Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 2012 Recap

Welcome to November, and a special Happy Birthday to my friend and loyal reader Rose.

October was perhaps the best month of gaming I've had all year.  No, it didn't have the most plays, or the most game days, but it did see the return of game days with the gaming family (first since end of May) as well as a friend asking to play Star Runner.  Game night has also picked up, we just had 9 people show up on Monday, which is up from an average of 4-5.  The other big milestone, I acquired my 100th game.

What got playing in October?

Incan Gold x3
Tsuro x3
7 Wonders x2
Elder Sign x2
Fleet x2
Scary Tales x2
Alhambra x1
Cambria x1
Lords of Waterdeep x1
No Thanks x1
Pizza Theory x1
Rattus x1
The Resistance x1
Roll Through the Ages x1
X-Wing x1
Star Runner x1
Total 24 plays

That brings the YTD total to 235, which is 15 behind pace for 300.  Hopefully with the weekly game night and Thanksgiving, November will allow me to catch-up and allow for December to be the big push to 300.

I acquired 1 new game in October, Star Wars X-Wing.  I've only had one chance to play it, but I like it and it will see more table time.  With the growth of the local game night, I've felt less of a need to buy new games, which is great on my wallet, and it gives me a chance to play a variety of games that I wouldn't otherwise.  Plus, Secret Santa and Christmas mean that new games will come in, so I don't want to buy much for myself.

October was a productive month in terms of posts with a total of 16.
October also accounted for 2,718 views to the blog which is a new monthly record.
Also, there were 3 additions to the Collection Building Series, 2 Player, Next Level and Worker Placement.

Finally, there were 7 bonus articles including a 100th post tribute, an update on Star Runner, 2 random musings - Getting the Rules Wrong, and my thoughts/experiences with Secret Santas, as well as my Top 7 Game Publishers, Cosmic Encounter Powers, and Gaming Moments.

If you ever have an idea for a Top 7 list you'd like to see, feel free to let me know.

Looking at November, I should wrap up my review series on the Gryphon Bookshelf Series games I own.  That will be for Incan Gold, Looting London and Birds on a Wire.  
After that, I’ll likely revert to my old style of mixing new games and old, so you get a good mix of things.  On the more fun side of things, I've contacted a few other bloggers to work together to compile a Christmas games guide, so hopefully that's something you can use for ideas to get other people games, or direct your loved ones to for yourself.

If you have suggestions for games I should review, feel free to leave a comment, or head over to the BoBG facebook page and vote there.  

Thank-you everyone for reading, commenting, tweeting, re-tweeting, etc. You all are the reason I keep writing articles. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Collection Building: Worker Placement Games

Some of the most popular Euro style games utilize Worker Placement as a fundamental mechanic.  First, we should look at what worker placement actually is.  Using BGG's description, "Worker placement requires players to draft individual actions from a set that is available to all players. Drafting is done one-at-a-time and in turn order.  There may be a limit on the number of times a single acton space may be used each round.  Usually, each player has a limited number of pieces with which to participate in the process. In other words, they "place workers" to show which actions have been drafted by which players."  That's all well and good, but what does it actually mean?  Well essentially, you take turns choosing actions to do, and typically you block everyone else from being able to do exactly the same thing.

Worker placement is probably the most highly ranked mechanic on BGG.  There are currently 5 games in the top 20, 9 games in the top 50, 13 in the top 100, and 23 in the top 200.  I personally haven't played many worker placement games, but I am a fan of the mechanic.  The detractor for me is that they often take awhile to play, and they are thinky games.

I'm only going to talk specifically about games I've played, since that's the only way to be honest about things.  I will mention that I've heard a lot of good things about Stone Age and Alien Frontiers, and I want to play both of those, but since I haven't, I can't recommend them.

I had heard a lot of things about Agricola before I got a chance to play it.  The biggest thing I knew going in was to make sure we played the family game before playing the full thing.  The family game serves as an introduction and leaves a few of the variable cards out of the game.  Agricola is all about running a farm.  You need wood, brick, stone, etc. to build improvements, you need to gather animals and farm your land, and you always need to feed your family.  All of these things take actions to gather the resources, and since everyone needs all of the same things, you have a lot of tension.  I think Agricola is a well designed game, but it never really struck a chord with me.  I can win my fair share of games, but there's just something lacking for me.

Lords of Waterdeep
I had a chance to play this at game night a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed it.  It's set in the Dungeons and Dragons universe, which I know basically nothing about, yet I still enjoyed the theme.  You recruit agents: Clerics, Wizards, Thieves, etc. to help you accomplish quests.  These quests earn you victory points and other rewards.  Workers are used to recruit agents, build buildings (which gives everyone an additional spot to place their workers), gain new quests, and play Intrigue cards (which affect other player(s) in some way).  The best part of this game was that it took a little more than an hour, and that was to teach 3 new players how to play and then play the game.  It gave me a similar feel to Agricola while being more engaging and faster.

I talked a bit about Kingsburg in the Dice game article, but it warrants mention here as well.  In Kingsburg, players use dice to influence advisors.  The higher the advisor number, typically, the better things they give you.  There are times when splitting up your dice is actually more beneficial, or even taking a lower valued advisor.  What I appreciate about Kingsburg is that you almost always have options.  You may not get exactly what you want, but the odds are that you'll be able to get something that helps you.  Once you get the resources you need, you use them to buy a building.  Each building gives you a different bonus.  What really makes Kingsburg a game is the end of year combat.  That forces players to spend time investing in their military instead of just playing a resource game.

Price Wars

Like I said in the open, these are heavy games, and with heavy games comes a heavy price tag.  If you're really on a budget, this is a category to skip.  If you're looking for a lighter game in the genre, go for Stone Age.  Based on price and my enjoyment level, I'd choose Lords of Waterdeep.  I think it has great replayability and has a good enjoyment/time ratio.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Art, High Tea, and Scrooge McDuck: A High Society Review

High Society
  • Designed by Reiner Knizia
  • Published by Gryphon Games (Bookshelf #5)
  • Players with 3-5 players
  • Playtime is 20-30 minutes

High Society is all about using your wealth to acquire great works of art.  These works of art have values associated with them, and whoever has the most value at the end of the game wins.  Players have to avoid the thief, the scandal, and the dreaded fire.  The trick to the game, if you spend the most money, you automatically lose. 

