Monday, July 21, 2014

Toy and Game Expo 2014 - Day 2 report

After a great day 1 at the Expo, I was even more excited for Day 2! This was the day that all my other gaming buddies were going to come too. I've been working hard at recruiting more gamers, and it has paid off. There were 7 others who joined me! Quinton, Brett and Joe had all come the year before. Matt, Ed, Ben and Ryan were all newbies this year.

Quinton and I arrived first when the hall opened at 10 AM. Quinton quickly purchased a copy of Firefly: The Game. Bonus: Games Paradise had mispriced the game at $60, even though they had another stack of the same game for $75 elsewhere. Score!

While awaiting more players, I taught Quinton Forbidden Desert. This is a great cooperative game, and I highly recommend it! It is a bit easier than Pandemic, but more interesting than Forbidden Island, its predecessor. I have yet to beat it on the normal level! We were getting close, but I died of thirst while still searching for our last airship parts. :(

Brett, Ryan, Ed and Ben arrived soon, so we checked out a game from the library that I had been wanting to try for years: Ca$h 'n Gun$. The premise of the game is essentially a Mexican standoff. The goal is to claim the most money, while staying alive. Each player gets an orange foam gun. Money tokens in various denominations are shuffled and 5 are flipped up on the table. Everyone chooses one of their 8 cards secretly, which indicate whether they hit, miss, or critical hit. You can only use each card once, so you have to choose when to bluff and when to pull the trigger. The leader counts to 3, and then everyone aims at another player. This is all done simultaneously, so you don't know who will be gunning for whom, and sometimes you find yourself looking down the barrels of 4 guns! Then after another countdown, you can decide whether to hide (removing yourself from the round and take a shame token), or stay in and shoot it out! Everyone still in reveals their cards. If you played a Bang! card, you hit your target and they take a wound and are out for the round. If you play a Click Click! card, you didn't shoot and were just bluffing. If you play a Bang Bang Bang! you do a critical hit, wounding your target before they can fire. Everyone not wounded or hiding at the end of the round gets a cut of the money. However, it has to be divided evenly without making change, so sometimes you can end up with a tiny amount. Play 8 rounds, and the person with the most money at the end (and is still alive) wins!

This was a hilarious game! Fast moving and easy to teach. There were some special powers that can be thrown in, and a few other variant rules that we didn't try. Not surprisingly, I was killed both games we played. And each time, it was my (supposedly) best friend Quinton who put the last bullet in me! Still, it was a great game. And wait till I have my revenge…..

After a quick lunch, we perused the tables to see what was on display. Matt was keen to see a demo of Francis Drake. The was one of the most beautiful games I've seen. Huge oversized board, glass beads of different colors for gold, silver and jewels, nice plastic minis, and little treasure chests to store your goods. The designer was there to explain the game. It's a solid worker placement game, with some bluffing mechanics. Matt was sold, but unfortunately the game was sold out. But he managed to find a copy in a local game store and picked it up the following week. We played it last week! Session report to follow…..

Next, Brett, Quinton, Joe and I wanted to get in a good strategic game. I was dying to try Concordia, but it was just starting to be played right when we walked up. But then we saw Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar on the table. I had played half of a game a few years back at Cancon, and Brett had wanted to try it. This is a great looking game and caught the eye of many passers-by. The gear mechanic is a unique take on worker placement. On your turn, you either place worker on a gear, or take them off. You only get the benefit when you remove the worker. So the idea is to put a worker on a gear and leave him there for a few turns. The gears spin each turn, and the workers move to the next highest space. The benefits on each gear get better the higher you go, so it's best to leave the workers on as long as possible. But you must remove or place a worker every turn, so if all your workers are out, you must take one off. Timing is extremely important! Workers are used to gather corn and resources, learn technologies, build buildings and monuments, and climb the temples. Points are earned periodically for levels achieved on the temples, and for buildings. You have to feed your workers, but it is only done 4 times in the game so it's not as annoying as in Agricola. The game ends after one complete revolution of the main gear. I think this is one of the most unique variations of worker placement and I enjoyed it a  lot. Each turn are tough decisions on whether to place or remove workers. But once familiar with the game, it could move quickly. You could probably finish in 90 min with 4 experienced players.  I decided though that I personally wouldn't want it in my collection due to some of the thematic elements (temples, angering the gods, crystal skulls). 

