Monday, November 26, 2012

Collection Building: Animal Games

This is a departure from the other Collection Building articles.  Today the focus is on the theme of animals rather than a game mechanic or a situation in which a game can be used.  Animals tend to fascinate many children.  There is so much to learn about the fellow inhabitants of planet earth.  There is a wide variety of animal games, and many more games that I don't know about than I do know about.  As such, this is not a comprehensive list, but a guide to my experiences with animal games, and hopefully it will guide your journey into the animal kingdom.

The 2007 German Game of the Year (SDJ) winner for good reason.  Zooloretto allows players to take control of their own zoo.  This means that they must acquire animals and kiosks for their zoo while balancing limited funds and restricted space.  Animals include Elephants, Monkeys, Cheetahs, and Zebras.  The game plays in around an hour and works for 3-5 players. I wouldn't play with kids much younger than 8 since there is some strategy to learn.

The sequel to Zooloretto, except now players are in charge of a marine park.  Animals include Dolphins, Whales, Sea Lions, Polar Bears, and Sea Turtles.  This was a great game for my sister since she loves dolphins.  The scoring rules are a little more complicated than Zooloretto, since the performing animals act differently than normal ones, but it isn't too much more to learn.  Acquaretto plays in around an hour and works for 3-5 players.

A fun and educational game all about animal trivia.  Wait, it's not that boring.  Sure, the game does require thought, but it's not that hard.  Here's how the game works.  The top half of a card is displayed with a picture of an animal, the genus and species name, as well as how many areas the animal is found in.  Players then take turns placing marker cubes on the board in areas they think the animal is in, as well as ranges for weight, height/length, and tail length.  After all players place their cubes or pass, then the card is pulled and the right answers are awarded points.  If you're wrong, but you happen to be adjacent to a right answer, you get some points.  The game goes until a certain point level is reached, or for a certain number of rounds, depends on how you want to play it.  I was able to play this on Thanksgiving night with one of my uncles, a cousin, my dad and my sister.  My uncle, who does not play games, really enjoyed it.  It helps that he's a HS science teacher, but he asked to play it again for Christmas, which is a really good sign.  Fauna plays in around 30-45 minutes with 2-6 players, though I find it best with 4-5.

This is a card game with an animal theme.  There are some really cool animal figures, but the theme doesn't shine through.  Still, kids will have fun with a simple card game, especially since there are animals around.  There is some strategy, but also a good amount of luck.  Botswana plays in around 30 minutes with 2-5 players, best with 3-4.

Price Wars

Botswana is really the best bang for your buck.  I can't speak to the replayability, but it seems high to me.  If you want a more immersive experience, go with Zooloretto or Aquaretto.  If you have kids that just love everything animal, go with Fauna.

My overall pick, Botswana.  It likely appeals to the most people, and has a lower price point.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Top 7 Games to take on Holiday

As American Thanksgiving approaches, and the December holidays grow ever closer, I wanted to talk about good games to take with you to family gatherings.  Most family gatherings won't consist of "gamers" but they may consist of people who are willing to play games.  As such, it's good to have some short games to play, games that are really easy to learn, and maybe even some games where it doesn't matter if people come in and out since it's a busy time.

#7 No Thanks
Plays with 3-5 players. No Thanks takes around 15 minutes to play.  It's all about knowing when to pass, and when to take cards.  It's quick to explain, really simple choices, and doesn't require full attention from all players at all times.

#6 For Sale
Plays with 3-6 players. A quick auction game.  Players bid on houses, then use the houses to earn money.  It's a fast auction game, good for a few laughs with the various artwork on the houses, and good for gamers and newbies alike.

#5 Tsuro
Plays with 2-8 players.  A game of last man standing.  Players play tiles to move their marker on the board.  If you run off the board or into another player, you're out.  Really simple to learn and do well in from your first play.

#4 Dixit
Depending on the version you have, plays 3-6 or 3-12 players.  Dixit is a storytelling game with quick play and amazing artwork.  When you're the storyteller, you give a clue about your card, then put it in the center.  All other players then put a card in.  All cards are revealed and players try to pick which card belongs to the storyteller.  It's a great game for kids of all ages, especially ones with vivid imaginations, but adults will get a kick out of it too.

#3 Wits and Wagers Party
Plays with 4+ players. If you have a large group, break into teams.  Wits and Wagers is a trivia game where you don't need to know the answers, just have a ballpark idea.  The questions are things that most people won't know, but might have a reasonable guess about.  7 rounds keeps the game short but interesting, and the questions may spark some conversation.