Inside the box
There are only two components to the game, a hand of bidding cards for each player, and 16 tiles to bid on.  While the components are a bit sparse, they are functional.  The tiles are really nice quality with excellent artwork.  The bidding cards are a bit thin, but nothing horrible.

Flip a tile, bid on it until everyone has passed, rinse, repeat.  Ok, maybe not that simple, but that's the core of the game.  There are 3 "bad" tiles, which have slightly different rules.  When one of those comes up, bidding goes until someone passes, at which point they keep their money, but suffer the consequences, while everyone else pays what they bid.  The game continues this way until the 4th red boarder tile shows up, at which point the game is over.  It's an auction game, but the idea that the person who spends the most automatically loses keeps the game interesting.  
The 10 different works of art to bid on

Like many auction games, High Society offers a good amount of back and forth between players.  The "most spent = loss" mechanic keeps players on their toes.  It isn't just a matter of bidding what you have, you have to have an idea of how much money other players have left.  While you're not able to attack or do anything to directly mess with others, how you bid does have an impact.  I would say the interaction is a bit subtle, but it's definitely there.

Special tiles. 2x, 1/2, -5, Thief
Though the theme is not strongly tied to the game, the theme does come through.  High Society won't really make you feel rich, but bidding $25 million instead of $25 does start you down that path.  I see it more as a collection game while trying not to spend the most money, but there's a theme there if you want it to be.

Learning Curve
I'd call this a short learning curve.  The game takes less than 5 minutes to explain, so it gets people in quickly.  Bidding games make sense to a lot of people, though how much things are actually worth takes awhile to figure out.  Hint, typically twice what the number on the art is.  The special tiles are up to you.

Why I like High Society
This is one of the very few auction games I own.  High Society captures the tension of auction games and keeps it short.  The thing that brings me back is the twist that I've talked about over and over.  It's so easy to overspend and not realize what you've done until it's too late.

Why I don't like High Society
All the different money you have to use.
I would have liked some more variety in the tiles that can be purchased.  Not that I want more tiles in a given game, but having a larger set of tiles that could be in the game would be nice.  

The game has a limited shelf life, meaning that there's only so many times you can play before it starts to feel the same.  I've played this a fair amount through the iOS implementation, which is well done, but it kinda feels the same every time.  New people do change the dynamics of bidding, which is good, but if you play with the same group, this will get old fast.

High Society is a well designed game.  The mechanics are sound, and the game offers something different from other bidding/auction games.  I kinda feel neutral about the game.  It's not a bad game, but it's not great.  I'll play it whenever someone asks for it, I may even suggest playing it, but it really depends on the people and the situation.

Want to buy High Society and support BoBG?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ho-Ho-Ho 2012 Style

Yes, that's right, it's Secret Santa time.  Now, I've been involved with two Secret Santas, Boardgamegeek (3 years) and Dice Tower (2 years).  I've had a blast with both, especially last year.  See, last year, I was at home, so I had some more time to personalize things and get creative.  I went so far as to have an SS e-mail account to go back and forth with my target.  The thing I enjoyed most of all, was being able to send some almonds.  My Dicetower target was a lot of fun, he really got into the guessing game and going back and forth with things.  My BGG target wasn't in the same holiday mood, but to each their own.

Giving games to others is really the part of the process that excites me the most.  Sure, I love getting new games, especially when I don't know what they are, but being able to provide a gaming gift to a fellow gamer is truly a joy.  To that end, I've also signed up for the BGG Christmas Card Exchange, which is another fun way to spread the holiday cheer.

On the receiving end, I've had some mixed experiences, and no, this has nothing to do with the games I received.
The first year(2009) I got Dominion: Seaside and Acquire.  Both are games/expansion I enjoy and still play today, but Santa didn't really do anything above and beyond.  There was no taunting, no communication beyond.  Now, I know some Santas like to be secretive, and that's all well and good, I just appreciate something a little more fun.
The next year (2010) was really a mix.  I was in 2, DT and BGG.  I got an e-mail from my DT Santa in mid-November saying that packages were on the way.  I got them at Thanksgiving, along with a very nice Christmas card.  I was able to correspond with my Santa a couple of times, and had a great time doing that.  He went above and beyond in customizing Roll Through the Ages for me, and with additions of Incan Gold and No Thanks, he's definitely been the Santa who's provided the highest ranked games for me.  That was the awesome part one.  BGG was a lesson in patience.  My first Santa had something come up and he wasn't able to follow through, same with my 2nd Santa.  Well, the 3rd one made up for everything, and even though I was the last person to get games, I know that I was blessed by it, and that my Santa was blessed for being so very generous.
2011 was better.  BGG still arrived late (Valentines day this time) but DT was early, so it balanced out, plus extended Christmas.

I've learned many lessons is patience and delayed gratification from Secret Santa.  It would be easy to focus on the negative aspects, but when I've read the words of joy that come from my targets, it makes everything worth it.  If I think about the smiles I've gotten from reading my targets posts, and the smiles I've gotten from getting my own games, they come out pretty even.  But when I factor in the smiles my Santas have gotten from my posts, I know without a doubt that it is better to give than to receive.

With that, consider joining a secret santa. You can find the info for BGG at this link.  For info on the Dicetower Secret Santa, you'll need to listen to episode 276.

You don't have much time, I think both are closing in early November, so sign-up now and make a fellow geek happy in the holiday season.

Also, a promise from me, games are staying wrapped until Christmas Eve this year.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Collection Building: Next Level Games

Many gamers ponder where to go after the into/gateway games.  They like the ideas put forth in those types of games, but they want something a little deeper, a little longer, maybe a little bit more complicated.  Many factors come in to play here, but the key question is what have they played.  Here are some of the games I've had success with when it comes to furthering someone's interest/love in games.

Acquire is a classic from noted designer Sid Sackson.  Players place tiles on the board to increase the size of hotels.  They then buy stock in hotel chains on the board.  The goal is to merge hotels, have your hotel taken over so you get paid out on stock, and then to invest in large hotels for the end of the game.  It's not the most intuitive game at first, but it is a familiar concept for many adults due to the stock nature of the game.  It takes about 90 minutes to play, and it makes you think, but I enjoy it from time to time.

