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Mrs. Mystery Blog

My gaming history, thoughts, and interests from a female gamer's perspective. I am an anomaly: a gaming female with a non-gaming husband.

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2013 in Review and Projections for 2014

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Introduction
I’m back! First of all, an apology to all the faithful stalkers readers of my blog. LIFE has intervened to disrupt my regular gaming and blogging time, plus BGG has been BLOCKED for me since March 2013. I’m in the 2nd year of a new position at my place of employment which involves extra hours and a flexible schedule. In addition, my gaming is down due to my gaming partner—13-year old Mystery Daughter—having tons of homework and projects during the week and many weekends.

OK, enough with the excuses, onto the action!!!!!

The year 2013 saw some new games for the Mystery Family, opportunities to play with non-gaming family and friends, and an increased ability and maturity level in my daughter’s gaming skills and tastes.

New-to-me Games played in 2013
The following games were new-to-me in 2013:
Samurai – a game we have only been able to play once that we both enjoyed. Need to get this played again! soblue
Tasso (we have the red Tasso version) – a game I asked my cousin to purchase while in Europe and which has been a huge hit with my daughter and non-gaming family & friends.
The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet – a 2013 Christmas game that has also been a huge hit with both my daughter and my husband. We can’t seem to just play 1 game at a sitting. Very enjoyable!
K2 – a surprise hit with my husband, who likes it much more than me or my daughter. This tends to hover in the vicinity of Worker Placement land which I have discovered to be one of my least favorite mechanics or style of gameplay. Yes, there is the tension of the weather and the lack of space/s to move into; yes, the decisions are meaningful; but, but, but……it is easy to see/know what I should be doing each turn which does not present much of an intellectual challenge to me or create much tense excitement. My husband absolutely loves it and requests playing it!

Out of the Dust and played in 2013
The following games were dusted off and played again in 2013:

Hey, That's My Fish! – 11 months dusty.
YINSH – 13 months dusty.
Elk Fest – 11 months dusty.
Mr. Jack Pocket – 14 months dusty.
Freight Train – 5 years dusty, was requested by my daughter.
Dixit – 3 years dusty. This is always a hit!
Water Lily – 20 months dusty.
Forbidden Island – 19 months dusty, played by the 3 of us in a tense, nail-biter of a session. We won on the last possible turn!

Family and Friends Gaming
The following games were played with non-gaming family and friends during some travelling/visiting last summer:

Hey, That's My Fish! – A huge hit, as always!
Morels – Enjoyed by one of our cousins, playing against me. He kept exclaiming how interesting and thematic the game was.
Tasso – this was LOVED by everyone who tried/played it.
Hoppladi Hopplada! – another huge hit with everyone we introduced it to
Mr. Jack Pocket – one of our friends played against me– he enjoyed it.

Mystery Daughter’s Gaming Ability and Taste
I must say I am ecstatic about the change I have witnessed the past 6 months in my daughter’s gaming skills and tastes. Although she has always been a huge fan of abstract strategy games like me, she wasn’t too keen on playing deeper strategy games. Maybe because they were overwhelming, too long, or not interesting to her? I also suspect that she wasn’t able to do well enough to compete against me and perhaps avoided games that were more complex. Regardless of the reasons, I am really happy to see her evolve from games like Uno, Guess Who?, and Sorry! Sliders, to games like Morels, Freight Train, Lost Cities, and K2. She has always liked TTR, abstract strategy games, and simple dexterity games like Elk Fest. She once mentioned that she wanted to learn Louis XIV, but I am hesitant to overwhelm her with it and have her hate it. I will wait until the timing is right and of course, to see if she asks to play it again.

Outlook and Goals for 2014
1. Play more games – at least one weekend a month! I especially want to play my unplayed games and those that are still in the dust.
2. Get rid of games that have flopped for us and/or we probably won’t be playing much:
R-Eco, Tiki Topple, Zeus on the Loose, American Carrom (with Crokinole on the flip side of the board).
3. Trade away some games that we have played and liked, but won’t be playing since there are other games we like better and will most likely play instead:
Arena: Roma II, India Rails, Shanghaien, Thurn and Taxis.
4. Make Let's Catch the Lion!, PnP from BGG files. My daughter and I are currently enjoying the IOS version and I’d like to have our own copy.
5. Possible purchases/trades for 2014 – definitely not until Christmas 2014, if at all:
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, Tales & Games: The Three Little Pigs, Cappuccino, Om Nom Nom, Leelawadee. This list could change depending upon our gaming reality and my daughter’s tastes/interests.
6. Place some heavier games on Probation for 1 year. If they don’t see play in 2014, I’ll think about parting with them in 2015 or 2016:
Louis XIV, Acquire, Saint Petersburg. I really want a collection of games that will be played. I can’t justify holding onto games that will just sit there, regardless of how good they are or how much I love them.
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Tue Jan 14, 2014 12:41 am
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The Ever-Persistent Christmas Game-Buying Dilemma

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Sorry for the delay on my blog posts but since the gaming action has come to a standstill for the past few months, I'm not too inspired to write anything.

So after watching and drooling over the Essen and BGG Con madness and new, shiny game goodness, I have put games on my wishlist and spent countless hours perusing threads, geeklists, game pages, rules, videos, images, and blogs. After crashing back to reality many times, I did manage to come up with a serious list of games to buy for Christmas--for my daughter--that would be good for us to play together.