Tzolk'in took us 2.5 hours. In the meantime, the other guys had played a couple other games like King of Tokyo and Dominion. When we finished, Brett taught the guys how to play Marvel Dice Masters. This is the latest gaming craze. I haven't seen a game this popular in….well, ever. It had sold out of 2 print runs before it was even released. Brett and I had pre-ordered starter sets months in advance, and then we ordered some singles from Cool Stuff Inc to round our our collections. It's a fast, simple, addictive dice game. Each player chooses a team of 8 characters, each which their own custom dice. You assign 20 dice among all the characters, 1-4 dice each. Each turn you roll dice, use energy to buy more dice to add to your bag, field characters, and use them to attack or defend. Each character, of course, has its own unique power, so there are various ways to manipulate or enhance the dice. Yes, it's random. It is a dice game after all. But it's quick, fun, and pretty cheap (once it is back in stock anyway). Starters retail for $15 in America, and boosters of 2 dice are only $1. The only bad thing about the game is the collectible aspect. People are buying boxes and boxes of boosters to find the Super Rare cards. And apparently the Super Rares are almost unbeatable in tournaments. I much prefer playing casually and trying out the various combos of teams.

While the others were playing Dice Masters, I did some last minute browsing. I had gone into the Expo really intending not to buy much. I've already ordered a bunch of Kickstarters, and I don't have time to play the games I have. I managed to only buy Macao, and I though that would be it….until I saw a crowd amassing at one of the stalls during the last half hour of the Expo. I went over and found that this vendor was making some killer last minute offers. Earlier I was browsing at that table and he had Core Worlds for $50 and Walk The Plank for $20. Decent prices for Australia, but still not good enough. But hey, it was the last half hour of the Expo, and they wanted to get rid of their stock. I asked how much for the two games together, and the seller said $40! Sold!! With that bargain, I suddenly had the desire to find more good deals. The day before, I saw Wyatt Earp on another discount table for $20. This had been on my want list for a while, as it is a good rummy variant. I went back to the discount table, and everything was 20% off. Wyatt Earp was still there! I offered the seller $10, and added another game to my pile! So I ended up with 4 new games, for only $80 which is not bad at all in Australia. Now to start playing them…
After the Expo, we continued the gaming at Brett's with Eminent Domain, which I have been playing a lot more lately. Then Joe and I played his new purchase, DC Comics Deck-Building Game: Heroes Unite. It was fun, but very lopsided due to me getting an over-powered card in my first few turns. I didn't realise it was so powerful at the time, but I ended up winning by a margin of 100 points. 

So, all in all, it was a great Expo. Volunteering was great fun, I was glad to have so many other friends come on day 2, got some great bargains, and played awesome games! Can't wait for next year! 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Toy and Game Expo 2014 - Day 1 report

It's been a while…Welcome back!

Last weekend I attended the Toy and Game Expo the largest gaming convention in Sydney. Well, it's the only convention in Sydney. There are other larger cons held in Melbourne and Canberra, but the Expo is a nicely run event and a lot of fun. Each year keep getting better. The first year was pretty sad. I only stayed a few hours, there wasn't much game playing going on, and it wasn't easy to join in a game. The second year was much better. I volunteered two of the days demoing games at the Mayfair booth, and entered a Carcassonne tournament. So how did this year compare?

First off, it was only held over 2 days instead of over a long 3 day weekend. This was done so as not to compete with BorderCon, another premier gaming con held on the same holiday weekend. However, BorderCon is hundreds of kilometres away. While I can appreciate that there are a handful of gamers who would go to both events, I don't think many would have been affected and I would rather have had 3 days. With only 2, I only volunteered 1 day, and did not want to spend a whole day on a tournament so I skipped that. 

On Saturday, the first thing I did was some quick shopping around to see if there were any discounts to be found. Most stalls were selling at the usual ridiculously high Aussie retail prices. I was hoping to find a deal on Rampage, but it was $80! But I was pleasantly surprised to find Macao on a discount table for only $30. This had been on my wish list for a while so I quickly snagged it! When it comes to shopping at game cons, the best time to browse is first thing on the first day, before the good games have been picked clean, and in the last 30 min on the last day, when there are last minute bargains to be found, as you will see later….