#2 Ticket to Ride
Plays with 3-5 players.  Ticket is the most complicated game on the list, but that's not a bad thing.  It's probably not great for little kids, but for the teenager and up, the game makes sense.  There's only 3 things you can do on your turn: draw cards, play cards, get more tickets.  You really only have to decide between the first two most turns.  The game takes around an hour, but it's a great game to introduce the family into the world of boardgames.

#1 Incan Gold
Plays 3-8 players.  Incan Gold is a push your luck game.  With each card, you must decide if you want to take what you have and run, or risk it and try to find more treasure.  The game plays for 5 rounds, so even if you don't do well in a round or two, you still have a chance.  Incan Gold takes a play to see it work, but most people say "let's play again" after they learn.  It's a great game for a larger group, and a lot of collective emotion as cards come out.

Friday, November 16, 2012

2012 Christmas Game Guide

As a reviewer, I'm frequently talking about different games.  I give my opinions on games, and try to give you ideas of what to buy for yourself or others.  So why a Christmas shopping list?  Well, a few thoughts.  First, it's nice to have a set of recommendations in one place.  Second, it's a lot easier to point people to a list rather than a blog and say read reviews.

These are my thoughts, with the help of some friends, especially Nick, Rose, and BGG user stevepwalker.

Formatting note, each category has 5 games in it, except for the Personal Favorites.  Those games are ordered alphabetically, not in an order of preference.  There are no repeats on the list, but there are games that would work in more than one category.

Personal Favorites
These are games that are great in a variety of situations.  They're things that most casual gamers should have in their collection.  They are games I've enjoyed, and they work for a lot of different people and situations.
  • 7 Wonders - A card driven civilization building game.  Many different paths to take in the game: Merchant, Science, Warfare, Buildings.  Plays in around 45 minutes, less as you play more.
  • Dominion - The grandfather of deckbuilding games.  Play cards to gain more cards, and ultimately victory points.  Plays in roughly 30 minutes, depends on the set of cards.
  • For Sale - Quick auction game.  Bid on properties, use those properties to gain checks, try to make the most money. 
  • Incan Gold - Push your luck game with a great sense of adventure.  Knowing when to run is key in the game.  Lots of fun for all ages and all types of players.
  • Settlers of Catan - One of the classics of modern gaming.  Compete to gather resources, build roads, settlements, and cities.  Be the first to 10 points and you win.  Lots of luck, good amount of skill.
  • Ticket to Ride - Another classic of modern gaming.  Build routes on the map to complete tickets.  Have a network of trains to complete lots of tickets.  Easy to learn, quick to play.