However, before I press the "submit" button on these purchases I have to pause and wonder.......should I even bother?

We have plenty of games we already enjoy and they barely get to the table due to lack of free time. Would buying more games be wise or prudent?

Sure, I'd love to have more games, but what I would love more would be to spend time every week or month playing games.

What to do?

I am seriously considering purchasing only 1 game at least. Right now I am torn between the following:

Jet Set + the expansion for around $35.00 online (plus shipping)
River Dragons - new & shiny for about $28.00 online (plus shipping)
Maori - not too high on my list
Pickomino - hard to find

I am totally perplexed as to what to do? Buy 1 game? Buy more? Buy nothing?

Ahhhhhhh.........I love my hobby but this drives me crazy!!!!!!!!
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Wed Nov 21, 2012 5:23 pm
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2nd Game Day with Mamadallama!

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Last week I drove down south to meet and game with Mamadallama at an FLGS located about halfway between our homes.

This time we only had about 4 hours to game and managed to play 5 different games 6 times!!

Upon arrival, the game store had not yet opened so we headed next door to Subway and had lunch. Mamadallama's husband was with her and we had a nice time just chatting and getting to know each other better.

This time, Mamadallama's husband left us alone the entire time for some awesome 2-player goodness. We both unpacked the games we had brought and looked over the selections.

Mamadallama quickly spied my copy of Shanghaien and asked to play because she had been playing on Yucata and wasn't 100% sure of the gameplay. We had a great session of this dice/card game. I had only previously played against my daughter and it was such a treat to play against an adult where we both exploited all the possible strategies in this not-as-light-as-it-seems-at-first-glance game. Kathy won!!

Next up, I asked to play Morels which I have been drooling over for a few months. This was a bittersweet session for me. OMG!!! I absolutely LOVED this game and found it to be just the right combination of luck, strategy, game complexity and length that was chock full of interesting decisions, tension, and fun! I was able to cook 2 different sets of mushrooms that were left in my hand--with butter--in the closing round to win the game! Sadly, I realized that my daughter would NOT be able to play this competitively and that the game length would be just a tad too long for her as well.

I asked to play Maori next as I had long had my eye on it and Mamadallama had recommended it to me as well. I am very glad we played this as this will definitely work with my daughter and is short enough to engage her. I really enjoyed this tile-laying game and found it to be just the right complexity for the game length. The decisions were not 100% straightforward thus, they were interesting and the luck of the draw added enough tension for my taste. I like the fact that the game includes 2 variants to increase the difficulty and make for more advanced gameplay. So, not only was this a winner, but I added a new game to my future buy list!!

Next up I chose Tally Ho! which Mamadallama had told me was a "hide and seek" type game. She suggested I play the hunter/lumberjacks and I struggled a bit. She was able to save one of her bears and ate many of my hunters. My lumberjacks came up at the very end and I desperately chopped down as many trees as I could. I also shot plenty of birds, plus a bear, but she just ate too many of my hunters. I asked to play again, switching sides and was also frustrated in the 2nd round. I wasn't able to eat hardly any hunters or lumberjacks and wasn't able to save any of my bears either. She won both games. Although I really enjoyed this chess-like "hide & seek" title I sadly realized that it wouldn't work for us as my daughter would not think/look ahead and probably eat/shoot the moment an opportunity presented itself.

Last up, we both wanted something super light and fun and she introduced me to Pickomino which I had been dying to try since the success of my other Zoch Verlag titles Sushizock im Gockelwok & Hoppladi Hopplada!. I really enjoyed this as well and found the back & forth and stealing to be more prominent, strategic, and important than in Sushizock. I managed to win in the end and will eventually pick this up. The store had one in stock but unfortunately it was the Rio Grande Games version in the huge box. I will try to wait to get the import version in the small box to match my other ZV games.

All in all, this was a too short but wonderful game day for me and I really enjoyed played 2-player games with Kathy. I liked and enjoyed every game we played and was able to add and subtract games to my wishlist.

Thank you for coming out to play with me, Kathy!!

kiss
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Sat Jul 28, 2012 5:29 pm
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Game Day for Mrs. Mystery Bob and Mamadallama!

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As mentioned in the comments of my last blog, three of us Floridians wanted to try and get together to have a game day and to get to know each other. Since the three of us did not live in the same area, and we especially wanted to game with Mamadallama who lives southeast of the other two, we came up with the idea of meeting somewhere halfway, where it wouldn’t be horrible for any of us to drive and be able to get back home on the same day if we so desired.

We found a FLGS, owned by a BGG user no less, that was 1 hour away from Mamadallama and Sugi and about 2 hours away from me. So, we busily emailed back and forth for a couple of weeks, setting the date, choosing the games we each wanted to learn and play, and generally just getting more and more excited about the entire idea.

As the scheduled weekend approached, Sugi unfortunately had to drop out due to unforeseen last minute changes to his plans. So, on Saturday, May 12, 2012, the Mystery Family headed south to meet with Mamadallama and her spouse for a day of gaming.