I had a gaming buddy, Matt, join me on Saturday morning, who is relatively new to the hobby, but is very excited about games. After browsing the demo tables, we decided to try Snowdonia. I'm a big worker placement fan and heard this was a good one. The rules were straightforward and explained well. It easily scaled to 2 players. There were some interesting mechanics, and we both enjoyed it. I liked how the theme was integrated with the excavating of rubble from the mountain to lay tracks. In the end, I ran away with the win by a margin of 40 points, mainly because I capitalised on the end game bonus cards. It was a solid worker placement game, but nothing really unique or groundbreaking. I'll happily play it again, but I wasn't interested enough to add it to my collection. Matt really liked it though and is now looking to buy a copy.

After that, my volunteer shift started. I worked in the Learn to Play area. They had a bunch of tables with the best gateway games set up so that gamers could come up and have someone explain the game for them. I got to teach CarcassonneTicket to RideDominionSaboteurForbidden Desert, and Pandemic. This was the highlight of the Expo for me. It was great seeing people really excited about learning a new game. Many were just new to the hobby and I was happy to help open their eyes to all the great games out there! I also was happy to see a variety of groups of people playing: couples, families with young children, women. It wasn't totally dominated by men, as many gaming events usually are. Next year, I think I'll do more volunteer shifts, since it was so much fun!

My shift ended when the Expo closed for the day. After a quick dinner break, I headed to the nearby hotel for the after-hours gaming session. My favourite game to play at a con is Battlestar Galactica, and I was hoping to get some experienced players so I could include some of the expansion modules I have never used. I quickly was able to round up the ideal number of 5 players, but some were newer players so we stuck with the base game, plus the Pegasus and Mutiny card decks. The players were:
(Me) Tom Zarek-Alternate Version (I just wanted to try a new character. His ability to choose which Mutiny card whenever anyone draws was good.)
Felix Gaeta (Admiral)
Gaius Baltar (President)
I was a human. We sailed thru the first half of the game. There was a little suspicion cast on the Admiral after he only took us 1 distance on the first jump, but otherwise everyone seemed very human. No Cylon fleet cards after the first jump meant we had an easy run, although Galactica took a pounding from the first basestar and the Admiral kept getting sent to Sickbay from being in damaged locations. Our second jump was much better and took us 3 distance and into the sleeper phase. Then I woke up and realised I was a Cylon after all! My goal was to play it sneaky and try to sow discord and force others to draw bad Mutiny cards. Gaius used his OPG on Cally and called her out as a Cylon. Cally immediately denied it and pointed the finger back at Baltar. We all were a bit worried, especially since Cally has an itchy trigger finger as her OPG. We weren't sure if we should brig Cally straight away, or let her get a turn and see who she shot. We ended up letting her run loose, and she shot Baltar, revealing him as…..HUMAN! It was obvious Cally was a toaster. The assassination left me as President with a hand of Quorum cards (heheheh!). Baltar knew one of the cards was to brig someone, so everyone said that I had to use it on Cally unless I was a Cylon. I made the mistake of continuing my charade and throwing Cally in the brig. I wish I had brigged the Admiral, which would have made me Admiral instead. I would have obviously been revealed, but we jumped on my turn, so I would have been able to choose a bad destination. But I thought I'd wait for my perfect moment to strike. I spent a few turns drawing Quorum cards and playing Mutiny cards, and the humans were getting very confused about who the Cylon was. Unfortunately I waited too long. The humans were able to quickly advance the jump track through some fortuitous crisis cards and made it to Kobol before I could do some serious damage. Still, it was a great game!!