Family Games for Young Children
These are primarily meant as games that young children can play with their siblings and/or parents.  I don't have much experience here, but I thought some ideas on this category would be helpful.
  • Animal Upon Animal - A simple game of stacking animals on each other.  It's hard to do well, but simple to play and understand.
  • Botswana - A card game about gathering animals.
  • Forbidden Island - A co-op game(everyone works together) about gathering treasure on a sinking island.
  • Loopin' Louie - Perhaps more of a toy with a game connected. Players try to make the plane land in someone else's farm.  The plane steals chickens until only one player has chickens left.
  • Sorry Sliders - Players slide pawns down a track, trying to score points in the center area.  Somewhat similar to Curling, but with much simpler scoring.
Family Games for Older Children
As kids get older, they're able to play more complicated games.  Here are some games that are fun for kids and adults.  These games offer a challenge, but are also light enough that people won't be upset.  The themes are also kid friendly.
  • The Adventurers - Ever wanted to feel like Indiana Jones? This really is the game for you. Avoid the walls closing in, the giant boulder running you down, lava pits, a rapid river and a rickety bridge.
  • Castle Panic - A Co-op tower defense game.  Work together as a team to defeat goblins, trolls, and other fantasy evils.
  • Say Anything Family - Ever wonder which boy band is the best, or which Disney princess in your dad's favorite.  This is a great way to find out.  Lots of fun questions, and players can write anything they want as an answer.
  • Word on the Street - A tug-of-war of words.  Work in teams to spell long words that fit the category.  
  • Zooloretto - Ever wonder what it might be like to run your own zoo?  Zooloretto gives each player a chance to see how well they'd do as a zookeeper. 
Games for all Ages
These are games for families, for kids, for adults, basically, whoever plays games.  They're not the most complex, but they are fun, and fairly short.
  • Can't Stop - A push-your-luck dice game.  You roll 4 dice, combine 2 dice to make numbers, and then move that marker up. You only get 3 markers each round, and if you don't roll your numbers you lose. You can freeze after any roll, so there is an interesting choice to be made.
  • Flash Point: Fire Rescue - Save people, and pets, from a burning building.  It's a great theme, a good challenge, and has good replayability.  
  • King of Tokyo - A game of King of the Hill with all the randomness of a Godzilla movie.  Players are trying to destroy each other and the city of Tokyo.  
  • Shadows Over Camelot - A Co-op game in the times of King Arthur.  Work together to fight the forces of evil, defeat the black night, find Excalibur and the Holy Grail, hold off the Picts and Saxons.  And if that wasn't hard enough, there might be a traitor amongst you.
  • Smash Up - A faction card game with minions and actions.  Minions are played to bases to earn points for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place.  There are fun combinations of decks, like Ninja Dinosaurs, Alien Wizards, and Pirate Zombies.  Each faction plays differently, and each combination of two makes for an interesting game.
Stocking Stuffers
These are relatively inexpensive games, I believe all are under $20, perhaps even $10. They're quick to play, and work in various situations.
  • 6 Nimmt/Category 5 - A quick card game involving numbers.  Play is fast, everyone is gathering cards but trying to keep their totals low.
  • Bananagrams - A different take on the classic Scrabble.  Awesome carrying pouch, and no letter points make the game play faster and easier.
  • Mr. Jack Pocket - A simplified card version of Mr. Jack. Jack tries to stay hidden as long as he can, while the inspector hunts him down.  Good for 2 players.
  • No Thanks! - A quick card game with numbers. Players use chips to pass on cards or take cards.  Cards are points at the end of the game, but like golf, the low score wins.  Chips are negative, and when you take a card with chips, you gain the chips as well.  Make a run of cards and only the lowest card in that run scores.
  • The Resistance - An interesting deduction/find the traitor game.  Plays quickly and doesn't feature player elimination like Werewolf/Mafia does.
Games for Teenagers/Young Adults
I'm thinking of games I was able to play in High School and College, plus some new games that would have been great for those groups.  A lot of the family games would work here as well.  The biggest thing for this category is theme.  13-25 is a time of life where most people, guys especially, want some theme in their games.  Theme helps draw people in.  These are all games with fun themes and good gameplay to back it up.
  • Battlestar Galactica - Amazing theme incorporation, often a tense game, superb with 5 players.
  • Munchkin - A fun card game. Very random, fairly light. If players don't take it too serious, it's a fun game.
  • Risk Legacy - This is THE GAME to buy for someone who loves Risk.  It's such a different game experience while holding on to the same mechanics.  It's still dice rolling and armies all over the place, but the game will end.  It's a matter of points and objectives not just take over the world.
  • Small World - A fairly quick (~45-60 minutes) combat game. Players use combinations of fantasy races and powers to stay on the map and earn points.  Eventually all good things must come to an end, but new things come out.  Combat is simple, turns are quick, but choices are meaningful.
  • Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game - If you have a son/father/brother/nephew/husband/fiancè/etc. who loves Star Wars, buy this for them.  They will love it.  This is Star Wars space battles in a box.  There's a lot of room to expand, but this is a great place for anyone to start.
Couples games
These are all 2-player games. They come recommended to me by several couples.  I will say that I am not an expert, or even a novice here.  Really, Games with Two is your best resource for couples games in general.
  • Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small - I haven't played this, but the wonderful people over at Games With Two did a fantastic review.  Here's the Link.
  • Lost Cities - An adventure game using numbers to gain points on various trips.  You have to play cards in ascending order, and once you skip something you can never go back.  Several interesting choices in the game.
  • Hive - A tile game where each piece type has a different power associated with it.  I've only played it on the iOS, but it's a challenging game, and a good battle of wits.
  • Kahuna - Players use cards to place or remove bridges from various islands.  If you gain the majority around an island, you take control of that island and remove your opponent's bridges to that island.  That action might cause them to lose a majority on another island, and the ripple effect ensues.
  • Mr. Jack - A deduction game that uses special character abilities.  Jack the Ripper assumes a hidden identity which the inspector attempts to uncover.  Jack tries to escape under the cover of darkness, or last 8 turns, in either case he wins.
Games for the Non-Gamer
