Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Top 7 Games I Could Talk About for a Very Long Time

We all have games that we have strong opinions about, at least I think most of us do.  Well, I have a fair number of games that I like or dislike for various reasons.  Some wouldn't shock you based on how often I talk about them on this blog, but others might surprise you.  I'm going to try to keep my explanations brief, else this article would take an hour to read, and I don't want to do that to anyone.

#7 Shadows Over Camelot
There's so much going on in this co-op game.  Lots of different ways to approach quests, lots to figure out with who a traitor might be, how to spring at the exact right moment, etc.

#6 & #5 Ticket to Ride & Settlers of Catan
Yes, I'm kinda cheating here but let me explain.  I rarely talk solely about one of these games.  Most of the time I'm talking about the two in comparison to each other.  These are two great games that lead people into the gaming hobby, and two games that I enjoy playing.  I certainly prefer one over the other, but that's just my opinion.

#4 Dominion
I have to start Dominion with the caveat that I will only talk for a long time with certain people.  If you don't know the game, the in depth discussion is extremely boring.  For people who know the game, there's nothing that beats talking about card interactions, an epic combo you were able to pull off, or the thing I'm going to miss most - talking about new cards as they're spoiled on BGG.

#3 Resistance
Yep, this was the game that I was able to talk about on a podcast, so I'd say that classifies it as a game I can talk about for awhile.  I love the intrigue of the game, and talking through things after the fact just adds to that.  Add in the memories of games past and you have a game that I can talk about for a very long time.

#2 X-Wing
Pilots, elite talents, bombs, torpedoes, missiles, upgrades, ship types, etc.  You name it, I can probably talk about it.  I'm never going to be a high level tournament player, I'm never going to run a blog solely about X-Wing, but I do enjoy talking about this game with anyone who's interested.

#1 Cosmic Encounter
It shouldn't be a surprise that I can talk for a long time about my favorite game.  I'm active on the Cosmic boards on BGG, I playtested for the new expansion, etc.  In short, I love talking Cosmic with anyone that will listen.

Friday, September 20, 2013

TransAmerica Review

  • Designed by Franz-Benno Delonge
  • Published by Rio Grande Games
  • For 2-6 players, ages 13+
  • Playtime is around 30 minutes.
Each player has 5 cities spread throughout the US.  Their goal is to be the first person to connect all 5 cities.  Players lay track on their own route but will eventually connect to other networks.

The city card shows where the
city is on the map
On your turn you place 2 points worth of track on your own network.  Most track pieces cost 1 point, but some cost 2. (crossing mountains and rivers)  Eventually you connect to other networks, and then you can place on those.  A round ends when one person has connected all 5 of their cities.  Other players lose points equal to the number of track points they would have to place to complete their route.  The game plays over multiple rounds until one person has lost 13+ points.  At that point the player with the most remaining points wins.

Starting spots for a 3 player game
There is a good deal of interaction in TransAmerica.  A big key to the game is figuring out when to connect to someone else's network.  You also have to realize that every piece of track you lay down can help someone else, so you want to be careful about the areas you open up to others.  If you add in the Vexation expansion (included in the box) then the interaction ramps up.  Vexation adds 3 tracks in each player color.  These tracks serve as exclusive use tracks for that player and really alter the flow of the game.

TransAmerica doesn't have much of a theme.  There are wooden train pieces to mark player scores and the track pieces do give you a sense of a train theme.  Essentially there's a theme there, but it's not jumping out at you.  The lack of strong theme isn't a terrible thing since the game stands on its own.

All the components in the game.
The components in TransAmerica are fairly basic.  There are plenty of track pieces, a starting marker for each player, and a score marker for each player.  There are also city cards for each city on the map, which are fairly small cards.  I normally despise small cards, but here they work fine.  I think it's because you're just holding them, there's no drawing from a deck or having to sort them, it's just 5 cards.

Learning Curve
TransAmerica takes a round to learn.  You're not really going to have a good sense of what to do the first time you play, but fortunately the game is played over several rounds.  It's one of the reasons why this is a great intro game.  Sure, one bad round can put you behind, but you're never completely out of the game.