Other games played:
Star Realms: This is a very light and quick deck-builder. Setup, rules, and play time total was about 20 min. Not bad for a quick little game, but I felt like it was over before my engine really got working. It was also quite random, since the only defence were certain outpost cards. Otherwise, it was just adding up your total attack and subtracting it from your opponent's hit points. Decent game if you just have 15 min, but I wouldn't ever choose to play it.
Machi Koro: I had heard good things about this so was happy to try it. It is a very light game, similar to Settlers of Catan in that you buy buildings and each turn you roll a die to see which buildings activate. It is very light, and very random with the die rolls. But it would be perfect for kids, families, or non-gamers. I actually really enjoyed it. We all were cheering for the die rolls we needed, and groaning when the die didn't roll our way. If you don't go in expecting a deep strategic game, you'll have fun.

I left around 12 AM, after a long satisfying day of gaming.

To come on Day 2: Guns, Gears, and Bargains!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The state of Craft Beer in Sydney

There are a lot of things that Australia gets right: barbeques, lots of time off work, lollies, beautiful beaches, and animals with funny names.  Other things are not so good: $20 movie tickets, poor customer service in restaurants, no Netflix, and driving on the wrong side of the road.  The last time I lived here, craft beer was definitely in the latter category.  Now, I find that it is moving in the right direction, and there are a lot more choices.

To give you an idea of the general taste in beer here, Corona is one of the most popular beers, and one of the more expensive.  The first two beers I drank after arriving were Coronas.  Now don't get me wrong, they were quite refreshing after traveling for 20 hours and finally getting to relax outside on the patio.  But it's not something I want to drink on a regular basis, and definitely not something I would pay $50 for a case of 24 bottles.  At least there are some well-known and readily available Aussie brews that are quite good (Coopers, James Squire, James Boag). Aussies are not really into craft beer.  For the most part, they aren't even aware of the choices out there. Here is what I've found in the Sydney Area.

A long-time favorite of mine is the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel.  The first time I came here was after my first day of work in Sydney back in 2005. I discovered that Monday night was Pie Night, where you can get a meat pie with mushy peas, mashed potatoes and gravy for $5 (now the price is $7, but it's still a great deal).

They also brew their own beer. Their regular lineup includes some pale ales, an English bitter, and a summer ale.  My favorites are:
- Old Admiral, a 6.1% old ale (pictured above).  It is full-bodied and malty, with strong caramel notes.
- Nelson's Blood, a 4.9% porter.  Very similar to traditional Irish stouts.
The Lord Nelson is now selling their beer in bottles, so I can now enjoy their beer in my own home. I highly recommend the Lord Nelson.  This will always be a favorite of mine.  It holds an especially dear place in my heart because this is one of the first places that I hung out with a really cool Aussie girl named Michelle, who would eventually become my wife. Here is a pic from that fateful night:

There are two newer brewpubs that have opened in Sydney in the past couple years.  The first one I visited was 4 Pines Brewing Company. I heard about this place from watching the documentary How Beer Saved the World. It is only a 10 minute drive from where we are currently living.  Nice atmosphere, with an outdoor patio overlooking Manly Wharf.  The food menu has some nice options, although very expensive as with most Sydney dining.  The cheapest option for lunch was a $13 burger.  Tasted great, but the patty was as big around as a McDonald's patty, and just a little thicker.  But the beer was good.  Their regular lineup include an American style Pale Ale, Kolsch, Hefeweizen, ESB, and Stout.  They also have a rotating lineup of specialty beers.  The first beer I had was the Wee Heavy.  I was expecting a malty Scottish-style ale, but it actually had a strong peaty smoky flavor.  I liked it, though I wouldn't drink it often. 

I went a second time, and their specialty lineup was a series of Summer Ales, each single-hopped with a different hop variety.  I tried the Amarillo and the Galaxy.  Both were great, especially the Galaxy.  I was so happy to find a place where I can get decent hoppy beers.  They also sell their beer in bottles, and I bought a 6-pack of the Pale Ale for the price of.....$20.00!!!

That kind of price makes you really savor your beers.

The second new microbrewery/brewpub, just around the corner from 4 Pines, is Murray's Craft Brewing Co.. This brewpub has 18 taps and 2 handpumps, which makes it the best selection I've found in Sydney.  It is on the main road across from Manly Beach, which is a very trendy area.  As such, the food prices here are ridiculous as well.  The most reasonable option is the gourmet sausages for $18.  I had the beef & porter sausage with mustard.  Delicious! 

