Views & Reviews with Ender

Featuring game trivia and talk, and comprehensive pictorial game reviews

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100 Session Reports: A retrospective and highlights

Ender Wiggins
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A full six and a half years after posting my very first session report to BGG, I've reached a new milestone: mb 100 Session Reports! Report #100 had to be something special to mark the occasion, so I chose a memorable session of Arkham Horror played with my good friend the Masked Man - a game which for us personally marked the end of an era. Here it is:

mb The Masked Man's very last game. Goodbye my friend. [my *100th* session report!]

You can find the complete list of all my session reports here: Ender's session reports [Most Popular] [Most Recent]

This retrospective is simply a self-indulgent look back at the last six and a half years of writing the occasional session report, to reflect on what worked and what didn't, and to highlight some of my personal favourites. My session reports fall into six main categories, which I've listed below along with a selection of some of the most popular in each:

1. Pictorial illustrations of game-play

A total of 14 session reports fall into this category, and these proved to consistently be the most popular. These include my most thumbed session report of all, which is of the game Innovation. I'm also pleased with how my illustration of the gameplay of Richard III: The Wars of the Roses turned out, particularly since exploring a block-wargame was something new for me. I suppose what accounts for the success of these reports is that they help show people how a game worked, so they can visually see the game in practice. Some highlights and some of my own personal favourites:

142 thumbsup Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: A sample turn of Carl Chudyk's innovative new civilization-themed card game
103 thumbsup Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: A sample game of 2 de Mayo
102 thumbsup Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: A sample turn as a weakened King Henry VI fights desperately to save London!
76 thumbsup Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: Let's learn how to play Haggis!
60 thumbsup Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: Some sample plays from an innovative two-player trick-taking game

2. Creative reports of game-play

I really enjoy creative writing. Sometimes the muse just flows, and I get into the groove and the words just appear readily. Even so, in most cases a good session report receives the benefit of much editing and tinkering before it is finally published. Session reports are especially rewarding when they convey a sense of story, and some of my favourites attempt to recreate the drama and tension of real-game experiences. I'd like to think that I have some sense of humor, and that this also contributes to making these fun to read. Some highlights and some of my own personal favourites:

95 thumbsup A pictorial report of my first ever block war game: a man and his 13 year-old son take a thrilling ride back to medieval England
71 thumbsup The perils of serving Haggis for a date-night on Valentine's Day: an eyewitness report
50 thumbsup New World Records: Celebrating the 2008 Olympics with Knizia's Decathlon
37 thumbsup Rewriting History: the intense and hilarious drama of my best ever game that I didn't even play
37 thumbsup Sherlock Holmes and the Dastardly Case of the Dead Druggist: a dramatic pictorial report

3. Pictorial reports of game-play

A picture can tell a thousand words. In some instances my retelling of the story relied heavily on the pictures, so that the visual images constituted the majority of the report. These are some of the picture-heavy reports that seem to have been enjoyed over the years.

111 thumbsup A pictorial report of our first game: the adventures of a man and two children, in their valiant quest to defend the king's city
100 thumbsup Extreme Scrabble: Taking Scrabble to where it's never been taken before!
67 thumbsup A giant sized version proves a big hit with seniors at an outdoor garden party (with pictures!)
44 thumbsup Introducing three children to the city of Belfort (a report with pictures)
35 thumbsup A Tale of One Family and Three House Fires (a pictorial report of three games with the Family rules)

4. Gaming with the Masked Man

The last three categories of session reports all recount various gaming adventures with three good gamer friends of mine. The first of these is the infamous Masked Man, and no less than about 30 session reports regale some of our adventures together. Please don't be too intimidated by the pictures - you may find that the stories of these games have more charm and humour than you'd expect!

44 thumbsup The Masked Man goes homeless and hungry after drafting his beloved Cube (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #25, Week 10)
37 thumbsup The Masked Man helps usher in a new error* in the anals* of human history (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #14, Week 5)
31 thumbsup The Masked Man fiddles while Rome burns (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #11, Week 3)
20 thumbsup The Masked Man meets the world's ugliest San Juan themed tablecloth (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #21, Week 8)
18 thumbsup The Masked Man & an invisible friend revisit the world's worst tablecloth (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #22, Week 8)

5. Gaming with my buddy Scurvodsky

I was fortunate enough to spend an entire week on holidays with my friend Scurvodsky and his family, and we got in a lot of games during this time together. Here are some highlights of the 10 session reports that resulted:

24 thumbsup In which Ender plays his first ever game of Tigris & Euphrates
22 thumbsup Will 1960 fade into obscurity in 2012?
20 thumbsup The tension that is Agricola - but do I like it or not?
19 thumbsup Ender revolts against the game: Why should I play for 3 hours and not even finish Turn 1? (with pictures)
16 thumbsup Family fun with one of the very best euro/wargame hybrids (includes a Mare Nostrum review)

6. Gaming with the random gamer at the cottage next door

Finally, I also spent a week on holidays with another friend, and this also generated about 15 session reports. These were among my very first session reports, so they were briefer for the most part - but the games they record were certainly no less interesting!

14 thumbsup The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #1 Lifeboats
11 thumbsup The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #3 Vikings
4 thumbsup The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #4 Pandemic
5 thumbsup The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #6 Age of Empires III
4 thumbsup The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #8 Attribute

The future?

In closing I mention that Mozart78 has been doing a herculean job in going through every single session report on BGG and awarding what he calls the "Excellence in Session Report Writing Awards." I've been fortunate enough to have my session reports chosen a few times, and you'll find a list of the winning sessions here:

mb Excellence in Session Report Writing Awards winners

Will I write another 100 reports over the next six and a half years? I have no idea. But one thing I do know: reading over some of these reports reminds me of the wonderful experiences games can generate and the lasting memories they can create. For me, session reports help me preserve something of an experience that is precious to me. And that, really, is what gaming is about for all of us isn't it?


Join the discussion: Do you ever write session reports for games that you have played? Why or why not? What do you think is the value of session reports on BGG?
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Tue Dec 6, 2011 9:13 am
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New Card Games from Cambridge Games Factory

Ender Wiggins
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Heard of Glory to Rome? Of course you have. Its publisher Cambridge Games Factory? Probably. They've been getting significant press here on BGG recently, mainly in connection with concerns about a French publisher marketing a game as an edition of Glory to Rome when it apparently doesn't have the rights to do so.

Glory to Rome is certainly the game that has made Cambridge Games Factory's name in the gaming industry, so it doesn't surprise me to see the publisher acting to protect their interests. It's an outstanding card game, one of my own personal favourites, and worthy of high praise.

Want to know more? See my full review on Glory to Rome: mb Is this the game that Race for the Galaxy wanted to be?

But there is a whole lot more to Cambridge Games Factory than just Glory to Rome. The distinctive and unassuming plastic clam-shell case that housed Glory to Rome and subsequently became a Cambridge signature item, has given birth to several other products. In fact, in 2011 they have released several other card games in this packaging. So which new games are they, and what are they like? Let's find out, and help give this company some positive press for some of its up and coming games.


Barons (2011)

Barons is arguably the hottest new product from Cambridge, and easily my favourite of these new titles. I wouldn't quite call it a "new" Glory to Rome - even though it's from the same publisher, and also part of their "Extreme Strategy" lineup. While it's more card-game goodness from the same company that brought us Glory to Rome, it's slightly lighter in complexity and style. The mechanics are quite different from both games, but cards still have multiple uses, and when played as buildings they will give you ongoing abilities and benefits.

The basic concept is that players are building up their personal barony by playing lands (which allow you to draw new cards by taxation) and buildings (which have special abilities), and there's interaction with other baronies by using knights. Cards are used as lands/buildings/actions/knights, but are also used as `money' (by discarding) in order to `pay' for the cards that are put into play.

There are four different coloured decks that are shared by the players, and each deck has unique cards with its own feel. There are certainly different strategies to explore, by building around certain cards or colours. It also has the advantage of scaling well as a two-player game, and plays quite quickly - so you can play a couple of games back-to-back.

I've played Barons well over a dozen times so far, and am very impressed and itching to play more often. Bear in mind: 1. don't expect it to be like Glory to Rome (it's lighter, and different); 2. don't judge it too quickly after just one or two plays (there's more strategy and tactics going on than meets the eye!). With those provisos, I can recommend this one very highly as a great light-medium weight strategy card game, that has the potential to please both gamers and non-gamers alike!

Want to know more? See my full review on Barons: mb Introducing Glory to Rome's younger brother - and easily one of the best strategy card games of 2011!


North Pole (2011)

In North Pole, players are penguins from the South Pole. While on vacation, these penguins decide to amuse themselves with a race from Base Camp to the North Pole, with the first to make it there and back being the winner.