These are some ideas for games to get someone who isn't already a gamer.  They may never become a hardcore gamer, but these are some fun games that are easy to learn, play in under 30 minutes, and work for a variety of people.
  • Beyond Balderdash - A hilarious game about making things up while trying to sound like the official answer.  Balderdash is just definitions of words, Beyond Balderdash extends that to dates, places, and all kinds of other things.
  • Blokus - A great game for visual spacial people.  The puzzle pieces are tricky to get in the board, and other players often mess you up, but it's a great challenge.
  • Ingenious - This is a big matching game. The challenge comes as space gets tighter and your options decrease.  There's a lot of planning, but also choices to be made each turn.
  • Qwirkle - Place tiles in rows and columns with either the same color or the same shape, just no doubles.  Gain extra points for making a Qwirkle (all 6 pieces in a row/column)
  • Take it Easy - Similar to Bingo, but all skill instead of the random luck of numbers.  It's a puzzle game, and no direct interaction, but a true challenge of a game.
Games for the Zombie/Horror Enthusiast
I am not personally one of these people, but I know Zombies are a big thing lately, and there are several games that use the theme to varying degrees of success. The same goes for the horror genre, though I've played some of those games.  
  • Arkham Horror - This is the biggest game for the category.  It's a mega co-op game.  There are bunches of cards and even more tokens.  There are also around a dozen expansions.  It's a fantastic game for Lovecraft fans, and a solid game for people looking for a deep co-op experience.
  • Elder Sign - Set in the Arkham Horror universe, Elder Sign is a co-op dice game.  The challenge is to collect Elder Signs before an evil one awakens, wreaking all kinds of havoc.  Players use cards, strategy, and lots of luck to complete quests and earn items crucial to their success.  This is by no means easy, but it is a good challenge.
  • Give Me the Brain - Ever wonder what would happen if a bunch of Zombies ran a fast food restaurant? Well, this game gives you the opportunity to find out.  It's a fairly quick card game where you try to get rid of your cards as quickly as you can.
  • Last Night on Earth - A team game of humans versus zombies.  Humans are trying to escape/survive/kill zombies based on the scenario.  Gameplay is simple, lots of dice, and some fun to be had.
  • Mansions of Madness - An investigation game where players much seek out clues, avoid monsters, and try to escape with their sanity intact.  
Party Games
These are games that work for a large group of people.  They're meant to be loud and energetic games with a lot of laughs.
  • Bang - A wild west shoot the bad guy game.  The sheriff is known to all players, but all other players are hidden.  The outlaws try to kill the sheriff while the good guys try to kill all the outlaws.
  • Dixit Odyssey - Any Dixit works, Odyssey plays with the most people.  Dixit has amazing artwork, and draws on players imagination and story-telling abilities.  Even if you're not a good storyteller, or a creative person in general, this game is still a lot of fun.
  • Mafia/Werewolf - A hidden identity and player role game.  The werewolves/Mafia know who each other are, but the "regular" people have no clue who is who.  The "bad" guys get a kill every night, and then the group as a whole can take someone out during the day for suspicions of being the "bad" guy.  It's an interesting exercise in group think
  • Telestrations / Eat Poop You Cat - Words into a picture or a picture into words.  The game is a hilarious example of how bad communication is amongst people, especially when you can't draw.  There are no real winners or losers here, just a great way to spend time and recount things at the end.
  • Wits and Wagers Party - A trivia game where you don't really have to know anything.  Sure, having an idea about things is good, but these questions are set-up so that you don't have to know it exactly in order to do well.  The game plays fast, but there's room for discussion and chat.  It also helps to know those around you, so when that random movie question comes up, you know to bet on the movie "expert." Or when the science question comes up, you bet on the guy who's taught HS science for 20 years. The better version of Trivial Pursuit.
Games Released in 2012 that are Worth a Look, Even Though We Haven't Played Them Much or At All.
  • Descent 2.0 - An update to the dungeon crawl game Descent.  The game is designed for fast play, has an optional campaign mode, streamlined combat.  
  • Love Letter - A game of risk, deduction, and luck. You're trying to deliver a letter to the Princess, and stop others from doing the same.  You have to balance powerful and weak cards to not be too much of a target, but not so weak that you can't deliver the letter.
  • Mice and Mystics - A dungeon adventure for intrepid mice. Yes mice, not men, well, mice who were once men who are trying to become men again.  Here, rats, roaches and the dreaded cat are the dangers that lurk in the castle.  This game has a unique twist on the dungeon adventure and a great family friendly theme.
  • Seasons - Like the name might suggest, this is a game played over several seasons, which each season affecting players in different ways.  There is a lot of card drafting, a good mix of luck and skill, and adapting to new challenges.
  • Suburbia - In a way, this is Sim City the boardgame.  Then the game launches in new ways that truly make it a boardgame.  
Games for Gamers
There's a lot of variety in games that gamers will like. What this category attempts to do is give some games, both new and old, that should appeal to a wide variety of gamers
  • Agricola - A classic Euro style game with a lot of replayability.  Players act as a farmer, balancing growing crops, raising animals, procuring resources for the home, and feeding their family.  There are a lot of choices to be made here, and not everything can always be done.
  • Black Friday - A Stock Market manipulation game.  There are a lot of ways to adjust the market, a lot of back and forth, fighting to increase the value of a good so you can sell it for more, or lower it, so your opponent's stash is less valuable.  The game can get a bit mathy, but it's money, so not too bad.
  • Cosmic Encounter - The grandfather of variable player powers.  Cosmic is a negotiation game with a streamlined combat system.  There's a ton of chaos, but it's mostly controlled chaos.
  • Power Grid - Another economic game with a twist.  Players purchase power plants to power cities and buy resources to power the power plants. Power plants involve an auction, purchasing resources is done from a market so that the player who is "losing" pays the least for resources.
  • Twilight Struggle - A political game that recreates the cold war.  Twilight Struggle is tense, has a lot going on, and will actually teach you a thing or two about the cold war era.  
Where to actually buy the games.
There are several places to buy these games.  Target, Toys R Us and Barnes & Nobles carry some of these games, but not all.  Amazon has just about every game listed here but can often be a little expensive.
I personally recommend these online sites