We played from approximately 11:30am to 7pm with about a 45-minute break for lunch somewhere around 1pm. Seven different games were played! Here are the details of what we played:

First up, Kathy had expressed an interest in playing one of my top 10 games, Saint Petersburg. Mystery Bob and I set out to teach her and her husband, and we included Saint Petersburg: New Society & Banquet Expansion – to use the New Society and 5-player expansions as my daughter wanted to play. The explaining got under way and after a few turns, my daughter dropped out of the game to play a game with a family that came into the FLGS with some children. We helped out Kathy and Miles with strategy and tips and by the mid-point it was obvious that one of them was probably going to win. We took a quick break to eat lunch and then resumed the game. Mystery Bob usually beats me when we play 2-player, but we really wanted Kathy & Miles to experience the fullness of the gameplay and they were able to grasp the strategies and work the cards to their advantage. Miles won and I came in second. They both stated that they enjoyed the game and would consider purchasing it.

After the end of the game, my family took off to have their kind of fun while leaving me happily at the FLGS to continue my game day.

Kathy and Miles taught me Biblios, a title that I have always been curious about since its Scripts and Scribes days. I really did not know what I was supposed to be doing and found the game not to my liking. I felt that my decisions had little meaning and did not score anything at the end. I’m very glad I had the opportunity to learn and play before buying, because I found out that it would not have worked for me and my family/game group.

Next, they taught me another title that I had been dying to try and had almost purchased several times--Metropolys. This title gets really interesting toward the mid-game, where you can start manipulating your position on the board as the available spaces shrink. I was a bit late to the party on grasping the strategy, and they both pretty much swept the board with me. I can see that it is a game that you improve as you play more. I’d love to play it again, but don’t feel I need to own it at this point. Kathy called it “chess-like” and I really saw how that was true for this game.

Finally, they taught me Pergamon, a recent title that I had been eyeing. Boy, I really enjoyed this game and its intricacies. It has just enough different things going on to make it super interesting and keep you engaged with decisions that are important and meaningful. I especially liked how well the gameplay and mechanics were tied to its theme of archaeology, which was surprising to me since I am such a huge fan of abstract strategy games. I did fairly well, coming in second place, which surprised all of us!

Now it was time for me to teach some of the titles Kathy had asked me to bring. First up was some dice-rolling Zoch Verlag goodness, Sushizock im Gockelwok. They both quickly understood and enjoyed this game. I believe Miles won (again) and I came in second.

Thinking we had time for just one more game, I decided to teach them my recent acquisition, Keltis: Der Weg der Steine Mitbringspiel, since they were familiar with Lost Cities. This was my 2nd play and the luck of the draw really affected us all equally. All in all, I am enjoying this game and find it a bit faster than Lost Cities, and easier to score at the end. I can’t remember who won, but it definitely wasn’t me, of that I’m sure!

Well, as the time was drawing closer to our allotted finish time, we had time for one more game and I was able to introduce them to my newest Zoch Verlag favorite, Hoppladi Hopplada!. We all really got into the game and they were able to pick it up immediately. We also pushed our luck on several turns to try and catch up with Miles who was leading for most of the game. On the final round, Kathy tried to push her luck to catch up, but rolled no hares. I took over the displayed dice and was able to roll enough hares to pass Miles’ score. It was a fun, crazy, but exhilarating gaming experience and a fantastic way to close out our game day. This was my only win all day, but I truly felt like a winner for the entire game day, which did not seem long to me at all!

This was a great experience for me as we met in a small group, and played in a very friendly/family-like manner where our goal was to learn new games and teach our favorites to each other. I definitely enjoyed this type of game day that was not focused so much on competition, but on creating great gaming experiences for our fellow players.

Thank you again, Kathy and Miles for saying “yes” and participating. I am hoping we can do this again some time!

And I apologize to the readers of my blog for not posting for a while. It has been crazy busy at work lately.
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Tue May 29, 2012 3:36 pm
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Hide and Seek: Tension in Games and What I Like in Games

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Introduction
Do you remember playing Hide and Seek as a child? I remember the heart-pumping, nerve-wracking minutes of hiding--that felt like hours--while feeling terrified of being discovered.

I remember trying to find good hiding places close to "safe/base" in order to rush there when "it" walked away to begin his/her search. I really wanted to win and got really nervous waiting like a sitting duck not knowing where "it" was and when or if he/she would approach my hiding place and catch me. Even now, when I watch movies in which a chased character hides in a confined space, I get really nervous and relive the feeling of hiding while playing Hide and Seek, and wish they would just run away versus stay hidden with no place to escape.

I have found that I like the nervous tension or thrill of Hide and Seek in board games, but appreciate having more control over the outcome.

Tension in Traditional, Mass Market Games
Card games are usually tense when you are about to draw a card or cards in hopes of getting the card(s) you so desperately need in order to fulfill a successful strategy or plan. Dominoes and/or Mexican Train have the tension of waiting until it is your turn and hoping no one plays in the one or two spots you are able to play (or hope they place a tile that enables you to play when you don't have any available plays). Roll and Move and traditional dice games are all about the dice results and whether they hurt or help you; the cheers and groans accompanying these type of games and the social element are what make them memorable in my mind, not the actual gameplay or challenges. While most traditional card & dice games and domino games have various types of tension, which I enjoy to some extent, I really prefer games that offer more decisions, control, and options, in addition to a good dose of Hide and Seek tension.