Cosmic Encounter
Cosmic is the second designer game that I ever played, so it has a soft spot in my heart.  Getting into the game can take time due to a variety of card effects, but this is less for all new players.  Cosmic focuses on hand management and negotiation.  It is a confrontational game, but rarely is it a "beat-up on one person" game.  Cosmic has a great deal of variety, with 50 unique player powers in the base game, and 20 in each expansion.  Cosmic is a great game, but it is not for everyone.  There are moments of backstabbing and cunning plans, there are times where you pull a rabbit out of your hat that annoys everyone else.  There are ways to be nice, ways to be mean, and ways to be everything in-between.  If you take Cosmic too seriously, you won't have fun with it.  But if you're willing to laugh things off and not let a loss ruin your day, it's hard to say no.

Mystery Express
Fan of Clue? Here's a fun deduction game that adds a lot of variety and options to that experience.  Mystery Express simulates a murder on the Orient Express, except for the ending.  Players spend time to investigate 4 categories - suspect, location, motive and modus operendi.  Unlike Clue, there are two copies of each card, so players have to figure out which card only has one copy in circulation.  There are various means to see cards, as well as trade cards, which makes the whole investigation more complicated.  The game takes around an hour, and it's great for people who really like Clue or deductive games.

Power Grid
Power Grid is probably the heaviest game for next level, and because of that, it probably appeals to the smallest group, but in the right group, it's a great game.  Power Grid is all about getting power plants to fuel cities, buying the resources to run the power plants, and expanding into cities.  You have to balance all three aspects so you're not wasting power, or buying resources at a high price, and certainly so you don't get blocked out of cities.  If this all sounds like a big spreadsheet, it kinda is.  The thing is, that other players influence things, and change what you want to do throughout the game.  I see it as a big economic puzzle, with some key choices on when to do certain things.  It is long, roughly 2 hours, but most games are close until the very end.

What's more fun than the Black Death?  Well, many things, and that's true of games.  There are games that are funnier than Rattus, but Rattus is still a fun game.  It loosely falls under the "Area Control" umbrella, meaning that you're trying to have cubes on the board and survive.  Through the game, you will use different roles to do different things.  Each role lets you do something special, like add extra cubes, make a cube safe forever, etc. but each power you have makes you more likely to lose cubes when the plague hits.  For more info on Rattus, read my review.

Price Wars

As you can see, most of these games are fairly pricy.  The good thing is, they're fairly hefty games, and you're getting a lot out of them.  It all really depends on what you're looking for in a gaming experience.  I'd say that Power Grid is probably the best bang for your buck, Mystery Express will probably appeal to the most people, and Cosmic Encounter offers the most variety.

If I have to pick one and only one, I'm taking Cosmic for the replayability.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Flip Men - A For Sale Review

For Sale

  • Designed by Stefan Dorra
  • Published by Uberplay in 1997, more recently by Gryphon Games which is the version I have.
  • For 3-6 players, I recommend 4+. 3 works, but lacks some of the dynamics in bidding.
  • Plays in 15-20 minutes.

For Sale is the 4th game in the Gryphon Bookshelf line, and a relatively fast filler game.  The point of the game is to bid on properties, and then use those properties to cash in on checks later in the game.  It's a game of buy low, sell high, and a neat game for a 15-20 minute play time.

Inside the box - baggie not included
For Sale isn't going to wow anyone with its components.  There are 60 cards and a slew of money tokens in the game.  That's it.  Now, the artwork on the cards is rather amusing.  The "1" value property is a cardboard box, or as my group likes to call it, "The Philosophy/English major's home."  The "30" is a space station.  Other cards include a lighthouse, a doghouse, a teepee, a tree house, and an outhouse.  

For Sale is played through 2 distinct phases.  In the first phase, players bid on properties.  One property per player is flipped up, and the start player makes a bid.  The next player can outbid them or pass.  When someone passes, they pay half their bid and then take the lowest valued property.  When it's down to the last person, they pay their full bid and get the highest property.  After all the properties have been auctioned off, players then sell properties for cash.  Once again, one check is turned up for each player in the game, but this time, players secretly select a property from their hand.  Players then take the check corresponding to their place in the property numbers, high number gets the high check and so on.  After all the checks are gone, the player with the most money wins.
Money tokens used for bidding

Anytime bidding occurs in a game, there is player interaction.  It's the old game of figuring out your top price, someone else's top price, and balancing that against what something is worth.  There is the question of when to outbid someone, and when to pass, but it isn't the most interactive of choices.  There's really nothing you can do to another player, besides outbid them, that messes with their plan.

Some of the housing options
Buying and selling houses isn't exactly the most engaging theme in the world, but it works really well for this game.  Sure, you're really just focused on the numbers, but the variety of houses is great.  That part really appeals to non-gamers.  They understand buying and selling houses.  Kids also get a kick out of it, though they may make odd choices just so they get certain properties rather than the numbers.  I do like the theme, I think it fits the game well.

Learning Curve
Short, very short.  Teach the game in 2 phases.  Seriously.  Just explain the bidding phase, and when that's done, explain the checks.  I can teach For Sale in under 2 minutes, probably under 1 if I had to.  It's really accessible, the game makes sense right away.  There is some strategy in the check phase, but that's not as important in a short game.

Why I like For Sale
This is one of those few games that I can truly play with anyone.  It's not overly complex, so it doesn't turn people off.  The artwork is great, the gameplay is solid.  The player range is also great, not many fillers go up to 6 players.

Why I don't like For Sale
Properties matched with checks
I've really had a hard time coming up with something I don't like about For Sale.  There is luck in the game, sometimes to frustrating levels, but some of that is self inflicted.  You can sell the "1" for $5,000, and the "15" for 0, it just depends on the round and what other players decide to bid.  Sometimes the game feels too short.  Most of the time, I don't have a good idea about who's winning.  Still, I'm nitpicking.  

Amazing replayability here.  Because cards come up in different groups, there's always something new to figure out.  Sure, you're always using the same 30 houses and the same 30 checks, but it's the combinations that make it different.  I've played 19 times so far, and I'm up to play it basically any time someone else wants to.