I hope these give you some great ideas for games to buy for those around you.
61 games should give you some ideas.  For some other thoughts and opinions, check out Games with Two's list which you can find on their blog

My Best of the Best Games to Buy This Holiday Season

  1. Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures
  2. Incan Gold
  3. Ticket to Ride
  4. Dixit
  5. Flash Point Fire Rescue
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you. May your days be spent with the ones you love.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Have Games, Will Travel

Today (November 11th) I had the opportunity to travel to play some games with a new group.  This meant traveling around an hour each way, but it was worthwhile.  I managed to get a carpool for half the distance, which made it less driving for me, and some good company.  It also meant getting some good tacos on the way home, but I don't want to turn into Games and Grub here.

Now, traveling an hour for games isn't something I normally do, nor is it going to be something I do often, but every once in a long while is ok.  I've been in contact with a game store owner in the area about running an X-Wing tournament, so today served as a demo day and a chance to gauge more interest.  I'm pleased to report that I ran a few demos, and had a couple of people interested in the tournament.

On the drive back, I was talking with the store owner about things, and he wants to run a tournament of games.  That would involve playing different games over a series of rounds.  For instance, one round you'd play Dominion, the next Ticket to Ride, and so on.  Players would get points based on their finishing order, so there's reasons to fight for 2nd or 3rd.  The last round would be a showdown between the top scorers for various prizes.  I think this is a really neat idea for a tournament, and a fun way to showcase different games.

I believe that this is the longest trip I've made for the sole purpose of playing games.  I've had longer trips where I ended up playing games, but those were more about seeing friends from college.  This weekend has turned into a great one for games.  I hit 13 plays over the course of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Since tomorrow is a day off of work, there should be some more gaming, and then there's Monday night game night. Can I have a 20 play weekend?  It would sure go a long way towards 300.
As it stands, I'm back on pace, and that makes me a happy gamer.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Use the Force - A Review of X-Wing

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game
  • Designed by Jason Little
  • Published by Fantasy Flight Games
  • For 2 players, but you can really play with any number, so long as the fleets are balanced.
  • Playtime depends on what you're doing, most base matches will take 20-30 minutes, larger games run longer, it depends on how large you make it. Figure 60-90 minutes for most matches.

Back of the box
First off, don't let the title "Miniatures game" scare you off.  X-Wing plays a lot more like a board game than a traditional miniatures game.
X-Wing is a dogfighting game.  Players make moves, take actions, fly around in space, all with the goal of shooting the other guy down in flames.  It may not be an accurate space combat simulation, but wow does this feel like Star Wars.
Review Note: I'll be talking about the game in a couple different ways.  I've played some games with just the core set, but I currently have 2 core sets, and one of each of the wave 1 expansion ships.  I'll do my best to note where expansions come in to play.

Core Set: 1 X-Wing, 2 Tie Fighters, and all the components you need to actually play the game.  This includes movement markers, special tokens, attack and defense dice, ship cards, and a few upgrades.
My storage solution
Each Expansion: 1 Ship, a movement dial, unique(to the ship) pilots, some upgrade cards, assorted tokens. For instance, the Y-Wing comes with an Ion Cannon token.
Really, the pictures tell the story when it comes to components.

Storage pt. 2
Here's how turns work. All players select a movement on a movement dial for each of their ships.  Starting with the lowest pilot skill and going up, players reveal their move, use the movement guide to execute the maneuver, and then select an action to perform.  After all ships have moved, the highest pilot skill, and going down, makes an attack if they can.  Attacking is simple, roll dice equal to your attack value, 1 extra if you're at close range, while the defense rolls defense dice equal to their defense value, 1 extra if they're at far range.  If the attacker rolls more hits than the defense can evade, the defending ship suffers damage.  When you've taken damage equal to your hull rating, your ship goes boom.

The game offers a handful of scenarios, which I've yet to try.  I've been playing last man standing, which is a fun way to play.