My Number One Game
My favorite game is Louis XIV. Now, I've only played it 2-player with the dummy 3rd player. This is a tense, exciting, and engaging game. The tension comes from formulating a plan from your hand of cards and deciding which ones you will actually play and when (there is always one card in your hand that is not played each round). So the multiple decisions each round are full of tension as you come up with your optimal plan, and several alternate, but slightly less optimal plans that will still garner you points. Also important are your resources. If you are low on influence tokens then you will need to discard a card to obtain more tokens, thereby forfeiting a possible opportunity to play on a certain spot on the board. You need to keep your resources in mind and select the best moment to run out and/or replenish. On top of all this is the highly tactical play of reacting to your opponent's moves. If he or she plays where you wanted to, you might try to fight them for it or simply go to one of your alternate plans. Since ties are not always are rewarded, you have to watch carefully and adjust each round to what you can possibly do or which character you can successfully influence based on all the tension and varied factors inherent in the game. Since the game has a fixed 4 rounds, you will not be able to recover if you get too far behind in points, so every decision every round is important. The missions you select early impact your game and you have to remember that in the 4th round you should select the easiest missions to shoot for as you will not be able to use their "rewards" as the rounds and the game are over.

I love this game and find it to be a nail-biter and really, really enjoy this type of tension. The last time we played I purposely played more casually and intuitively which resulted in less nervousness for me, but not less of a good gaming experience. It helps that Mystery Bob is a very tenacious and competitive opponent, always striving to make optimal moves and analyzing a lot (too much, actually) before he plays. Just thinking about playing this game gets my heart racing!

Another Favorite
Another favorite and tense game for me is Saint Petersburg. OMG, every phase of every round is full of tension as you try to spend wisely and gain enough rubles to be able to buy what you need, when you need it. The early rounds are all about buying cards that pay you money in the scoring rounds, while the middle to ending rounds should have you going for victory points and aristocrats over than rubles. It is a tense and delicate balancing act that I still have not mastered. By the 3rd round, Mystery Bob always seems to have much more money than I do and I cannot figure out what I do wrong. I have tried modifying my playing style each time, but victory still eludes me. Our games are close, but he always seems to be able to buy the right cards at the right time. I love this game as it presents a constant, engaging challenge and has me nervously anticipating Mystery Bob's next moves as well as my own. Another important part of the tension is watching the card stacks dwindling--the game enters the end phase the moment any stack is depleted. So, you cannot plan to catch up in the later rounds if the game is about to end.

Abstracts (yes, I know, it wouldn't be a true Mrs. Mystery Blog post without mentioning abstracts!)
Abstract strategy games have all sorts of fun tension. Scanning the board to see all the possible moves you can make and your opponent's possible counter-moves is a delicious tension that permeates all good abstracts from Chess to Checkers and everything in between. Hive has the tension of keeping your strong pieces free to be able to make fabulous moves and be able to block your opponent. YINSH has the challenge of carefully watching your opponent's progress while trying to sneak up on them and catch them unawares. Aton forces you to keep the varied victory conditions in mind so that you are not suprised by your opponent or left behind on good spaces to occupy. The blind bidding card decisions add tension because you cannot always do exactly what you need to do, but have to settle for a little less and try to be successful with that choice.

The Tension-less, the Somewhat Tension-filled, and Games with Clever/Innovative Mechanics/Mechanisms
I have found that good games that don't offer Hide and Seek tension, do not interest me. San Juan and Santiago de Cuba fell flat with me because it was too easy to play optimally and almost all the decisions were good in some way. The tension just wasn't there and I am afraid of trying anymore worker placement or San Juan type games because doing A to get to B to change to C to convert that to points/money just doesn't have enough challenging decisions or tension/fear for me.

Games that have some tension and some important decisions are more like easy pasttimes than a challenging gaming experience. I have many in my collection and most are in the gateway category like Ticket to Ride, Thurn & Taxis, Arena: Roma II, Coloretto, Archaeology the Card Game, Freight Train, and Lost Cities. (Actually Lost Cities has the most tension of the games in this group--I enjoy it but find it too long for what it is).

Clever mechanisms in games do not replace the tension that I need in order to find myself engaged and enjoying a challenging and suspense-filled gaming experience. Games in this category would (so far) include deck-building, cooperative games, and most dexterity games--especially those whose dexterity is of the careful balancing kind (all 3 of us are on the clumsy side and these type of games lead to mere frustration, not fun.) Dominion card combinations were fun for the first 2 games and then left me cold. Cooperative games feel like work and are not a fun experience after 1 or 2 plays, especially when the optimal decisions are obvious and/or not all that difficult to carry out.

In Conclusion
I hope I have been able to convey a little more of what I like in games and what I like about the games I like. I am still exploring and learning how to evaluate and criticize games, gameplay, and express the value I find in this wonderful hobby. I love games, but not all games are good or to my taste. My goal is to have a manageable collection of mostly great games, with some good games to round it out. I don't need to keep mediocre games nor boring games in my collection, much less play them. Life is too short to waste on games I don't enjoy. Some games I am seriously considering purchasing include 1812: The Invasion of Canada, Samurai, and the Goa reprint. Others that keep enticing me include London, Luna, and Maori.

I have heard it said that "You can run, but you cannot hide." Well in gaming, I prefer the excitement and delicious tension of being able to do both!
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Sat Apr 7, 2012 3:37 am
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I’m beginning to worry…

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As far as this wonderful hobby goes that I discovered about 4 years ago, I luckily found some titles within the first year to year and a half that have been instant and long-standing winners with my game group which consists of my non-gaming husband, my 11-year-old daughter, and myself.