A friend got the full rack of ribs, which was about $38, but it did look good.  The beer was excellent! The best I've had yet in Sydney! (And the most expensive.)  I first ordered a glass of the Wild Thing Imperial Stout (10%). 

This is one of my favorite types of beers, and I thought I would never be able to find it in Australia, so I was very excited.  And it met my high expectations, tasting just as good as an American version.  But, it was $12 for a small glass!!  The cost of beer is really going to curtail my drinking.  I need to start homebrewing soon!  Other beer sampled were:
- Grand Cru: tasty blend of a Belgian Trippel and Belgian Golden Strong Ale.  8.8%
- Angry Man Brown Ale:  a 6.5% strong Brown Ale that went great with the sausage.
They also have an American style IPA, a Porter, and an Imperial IPA (with the motto, It Kicks Arse) that I can't wait to try.

For the craft beer lovers in Australia, the website The Crafty Pint will keep you up-to-date on all the breweries, brewpubs, bottle shops, and beer events all over Australia.  I've already found some bottle shops a few hours away with great selections of craft beer from all over the world.

The craft beer scene in Australia is really starting to take off.  This would be the perfect time to open a brewery/brewpub/craft beer bottle shop.  Or even perhaps.... a craft beer and board game cafe?  :)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

DOs and DON'Ts of attending Board Game Conventions

Here are some DOs and DON'Ts for attending Board Game conventions that I've learned over the years:

- DO bring a friend with you.  This year was the first time that I had a friend join me, and it was a lot more fun.  You always have someone to get a game started with, and experiences of the great games you played are best shared with someone else.

- DO bring small snacks.  You will often find yourself getting hungry in the middle of a game, and will not want to leave in the middle of it.

- DO bring your own copy of a game if it is something you absolutely want to play.  I always like to join a Battlestar Galactica game at each con.  When I showed up for the scheduled game, there were already more than enough players.  But since I had my copy of the game, we were able to set up 2 games to accommodate everyone.

- DO wander the room and find random games to join, even if it's something you have never heard of.  My favorite game of this con was Ascending Empires.  I had never heard of it, and I joined simply because it looked interesting.  I normally would never have played a dexterity game.  But I enjoyed it so much that I recently bought it for myself.

-  DO try to meet and talk with game designers, or even play a game with them.  It's a great way to get some insight on the development of your favorite games, and maybe even get the inside scoop on upcoming projects.  Also, if you know which designers will be there, bring a game of theirs to have it signed.

- DO check out some of the games from the Game Library.  This is a great opportunity to check out those games that have been on your radar but you aren't sure about purchasing just yet. 

- DON'T forget to use proper personal hygiene.  This includes bathing, wearing deodorant, and clean clothes.  You'd think this would be a given, but there always are a few people each year that you can smell from across the room.  Gaming may not be a physically strenuous activity, but you will still stink after 14 hours of non-stop gaming.  And Axe body spray is not a substitute for a shower.

- DON'T hover too close over a game in progress that you are not involved with.  There is nothing wrong with taking a look at what other people are playing and maybe asking a couple questions.  But respect people's personal space and respect that they are engrossed in a game and would appreciate minimal interruptions.  I was in the middle of a BSG game when a random person walked up and started standing right over the shoulders of other players.  Then he started picking up various pieces and looking at them without asking.  The worst part was when he reached right in front of me to move one of the cards on my playing area to read it better.  It was totally rude.

- DON'T walk up to a game in progress and start offering unsolicited strategy advice.  If you want to play that game, then sit down and play something.  Don't go around telling other people how they should be playing.

- DON'T forget to allow time for eating and sleeping.  You may feel like you want to play games for 20 hours straight.  But you'll quickly fade without some proper rest and nourishment.

- DON'T join an experienced game if you are a noob, unless you are invited to do so.  

- DON'T leave a game you just finished without helping to pick it up, or at least offering to help. 

And most importantly:  DO have fun, and play as many new games as you can!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How I got my wife to play Caylus

Caylus is my second favorite game in my collection (behind only Agricola), and is currently the #10 ranked game on BGG.  It is a brilliantly designed game of pure strategy.  The only randomness is in the setup at the beginning of the game.  Once the game starts, how well you do depends solely on the choices you make. 