Close-up of the score track and the trains on it.
It's an actual track.
I've played TransAmerica 16 times in person and a bunch more online.  I still enjoy the game every time I play.  I do like to add in Vexation from time to time, just to add that extra strategic layer, but I still have fun with the base game.

Why I like TransAmerica
TransAmerica is simple to teach.  The sharing of track leads to a very relaxed game state that no one takes overly seriously.  There's enough strategy for gamers, but not so much that new players don't stand a chance.  It really is a game that just about anyone can play.

Why I don't like TransAmerica
If you have a player who doesn't like to think ahead, they can really slow the game down.  In addition, if someone starts connecting to cities that aren't their own, they can really skew the game towards someone other than themselves.  There are times where you know you can't win far before the game is ever over, which can be frustrating.

A sample end of round board with the vexation expansion
I like TransAmerica.  I think it is a good game to have in a collection.  It's not the most complex of games, but that's its charm.  The game works well with 2-6 players which is nice for those big groups.  The game has flaws, there's a fair bit of luck, but it isn't meant to be a super strategic game.  It's simpler than Ticket to Ride, so if you think Ticket is too simple, don't bother with this.  I like Ticket better, but I still think TransAmerica is worth owning.

Would it be a good game for Tabletop?
I don't think it would be bad for Tabletop, but I'm not sure that it would really be good.  It's less interesting to watch than Ticket to Ride, so I probably wouldn't bother with this.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Podcast Appearance, Life, and Why This Can be Hard

So yeah, that new schedule thing lasted all of a week and a half.  I'll be honest, I just haven't had the energy to write about games lately.  Don't fear, I'm still playing games, and having fun, but writing hasn't been at the top of my list.

I spent last weekend (September 13,14,15) playing a whole bunch of games.  My every 2nd and 4th Friday group met, which was a blast.  I taught them how to play Shadows Over Camelot, which was a really good experience for all involved.  The more I try to teach that game, the more I realize that you really have to play it once before it makes sense.  You have to see a few turns to even understand what's going on.  I also played a bunch of Resistance which was a lot of fun as always.

Speaking of the Resistance, I was on a new Dice Tower Network Podcast called Showdown arguing why the Resistance is a better game than Werewolf.  If you'd like to listen to that, you can click on this link and follow the directions.  I had a blast, and it's not the only time I'll be on Showdown, but I'll announce that episode when it releases.

On Saturday I took part in a pick your own game tournament.  Basically, you played any non-co-op game to play, and you got points based on where you finished.  I came in last, but I still took home a nice prize.

On Sunday I got my first taste of Star Trek: Attack Wing.  Many people say it's similar to X-Wing, which it is, but for me it is different enough that I bought into the game.  Star Trek > Star Wars in my book.  I do think that X-Wing is a better game right now, but I think Attack Wing has great potential.
On that note, if you're in the general Central Valley area of California, events for Attack Wing are held at Gateplay in Hilmar. http://www.meetup.com/CentralValleyGameLovers/
It's a small group, so you have a great chance to win prizes.  I believe the next event is scheduled for October 19th.

I have a review of TransAmerica in the works, it's more than half done.  I hope to have that out on Friday.  Consider this the random musings post for the week.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Top 7 Games that Make People Stop and Watch

There are many board games out there, many of them have great artwork, but there are some games that have such amazing components or have such evocative gameplay that passersby can't help but stop and find out what's causing the commotion.

First off, a couple of honorable mentions - Shadows over Camelot, Marvel Legendary and Catacombs.  All of these games catch the eye as something a bit different.

#7 - Tsuro - As my review showed, Tsuro is truly a piece of art.  The board looks amazing, and the game is simple enough to explain to passersby quickly.  Players have time between their turns to talk, and the game creates a lighthearted atmosphere that encourages people watching.

#6 - Battlestar Galactica - This is a game that draws people in based on the table talk.  It will catch the attention of people familiar with the TV show.  The game has enough tension and deduction that outside people can try to figure out who's a cylon and who's a human.