In the past few years I have found less and less titles that I have REALLY LIKED. Sure, there are lots of good games, but for our tastes, few great ones. Coupled with the fact that I don’t have the opportunity to try out lots of games I don’t own plus not having lots of time to play in general, I would like my purchases to be more on the “great” side of the scale than the “good” or “okay” side.

Nothing is worse than learning, opening, and setting up a new title to have the game fall completely flat or just be boring. Very deflating and discouraging!

Hence, my worries include the following:
-My gaming tastes are too specific.
-I need to learn to steer clear of certain genres/mechanics/themes.
-Trendy games are never going to be to my taste.
-Card games will not feature in my gaming future.

My gaming tastes are too specific
I worry that my gaming tastes are running too specific, especially firmly toward the realm of games that have interesting and meaningful decisions that keep you engaged throughout the game, even on your opponents’ turns. I find games that are too easy to not interest me, especially if they are supposed to be strategy games or are over 45 minutes long. I game to feel challenged—the exhilaration, tension, and fear of trying to formulate your strategies to make the optimal moves each turn. I really don’t have time to waste in mediocre games with scripted or phoned-in moves. That doesn’t challenge me and no amount of gorgeous components or quirky mechanics can make me admire and want to play a game that is not challenging. I probably need to focus more on abstract strategy-type games. (Readers of my blog are well aware of my fondness for abstract strategy games!)

I need to learn to steer clear of certain genres/mechanics/themes
I will also add here that I need to learn to trust my instincts about a game and follow them! I have recently discovered that I don’t like cube pushing games, or rather I don’t find them interesting or challenging. If I read the rules to a game and do not find myself intrigued, I definitely need to steer clear. I am beginning to feel and worry that I do not really like the worker placement mechanic and need to stop harping on and drooling over the latest titles that predominantly feature worker placement. I do not like negotiation games and have luckily paid attention to that and never tried or purchased one. My husband does not like Westerns—movies, history, genre. So, unfortunately, a few games that I have been interested in (specifically Carson City and Homesteaders) would not appeal to him and I have avoided purchasing them or trading for them. It is sad to live with a nongamer!

Trendy game are never going to be to my taste
This worry may be unfounded as I have yet to try many trendy games. While it is true that I have not liked immensely popular titles like Carcassonne, Dominion, San Juan, and Pandemic; I do recognize and accept that others can find them interesting to play and enjoy them, and that’s fine. Because of my track record and in light of the above worry, I have steered clear of the Harvest trilogy, other co-ops, and newer deck building games. I am looking toward war games and other games that could pose meaty and challenging decisions.

Card games will not feature in my gaming future
This is the biggest and saddest worry for me as I absolutely adore card games and could happily fill my gaming hours with good card games. I have noticed that my husband does not really like pure card games and my daughter recently told me she doesn’t want to play/want me to buy any card games. Sigh……..this is with several good/enjoyable card games in my collection that we have played (Cribbage, Coloretto, and Archaeology the Card Game) along with other titles that I am dying to try out! So unfair!! I’ve had my eye on Pax, Biblios, The Blue Lion, Fairly Tale, and others. but will now cease from even looking at them or getting excited about any other card games!

What worries have you had or have with respect to the boardgaming hobby?

Possible upcoming post topics: hide and seek, analysis of specific games/mechanics that I enjoy, my BGG user history, my typical BGG day/week, etc.
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Fri Mar 2, 2012 8:30 pm
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The Hype Machine and why it is usually NOT for me

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Important Disclaimer: This post will express negative opinions of immensely popular, highly rated, and faithfully loved and worshiped games. If this is upsetting, I apologize in advance, but stress that I am stating my opinion and the experiences we had with these games. I am NOT stating that they are bad games--just that they are not for us. Also, while you are certainly free to post comments, I am asking that you please not insist that we give them another try or further plays. There are too many games that we love that don’t get to the table enough, for us to replay games that we did not enjoy.

Introduction:
Like everything and everywhere else, BGG has lots of hype. What with Essen, BGG Con, Spiel des Jahres, and other cons and awards, there is ample opportunity to praise games to the high heavens and place others on lofty, glittery pedestals. Given my unique gaming group situation (i.e., I play with a non-gaming husband and/or an 11-year old) and limited gaming time opportunities (i.e., I barely play 5 games a month, if that), I have come to the conclusion that the hype machine is not always for me or mine.

Fool me once…
My first purchase of a highly praised and hyped game was Carcassone. Due to many comments on BGG, I purchased the 2-player friendlier Hunters and Gatherers edition. This got 3 plays from us before I finally traded it away. Why? Well, I honestly found it too long for what it was—basically place a tile and place/don’t place a meeple or fishing hut, over and over and over and over and over again. Coupled with my husband’s analysis paralysis of having to make the optimal move on each turn, we were clocking in 1.5 hours for this very simple game. My daughter found it boring, and I personally don’t see any interesting or meaningful decisions or challenges to this game. We tried the speed up variants of drawing a tile (or 3) at the end of your turn, but it did not significantly improve the game or the gaming experience. We also found it hard to catch up to the leader when he/she was on a streak, which led to a long, frustrating game where the other person had little to no chance of winning.