The game uses cards for two purposes - first of all to denote the landscape on which the game is played, but also for a set collection mechanic which determines penguin movement. The basic flow of play is that players take turns to play cards from their hand in order to move, and then at the end of their turn they draw two new cards. Different kinds of movement include Waddle, Snow Shoe, Sled, and Dog Sled, which are distinguished by different combinations of cards and their relationship to the location card your penguin is moving to. You can also use Blizzards to cause havoc on your opponents' plans, or Repair the Ice to fix holes in the ice.

North Pole features charming artwork and solid gameplay that will especially amuse children. Yet there are enough decisions about which cards to collect and play that the adults can enjoy it too. As such, it's ideally suited as a family game that is more than just a matter of luck-of-the-draw, and the race theme really helps add appeal.

Want to know more? See my full review on North Pole: mb Of course the family loves it - you get to race penguins!


Hot Potato (2011)

Hot Potato is a very light card game that's fun for families and children.

The theme is exactly as one might expect: you're passing "hot potato" cards around the table. If you are passed a "hot potato", you'll need Action cards to pass it left or right, because as everyone knows, if you're caught holding the hot potato you suffer a "burn"! You can also add Seasonings which increase the burns and do other crazy stuff. Some expansion cards are also included which add new twists.

It's a simple concept, and the theme translates very well to the gameplay. Overall this is a fantastic kid-friendly theme that's very original, plays quickly and easily, and works well!

Want to know more? See my full review on Hot Potato: mb Hey quick, pass it on, it's another hot card game from Cambridge Games Factory!


Disclaimer: Cambridge Games Factory played no part whatsoever in the writing of this blog article. They did not request this article, did not edit it, did not approve it, and in fact had absolutely no advance knowledge that it would even exist. One of the objectives of this blog is to group together good games that I've reviewed and can recommend, briefly introduce them, and so put them on the radar of folks who might not be familiar with them. As such, CGF did not establish any contract with me to write this article, nor have I broken any contract with them by writing it. But I sure do like some of their games!


Join the discussion: Have you tried any of Cambridge Games Factory's games other than Glory to Rome? If so, what did you think? Of the above titles, which sounds the most appealing to you, and why?
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Thu Jul 28, 2011 11:48 am
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Deceptive Merchandising: Amusing Lessons From Promotional Pictures Of Games (Part 2)

Ender Wiggins
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Back in February I posted an article on this blog about the humour in some of the promotional pictures put out by game publishers.

With that still fresh in my mind, it was with great interest that I recently read about The Table of Catan, a custom made and officially licensed table for Settlers of Catan, available at www.tableofcatan.com. After all, who wouldn't want to own a piece of exquisite craftsmanship like this, with the official Settlers of Catan brand? Well... maybe not every gamer, but you have to admit that the custom table actually looks rather impressive!



But now what I found rather amusing were the accompanying promotional pictures on the website. They raise all kinds of existential and pressing questions about the game, and about the game group pictured there! Questions that deserved to be asked and answered by the BGG community!

Exhibit A: Game Board



Questions like:

● Why is a four player game being played on the larger 5-6 player board?

● Why did the green player place her starting settlement alongside the desert and a 3, when there were so many better options?

Exhibit B: Game Group (Part 1)

But wait, we're not done yet:



At least now we've got five players in the game. But there are some odd things going on:

● Why is the lady wearing green sitting in front of the card bank instead of in front of her own colour?

● Why is the lady with the dice about to roll right on some settlements and roads, and cause chaos on the board? And are the other players laughing because they think that doing this is some kind of sick joke?

● Where are all the men gamers? Or is this a ladies night?

And perhaps most important of all:

● WHO LET THE LITTLE KID WITH THE DRINK THAT CLOSE TO THE BRAND NEW TABLE???!!!

● And what's with the sausage rolls on the game table, and so close to the board?

Exhibit C: Game Group (Part 2)

But we're still not finished. Because it gets better:



Order is restored, because dad has arrived! Notice that the game state has not changed at all since the previous picture! Yep, it's exactly the same game. But what has changed is the presence of dad, and the absence of all the food and drinks. Which raises all kinds of new questions:

● What happened to the cans of coke that two players were enjoying in the previous picture? Evidently dad has enforced his "no food or drink at the game table" rule. Did they get to finish their drink?