X-Wing is full of interaction.  It's a game of out-thinking your opponent, trying to get the tactical edge, and exploit it.  It's a little slow at first, but the game quickly picks up and turns into a knock-down, drag-out fight.

X-Wing is Star Wars.  It may not be perfect, they're lacking a trench run scenario, which I feel is crucial, but it really feels like Star Wars.  Sure, it's not the same as reliving some of the battles using a video game, I was a big fan of the Rogue Squadron series, but this is a great tabletop adaptation.

Learning Curve
There's a medium learning curve.  There are intro rules, but they are very basic.  Still, if you've never played advanced boardgames, the intro rules give you a great jumping in point.  The full rulebook is involved.  There are a lot of things to understand, so it's best to take it step by step.  It may take a couple of games to start to understand what's going on, but you'll get there.

Why I like X-Wing
I've played Wings of War, which is a World War 1 and 2 dogfighting game.  I liked the game, but there were a lot of convoluted things going on. X-Wing is fairly simple.  Sure it takes some time, but the rules don't feel overwhelming.  The theme comes through amazingly.  I'd say the only game with a better theme incorporation, that I've played, is Star Trek Fleet Captains.
Why I don't like X-Wing
Price point.  Core sets are reasonable, ~$25 online for 3 ships plus a whole lot of cardboard isn't bad at all.  After that though, each miniature is $10-$12 online, $15 MSRP.  Now, I know that hand-painted minis are pricy, and these figures are worth it, but it can get expensive to have a large game, particularly if you don't have fellow players investing.

Depends on what you have.  The core set offers 3 scenarios, plus dogfighting and some customization with pilots and upgrades.  This is a great amount if you play it as a 2 player game and just as an occasional Star Wars fix.
The Tie Advance is just out of firing range
Once you add in extra ships, the replayability grows exponentially.  First, you'll want to play more often because the game just feels that awesome. Secondly, there are new challenges with fleet construction and point matches to keep things interesting for a long time.

The before and after of a maneuver
I think X-Wing is a great design.  It uses the license to full effect and has me, and many others, eagerly anticipating future ships.  The models are gorgeous, the gameplay is solid, though a bit random at times.  The game plays quickly, but allows for longer matches if players desire.  It really is flexible to whatever you're looking to get out of a skirmish game.  If you're even a bit of a Star Wars fan, you need to check this out.  

Also, the future is bright with this game.  Wave 2, due out in February, will bring in A-Wings, Tie Interceptors, Slave 1, and the Millennium Falcon.

Who knows what Wave 3 will have, odds are B-Wings and Tie Bombers.  After that, the possibilities are fewer for cannon, but they have so many places they can go.

*Note, all photos were taken on the back of my custom Star Trek Fleet Captain's Board. I thought the black made for a good setting.  
The box I use for storage is a Plano 5231. I'm probably going to get a 2nd one when I get more ships for the game.

Want to buy X-Wing product and support BoBG?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Did Someone Call for a Sleuth? A Looting London Review

Looting London
  • Designed by Reiner Knizia
  • Published by Gryphon Games (Bookshelf #7)
  • Plays with 2-5
  • Plays in around 30 minutes

London has been looted! Five of its rarest treasures have been stolen on the same night: one of the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London, gold reserves from the Bank of England, top secret files from Big Ben, a priceless Incan artifact from the British Museum, and a Van Gogh from the National Gallery.  You are a famous London sleuth; can you interview the four witnesses, gather their clues, apprehend the thieves and recover the loot? - Description from BGG

Looting London has two main components, witness cards and evidence tiles.  The cards are nothing to write home about, but not bad either.  The evidence tiles are high quality, thick, good weight, perfect size.  Overall the components are good, not great.

Insides of the box
In Looting London, players compete to gain evidence. Each evidence tile is worth points at the end of the game, except for the mystery that doesn't get solved.  There are five mysteries in the game, but only enough time to solve four of them.  Any effort put in to the fifth is worthless, but players don't know which one won't score.  
On a turn, a player has 3 options.  They can take an witness card, they can play a set of cards to take an evidence tile, or they may destroy a piece of evidence.  To destroy evidence, a player must play a matching pair of cards, and then claim an evidence tile using additional cards.  When all evidence tiles of a given crime have been claimed, there is a bonus disk given to the player with the most evidence for that crime.  At the end, players add up all points on evidence tiles and bonus disks of the 4 solved crimes, most points wins the game.

Witness cards
There's a bit of interaction in the game.  Players are able to see what evidence has been collected by each of their opponents, so they can try to manipulate the board so that a certain crime won't be solved.  The ability to destroy evidence can also hurt someone in their quest to solve a crime, and it acts as a good defense when you have the lead in a crime.