For Sale gets a big two thumbs up from me.  I can play it with anyone, I can play it at anytime.  It's short, it's simple.  Essentially, it's everything I look for in a filler game.  I highly recommend For Sale for anyone who's looking for a filler game or a quick family game.

Want to buy For Sale and support and BoBG?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Getting the Rules Wrong

As someone who plays a fair number of games, and ends up explaining the rules half the time, I'm occasionally faced with the conundrum of what to do when I forget a rule or explain a rule the wrong way.  I am human, and as a human, I make mistakes.  Games have a lot of rules, and a lot can go wrong.  Here's my 5 step program towards righting the ship after a botched rule.

Step 1: Getting a rule wrong is not the end of the world.
If players are having a good time, let it go.  As long as the game doesn't take too long to play, this probably won't hurt anything.  Plus, you might discover an interesting variant.

Step 2: Don't take advantage.
If you find that you could take advantage of a rule omission/mistake, don't do it.  Point it out, and then fix it in the following round of scoring, or the next game.

Step 3: Reach consensus.
Most players are forgiving by nature.  Still, they have thoughts on how games should go.  Try to find a solution that benefits everyone.  Maybe this means starting over, which isn't a bad thing if you find the rule early on.  Maybe this means sucking it up, losing the game, but playing the right way next time.

Step 4: Try to laugh it off.
Don't come across as someone who doesn't care that they made a mistake, but try to be self deprecating.    It's the old stand-up comedian trick, if a joke bombs, make a joke about how bad the last joke was.  If you're having fun, that's the most important part of the game.

Step 5: Learn from the error.
Take this as an opportunity to learn from a mistake and do better the next time.  As a game explainer, you're going to get things wrong from time to time.  Do your best to improve your teaching skills, keep players engaged in the learning process, and don't worry about the last mistake.  The mark of a great teacher isn't by how few errors they make, it's by the way they deal with the errors they make.

Here's my rule of thumb for what to do based on when I find an error:
In the first 10-20 minutes (depending on game length) try to start over.
After that, insert the rule at the start of a round.
In the last 10-20 minutes of a game, just play the way you've been playing the whole game.

This does vary based on the timing of a rule.  If it's something that some players were able to do but not others, then it's best to just play the "wrong" way for the entire game.

The crucial thing that I've learned the first time I play any game is that we're going to do something wrong.  First games are learning games.  Sure, I'm playing to win, but if rules were forgotten/explained wrong, I won't get worked up over that.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Star Runner Update

It's been 2 months since I've talked about Star Runner, and I've mostly let it sit.  I think all good games go through a waiting period.  For the most part I'm happy with where the game is, but I like having some time to randomly think it over, and try to play the same game without making tweaks.  I was able to play a 4 player game last weekend with 2 new players, and one person who had only played once.  This game took longer than I'd like, and it got me thinking about having a "starter" ruleset, or having some other options to speed up the early part of the game.  I've also realized that the game is hard to explain.  Once you start playing, it makes sense, but until you see what's going on, players don't have a strong notion for what they're trying to do.  I'm planning on creating a video which shows how to play the game, so this will help the visual learners out there.

I think I've reached the point where the game is solid, but there are tweaks to be made in terms of card distribution, starting resources, and the ever important tech-tree.  One thing that a lot of people have noticed is that the game has a definite narrative arc.  For those of you who don't know what that means in gaming terms, it's essentially that the end of the game feels different than the start, that through the game, players have made choices that shape what they're doing at the end.  This may have a negative effect on new players, but I feel that it makes the game more rewarding after you've played it once.

The best part about getting Star Runner played was that my friend actually asked me to bring it over without any mention of it from me.  She also commented that it's a game she wants to play more often to try out new strategies and attempt to do better than the last time.  This is music to my ears, and I think it's what every designer should be striving to achieve.

All that being said, if you're interested in reading rules, and maybe even playtesting, let me know and we'll get in touch.  Rules can go out basically as soon as you get ahold of me, playtesting kits will take a bit, but I hope to have some ready to go around Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Top 7 Gaming Moments

I spend a lot of time talking about games, but not nearly enough talking about moments in games.  Games are memorable based on what happens, the crazy things people do, or making that one roll that wins you a game when you had almost no chance making it.  This list is a tribute to those moments, the things in games that I will remember for a long time.

#7 2008 - Starfarers of Catan
Who knew that a Saturday night in December could so drastically alter one's life. A friend of my next door neighbor in the dorms came by and asked if he wanted to play a game.  He was heading out, but he said "Ask the guy next door, he likes games."  So the guy asked me and I was reading for class, but I decided a diversion would be a nice thing.  So there I was, playing a game I had never heard of with 4 people I didn't know, but it was a blast.  I got into it really quickly, since it did resemble Catan.  I admit to having some amazing luck that game, and I ended up winning because of it.  But that's not the important thing.  That night sparked 3 good friendships, many nights of nights playing boardgames, mostly Cosmic Encounter, and truly finding where I belonged in College.

#6 2009 - Formula D
My dad and I are big Formula 1 fans, so buying Formula D for Father's Day was a perfect gift.  We didn't get around to playing until August, but when we did, what a race.  All 4 of us got together, and it was a tight race.  My dad and I got out to early leads, but my sister kept things close.  Dad and I were neck and neck going into Rascasse (2nd to last turn) when I hit the brakes just a little too late.  He was able to come out of the corner in a higher gear, and beat me to the line by about 5 places.  My sister was hot on my heels, but she broke late as well, which allowed me to get out ahead.  Racing around the streets of Monaco was a great way to break in Formula D.

#5 2007 - First time become lord of Catan
Late in the summer of 2007, I got together with my gaming family to play Catan.  I've been playing for nearly 9 months at this point, and I'd yet to win a game.  Now, I didn't really mind, since I was having a good time playing, but still, I really wanted to win.  I jumped out to an early lead by cornering the ORE market.  Most players needed to trade with me in order to build cities or knights, so I was a popular guy.  All of that was just enough to get me through, and at the end, I heard those words that felt so good, "All hail lord of Catan."