● What happened to the little girl and her mother? Did they get evicted from the game and the house because of the kid breaking the `no drinks' rule?

● Where is the fifth player? What happened to the lady rolling the dice in the previous picture - did she get sent home as well? And did she take the dice with her?

● Why did the ladies wearing blue and brown get to change places mid-game? In my world that's called cheating!

● Why are the other players all looking at and smiling at dad? Are they sharing a secret joke at his expense?

Inquiring minds want to know!


Join the discussion: What other pressing questions deserve to be asked when you see these pictures? And can you come to any grossly unjustified and thoroughly speculative conclusions in an attempt to answer any of these questions? Let speculation run rife!
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Tue May 24, 2011 4:07 pm
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Photo Caption Contests and Personal Milestones

Ender Wiggins
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"What a BRAIN BURNER!"
- asutbone
A New Photo Caption Contest

I've run several BGG Photo Caption Contests over the years. There have been some excellent entries and winners, and over 150GG of prizes have been awarded. Here are some of the winning entries that I've especially enjoyed from previous contests:


"Hmmmmm, so THIS is where my college fund is going. - Kodos


"The third day of a convention often takes its toll on the mind. In this shot, a sleep-deprived gamer checks his camel for line of sight." - cbs42

Want to see previous contests and all the winning entries? See the complete list here:
mb BGG Photo Caption Contest series

Now the BGG Photo Caption Contest returns, and for this edition, I have again picked a number of pictures that are themed around gamers and their antics. Please join in the fun, and share some of your humor, or just enjoy the wit of your fellow gamers! There are some GeekGold prizes to be had!

Want to join in? Find the current contest here:
mb BGG Photo Caption Contest #5: Gamer Antics



A New Personal Milestone

So why another contest? Well I figured the timing was right, since last week (Friday, May 13, 2011) I reached two significant milestones with respect to my BGG contributions on the same day: 100,000 thumbs, and 10,000 images! Yes, I'll be the first to admit that it's ridiculous - but there you have it!

I decided that running another photo caption contest would be another way of thanking the BGG community at this time. BGG is a place where we can meet and exchange ideas and information about a hobby that we mutually enjoy. In many respects what makes it such an enjoyable place to frequent are these reciprocal connections and exchanges of material, and the willingness of gamers around the world to share their contributions with fellow enthusiasts. It's really the cumulative contributions of a multitude of diverse users that helps make this site the incredibly useful global resource that it is!

To humour myself, I compiled a retrospective of some of my own contributions over the years:

mb Ender's Greatest Hits: Celebrating 100,000 thumbs and a platinum meeple mb

mb Crossing the 10,000 Images Milestone: Some of my favourite pictures



Thanks to everyone who has ever given a `thumb' of encouragement to any of my contributions over the years. And I'm grateful to everyone here for making BGG what it is!
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Tue May 17, 2011 12:56 am
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The BGG Picture Museum Project: Great Game Photos

Ender Wiggins
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It's no secret that I love photos. While I like contributing pictures myself, what I especially enjoy is admiring the stellar work of others - and there are some superb photographers on BGG! Unfortunately, some of the fantastic pictures on BGG disappear into obscurity and vanish from the public eye shortly after they are submitted, especially if they are for relatively unknown games. For this reason, since 2008 I've been engaged in a personal and completely unofficial project to create a BGG Picture Museum, highlighting some of the great images here on BGG, and showcasing some of the wonderful aspects of gaming.

Here are links to the ten Photo Albums that make up the series so far, along with some sample pictures from each album to whet your appetite. The most recent one (Old Photos of Vintage Gaming) was just posted today.

mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #1: Playing Games in Strange Places



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #2: Playing Games With Unusual Opponents



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #3: Playing Games on Super-Sized Boards



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #4: Playing Games in Different Cultures



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #5: The Unbridled Emotions of Children



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #6: Games Masquerading as Food



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #7: Playing Games at the Beach



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #8: Playing Games with Seniors



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #9: Lest We Forget (Remembrance Day / Veterans Day edition)



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #10: Old Photos of Vintage Gaming (just posted today!)



To all of the BGG users who submitted the great pictures featured in these photo albums: I salute you! Keep up the fantastic contributions! Many of the photo albums also have public additions enabled, so you are also welcome to add any great pictures that you think deserve to belong to these photo albums.