The theme is pasted on.  It could just as easily be five colors with 4 painters, but the theme works in the game.  I don't really feel like I'm solving a mystery, not like Clue, Mystery Express or Mystery of the Abbey, but I like the theme incorporation.

Learning Curve
Evidence tiles and a sample board setup
Looting London has a short-medium or a medium-short learning curve.  The rules are simple enough, but the strategy takes awhile to come out.  There are some exceptions which make learning the game a bit more of a process.  My group had to consult the rulebook a few times when we first learned, which while not a bad thing, isn't the ideal situation for a small game.

Why I like Looting London
I really like the scoring system.  Having a crime that doesn't score keeps the game interesting.  If all 5 scored, it would be an exercise in random card draws, and a complete math puzzle.  It's also an interesting challenge to decide when to destroy evidence, and which pieces to go after.

Why I don't like Looting London
It's a bit slow for my tastes.  Only drawing one card per turn really does slow things down.  There's a reason games like Ticket to Ride use 2 per turn.  It also has the occasional situation where you know you've lost, there's nothing you can do, yet you're in a situation where you can decide who wins.  I really don't care for the "kingmaker" position.  It can also happen more often than you think.

It all depends on how often you want to play it.  I played it several times in one day, going for their 3 game super sleuth variant, which was fun, but then it kinda burned out.  That was over a year ago and it hasn't been played since.  I'd give it another go though.

I'm going with "meh" here.  Looting London isn't the best in the bookshelf series, but it isn't the worst.  It offers a reasonable game a few times, but it's not something that I'll ever play 50 times.  I'm keeping it for now, but it's own the short list for removal if space becomes an issue.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Collection Building: Card Games

Since the mid 1990's there have been a slew of Collectible Card games or CCGs as they're commonly referred to.  For awhile, I got in to the Star Trek CCG with my cousins.  That was a fun bonding experience and made for some awesome Friday nights hunting down the Future Enterprise (the first Ultra Rare)

In 2008, things changed.  Two major paths started in gaming. The first, the Limited Card game.  Buy a core set, buy chapter packs as they were released, but nothing is random.  I like the model, since it lets you control your costs.  The second path was the deckbuilding game.  Instead of building a deck outside of the game and playing it, the game was all about building that deck.

Dominion introduced the deckbuilding mechanic.  The base game had everything you needed to play with up to 4 people.  Then there were expansions which added, and added, and added, to the possibilities in any given game.  Now, one would think that with all those expansions Dominion would become impossible to learn.  And they'd be right, if it wasn't for the clever mechanic that there are only ever 10 special cards in any given game.  This keeps the game easy to learn and quick to play.  It also adds near infinite replayabilty, to the point where you could never play every single possible game using all the cards.

Eminent Domain
Eminent Domain added building to the deckbuilding concept.  In Em-Do, players build up an empire of planets.  These planets give bonuses, produce resources, and help with technology.  Speaking of technology, there's an interesting and deep tech tree in the game which gives it added depth.  Em-Do is still simple because there are only 5 things you can possibly do on your turn.  It's also highly interactive because you can do something on other players' turns.

Race for the Galaxy
RftG follows in the shoes of San Juan(the card game, not the place).  Each round, players select an action.  Then all players take each of those actions, with the player who selected the action getting a bonus.  The goal is to gain the most points through colonizing planets, researching developments and selling resources.  The game uses cards for almost everything.  Each card is either a development or a planet.  Players use cards in their hand to pay for the developments and planets.  They place a card facedown from the deck when they produce a resource. When they trade a resource they take cards from the deck.  Using cards for everything, except points, is an interesting feature of the game.  I like that it offers you more choices, even with a limited hand of cards.  It also keeps the extraneous components down, which is a plus when it comes to table space.  The one knock I have on Race for the Galaxy is the lack of interaction.  I know that the 2nd expansion offers rules for takeovers, but it's so limited, the rules are more trouble than they're worth.  The more I played, I tried to anticipate what other players would select for their actions so I could combo off that, but with so few action choices, this rarely made a huge difference to me.

Cue the collective groan in 3,2,1....
Ok, now that you've got that out of the way, let me talk about Fluxx for a minute.  The game is random, it's often crazy, and it can take forever to play, but it is simple to teach, easy for people to get into, and it offers a lot of theme choices.  I personally like Monty Python Fluxx.  I think the trap that many of us fall into with Fluxx is playing with too many expansions mixed together.  You can do it, but what you're really doing is prolonging the game.  What I've done with Fluxx is institute a 1 hour time cap.  If no one has won in one hour, we either end it right away, or do something that everyone can agree on, like one last turn. Typically I go with the person who has the most keepers at that point wins.