#4 2010 - First game of Munchkin
I'm not a huge fan of Munchkin these days, but back then I was young and naive.  I sat down to learn the game.  The rules basically made sense, and everyone seemed to have a good natured attitude towards it.  Then things got nasty, as they're prone to do in Munchkin.  Things were really close, everyone was at level 8 or 9.  Then it happened, DIVINE INTERVENTION, and oh look, I was a Level 9 Cleric, which made me a game winner, along with the other 2 Level 9 Clerics.  So we had a 3-way win thanks to Divine Intervention.  It has to be the least frustrating game of Munchkin that I've ever played.

#3 2011 - Shadows Over Camelot
In my 32nd game of Shadows, I was finally the traitor.  Now, not all of these games have used loyalty cards, but still, that's a lot of Shadows to play Loyal.  When I first saw the card I got excited, but I knew I couldn't show it.  I was playing Sir Percival, which has the power to look at the top black card before deciding on his evil action.  This is fairly useless, unless you have Lancelot's Armor.  So, I convinced the knights to let me get the armor.  I was victorious in my quest, but I knew I still had to play things loyal.  I couldn't always play really bad black cards, but I tried to pick the worse of the two, or at least what I thought would hurt more.  As it turns out, the game was running very loyal.  Loyal knights seemed to be cruising towards victory.  Then it happened, a string of bad black cards, Vivien, Mists of Avalon, Dark Forest, all in quick succession.  I knew this was my chance, so on my turn I chose the more hurtful of black cards.  I kept this up for 3 rounds, by then I was gathering some attention for my poor card play.  That's when I did it, I falsely accused a fellow knight, and then played Fate to send myself to Traitorland.  From there it was a relatively easy cruise for me, the game lasted another 2 rounds, and then the knights were no more. Muhahaha.

#2 2012 -  7 Wonders
I was at a game night, and we had an hour left to play.  There were 5 of us, 3 who had never played 7 Wonders, so I suggested it as something relatively light.  I set off to explaining the rules, and everyone seemed to understand what was going on.  There were some questions along the way, but that's to be expected.  By the 2nd age, everyone was going at a good clip.  In the 3rd age, I knew things were going to be close.  There was a lot of coins out there, and several key guilds in play.  We tallied up the scores at the end, 46-45-44-42-26.  I have never seen the top 4 covered by 4 points, it was intense.  The 3 new guys were 45-44-26.  I ended up winning, but I didn't think I had it until the score was final.  2 of the guys liked it so much, they went and bought the game for themselves.  That's the mark of a good time.

#1 2009 - My 2nd game of Battlestar Galactica
I'm playing President Roslin, and a key crisis comes up early on.  My turn comes to add cards, and I put them on the table.  My friend Aaron says something to the effect of "That's how a cylon plays cards."  I pointed out that I couldn't possibly play cards that hurt us, since both of my colors were positive.  He wasn't buying it though.  Everyone seemed to ignore it after we passed the check.  I was in fact a cylon in that game, and we did win when Admiral Tigh revealed himself as a bomber and destroyed Galactica.  Aaron knows me pretty well, and he's perceptive, but for him to call it that early still makes me smile.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hidden Gems: Gem Dealer Review

Gem Dealer
  • Designed by Reiner Knizia
  • Published by Gryphon Games in 2008
  • For 3-5 Players
  • Plays in 20-30 minutes

Gem Dealer is a race to collect 4 different types of gems.  Players do so by bidding on one gem with cards in their hand.  Knowing when to bid and when to bide your time is a crucial aspect of the game.  It's fairly quick and keeps moving at a good pace.  

Inside the box, rules are underneath
The gems are very stunning, one of the prettiest game components I own.  They don't look cheap, nor do they feel it.  The cards are good quality, though differentiating between purple and blue in low/bad light is challenging at times.

There are 5 different gems, of which players are attempting to get 4.  Players do so through a series of bidding rounds.  The first player places a gem up for bid, and then plays cards matching that color.  Each time they bid, they draw a card.  Other players can up the bid, or pass, drawing one final card and waiting for the next round.  There are some wild cards which can be used on any gem, though only one "10" can be used.  The 10 comes at a risk though, if you're not successful in your bid, you must return a gem you already own.  In each bid, a player may, one time, place any number of cards face down as a bid of 1 per card they play.  This is a good way to get rid of cards of a color you already have.  Overall, the mechanics are simple, but the wild cards and varying numbers on the gem cards do keep it interesting.

All together now, "OOOOHHH SHINY!"
A lot of Gem Dealer is figuring out who is going to bid on something, and what to put up for bid next.  If everyone else has a blue gem, the odds are good that you'll be able to snag it without wasting too many cards.  The interaction here is about what you'd find in any other auction, though players are limited by their cards, not their own stop sign.

The gems are a nice theme, but I'm playing an auction/bidding game.  The theme could be animals, spaceship parts, etc. and the game would still work fine.  

Learning Curve 
Short.  It can be taught in roughly 1-2 minutes. There are some of those weird exceptions, only one "10" and the facedown anything bid, but the game is still quick to get people in and playing.

The different types of bid cards.
See what I mean about Purple(right) and Blue(left)?
Why I like Gem Dealer
It is a quick game with fun mechanics.  I don't have many bidding games, and the other ones I have are longer games.  The gems hook people instantly, and it opens the door to other games.  

Why I don't like Gem Dealer
There's a bit too much luck with the bidding cards.  Because players draw after each bid, one player could get a card of the color currently up for bid while another does not.  Also, the more bids you can make, the more cards you have, meaning you'll likely have cards for the next gem as well.

My sister is a gem hoarder
I've played Gem Dealer 5 times in the last 2 or so years.  I've played it mostly at long games days as something that doesn't require too much thinking.  I think there's a time for it, but it's never at the top of anyone's want to play list.  I think it can be played more often and still be fun.

I like the game, but it seems like everyone would rather play something else.  Gem Dealer isn't a bad game, it just isn't great.  Maybe that's due to the theme.  If you look at tother games in the Gryphon Bookshelf line, theme plays a bigger part.  I give it 1 thumb up.  

Want to buy Gem Dealer and support BoBG?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Collection Building: 2 Player Games

Sometimes, there are only 2 people around to play a game.  Now, often times this leads to other activities, but there are times when you want to have the challenge of a boardgame.
There are a lot of games that work for 2+ players, but I want to focus on 2 player only games.