Want to be notified when a new Photo Album comes out? Subscribe to this list:
mb The BGG Picture Museum Photo Album series


Join the discussion: What are some things that you appreciate about the pictures here on BGG? Do you have any ideas for "themes" that I could use for future photo albums?
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Thu May 12, 2011 3:55 pm
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A Tenth Anniversary Edition of Puerto Rico for 2011/2012

Ender Wiggins
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A Decade of Dominance

Puerto Rico has enjoyed a long reign of dominance for several years at the top of the BGG rankings. And even though it tussled with Agricola for the number one spot for some time, and has since been passed by the current #1 Twilight Struggle, it still enjoys a strong following, and can rightly be considered a quintessential and highly influential euro that offers much enjoyment and replayability for modern gamers.

Yet there is one respect in which Puerto Rico is showing its age. After all, it's been around since 2002 (a pre-publication version was at Essen 2001), so it first appeared almost a decade ago! For the most part it has stood the test of time, and its gameplay holds up well even when measured by the standards of the latest and newest crops of games - many of which are indebted to it and influenced by it. But if there is an aspect that could be improved, it's that the components could do with a visual makeover, particularly the building tiles. The plain text-only purple buildings are starting to look somewhat vintage and austere, and are just not up to snuff when compared with the artistic production values witnessed in the components of most newer euro games today.

A Tenth Anniversary Edition

Last week I posted an article making a case for the game to appear in an upgraded edition, at the very least with illustrated buildings. Several enterprising BGGers have already put a lot of work adapting some of Franz Vohwinkel's beautiful building artwork from San Juan, and porting it back to the Puerto Rico building tiles that inspired San Juan in the first place. These illustrated building tiles make for a more enjoyable experience, and help prevent Puerto Rico from showing signs of its age, by putting it more on par with the kind of components seen in most newer games. As such, it helps this classic retain some of its appeal for a new generation of gamers who might be coming across it for the first time, and adds an extra layer of things to appreciate for long-time players of the game like myself.

Since most of us lack the technical expertise to produce our own print-and-play copy of these improved components, what the majority of gamers would likely prefer to see is a commercial edition that features this higher standard of artwork, which we can buy straight off the shelf in our local game store. In other words, what we really want is for the publisher to step up to the plate and do this for us.

Given that 2012 marks the tenth anniversary of Puerto Rico, it seems that this would be an ideal time to put out an upgraded edition of the game. Puerto Rico is a fantastic game, and its enduring appeal is fast from fading, so if any game deserves this kind of makeover, Puerto Rico is the one. The gameplay is strong enough to compete with the best of today's games, and it can expect to enjoy continued success on the strength of its established reputation, if only it's supported by components that match the quality and visual appeal of the newer games emerging off the press. An upgraded edition of the game - at the very least featuring illustrated building tiles - would be very well received by longtime fans of the game, and perhaps convince them to retire their well-worn copy in favour of a more visually appealing game. Furthermore, it could go a long way to making the game more endearing to people playing it for the first time. The tenth anniversary in 2012 would be the perfect time to make this happen.

The Publishers Respond

Perhaps it's a coincidence, but oddly enough the very next day after I posted my article, an interview appeared with Alea's product manager Stefan Brück which included the following:

"At Essen we are planning a `pimped' anniversary edition of our most successful game, Puerto Rico, which was presented for the first time 10 years ago in Essen (and had never seen before success)." NB: That's loosely translated via Google, the original German reads: "Zu Essen planen wir eine – aufwändige; neudeutsch würde man wohl sagen:”gepimpte” – Jubiläumsausgabe zu unserem größten Erfolgsspiel, Puerto Rico, das vor 10 Jahren in Essen erstmalig (und mit nie mehr dagewesenem Erfolg) präsentiert wurde."

The very same day saw this post from Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games, in response to some of the calls on BGG for an upgraded anniversary edition:

"I too like the idea of a special 10yr anniversary edition. If we do one, it will certainly have upgraded graphics and components. I suspect it will be a limited edition and not replace the "standard" PR. I also expect it will be much more expensive than the regular PR. Also, we will not make the upgraded components available separately. As soon as I have information on whether and what we will offer, I will make an announcement. Thanks
Jay"


At the very least, I'd hope that such an edition includes illustrated building tiles, as well as some other extras like the additional building tiles from the expansion and the Alea Treasure Chest, the two player variant, and some other rule variants and tweaks (e.g. the Factory - University price swap). I'm pleased to see publishers taking up the challenge, and although there are various approaches they can take, the fact that they are giving this serious consideration sounds promising.