Sure, let out another groan. I'll wait.
Better? Good.
Munchkin is a decent game under a couple of circumstances.  1. Do not consult the rulebook other than at the start of the game. 2. Keep things moving.  3. Don't waste cards early, level 3 is not the time to make a stand against someone, level 8 or 9 is.
For those of you who've never heard of or played Munchkin, here's the brief rundown.  You go into a dungeon, fight bad guys, have bad things happen to you, gain treasure and gain levels. First person to level 10 wins.  What frequently occurs is that players get to level 9 and then all the bad cards come out to stop them.  At that point it becomes a game of luck to see who can get a monster to fight when people don't have bad cards to hurt them.  I don't have any great solutions outside of this; it happens, so factor it in to your strategy.  Also, you can clamp down on the hand limit, which should keep things moving as well.

Price Wars

From a pure price standpoint, Fluxx wins out, but you're doing yourself an injustice if you think that's all there is to card games.  Dominion is a good game, but it's not for the budget conscious, because you will want to buy more expansions.  Race for the Galaxy is good, but again, expansions drive the price up.  If you want a relatively cheap card game, go for Eminent Domain.

I personally take Dominion because I have the expansions.  If I only had base Dominion, it wouldn't be my pick.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Indiana Jones and the Quest for Incan Gold: A review of Incan Gold

Incan Gold
  • Designed by Bruno Faidutti and Alan Moon
  • Published by Gryphon Games (Bookshelf Game #6)
  • Plays with 3-8 players
  • Plays in around 15-25 minutes

Incan Gold is a press your luck game.  The game is played over 5 rounds in which players are adventuring in a temple.  The goal is to get more treasure out than any of your opponents.  However, if you set off a trap, you lose everything from the round.  

What you get inside the box
In a word, excellent.  The tents for each player to store their gems are a really neat thing.  The gems are a neat bit of shiny for everyone to go after, much better than just little tokens or numbers.  The art on the cards is good.  The cards for staying or going can be a little confusing, but that's the only bad thing to me.

Here's how a round works. Turn over a card which will be a trap, an artifact, or treasure.  If it's treasure, divide the gems evenly, place any that can't be divided on the card.  If it's the first copy of a trap, nothing happens.  If it's the second copy of a trap, then everyone left in the temple gets nothing for the round.  After a card is turned over, all players secretly choose whether to go further or return to camp.  If they return, they split all the left over gems with anyone else who ran away.  
A Tent, the runaway card(L) and
the go forward card (R)
The last thing is the artifact cards.  These go to the first person to run away alone in a round.  The first 3 are worth 5 points, and the 4th and 5th are worth 10 points.  One treasure gets added to the deck every round, so the odds shift to the good side of things as the game progresses.  
I really like the mechanics in Incan Gold.  They're simple, the game has a good tension, but it isn't excruciating.  

This is probably the best game I have for figuring out what other people are going to do.  The mind game of figuring out should I stay or should I go, gets far more complicated when you have to figure out if someone else is staying or going.

I'm not a huge fan of temple adventuring, mummies, snakes, spiders, etc. but I do like it in small doses.  Incan Gold hits that mark perfectly for me.  The theme is there enough to be fun, but not so much as to make you overly invested.  This keeps the game really light and moving quickly.  

Learning Curve 
Short.  The idea of push your luck isn't too complicated.  It may take a game for someone to really get a good sense of when to stay and when to run, but as far as someone learning how to play, it doesn't take long.  I think my average teaching time for this is around 3 minutes, and people may have further questions, but I can't recall anyone ever being lost.

Why I like Incan Gold
The 5 artifact cards
This is one of those games I can play with just about anyone.  The game is simple to teach, and simple to play.  There are some choices that players have to make, but decisions aren't absolutely right or wrong.  There's enough luck in the game to keep things interesting, and people coming back for more.

Why I don't like Incan Gold
Examples of traps and treasure.
2 snakes means the round is over.
Sometimes there's a bit too much luck.  You can make all the "right" decisions based on the odds, gut feelings, whatever method you choose, but it won't pay off.  It's also irritating to run and then have 2 other people go with you.  It's hard to play catch-up if you fall far behind, though at that point I try playing for 2nd, or 3rd, or just not to be last.

The 5 traps.
You wouldn't think that a game with 35 cards and one choice (go forward or run away) would be that replayable, but it is.  I've played Incan Gold 29 times, and I'll keep playing it.  It's turned into a great staple at game night since it accommodates so many players.

2 Thumbs way up.  This is a keeper of keepers for me.  Anything that plays with a lot of players and plays relatively fast is on my radar.  Incan Gold does this better than anything else I've played.  It's fast, it's tense, it's fun.  What more do you want?

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