Fool me twice…
My next immensely popular title was a gift from a generous geek who wanted me to have this standard game in my collection. Yes, it is the hugely loved and popular Dominion. Again, this lasted for 3 plays. While my husband immersed himself in making longer and longer card combinations, I was able to trigger the end game at the right time for me to win. My daughter tried it and was focused solely on getting coin cards and wasn’t interested at all in the card combinations. I found it entertaining for the first 2 plays and then saw little challenging or interesting decisions for this title in future plays. The thought of buying expansions to "improve" the game is not something I’d consider as it won’t actually change the mechanics or gaming experience very much at all. I can see the appeal, but not for us. I have it “For Trade” at the moment.

Fool me thrice…
The next title that I tried was one that I had discounted as a possibility several years ago. I looked at it again, and thought that all the positive reviews and love had to point to a good game, right? The game was San Juan, which I traded for. I must say, the first play was enjoyable and a bit interesting, but I felt I must be missing something. After 2 more plays, I realized that the game held no surprises for me and was not challenging enough for me. The decisions were pretty simple and without tension and it was easy for me to reinvent my strategy and tactics to circumvent any obstacles to scoring well. It is also on “For Trade” status.

Tease me, fool me, hype me…
There are three more titles that sucked me up with their hype machine, that did not live up to their hype. First up was Pandemic. Wow!! My husband and I really enjoyed and stressed over our first play of this (my daughter refused to play it due to the theme). It was challenging and different and difficult. We even went out and bought a cigar box to store the components as the insert was completely unusable. After the 2nd and 3rd play we discovered that we were done. Once we understood the interplay and optimal moves for each role, the choices were very easy, based on the current condition of the board. We had no desire to play further and I traded it away.

Ra was another one of those titles that I had also discounted as a good possibility for us (and I really need to learn to trust my instincts!) We played 3-player and I saw that I was losing my daughter midway through the game. I found the gameplay to be repetitious as well. Our second game was a disaster as my husband played suboptimally on purpose. Our last game was 2-player as my daughter outright refused to play and my husband and I found it to be overlong for what it was. I traded this as well. This is a title that I would play in a group if it was suggested, I just don’t need to own it.

Not being convinced of my bad decision-making I foolishly picked up Forbidden Island (or Pandemic lite) to play with my daughter. I also introduced it to children at her summer day camp two years in a row. While the game makes an impression on children, I find it too easy and scripted. I also find that most children have no clue what to do and I am pretty much running the game, almost like I am solving a puzzle and they are moving the pieces. Maybe cooperative play is not for me? We still own this, but even my daughter no longer suggests playing it.

Hype, hype, HYPE!!!!!!!!
I am not 100% against hype and can understand promoting and recommending something you love, but sometimes, I think we should ALL step back a bit. Settlers and Carc are often and repeatedly recommended to newbs on BGG, and folks recommending them often act like they are the BEST GAME EVER. All well and good, but I often wonder when was the last time they played these games and if they are still interested in playing them?

I try to recommend games I’ve enjoyed and if possible, games I would still be willing to play. I suspect many of the hype machine participants just follow the hype and have not actually loved or played the hyped game recently, or would even want to. Sometimes, sentimentality affects our recommending a game because it was our first, or we remember it fondly.

Hyped games that I do like
Just in case you’re reading this/have actually read this far and are asking yourself if there is anything I do like, I will list the games that have received hype and/or are often recommended here on BGG that I have enjoyed and/or do enjoy: Dixit, Acquire, Coloretto, Dominant Species, Hansa Teutonica, Lost Cities, Sorry! Sliders, and Ticket to Ride – the Nordic Countries & Switzerland versions.

Possible upcoming post topics include analyzing what I specifically like about certain game mechanics, hide and seek, my BGG user history, my typical BGG day/week, etc.
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Thu Feb 16, 2012 2:09 pm
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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

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I interrupt my regularly scheduled post to bring up an urgent matter: I have a desperate itch to buy more board games!! And……..I am back on the wagon of trying to find a meatier game for my husband and I to play. (Yes, yes, I know………pitiful!)

After much searching, rules reading, hand wringing, pep talks and admonishments (both self-inflicted), I have decided to try for medium-weight titles that are less than 90 minutes long.

These are my criteria:
1. Must play VERY GOOD with just 2 players
2. Must NOT be over 75 minutes
3. Game must have interesting decisions and gameplay
4. Game must be challenging
5. Possibility that the game might be approachable for an 11-year old
6. Does NOT have to be New! and Shiny!

These are the titles I have narrowed it down to, but am terrified that I would find any of them to be mediocre or boring! I will express my concerns, if any, and would love to hear any of you chime in!

Notre Dame – A title I have been interested in for years and one that when I read the rules I was completely bowled over and ready to buy.
Concerns: Replayability and possibly that it can be “solved” which if so, my husband would figure it out and never play again. I am also concerned that it requires the expansion to complete/correct it.

Ninjato – Recently read the rules and found this to be somewhat interesting, thematic, and different.
Concerns: I don’t like the “combat” aspect, (i.e., robbing from the houses), which seems to be a central part of the gameplay. I also feel like it might be a bit of “get these things, to trade them for those things, to use them to get points” type of game.

Takenoko – Very cute and fun looking title that I have been eyeing since before it was available.
Concerns: All cuteness with not much of a game—too light.

Village – This one came to my attention recently and I must say I am intrigued. It does seem pretty intricate and thematic.
Concerns: That it would be dry and boring and just another cube pusher/cube conversion game. Also, that there might not be much variability from game to game.

Samurai – Another game that I’ve had my eye on for a while, especially since it is almost an abstract. It also looks gorgeous, which is NOT REALLY that important to me.
Concerns: Too light for me to find it challenging, especially against a child. That it might be solvable and that it might be boring/dry.