Abstract games as a whole are typically two players and provide a great challenge.  Think of games like Chess, Checkers, Go, Backgammon, etc.  I don't know enough about abstract games, nor do I play them often enough, to recommend them.  Still, they are worth a mention in any list of 2 player games.

Lost Cities
Lost Cities is a card game where players are going on adventures.  There are 5 different adventures each player can embark upon.  Players do so by playing cards in ascending order from 1-10.  If they skip a value, they can never go back.  For each adventure you start on, you need to get at least 20 points, else you'll have a negative score.  Players typically play 3 rounds, and the highest combined score wins the game.  I've only played it once, but it was a fun game.  It's really easy to learn, and it only takes about 20 minutes to play 3 rounds.

1960: The Making of the President
Yes, you guessed it, a political game all about the 1960 US Presidential election.  Without getting political, 1960 was a landmark election in the US.  This game captures a lot of the back and forth of the race, and it's almost always close.  Players use cards, which represent different moments in the campaigns, for one of 3 things: action points, card text, the debates.  The game is somewhat long, typically 90-120 minutes, but it is a rich play experience.

Twilight Struggle
No, this has nothing to do with the books or movies. The game encompasses the entirety of the cold war.  One player is attempting to spread communism, while the other is trying to spread democracy.  This is designed by the same person who designed 1960.  I've only played this one time, but it's a very deep game.  Expect to spend a bit learning the rules, and then around 2 hours playing.  The game is well worth it, but it has a steep learning curve.

Memoir '44 (or anything in the Commands and Colors System)
Memoir '44 is a simplified take on some of the major engagements of WWII.  Players primarily use infantry and tank units to accomplish various objects.  Most engagements are a matter of eliminating the other side's units, but some involve controlling locations.  Players use command cards to issue orders, and dice to resolve combat.  The system is fairly easy, at least before expansions, and offers good variety with a plethora of scenarios.

Mr. Jack
Mr. Jack is a neat deduction game with one person taking on the role of Jack the Ripper, while the other player is the inspector hunting Jack down.  Jack will secretly be one of 8 characters on the board. The inspector is trying to narrow down the possibilities and eventually make an accusation, while Jack is trying to escape as quickly as possible, or last 8 turns.  I really like the mechanics of Mr. Jack.  The deduction aspect is interesting and challenging.  My problem with it is a lack of replayability.  Since it's a shorter game, I want to be able to play it more often, but it just doesn't lend itself to that.  Because every character is used in every game, the only real change is which role Jack takes, and then which side you're playing.  If you're looking for a neat 2 player game to add to your collection for those rare times you have only 2, Mr. Jack would work well, but if you play a lot with only 2, then Mr. Jack wouldn't be the first game I'd buy.

Price Wars

1960: ~ Looks to be Out of Stock, copies exist in the BGG marketplace for around $40.

From a pure pricing standpoint, Lost Cities wins out.  I think Lost Cities has the biggest potential to be played frequently, due to the short play time.  It's easy to set up, and play a round while you're waiting for someone else to show up.  It also works as a couples game for something quick to do before dinner or to wind down after a long day of work.

My pick for a 2 player only game to add to a collection is Lost Cities.  I liked it in theory before I ever played it, and playing it only made me like it more.

I'm by no means an expert on 2 player games, I just don't play them that often.  That being said, check out for more on two player games.  They have a lot of good suggestions, and a really interesting series on Risk Legacy.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Roll and Build - Roll Through the Ages Review

Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age
  • Designed by Matt Leacock
  • Published by Gryphon Games
  • For 1-4 players
  • Plays in around 30-45 minutes

Roll Through the Ages is a fairly short civilization building game revolving around dice.  Players have to balance a limited food supply, workers to build cities and monuments, and resources to purchase developments, all while worrying about the threat of disaster.  It may not be the most satisfying civ building game, but it is an enjoyable dice game.

What you get inside the box
There aren't many components in RTtA, but what is in the game is superb quality.  The dice have custom images on them, I believe they're burned in with lasers, though I don't know that for sure.  The resource boards for players are made of solid wood, which is heavier than you'd think.  The only negative is the score sheets, which are use one per player per game and no more.  I ended up having 4 sheets laminated, so players could write on them with a felt pen and then wipe them clean.  This makes the game last a lot longer, and there's something about laminated pages that makes it more fun.

The 6 faces of the dice
The core of the game revolves around dice.  Players roll one die for each city they have in play (3 to start).  Each die can be rolled up to 3 times (think Yahtzee), but all disaster icons are locked in place.  After a player is satisfied with their roll, or out of rolls, they have to feed their cities (1 food per city).  Players then use workers to build cities or monuments.  The first player to build a given monument scores points (points vary based on the monument), while any subsequent builds yield less points.  Finally, players can use resources and coins to buy one development.  Developments do a variety of things, all of them useful in some way.  Play continues until either each monument has been collectively built at least once, or until one person purchases their 7th development.
I enjoy the balance between city growth and food requirements.  It brings a light tension to the game, while still allowing player choice.  There's a lot of different paths to take in the game when it comes to developments, and that's a good thing for RTtA.

How things look at the start of the game
There isn't much direct interaction in RTtA, but there are two ways to affect what other people do.  The first is the disaster rolls.  Disasters stack, and if you roll 3, it affects your opponents, instead of you, though the risk of rolling a 4 is far more hurtful to you than sitting on 2 disasters.  The other way is through monuments.  The drop in points for subsequent builds is significant, so if you see someone trying to build the Great Pyramid, you might devote your workforce to finishing it before they can.  If that sounds a little too mean, don't worry, it's not.  You still get something from the effort, and they've wasted a lot of resources to take a few points away from you.
The interaction is fairly passive, but it exists.  It is playable as a solo game, which tells you that the game does not depend on interaction.

I don't really feel that I'm running a civilization, or helping to construct it, but the civ building aspect does come through.  Sure, the theme could be several different things and still work, but something just feels right about the civ building.

Learning Curve
Things after a round
Here we have a tale of two parts.  The game isn't complicated to learn, less than a 5 minute introduction.  However, the odds are that you won't have much of a strategy until after you play through once or twice.  Now, for people who are familiar with civ-building games, they will have a decent idea of what to do, which makes things run smoothly.