#5 - Star Trek: Fleet Captains - Fans of Star Trek will gravitate towards this game.  The ships and crew cards evoke a great sense of Star Trek.  The game is gorgeous, especially if one paints the ships.  It's still a game that makes people ask "what's that?"  The game isn't perfect, but it is eye catching and interesting enough for other people to enjoy.

#4 - Werewolf - While Werewolf isn't the most fun game to watch, it is interesting to see how people behave in different situations.  It's fun to see how Werewolves try to avoid lynching, and it's also enjoyable to listen to a good moderator keep the game moving while telling an interesting tale.

#3 - Resistance - Much like Werewolf, Resistance is a game where the players are going to make wild accusations while trying to work together.  No one is revealing their plans publicly, but everyone has an agenda.  I've had several people watch a game of Resistance and then jump in because they had such a good time.  

#2 - King of Tokyo - Dice and monsters seem to make watching a game very easy.  I haven't had people stay and watch this game, but I have had a lot of people want to play if they catch us near the end of a game.  People will stop and ask some questions so they know what's going on, so that much is good.

#1 - X-Wing - I don't need to gush even more about X-Wing, but the facts are that the models are stunning, the game looks like a lot of fun, plus it's Star Wars.  Those 3 things put together make people stop every time I play this in public.  They'll watch a round, maybe even a few, but without fail, someone will want to learn more about this game.  I've added a few things that help, mainly the black felt mat, but even without that, the game stands on its own.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Passive Game Group

I have to start this with a clarification.  Yes I am talking about some of my game group members, no I won't be using names, and no, this is not a complaint.

Many gamers tend to be slightly passive people, typically introverts.  As such, many of us are easy going when it comes to what game gets played.  I know that I enjoy a great variety of games and I'm willing to try just about anything.  This is a good thing to have, until everyone has the same attitude.  What often happens is everyone is willing to play anything that no one really makes the push to play a certain game.  Eventually something gets played, but if there was a slightly more dominant personality around, we wouldn't lose 5 minutes trying to decide what game gets played.  Then again, that dominant personality could cause other problems.

I guess what I'm getting at is that there's a blend between passive and active when it comes to game selection.  It's good to throw out some ideas, but it's also good to be flexible to what others want.

I know this is a short post but it's the best I could do.  I've been subbing most of this week and tutoring like a mad man so I'm exhausted.  Hopefully I'll adapt to the new schedule and have more time to further develop the thoughts I have on some gaming.  On that note, if you ever have an idea for a random musings post, feel free to let me know in some way.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Hanabi Review

  • Designed by Antoine Bauza
  • Published by R&R Games
  • For 2-5 players, ages 8+, though I'd argue for 10+
  • Playtime is 30 minutes.
Players are working together to play cards in order, but you can't see your own cards.

Sample of the different cards
On your turn, you have 3 options.  1) Play a card. Probably not a good thing to do blindly.
2) Spend a token to tell someone something about their hand.  You can tell someone all the cards of a single number (1,2,3,4,5) or all the cards of a single color (red, yellow, green, blue, white).  3) Discard a card from your hand and gain a token.
While each turn seems fairly simple, they really aren't.  There's a lot going on in the game, and each person needs to know things.  The mechanics are simple, but there is a lot of depth in the game.

The Fuse(L) and Clue(R) tokens
There is a good deal of interaction is Hanabi.  You're trying to figure out your own cards by the clues people give you, but you're also trying to figure out the best clues to give to other players, as well as figure out who needs to know something right now and who can wait for a bit.  The game does get a bit thinky, so some players will retreat to their own thoughts, but each clue can really tell you a lot about your hand.

Hanabi has a firework theme, but the theme has almost nothing to do with the game.  To put it another way, you could put any theme you wanted on the game and it would play exactly the same.

What comes in the box?
Cards, Tokens, Rules
The components in Hanabi are pretty basic. You get 60 cards, a rulesheet, 8 clue tokens and 4 fuse tokens.  The tokens are sturdy, the cards hold up to repeated plays without scuffing.  I do have a couple complaints with the colors since blue and green can often look similar as can white and yellow.  I think the colors would have popped more on a lighter card back.