In order to foster better discussion, here are my top games—which I have played more than a couple of times--and what I like about them:

Louis XIV – 10 plays. I enjoy the tension of this game that comes primarily from every turn being important and every decision affecting how well you do in the game. I also enjoy the tactical aspect of having a main strategy, a backup strategy, and still having to scramble to find another viable strategy, based on your opponents’ plays. I like the four-round limit and knowing exactly when the game will end because I feel I can try and plan for that and somewhat control what I am doing. It is engaging and interesting during the entire game.

Hive – 42 plays. I enjoy the challenge of finding optimal strategies and adjusting them as you go. I also feel this game is just the right length for what it involves. I find it challenging and rewarding. My daughter enjoys this……..a lot.

Saint Petersburg – 7 plays. I enjoy the changing game plan that occurs with this game as you first need to focus on getting money, then investing it wisely in buildings and aristocrats that help you get the most money and/or points throughout the game. I like the competition for cards plus the combinations that allow you to save money on purchasing more cards. I also enjoy the different options available that can be exploited to get something you didn’t have before. The end game is easy to predict and I still have NOT beaten my husband at this game. There is tension and challenge and I am fully engaged throughout the entire game.

YINSH – 8 plays. This game is easy to learn, but difficult to master. I enjoy formulating my strategies and watching how my opponent will react. I enjoy scanning the board and finding the odd combination that I missed upon first glance or the optimal move to thwart my opponent. I enjoyed watching my daughter go from losing to me for 3 rounds to winning 1 round, to winning 2 rounds, to finally beating me at the game. She was so proud and I was very proud of her. I like that in this game you are always learning and cannot take anything for granted.

Thank you for your input. I may not end up buying anything at all. I have been trying to show the different games to my husband, but he has not had the time to “humor” me.

Please try to focus on the games I am considering, but other recommendations fitting my criteria are welcome. Please do NOT recommend the following: San Juan, Dominion, TTR, or Parade.
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Tue Feb 7, 2012 5:25 pm
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Why do I love Abstracts? Let me count the ways.

MMB
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Intense, One-on-One (usually) Competition
Most abstract strategy games are 2-player games that present a delicious one-on-one gaming session that pits your wits, strategies, reactions, and various other abilities exclusively against those of your opponent. I love being swallowed up in the abstract gaming world as I feel the complete lack of theme helps me concentrate fully on the game mechanics, which to me are the pure essence of any game. The most wonderful theme, the highest quality components, the most interesting scoring or game end, will not win me over if the mechanics are not interesting.

What I mean by mechanics is how you play the game, or what you do on your turn. Are the mechanics interesting, challenging, and meaningful/with meaningful decisions? This is what attracts me to abstracts as once you move your first piece, you are neck-deep in the game.

Simple Rules, Interesting and Challenging Strategy
Most abstracts have very simple rules that encompass interesting and challenging strategies. I like that you don’t have to remember too many rules and can focus completely on your strategy and second-guessing your opponents—in order to thwart them. Because most have simple rules, it does not create a lot of downtime as you can pretty quickly scan your opponent’s possible moves/responses to your possible moves. And even in games that have more downtime, you don’t notice it because you are engaged 100% of the time in what is happening on the board.

I really enjoy this silent back-and-forth and/or mental gymnastics because it presents a fun challenge to me to select the best move possible each turn. Each turn is important and meaningful, and affects the development and outcome of the game.

Changing/Developing Game Board
Most abstracts have a developing or changing game board and I also enjoy watching the board develop—grow or shrink, depending on the title—throughout the game. It might be hard to fathom how a few pawns, shapes, or cubes on a grid or board can encompass such a wonderful gaming experience, but they do—if the game is good, obviously. From the moment the first pieces are placed or removed from the board, the game begins to change, develop, and mature, and continues to do so on every turn. This dynamic nature of abstracts makes them more interesting to me and more challenging.

The Old Cliché…
Many abstracts illustrate that old cliché, One minute to learn, a lifetime to master, which makes it an excellent game to play with almost all ages, intellects, and gaming abilities. It also adds lots of replayability because no two games are exactly the same. After a game is over I almost always want to play again immediately in order to try out something I hadn’t thought of or fix things that I missed or messed up. I always think a lot about my games and abstracts provide a lot of chances for reflection on your gaming moves, strategies, successes, and errors. My daughter loves abstracts and this came about without any prodding on my part. I guess she inherited it, because I really like these games and am thankful that there are so many good, varied, and interesting abstract games available.

The List(s)
I thought I’d just list the abstracts that I currently enjoy: Hive, YINSH, ZÈRTZ, Micropul, Twin Win, and Hey, That's My Fish!. I am undecided on two of my newest titles because I have only played them once and need to get a fuller picture of whether I like the games or not: Qwirkle Cubes and GIPF.

These are the abstracts that I am most interested in trying: Tasso, Volcano, TZAAR, TAMSK, Way of the Dragon, Coffee, Hippos & Crocodiles, Jin Li, and Mutton.

Games I’m not into include Chess, Go, and any other abstracts that require a huge level of commitment and mastery in order to be competitive. Right now in my life, I just don’t have the time and energy to commit to those type of lifestyle games. I don’t dislike them, I just would rather play something else that I at least have a fair shot of playing well.

