Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Expansions - Milking the Cash Cow, or Content Enhancers?

In short, the answer is both, neither, and "it depends."

Yes, really helpful I know, but allow me to expound what I mean.

Many expansions to games are meant to enhance the game, to give it greater variety, basically to get players to come back to the same game.  Unfortunately, what often happens is that an expansion so drastically alters the game, that it requires players to essentially learn an entirely new game.  Now, that's not a horrible thing, but if it takes a fast game and makes it extremely long, then there's a problem.

I think that the best thing I can do is talk about specific expansions.

Let me start with Pandemic: On the Brink. In Pandemic, there are 5 roles for the players. With OtB, I believe the total is up to 12-14, I'm not sure but it's a lot more.  This gives players great variety, and most importantly, doesn't change the way the game is played.  Now, OtB also comes with modular expansions, which can be used or not at the discretion of the players.  This gives experienced players something new to explore, while still keeping the game friendly to new players.  This is the best expansion to a game I own.

Another example is Settlers of Catan. The base game was fairly simple, but offers some choice, and a short playtime.  The Seafarers expansion added exploration, boats, and scenarios to the game.  This gave some variety, but also added to play time. I like Seafarers, I don't think that it's a required expansion, but it does give some extra options.  The big change to Catan is Cities and Knights.  This is basically the new game.  There's a lot more depth to choices, and a lot more that players have to balance.  Because of this, the game does take longer.  You're looking at a 2-4 hour game depending on player count, and at times, that's just too much for Catan.

I'd be remiss to not mention Cosmic Encounter here.  There have been 3 expansions so far, with more planned.  These expansions have added 20 new powers, which drastically increases the permutations of different games you can play.  Each expansion also added 1 new thing you can play with, Rewards cards, Hazards, large group cards.  The players have choice with what to put in or not, and those are great.

Those 3 games fall into the Content Enhancer category.  Catan maybe the least so, it really depends on your bent.

2 big games fall into the category of Milking the Cash Cow.  I think they both started as content enhancers, but now they border on absurdum.  Those games are,

Dominion and Carcassonne.
I love Dominion, and I think Carcassonne is a lot of fun, but when is enough enough?  Does anyone really need 600 unique Carcassonne tiles?  Does anyone need 250 different Dominion cards?  Well, the answer is if you play it enough, sure.  I mostly play Dominion online these days, and on there, the card variety is great.  In real life, it's a pain to store, to set-up, to randomize, and thus it doesn't get played much.  I was happy with 2, maybe 3 expansions.  That gave me around 100 cards to play with, which is a lot of variety.  As for Carcassonne, the base game was not enough. But I think the only necessary expansion is Inns and Cathedrals, and depending on the day I might argue that the River is necessary.  Beyond that, I like Traders and Builders for variety, throw in the River 2, and I'm satisfied with Carcassonne.

Overall, I think some expansions are good.  I like playing new games but I also like playing the same old favorites.  Sometimes the favorites get dull, but a new expansion can breathe new life into the game. I think what I want to see in an expansion is something that changes the game slightly, like say a new map in Ticket to Ride, or new races and powers in Small World, while preserving the basic mechanics of the game.  Expansions can add a bit of complexity, since you are targeting people who already know the game, but an expansion should not fundamentally alter the game.  Give me variety, make the game experience better, but don't double the playtime, or even add more than about 30 minutes to the game.  It's just too hard to keep people interested.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Top 7 Games to take on vacation

It's summertime, and this typically means some kind of vacation for most people.  Of course since this is a blog about boardgames, I'm going to promote the idea of taking some games with you.  Now, a lot of what you can take depends on how you travel.  Airplanes leave very little spare space, trains give you a bit more, but car travel has its limitations as well.  Two factors play into this list - size of the box and game footprint.

#7 A Standard Deck of Cards.
Yes, I am going here. Vacations don't have to be all about games.  A deck of cards gives people a lot of options, many games to play, and common ground for all ages.

Here's a fun family activity.  Working together is a good thing to have in a vacation game.  The theme of treasure hunting is fun for all ages.  