Learning Curve
This is definitely a game that you have to play several times before you're good at it.  Also, there's a great deal of logic to the game, so not everyone is going to be great at it even with a lot of practice.  I've played a bunch of games with my sister, and it took us 4-5 games to really get into a rhythm, and that was just the two of us.  Every time you play with someone new to your group, there's an adjustment period.

Weird hands, they happen.
Replayability is tricky to articulate for Hanabi.  I want to keep playing it, but I'll need to have a different mix of people when I play to really keep it interesting.  There's a certain allure to the game that makes you want to get a perfect score, but once you've gotten that a few times, you have to try to keep it fresh.  That being said, I've played the game 16 times (making it my 22nd most played game) in about 6 weeks, so it's still fresh to me.

Why I like Hanabi
To me, Hanabi is a different puzzle every time.  The game tests your memory, your deductive abilities, and your ability to work together.  You have to be careful of the things you say, how you say them, and also the things you don't say.  I appreciate that you can't tell other people what to do.  There is also an interesting way of thinking about things since any two people can see the cards of every other player, so someone can use that knowledge to their advantage in their clues.  Essentially, there are so many means of communication in Hanabi that everyone can enjoy it and get something out of it.

Why I don't like Hanabi
One can argue that Hanabi isn't really a game.  I've started to feel that way.  Hanabi is much more puzzle than game and much more group activity than game.  That's not a huge thing for me, but it does exist.  I also don't like that the shuffle of cards can really determine a lot of the game.  I've seen both white 2's come up in the last 15 cards which makes it really hard to make progress on the white cards.  Again, not a huge complaint but it exists.

The variant multicolor suite.
Hanabi is a keeper for me.  It's one of the few games that my sister actively requests.  We'll see if that keeps up, but for now, that's good enough for me.  I enjoy the challenge of Hanabi, and it has enough variety to keep me coming back.  I enjoy adding in the 6th suite for that added challenge every so often.

Would it be a good game for Tabletop?
I don't think so.  BGG's Game Night did an episode (that's what convinced me to buy Hanabi) and that worked because you saw every turn.  With the editing for Tabletop, I just don't think it would work.

Want to buy the game? Here's a link to Amazon, and you'll help support BoBG.
(I'll post it later when the game is back in print)
For now, click on over to the right side an get to amazon that way, or use the Store link at the top.  Thank-you to everyone who has been clicking through.  I really appreciate it.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Top 7 Cooperative Games

These days there is a plethora of games where you can either work together or work in teams.  Like them or not, these games have become a fixture in the game libraries of many gamers.  I know that I have a good number of these games.

First let me mention some games that I have yet to play, and thus cannot place them on this list, but have potential to make this list in the future.  Some of those games are Forbidden Desert, Ghost Stories,  Arkham Horror, and Space Alert.

Also some games that just didn't make the list for various reasons - Space Cadets, Catacombs, Werewolf/Mafia, Elder Sign and Forbidden Island.

#7 Hanabi
Some may consider Hanabi more of a puzzle than a game since there's nothing you're playing against, but I really enjoy the challenge.  The game is all about communicating in a very limited fashion, but the things you say, and the things you don't say often tell a person far more than what little you think they do.  Sure, there's some shorthand that can develop, but the game is a challenge each and every time.    

#6 Pandemic
Pandemic is arguably the game that really kicked the co-op movement into high gear.  Pandemic is already a classic, despite being 5 years old.  The game presents a true challenge for players of all skill levels.  It falls victim to the alpha gamer, which knocks it down a peg for me, but the game is still a challenge.  There are multiple ways to make it harder, as well as many different roles which take a lot of time to figure out how to maximize.  

#5 Escape: Curse of the Temple
This is an intense dice game.  You have exactly 10 minutes to explore a temple, perform tasks, get gems, find the exit, and get everyone out.  You have to work together, but you often have to head off in different directions in order to win.  It's a tricky game with a lot of communication.  The first time I played it, I said that it was the most intense 10 minutes of my gaming life.  I feel that way every time I play it.  There's no alpha gamer problem here because there's no time for one.  You can't optimize play, you just have to play.

