestion–Doc explained to Gus that the reason he was doing so poorly in trying to get Frodo to Mordor was because Evil outmatched Good in the game. “Evil always wins,” he instructed Gus as he prepared to destroy Frodo. “That’s just the way the game works out. That’s why you have to play twice, switching sides. Then count out how many dudes you have left.”
“That’s not true,” said Jack, preparing to set up a game of Lost Cities with Hank, now that a fire was going.
“What? Yes it is.”
“No. The sides are evenly matched.”
“You’re crazy.” Doc turned back to Gus. “Don’t listen to him. That’s why you play twice. The Dark side has the advantage.”
Gus nodded, still not getting it.
“Don’t worry,” continued Doc. “We’re about to switch. You’ll see.”
In the second round, Doc’s good guys wiped out Gus’ bad guys. Obliterated them systematically. Gus made a series of goofy decisions, sacrificing his Flying Nazgul dude to an even battle with another character without really realizing that’s what he was doing until after he had done it. He’d gambled at this point, attacking one of Doc’s pieces at random, calculating that would be Frodo. With his special cards he was sure he could win that fight, which would be quite a coup. Except the piece he chose to attack was not Frodo. He hadn’t chosen at random either. Even though the pieces in The Confrontation are set up so that the enemy is blind to who is who on the map, much like in Stratego, Gus thought he had a pretty good idea where Doc had placed Frodo based on where he was relative to the other pieces left on the board. The piece in question had just been with another character in Arthedain and had moved up to Rhudaur alone. He guessed that piece was Frodo, moving ahead of Sam, because those two were often placed together.
He flew his Nazgul over only to find Gimli, his numerical match, not Frodo. No matter. The plan was to survive this battle then jump to another attack, this time hopefully getting Frodo now that the field had been narrowed. No such luck, as Gus completely mismanaged the battle. Was he looking forward instead of concentrating on the battle at hand? Probably. Maybe. Whatever it was, he lost track of the number values of the characters and went with the move he’d been planning to trap Frodo with, playing his Eye of Sauron card, which forced them both to disregard the text on their pieces. So what happened was mutually assured destruction. Both characters died because Gus had not properly considered the math, such complicated math as which number is bigger, three or three, and the consequences of the special card. Now he had no Nazgul.
Doc moved forward. Gus considered his opponent’s pieces, trying to suss out which one had to be Frodo. He could still attack with his Black Rider if he guessed right. Suddenly he knew which one was Frodo. He smiled inside, moved his hand to his Black Rider piece and prepared to lay down his Magic card in order to reinstate The Eye of Sauron. He froze as he noticed his own pieces. He looked at the board. He was down to three Evil guys. Doc had ended the first-round of the match with four.
It suddenly, finally, occurred to him that there was no way he was going to win this game, or even tie it. It was already over. Doc was just being gracious. This was no Endeavor, or 7 Wonders. This was not a game of amassing points where a non-gamer might get lucky, even multiple times. This was a game of strategy.
“This is over, isn’t it,” Gus said, more than asked.
Now it was Doc’s turn to shrug. “Well…we can see how it plays out.”
“I think it’s over,” Gus replied, catching the graciousness in Doc’s tone. “I’m not trying to rage quit here or anything…” Both Doc and Jack laughed at this point. Here Gus referred to a round of Rise of Nations from the night before, when the opposing team bailed way too early, utterly befuddling Doc at the time.
“No. No.” Said Doc, again gracious.
“We may as well call it,” said Gus, humbled but relieved.
Cards were flipped and possible endgame scenarios were discussed. Jack again gave him a hard time for forgetting to resurrect Gandalf when he was playing Good in the first round.
“I told you, Fangorn was occupied.”
“Yeah, yeah. But you didn’t know that then.”
“You didn’t know that then.”
Gus stood up from the table. “Good game, Doc.”
“But next time,” Gus said, moving to the fire. “We’re bringing Endeavor.”
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