I've talked a lot about Tiki Topple.  I know the box is a little big, but if you really want to slim it down, put the tikis and pawns in a bag, then grab the board and cards.  You could even play without the board if you want to save more space.  Also, you can play with 2-4 players, which is a good mix.

The only reason this isn't #1, is because there are cards and chips, and the chips could get lost.  Besides that, No Thanks is good fun. It's maybe a little mathy for some people, but it's playable in about 10-15 minutes.  

#3 Mafia/Werewolf
If you're in a big group of any kind, I'm thinking large family gathering with 10+ people, this is the game for you.  The best thing, you can play it with a standard deck of cards.

2 decks of cards and a bag of tokens.  Can't get much simpler than that.  It plays 3-6 players, in around 20 minutes.  The best part, it's incredibly easy to teach non-gamers.

Here's a fun card game that doesn't take tons of space.  The box fits in your hand, plus with only cards, it's hard to lose any pieces.  It plays 3-5 players which is great for those family trips.  The game is short and simple, which makes for an ideal quick game on vacation.

There are a lot of games you can take on vacation.  Try to pack a game on your next vacation.  Don't go overboard and pack 10 games.  Ultimately a vacation is about spending time with people and exploring a different area than home.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

Skip-Bo, Dominoes, and things from Redondo Beach

This past weekend, May 31- June 3rd, I visited Redondo Beach in the greater Los Angeles area.  I was fortunate enough to stay with a friend's family, and that led to a lot of games.  We were also lucky enough to have some friends from college visit us, and that led to even more games.  Overall, a good time spending time with friends, getting to know people better, have a lot of laughs and play games.

I took the train down to LA on Thursday, arriving late in the afternoon.  That evening we broke out No Thanks, Scary Tales, Tiki Topple, and Mexican Train Dominoes.  It had been years since I had played Dominoes, so it was nice to get an old classic to the table.

Friday wasn't much of a game day, even though it was my birthday.  I did get a chance to go mini-golfing and arcade game playing(ski-ball and the like) with my friend.  I know it's not a boardgame, but hey, it's a game, an activity, and mostly fun.  I think of mini golf as a fun dexterity game with more space to play.  After dinner, a family friend stopped by, so that gave us 6 for Skip-Bo.  We played one game alone, and then 2 games with partners.  I was able to win one of the partnership games.  It's actually a really fun game.  I wouldn't have chosen skip-bo, but now it's moved up on my list of fun games for the not as serious crowd.

Saturday was a bright and early start since games began at 10am with the aforementioned couple.  We started the morning off with Ticket to Ride Europe, including the 1912 expansion.  We didn't play depots, just the extra tickets. Early on, I got blocked off from Budapest by both of the 1 length routes.  Needless to say the workaround was extensive.  Sure I could have burned a station, but I kinda needed to go other places too, and didn't want to get caught without enough stations too early.  That basically cost me the game though.  One player was able to go from Petrograd to Madrid, in a straight shot.  This allowed her to draw a lot of tickets, and make small branches to make things work.  She ended with over 100 points in Tickets alone, and something like 194 as a final score.  I managed 2nd with 121, but that was a very, very, distant 2nd.
After Ticket, we moved on to something a lot lighter, Scary Tales.  Everyone had fun with that, since the game is not overly serious in nature, and feels very light.  The dice really do help maintain a quick pace and everyone tends to have fun with it.
One player had to depart, so we moved to Coloretto.  Yes, that's right, I finally got it played.  I really like the game.  I think there's a lot of thought that goes into your choices and there's enough interactions with different players, and ways to make the game hard on them without the screwage factor.

The most important part of Saturday was talking to a good friend about Star Runner.  He had a lot of good ideas to add more secrecy to the game play, and while that will add a little bit of time, I think it enhances the feel of the game, makes it feel more like you are moving things in secret, and gives the patrols a better reason to exist.