Want to learn more? See my full article: mb A Pictorial Overview: An edition of Puerto Rico with illustrated buildings - isn't it about time?


Join the discussion: What advice would you give to a publisher considering making a tenth anniversary edition of Puerto Rico, and what would you like to see it include? Would you rather see an updated version of the game replace the current edition of Puerto Rico with some slight upgrades (e.g. illustrated buildings, expansion tiles, and the two player variant)? Or would you rather see a limited edition over-the-top super-deluxe version (e.g. wooden ships, trading house)? If a tenth anniversary edition of the game does appear, what would you hope to see included? Let's make some noise - perhaps the publishers will listen to our suggestions!
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Wed May 11, 2011 10:00 am
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Life as a Golden Reviewer: Interviewing the Big Boys

Ender Wiggins
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Tom Vasel. Greg Schloesser. Neil Thomson. Matt Drake.

These are some of the big names on BGG, all of whom have written over 200 reviews, and have been long-standing members of the site. There are well known video reviewers that I admire too - Scott Nicholson, Jeremy Salinas, and UndeadViking to name a few - but none of these have produced quite the same astounding volume of reviews, over an extended period of time, as the above mentioned names have. At any rate, they've used a different medium, which is equally valuable but in a different way, and today I'm just zeroing in on written views.

The Golden Reviewer microbadge is awarded to those who have written 100 or more reviews (separate badges are being adopted for video reviewers). As of last month there were only 17 veteran BGGers who qualified for the circle of golden reviewers.

mb Golden Reviewer

So what do these folks have to say about games and reviewing? Last month I decided to find out by interviewing them. Check out what they had to say here:

mb Introducing your Golden Thumb Reviewers: an interview with some of BGG's most prolific reviewers


Join the discussion: What do you consider to be some of the hallmarks of a successful review? What do you think about the diversity of review types and styles on BGG?
(You'll find some of my own answers to these questions on the above-mentioned GeekList.)
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Tue Apr 26, 2011 9:13 am
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Next Generation Party Games: Introducing North Star's award-winning line-up

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There is always room for some good party games in the collection of every gamer. After all, isn't there always a time where we find ourselves with friends or family that are non-gamers, and where we're looking for a good game that both they and we can enjoy? It's also true that many people are getting tired of the usual party games like Trivial Pursuit, Scattergory and Pictionary, games I'd consider to be modern classics, but from the previous generation, and perhaps even somewhat dated. So the fact that publisher North Star Games is at the front line of a new generation of party games is welcome news indeed! Let's introduce you to some of North Star's greatest hits, and don't think too quickly that these are not for you - these are the kinds of games that get love even from folks who don't like traditional trivia games!

Game designer Dominic Crapuchettes began the company, and the party game Cluzzle was his first real step forward into the world of publishing. But it was with the release of the popular title Wits & Wagers that he really hit the big time, and that North Star really began to shine. You can read his own account of the adventure here: North Star Games: it all started on a sinking ship in Alaska. Recently Dominic beat out movie star Daryl Hannah for the Rising Star Game Inventor of the Year award at the 2010 TAGIE Awards, a splendid recognition of his contribution as a designer, and a fitting testimony to the rising success of North Star games.

So what are the more popular games in the North Star lineup? Perhaps you've often come across mention of Wits & Wagers on BGG. And perhaps like me for a long time you've been dismissing it as "just another trivia game". Well now is the time to become enlightened, and acquaint yourself with this and the other hits from North Star Games! Here's a short overview of some of North Star's games, and what they offer.

Wits & Wagers

The big success for North Star was Wits & Wagers (2005), which even now has managed to find its way into big box stores like Target and Walmart. It puts a whole new spin on the trivia genre, by not making the trivia element play a lead role. After all teams have submitted their answer to a particular trivia question, you may bid on an answer that another player/team guessed. This is a great concept, because it means that you stand a chance of earning points even if you don't much idea about the real answer. Is Aunt Joan a history buff? Then let's see what her answer was to this question about the date of this battle, because she's the one most likely to get it right.

Skill and knowledge is still rewarded, but the questions have been designed with just the right level of difficulty to keep the playing field more level, and inject an element of tension and excitement that is not present in most trivia games. Being able to bid chips can increase the risk as well as the rewards, and so there's room for both high risk and low risk players to have a great time - and perhaps eek out a win! It's this bidding/betting mechanic that really makes the game shine, and gives it a game-show feel. As a result, Wits & Wagers rises beyond the mundane that we have come to expect from a trivia game.