In Conclusion
I know that many gamers would not enjoy or try an abstract if their life depended on it. That’s fine, as not everyone can have the same interests or tastes. I don’t like shooting games and most video games. So my questions to you are: What abstracts do you love? Why do you think you like the genre? What is it about abstracts that intrigue you or repel you?

My next Blog post will explore The Hype Machine as it relates to BGG, games, and game recommendations.
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Wed Jan 25, 2012 6:59 pm
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Teaching and Learning Boardgames – The First Time a Game is Played

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In my first post, “An Introduction to my blog, Part I” I mentioned some awful experiences that I had while being taught games. I wanted to explore this further in this post by discussing the different ways we learn and/or teach games as well as that all important first impression or first game experience.

Self-Learning
Since I am the gamer in the family, I usually read the rules and teach myself and others the games. This makes for an interesting gaming experience that comes with the added responsibility of not messing up or forgetting important rules in that crucial first game. I have forgotten key rules every now and then and my family has forgotten some key rules as well--and sometimes blamed me! I have found, thanks to reading BGG, that it is best to do a dry run of the game by myself and go through some game turns BEFORE I spring it on my family.

Learning from Others
Some of my earliest gaming experiences were playing games that someone else taught me: parents, siblings, grandparents, or cousins. Since the games of my childhood were games with simple rulesets, the only challenge was in learning the appropriate strategies and tactics to be able to compete with family members with lifelong experience in the games. In many games, I was successful in learning the strategies by imitating others’ gameplay. In some games, especially Chinese Checkers, I was hopeless. My grandmother and my great aunt could cross the board by setting up some fancy chains and move their pieces in very few moves. They never taught us that, I never picked it up, and have long since lost interest, especially if mastering a series of set moves is what helps you win the game.

After BGG, I have learned games from others at a local con and felt a bit at a loss. This could be due to the other players, including the games explainer, having much more experience with the game or just my lack of social skills (I was playing with strangers). Or, maybe not having read the rules, I just didn’t feel as confident and comfortable as when I am familiar with the rules and gameplay. A level playing field is usually not present in those circumstances and I don’t like to ask for help or hints because then I feel the others will think I am stupid or slow. (Yes, I have very poor self-esteem, why do you ask?) blush Needless to say, I have not been able to fully enjoy these opportunities to play games that I don’t own.

Negative Learning Experiences
I have had some pretty negative game learning sessions which have usually consisted of a very experienced person teaching me their game and playing against me as if we were on a level playing field. Instead of teaching me the game, they basically played the game against me, confident in their assured victory. These experiences left a sour taste in my mouth and I basically did not learn the games as I was pretty lost and could not understand why they made the plays they made and why they were successful. (The games in question were Backgammon and Mancala).

I want to ask all boardgamers to NOT teach games in the negative manner I have discussed, either to non-gamers or experienced gamers, as it might possibly turn them off that particular game or even the hobby itself. I understand that we all want to play competitively and play to win, however, I don’t think it is very sporting to play to slaughter when you don’t have a level playing field.

I know that I am not perfect by any means, but when I teach newbs, I try to help them out, answer their questions, explain why their move may not be optimal, etc. I still play competitively, but at least I give them enough assistance to not be completely blown away by me. And I’m not talking about a luck-filled game; in those cases, everyone is pretty much on their own. I recently taught TTR to my father and he completed 3 destination tickets and came in 2nd place after me and just a few points ahead of my daughter. A few days later I walked in on my daughter and him finishing up another session. He won because he completed 3 destination tickets to her 2 and garnered the 10-point bonus. I later asked her how the idea of playing the game came about and she told me that he saw the box and asked her to play “your train game” again.

Impromptu Game Learning
Another way of learning a game is to open up the box and have everyone learn on the go. I probably have done this more as a child (Masterpiece, Waterworks, etc.) than I have since joining BGG. I think it is the most challenging way to learn a game because although everyone starts on a level playing field, if the rules are even a bit intricate, it can bog down the progress of the game while rules are read, looked up, re-read, etc. I have also read here on BGG how this can result in bad experiences, playing the game wrong, and having the players quickly sour on the game and sometimes refuse to finish it or even try it again.

I can see the need and instances where this would be the only way to play a game—at a con, for example—but I try to avoid this if at all possible. For me, it just isn’t the best way to learn, explore, and enjoy a game.

Learning Game Session – Level Playing Field
One of the best things I enjoy about gaming with my family and being the game explainer is that we learn new games together, with a level playing field—none of us are experienced in the game and we learn and explore the game together. I guess I am spoiled because we really enjoy helping each other out with possible moves and strategies in the first game or two, which makes the gaming experience richer, friendlier, and super positive. It also ensures that we grow together in experience and ability on subsequent plays, so we are really playing against each other as fairly as possible. Depending on the complexity of the game, I sometimes give my daughter hints for more than 1 or 2 games, but she generally refuses any help or suggestions stating: “I know what I want to do,” or, “Let me do it my way.” Having read and digested the rules helps me feel more comfortable and confident with the game. This sometimes results in me winning the first game; other times I’m so focused on everyone following the rules correctly that I end up losing because I wasn’t paying enough attention to the way I was playing the game. Either way, unless the game is a miss, I always enjoy learning a game this way the most.

Possible topics for future posts: Gaming Hype, Abstracts and why I love them, My life as BGG user, etc.
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Tue Jan 17, 2012 3:35 pm
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