Why I like Roll Through the Ages
Firstly, it was a gift from Secret Santa, including the laminated score pages for the base game and the expansion, so there's some sentimental value there.  As for the game itself, it's the luck of the dice with a fun game built around it.  You have to make the most of whatever you roll, which is easier said than done.  There are several different strategies to explore from game to game, which offers a lot of depth.

Why I don't like Roll Through the Ages
Luck of the dice.  Sometimes you really need 3 food and you roll 1 good two times in a row.  There's not much you can do about it, other than absorb the lost points and make something happen with the good you got.  The game can suffer from a runaway leader since developments make the game go faster, and once you get going, you rarely stop.

I've played RTtA 12 times with a couple different groups of people.  The different paths to take with developments and monuments keep it interesting.  Adding in the expansion also changes the arc of the game.  It makes it a little longer, but also gives players more opportunities to score points.  RTtA isn't something I want to play all the time, but I like it every so often.

My civilization at the end of the game.
Roll Through the Ages is a game I enjoy.  It's my favorite dice game, though there are some other dice games that challenge for that title.  I've liked the idea of Civilization building for a long time, I think there are a lot of great things to explore there.  The issue I've always had with them is how long they take to learn, and play.  RTtA scratches the itch, and does so in under an hour.  It is an innovative take on the genre, it streamlines Civ building to the core ideas, and it gives players options.  Overall, it's a 2 thumbs up, and a keeper.

Will you like it?
If you like dice games, you'll enjoy this.  If you like civ building, you'll enjoy this.  If you like well designed games, you'll enjoy this.  Of course I can't make guarantees that you'll enjoy the game, but I've yet to play with someone who disliked the game.  Some have been lukewarm, others have liked it.

What else is like Roll Through the Ages?
It depends on what you're looking for.  If you're looking for dice games, check out Can't Stop, Dice Town, Alien Frontiers, and other games on my Collection Building: Dice Games article.
If you're looking for the Civ-building games, there are some options.  Consider Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game, Through the Ages, and Glenn Drover's Empires: The Age of Discovery.  I haven't played any of them, so I'm going on what I've read through BGG and other reviewers.

Want to buy Roll Through the Ages and support BoBG?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Money, Money, Money! Review

  • Designed by Reiner Knizia
  • Published by Gryphon Games
  • 3-5 Players 
  • Plays in around 30 minutes
For this review, I asked my friend Rose to write her thoughts on the game.  I've played Money!, but not nearly as much as she has. Ergo, I felt she was better suited to giving a review than I was.

Give away money to try to get more money! Try to collect entire currencies for the most points.

A look inside the box.
Money is a pure card game; it comes with 69 currency cards and 5 bluff cards. The cards are sturdy and attractive; all currencies but one are close replications of actual real-world currencies (US dollars, Australian dollars, yen, pounds, Euros, etc.). The cards are a bit large, which can make holding them all difficult as your hand swells, but that is my only complaint.

Each turn, two sets of four cards are laid out. You place cards from your hand face-down to bid on the available cards. The person with the highest bid gets the first choice and exchanges the cards they bid for the set of cards they want, second highest bid gets the second choice, etc.

The goal of this is to get the most possible points. You get points by having complete/near-complete sets of currency (three 20s, three 30s, one 40, one 50, and one 60). 

All of the green currency cards
The rules for scoring are somewhat complicated. At the base, cards are worth their face value. The 20s and 30s, if you have all three, are worth an extra 100 points each, making the three 20s worth 160 points and the three 30s worth 190 points. These, plus the 40, 50, and 60, make a possible total of 500 points for a complete currency. However, if you have incomplete sets of currency, it gets more complex. If you have over 200 points in face value of the cards alone, you get the face value. If you have less than 200 in card face value, you get the face value of the cards minus 100. The bonuses for the sets of three are added in after these calculations. If the total is less than 100, the cards are worth nothing, but there is no penalty. Additionally, there are six Chinese coin cards, each of which is always worth 10 points, no matter how many of them you have.

The main interaction in Money is trying to figure out how much other people are bidding and how badly you want to beat them for a particular set of cards. Because the bids are placed face-down, all you have to go on is the number of cards placed. The actual value could range from 60 to nothing, since each player has a bluff card they can use to “pad out” their bid to make it look bigger, or pass on a given hand entirely.

International currency! The theme is the driving force of this game, and as such it works very well.

One of each type of currency card
Learning Curve
Medium. It takes a playthrough or two to get the hang of how the strategy of the game works.

Why I like Money
I like the bidding mechanism; the only other games I've played with bidding were bridge when I was a kid and Monopoly (which was actually my favorite part of Monopoly). It's complex enough that it stays interesting, and there is some skill and strategy involved, but there is a certain amount of dumb luck, which means it's not overly intellectual.

Why I don't like Money
Nice big pile of Money!
The scoring is somewhat complicated, and with the physical version, it's hard to tell which set of cards will increase your score more (there's a version for the iPod/iPhone/iPad where it tells you what a set of cards will do for your score). As I mentioned, the cards are a little big, which can get cumbersome.

Very replayable. I usually play at least three games in a row.

Money is a fun, quick game. Once you get the hang of the scoring, it's not very complicated, but it's not simple enough to get boring quickly either. I'd give it one thumbs up.

What else is like Money?
Bridge is the closest relative I can think of, but it's a fairly distant cousin on the family tree.

Want to buy Money and support BoBG?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Top 7 Cosmic Encounter Powers

I know this won't pertain to all that many people, but it's something I've been mulling over for awhile.  Cosmic Encounter is my favorite game, so I think about it often.  One of the questions I got a lot is "what's your favorite power?"  This list is meant to explain some of my choices and give some of my thought process behind the choices.

#7 Fury
Fury gains a token for each ship they lose to the warp.  They can use these tokens to add or subtract 3 per token from their side in an encounter.  Fury has to play a balance game between ships and tokens, but if Fury is smart, they'll be a key player at the end of the game.

#6 Genius
Genius wins if they have 20 cards in their hand.  Often this is hard to accomplish, but certain flares can help.  Genius does have the ability to forgo claiming a colony in favor of drawing cards.  This gives Genius great flexibility.  It is more powerful in a hidden power game, since no one really knows why you're accumulating the cards, but it's still a solid power, and a lot of fun to play.