It's also ideal for large groups, because players can team up. The essence of gameplay is so easy to explain, making it ideal for having new players on board and enjoying themselves from the get-go. It's quick to play (under 30 minutes), and perhaps best of all, it's buckets full of fun! How many other trivia games do you know that you can honestly describe with the word fun? I'm sure there are some, but "fun" isn't usually the adjective of choice that most people associate with trivia, but it certainly is true of Wits & Wagers!

North Star later came up with the excellent idea of making a family friendly version of their original hit, which they released as Wits & Wagers Family (2010). The Family Edition of the game removes some of the "betting" elements and gambling feel of the original Wits & Wagers, by adding meeples as a simpler scoring system which is more suitable for families - some even prefer this method above the original. The trivia questions are also less obscure, and ideal for a broader audience which can include children from as young as 8. Even though it is geared towards a younger crowd, it's still fun for adults as well!

The Family Edition of Wits & Wagers was the first North Star game we played, and it continues to be well received and see table time on occasion.

Want to learn more? See my full reviews:
mb The Most Award Winning Party Game in History - not just a trivia game, but a game show in a box! (Wits & Wagers)
mb The winning Wits & Wagers formula goes family friendly with the arrival of the meeple in trivia land! (Family Edition)


Say Anything

Dominic teamed up with Satish Pillalamarri to create Say Anything (2008), the next big party game hit from North Star. Just like its predecessor, it went on to win a string of awards. It's also a party game, but borrowed elements from Wits & Wagers that helped make it stand apart from most traditional party games.

In Say Anything, players write answers to a question asked by another player, and score points by trying to guess which of the answers they think he'll pick. Think: Apples to Apples meets Balderdash meets Wits & Wagers. Questions are ones like these: "What would be the dumbest thing to say in a job interview?" "What would be the weirdest thing to collect?" "What's the most important quality a person can have?" Now comes the fun part: Can you think of an answer that the person whose turn it is might pick as the best one? And when everyone has written their answers, can you guess which one you think he'll pick once you see the answers others have written? This bidding/guessing mechanic keeps everyone in the game, and is what makes the game fun for gamers and non-gamers alike.

Say Anything is flexible, very interactive, highly social, and once again it has a huge fun element.

The most recent title from North Star is Say Anything Family Edition (2011), which brings their popular Say Anything game to the family crowd. Say Anything Family has more kid-centric questions (which work fine for adults in a group too) than the original game. And just like Wits & Wagers Family, it features family-friendly meeples on the reverse of the answer boards. One down side is that it caters up to 6 players instead of 8, but a noteworthy positive is that this game makes a massive technological leap from Say Anything's Select-o-matic 5000 by upgrading to the Select-o-matic 6000!

The differences from the original are not huge, which is a good thing, because the successful formula that made Say Anything fun is retained. But overall this is an ideal choice for families and groups with children.

Want to learn more? See my full reviews:
mb The perfect gift to buy for your non-gaming family and friends (Say Anything)
mb A perfect party game for the family (Family Edition)


All the above North Star games are excellent, and I recommend them highly. They all come with dry erase markers and answer boards, and the company is most generous in sending replacement markers. One highlight of the answer boards that come with the family editions of both games is that the reverse sides feature meeples, and since they're designed to be used with dry erase markers, kids will have great fun decorating and customizing these meeples! If you've never played any of North Star's party games, then do yourself a favour - now is the time to get into this exciting new world!


Join the discussion: Has the previous generation of party games run its course, or will they continue to be popular? Have you played any of North Star's games, and how much "fun" did you find them to be? Which is your favourite title, and why? What is it that sets these games apart from most other party games?
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Thu Apr 21, 2011 3:54 am
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The Art of Polyptychs In Games: creative artwork you may not have noticed in some of your games

Ender Wiggins
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I love the extra dose of creativity that some publishers inject in their games. Whether it's an inside joke, an unusual box design where the game box is designed to look like something else - these are good examples of the kinds of things that help make a game special and unique. While these kinds of things don't usually have any real impact on or contribution to the gameplay, they are evidence of the kind of attention to detail that show that the product is a real labour of love for the designer, artist, and/or publisher, and give gamers additional things to appreciate about a game.