Overall I had a good time.  Some of the social aspects were not as good as they could have been, but I wouldn't change a thing.  I got a lot of games played, I think I'm completely back on track for the goal of 300, plus, Star Runner will be worth the extra work.

Friday, June 1, 2012

May 2012 Update

Welcome to June! And a happy birthday to me.

May was an okay for games, mostly because I'm still working on Star Runner (my game).  
If you're interested in providing feedback on the rules, send me an e-mail bitsofboardgames@gmail.com or a direct message on Twitter @boardgamer89  

The biggest news of the month was the second test of Star Runner, which was fun, but revealed several problems, the main one being that the game took 4 hours to play.  I've had a solution to make it faster in my head, so I'll be trying that out soon.  I did get a couple of game days in with the gaming family and my actual family, so that brought up the play total to 25. 
What did I actually play in May
The running total is now 118 which puts the projected year total at 277, which would be 22 plays short of my goal of 300.  (Looking at 2011, my highest set of 4 months of plays was April-July, so plays pick up with summer.)  The good news is that I'm in LA right now, and I have a game day scheduled for Saturday, so that should be a great pick-up.

I need to get in 33 plays in June to get back on track.  It's a daunting task, but possible.

I acquired two new game, Lost Cities in a trade, and Tsuro from my FLGS.  I've already played it 9 times, and it's turning into a favorite.  Also a big kudos to Tabletop, which is Will Wheaton's show on boardgames which can be seen every other Friday. Link to their Youtube site.

My unplayed game count is now at 16 since I haven't played Lost Cities yet. 

  • Tales of the Arabian Nights
  • RoboRally 
  • ST: Expeditions
  • Zooloretto 
  • Coloretto 
  • Elder Sign
  • Lost Cities
  • Scrabble Slam 
  • Monopoly Express 
  • Clue Express 
  • Battleship Express 
  • Crappy Birthday
  • S'quarrels 
  • Risk 2210 AD (Risk Legacy takes precedent)
  • Settlers of Canaan (no rush since I have other means of playing Catan)
  • High Bid 

May saw no reviews whatsoever.  I'm really sorry about that.  I've been busy with life things, though it's not an excuse.  I've tried to provide some other excellent content.  I talked more about Star Runner, did an interview with Peter Olotka of Cosmic Encounter fame, talked about the importance of Theme and Mechanics in games.  I also had my friend Chris, come on and talk about Magic.

Here's my review queue for June-August
  • Star Trek Fleet Captains
  • Lemonade Stand
  • Pizza Theory
  • Tsuro
  • Shadows Over Camelot
  • Scrumbrawl
  • Fauna

State of the 2012 Resolutions
  • Play every game I own that I've yet to play at least once (Current count is 10 16) 
  • Finish Risk Legacy (15 plays total, meaning 11 to go) 
  • Log 300 game plays not counting expansions.  114/300
  • Trade/give away the games I won't ever play - Looks DONE for now.
  • Introduce at least one new person to Cosmic Encounter - DONE
  • Organize a micro tournament of Dominion with my friends, most likely online.  DONE
  • Finish design work on my own board game design and start playtesting by June.  SOMEWHAT DONE
  • I will also predict that Eminent Domain will be my most played game of the year.  - VERY WRONG
Game plays in 2012 are
Scary Tales - 14
Pizza Theory -10
Cosmic Encounter - 9
Tsuro - 9
Eminent Domain - 4

The final item of note.
I'd like to start a new segment with some guests.  Now, no one famous at first, but that gives you, yes YOU, person reading this blog a chance to come on and talk about games.
We can do a review of a game we've both played, see the Battlestar Galactica review I did with my friend Josh.
We can talk about a type of game (dice, word, puzzle, co-op, etc.)
We can talk about gaming in general, see the article Chris wrote on Magic the Gathering.
So, what should you do?
Send me an e-mail (bitsofboardgames@gmail.com) with what you'd like to do for an article, and I'll do my best to make that happen.  It may take a little while to get it together, but I think getting some reader input makes things more fun.

Thank-you all for reading and comments.  You keep me energized to post articles, and continue talking about games.