#5 Miser
Miser plays the game with 2 hands of cards.  This gives them a lot of options when it comes to playing cards.  They're still stuck with bad cards, just like everyone else, but they can also manage their main hand better, thus keeping flares and artifacts around longer.  Miser isn't a power that's feared, and rightly so.  It won't directly help you win a combat, but it does give you more options, and in a game that relies on cards to win the game, having more cards is a good thing.

#4 Sorcerer
Sorcerer has the option to switch the encounter cards that the main players play before their value is revealed.  Sorcerer is a giant mind-game, which often leads to a Princess Bride esque moment that goes something like this.  "I think you're the kind of person who's going to swap cards so I'll play card A. But knowing that you know that I think that you'll swap means you won't, so I'll play card B. But knowing that you know that I know that you know that I think you'll swap means you will, so card A it is." And so and and so forth.
Sorcerer lets you make something good out of the bad cards in your hand.  It does require a certain finesse to use well, but it's also easy to play the first time you see it.

#3 Pacifist
Pacifist is one of the simplest powers to explain, you win if you play a Negotiate.  Now, you can still win an encounter the normal way and an N v N still leads to a deal.  Pacifist is great because it allows you to utilize every card in your hand.  There is that bluffing aspect where players don't know if you'll play a Negotiate, so you can slip in a low attack card while they go for the N to try to deal.  Pacifist is a great power for using all the cards in your hand.

#2 Remora
Remora is just a bit clingy, maybe too clingy.  What I mean by that is Remora gets a card whenever someone draws cards, and a ship whenever someone takes a ship back.  It means that they'll likely never run out of cards, and will likely never be low on ships.  Remora continuously brings a supply of cards, which should help in combat.  Remora itself won't help you in combat, but the additional cards and ships make you a bigger threat as the game goes on.

#1 Chosen
Chosen is the power I would pick if I had a "must-win" game of Cosmic.  Chosen's power is to draw 3 cards after encounter cards have been revealed. He can then use one of the 3 cards to add to his encounter total, or replace the card he played.  This has a two main uses.  If things are close, you just gained a reinforcement card of some value.  If things are way against you, you can hope for a Negotiate to at least take some cards from your opponent.  Chosen isn't forced to add or replace anything, so his power can never hurt him.

Every power has good things and bad things to it.  Different powers suit different play styles.  Someone else's top 7 may be completely different than mine, but that's a good thing.  I think every power (110 to date) has something to offer.  Sure, you may not like all of them, but each and every power could come out victorious.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Top 7 Game Publishers

I try my best to judge a game based on the merits of the game.  One of the merits of a game is the company that publishes the game.  This isn't always a guarantee that the game will be great, but there are some companies that excite me more than others.

#7 Tasty Minstrel Games (TMG)
TMG is an up and coming company.  They've had some early successes with Homesteaders, Belfort, Martian Dice, and my personal favorite from them, Eminent Domain.  They've had some growing pains, but they're a company looking to publish great games, and provide fun games for families and gamers alike.  I've enjoyed the TMG games that I have played, and I hope there are more to come.  A few are in need of an expansion, and I hope TMG focuses on building up their existing product line as well as adding quality to it.

#6 Gryphon Games (Part of FRED distribution)
I've enjoyed many Gryphon games, from the non-gamer favorites of For Sale and Can't Stop to the slightly heavier Roll Through the Ages.  Gryphon Games targets casual gamers who are looking for an enjoyable play experience in a relatively short time. (Under 1 hour, typically around 30 minutes)  Games that are fun and short tend to be a hit with people of all ages and gaming backgrounds.  I really appreciate having games like that around, since I can introduce them to people and play almost instantly.

#5 Wizkids
Wizkids is fairly new to boardgame publishing, but they've made a big splash.  When they acquired the Star Trek license, my Trek fanboy heart was overjoyed.  When I saw what they did with Star Trek Fleet Captains, and to a lesser extent, Star Trek Expeditions, I was simply amazed.  Wizkids has been in the HeroClix business for a long time, so they're no stranger to amazing sculpts of characters and vessels from a variety of properties.  Wizkids has published some very strong games in their short existence, including the highly innovated Quarriors, and the highly intriguing Mage Knight.  They're a company on the rise, and I look forward to seeing what the have in store.

#4 Rio Grande Games (RGG)
RGG is best known for Carcassonne and Dominion, which are two games I rate highly and enjoy.  Those two games also show the two paths that RGG has taken in game publishing.  In their early days, RGG was primarily a game importer.  They sought out great games in Europe and brought them over to the US.  With Dominion and Race for the Galaxy, RGG started publishing some of their own games.  I've greatly enjoyed this shift, since I'm not a huge fan of "euro" games.  RGG has a good blend of games, and I think they're a company that offers something for everyone.

#3 Z-Man Games
Z-Man takes the shotgun scatter approach to games.  They like to publish a lot of games and see what sticks with their audience.  There isn't anything inherently wrong with this approach, though it can lead to some good games not getting the recognition they deserve.  The best Z-Man game I've played is Pandemic, but they have published a lot of other really good games: Agricola, 1960, Ascending Empires, Ares Project, No Thanks, Neuroshima Hex, and countless others.

#2 Fantasy Flight Games (FFG)
FFG is best known for large scale productions.  Twilight Imperium, Descent, StarCraft, Rune Wars, and many more.  I've yet to play one of their "coffin box" games, choosing to focus my efforts on some of their smaller games, such as Cosmic Encounter and Space Hulk: Death Angel the card game.  FFG is well known for stunning production quality.  They put a great effort into miniatures which make their big games look fantastic.  FFG is also known for their LCG (Limited Card Game) lines.  They have taken the business model of a randomly distributed card game and modified it with predefined chapter packs.  This allows everyone to own all the cards for a set price.  FFG has a superb commitment to quality and growth in the board game industry, and a propensity for expansions.  

#1 Days of Wonder (DOW)
DOW has made some truly great games, Ticket to Ride and Shadows over Camelot are two of my favorites.  Every DOW game that I've played, I've liked.  There are some that are better than others, but all of them have something to offer.  DOW focuses on superb quality and a very small quantity.  This keeps people coming back from more, without feeling that they could never keep up with the flow of new releases.