#4 Flash Point: Fire Rescue
Flash Point may be the easiest co-op game on my list.  You can tell that the game is targeted at families, but there's enough in the game to entertain gamers.  I love the theme here, who can't support being a firefighter, putting out smoke and fire, and saving people and pets from a burning building?  The game has a lot of randomness in terms of where the dice come up.  You can have a smooth game with no explosions or a near impossible game with all kinds of flare ups and explosions.  Still, Flash Point is a game that I enjoy each time I play it.  I've never had a bad game of it, even though I've had several games where we've lost.  

#3 Shadows Over Camelot
Shadows was the first hidden traitor game I ever played.  Even though I wasn't the biggest Shadows fan at first, it captivated my imagination.  Having a co-op game where you can't really trust everyone was a great thing because it got rid of the alpha-gamer syndrome.  Sure, people will try to advise others as to what to do, but you always have to wonder if you can fully trust them.  One of the best things that Shadows has is the ability for a character to perform a noble sacrifice, killing themselves in the hope that good can triumph.  It's not perfect, but I think it's very thematic.

#2 Battlestar Galactica
Speaking of theme, BSG may be the most thematic game I've ever played.  The first several times I played, I felt like I was reliving moments from the show.  The game is full of tension, trickery, and deceit.  You know that the cylons are out there plotting your demise, but they're not exactly easy to find since they look exactly like your friends.  If you strip BSG down to its core mechanics, you don't get an amazing game.  The game really does depend on what people bring to it, especially the suspicion of their fellow players.  

#1 Resistance: Avalon
Speaking of boiled down games, we have The Resistance, specifically the Avalon version, though the base version is good as well.  Avalon is a simple game of two teams where the bad guys know who each other are and the good guys have no clue who anyone is, well except for Merlin(he knows the bad guys but no one knows him.)  There are 5 missions which some subset of the players must attempt, but the leader must choose wisely, for if a single fail card is present, the whole mission fails.  Resistance isn't an amazing game from just a gameplay standpoint.  I played a game where no one talked, and it was boring as all get out.  As soon as everyone started thinking it through, making wild accusations, trying to talk their way out of suspicion or onto a team, the game really came to life.  This is another game where the players make or break the game.  The reason it takes #1 for me is that the game feels epic but it only takes around 30 minutes.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

August 2013 Recap

Another 31 days and a new month.

The big happening in August was Gencon, even though I was not able to go.  In thinking about it, I'm not sure I ever want to go to something that big.  I can't deny the awesomeness that comes out of Gencon, but I'm not sure I want to fight with the masses.

I played 45 games in 31 days, which continues to put me ahead of my goal.  That brings the YTD total to 293/365.  Ideally I would be at 243, so 50 ahead and cushion for the September slowdown that always seems to happen.  I played 1 game for the first time this year, which brings me up to 73/100.  I'm pretty certain that this part is going to be the biggest struggle to finish.  It's going to be hard to find 27 new games to play.

Just a quick list of what I actually played in August

Finally, King of Tokyo is not at the top of the play list.

13 Times
  • Hanabi

10 Times
  • Resistance: Avalon
3 Times
  • King of Tokyo
  • Tsuro
2 Times
  • Article 27
  • Incan Gold
  • Skyline
  • TransAmerica
1 Time
  • Eight-Minute Empire
  • For Sale
  • Legendary
  • No Thanks
  • Small World
  • Survive
  • Tiki Topple
  • X-Wing

I acquired 0 new games, but several expansions this month.  I picked up the 3 mini expansions for Survive, Track Map 4 for Formula D, an extra Slave 1 and Tie Interceptor for X-Wing, and a whole bunch of dice for general use and prototyping.

Looking ahead to September I'm going to try to get out 2 bigger reviews: TransAmerica and Article 27, as well as a smaller review or 2, but that's going to be a surprise.  I'll do my best to come up with another Top 7 list or two, as well as another random musings.  I know my posts have been spotty, so I'm really trying to get on a more consistent posting basis.  I might experiment with something along the lines of

  • Top 7 Mondays
  • Review Wednesdays
  • Random Musings Fridays

It may not last forever, but I'll do my best to stick with that for awhile and see what happens.
Until next time, thanks for reading.