This has long been a game that Michelle would never play with me.....until tonight!  We just finished playing our first game of Caylus together.  How was I finally able to convince my wife to give this great game a shot?  To answer that, we have to go back in time nearly 5 years.............

Michelle and I were engaged in 2006, and in Sept 2006 she came to visit me in San Diego.  We had decided to pick out her engagement ring together, so we planned a day to go up to the LA Diamond District to find the perfect ring.  That morning, Michelle presented me with a gift.  I could tell by the size of the box what it was: board games!  Caylus and Thurn and Taxis, to be exact.  So she got a diamond ring, and I got board games.  Hmm.  Well, maybe it wasn't a fair exchange, but we both got something that we will love for years to come!
The night we got Michelle's ring, we came back and played Thurn and Taxis.  But I didn't bring out Caylus for Michelle to learn until over a year and a half later.  For our 1-year anniversary, we went up to Mount Laguna and stayed in a cabin for a few days.  Staying in a cabin with no TV allows for lots of gaming time, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to play Caylus.  So one afternoon, I set it all up and began explaining the rules. 

After I've played a game a few times and have learned the flow of it, I find it very easy to remember all the rules, especially for a game with intuitive gameplay.  Reading the rulebook 2 or 3 times probably helps too.  But when I go to teach a new player, I suddenly remember how overwhelming learning all those intricate rules can be.  As I was explaining the rules, I could see Michelle's eyes start to glaze over.  So we went over the essentials, and then got started, hoping that I could explain the rest as we went.  Unfortunately it turned out to be too much to absorb in one sitting, and Michelle gave up playing after a couple turns.  Disappointed, I packed up the game, and it sat on my shelf for 3 years.  My game collection grew and grew, and Caylus was soon at the bottom of the stack of newer games, many of which Michelle did like.  I never thought she would give Caylus a second chance...until...........
...I received a copy of Caylus Magna Carta in a trade.  This is a simplified, card-based version of Caylus.  I never had given it much thought before.  After all, I'd rather play the real thing rather than a watered-down version of it.  But then I remembered that Michelle really enjoyed playing San Juan, which led to her liking Puerto Rico.  So perhaps Magna Carta would pique her interest in Caylus again.
Michelle agreed to play Magna Carta, and we started by using the Beginner rule set.  This introduces the basics of how the game works.  It essentially plays the same as Caylus, but with much fewer options and more randomness.  She really enjoyed the first game we played (and won!), so the next time we played with the full rule set which has more direct player interaction.  Michelle won again!  And no, I was not letting her win.

Now that she understood the basics of how the game was played, she agreed to give the original Caylus a try again.  Again, I used a simplified rule set, which eliminates one of the more complex rules in the game.  This makes it much easier for a new player to understand the flow of the game before they have to worry about the deeper strategy.  This time, I won, but only by 3 points.  But, more importantly, Michelle understood the game, and enjoyed it!  Next week, we'll try playing Caylus with the complete rule set. 

Whenever I play Caylus, it reminds me of the day I bought Michelle's ring.  And now, it also reminds me how grateful I am to have a wife who is willing to learn and play complex board games with me.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stone Brewery Tour

Last Wednesday, Michelle organized a surprise outing for me.  Well, I ended up guessing what it was that morning, so maybe it wasn't a complete surprise.  But it was a wonderful treat!  Michelle arranged to pick me up from work early (good start to the surprise already!), and we went to Stone Brewery to do their free brewery tour.  We've always said that we wanted to do the tour, but we had never actually done it.  Now, I'm glad that we finally did!

The tour is free.  You just have to get there early enough to reserve a spot.  Michelle went beforehand to secure our tickets, just in case a large group came in.  We arrived about 30 minutes ahead of time, so we had a quick drink in the bar.
Michelle had a Black Market Hefeweizen from Temecula, and I had Lightning - Old Tempest from Poway, served on cask.  Both were delicious.

After our drinks, we got started on the tour.  There were about 12 of us.  They walk you around all the big beautiful stainless steel brewing tanks, and tell you a little bit about how beer is made.  Our tour guide reviewed the ingredients in beer (water, barley, hops, yeast), and explained how the different variations in just those 4 ingredients create the multitude of beer varieties we can enjoy.  We tasted the barley and smelled the hops.
I wish our tour guide had talked a little more about the actual brewing process or the history of the company, instead of making lots of silly jokes, but we did learn some interesting facts (which I've now forgotten, unfortunately).  It was fascinating to see how they brew beer on such a large scale (well, large for a craft brewery anyway).  Stone is going to start brewing 24 hours a day in order to keep up with the demand.
At the end of the tour, everyone gets 4 free beer tastings!  You get to try the Pale Ale, Smoked Porter, IPA, and Arrogant Bastard.  I tried to trade in some of my tastings for a taste of the specialty beers, but they wouldn't allow it.  I really wanted the Old Guardian Belgo Barley Wine!  But, I can't complain about free beer.  And, as the generous husband that I am, I offered to help Michelle finish her tastings too.
I highly recommend the tour.  Stone Brewery is one of the elite San Diego breweries.  While not everyone will love their amazingly hoppy brews, the brewery restaurant and gardens are worth the trip alone.  For the low price of $0, you get to tour the brewery, learn about the art of craft brewing, and sample some of the best beers from San Diego.  Who says you can't get anything for free?

On a related note, that same morning that we did the tour, Stone had a large media event where they announced some exciting new expansions.  I can't wait to see how their plans turn out.  It's exciting to see a local North County brewery doing so well.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Game Night - 5/11/11

Game night was at my house this week, with Matt, Condo and my dad. I love playing cards with my Dad. After all, my love of games partially comes from him. Growing up, we played countless games of Rummy and Canasta. His favorite card game is Pinochle, so I knew he'd enjoy Tichu.

Tichu is a popular Chinese card game that I would describe as a cross between Pinochle and Poker.  It's highly interactive and each play is a tough choice to make.  The goal is to get rid of your cards first by playing progressively higher combinations of cards in each trick (single, pair, full house, straight, etc).  It's a partnership game, so reading your partner plays a big part too.
Condo and I teamed up against Matt and my dad.  They were worthy opponents, but the deck was stacked against them this night.  In all but 2 or 3 hands, Condo and I went out first, earning us 200 points each hand toward our 1000 point goal.  Matt and Dad spent almost the entire game in negative points.  I think they made it into the black on the last hand, but by then it was too late. 
Our beer selection for the night was:
  •  Ballast Point - Big Eye IPA: A great all-around IPA from one of the great San Diego breweries.  Great flavor, easy to drink, yet packs a decent punch at 7%.  You can't go wrong with this.
  • Mikkeller - Koppi Coffee IPA: Mikkeller has quite a few unique brews out there (Beer Geek Brunch Weasel, I'm looking at you.)  This is one of them.  I had never heard of a Coffee IPA before tonight, so was excited to try it.  However, while I thought the brew was quite delicious and a unique twist on your typical IPA, I tasted no coffee whatsoever.  The color was a hazy amber, much lighter than I expected from a coffee beer.  There were no coffee notes in the nose.  And only a slight hint in the flavor.  I enjoyed this, but if you try it, don't expect bold coffee flavors here.
  • Karl Strauss - Parrot in a Palm Tree:  Great choice by my dad in bringing this delicious Baltic Porter from Karl Strauss.  KS is really stepping it up with their seasonal releases.  I think they've seen the huge market in San Diego for specialty craft beers.  They don't disappoint with this one!  It's one of the best porters I've ever tasted.  Aging it in port barrels gives it a unique taste compared to other porters.
  • Avery - Dihos Dactylion: I picked this up on my last trip to Denver.  I was in the bottle shop and I asked the guy there what were some local beers that I wouldn't be able to get back home.  He brought this one out of the back room for me.  It was the last bottle!  Now, we do get Avery beer here in San Diego.  But this was an extremely limited release.  I believe there were only 264 cases bottled.  It was a sour ale aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, over 10%.  Very tart and sweet, but not so harsh as a Flanders Red can be.  I found it to be very smooth and easy to drink, though I don't know if I'd enjoy drinking a whole bottle.  This was a good one to end the night with.