Today I want to highlight one such example of creativity in game design: the use of polyptychs in game artwork. In the world of art, a polyptych is "generally refers to a painting (usually panel painting) which is divided into multiple sections, or panels."

To some extent we're all familiar with the idea from the tile-laying mechanic from Carcassonne. But this mosaic concept has been used by many game artists and publishers in other new and interesting ways - occasionally as part of their game design, but more often as a novelty effect. The basic idea is when cards or tiles from a game can be combined in order to form a single panoramic type image.

To illustrate, let's look at a few examples. Here are some cards from the game Caesar & Cleopatra. Notice how the background artwork forms a single and complete image.



The folks at Wizards of the Coast, publishers of the grand-daddy collectible card game Magic: The Gathering, have been doing this kind of thing for a long time. Seen here are various pairs of land cards combine to make a single image.



There are many more examples of Magic the Gathering cards that do this - to see some more, check out this article:

mb Polyptychs and Diptychs: Panoramic images on MtG card artwork

Sometimes this effect has even been applied to game boxes, such as the expansions for Descent: Journeys in the Dark. Seen here is Niagara and its expansion.



Another wonderful illustration of this effect is the background artwork used in the cards of Friedemann Friese's game Famiglia. Pictured here are just three cards which picture a bar called "Friedman's Bar 'N Mart" in the background, but the artwork continues across for the entire stretch of 15 cards in each suit! Isn't this fantastic?



I could mention a large number of other games that include this delightful feature, such as Thurn and Taxis, Dominion: Seaside, Dice Town, Balloon Cup, Thebes, Jamaica, and perhaps the most famous of them all, Lost Cities. Maybe you own some of these games, but had never even noticed?




For a comprehensive list of polyptychs in games, complete with pictures and examples, see:

mb It's a work of art! Games that are puzzles: cards with artwork that forms a single picture when combined

Don't you love it when game designers, artists and publishers put easter eggs and these kinds of special effects in their games?


Join the discussion: Have you come across any games with polyptych artwork? What do you think about game publishers doing this kind of thing with their games? How about games with creative game box designs where the box is designed to look like something else? What other special effects and easter eggs in games (unrelated to the mechanics of the game) do you appreciate, and why?
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Wed Apr 20, 2011 4:57 am
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The Postcard Box Games Series: A big triumph for a little publisher

Ender Wiggins
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There is a well known saying that good things come in small packages. When applied to boardgames, that old adage couldn't be more true of the Postcard Box Games series, published by Indie Boards and Cards. Run by active BGGer Travis Worthington, Indie focuses on publishing and distributing small home-grown games, enabling them to reach and be appreciated by larger audiences. Despite its inconspicuous size and relatively new status as a publisher, Indie has been responsible for some of the newest hotness here on BGG. The Postcard Box Games series consists of three popular titles - Triumvirate, Haggis, and The Resistance - all of which have garnered considerable and well-deserved attention and generated very favourable reviews.

Their quality is immediately obvious from the look of the games themselves, which are small but immediately endearing boxes of an identical size. Have you ever had that experience where you picked up a book and you knew just by the way that it felt in your hands that it was going to be a good read? Well that’s how it feels when you pick up these postcard box games the first time – the box just feels good, they've got a quality look and feel, and are of an ideal size for portability and convenience. But more importantly, you have the immediate impression that they that contain potential – the potential of generating good gaming experiences and lasting memories. And that indeed proves to be the case when we bring these games to the table. Here's a short overview of the three games in this series, and what they offer.

Triumvirate (2009)

The first game in the series is Triumvirate, and being Travis Worthington's own design, to some extent it is the flag-ship for the Indie Board & Cards line. It was originally a self-published game that appeared in a much more humble form, only to be recast with lavish components when the Postcard Box Games series came to be. So why does it deserve our attention? As it is, most of us are always on the lookout for good two-player games that play reasonably quickly and feature satisfying game-play. If you're a fan of traditional type trick-taking games, you'll be well aware that there aren't many trick taking games that meet these criteria and work well with only two players. So when one comes along that does, it's worth taking note - and Triumvirate is one such game.

But while Triumvirate has some trick taking elements that make it appeal to people familiar with more traditional card games, it features an indirect style of trick-taking play that sets it apart. The unconventional aspect of game-play is that you win by supporting the colour you think will win the most tricks, not by winning the tricks themselves. Oh yes, did I mention that it has a theme too? It's pasted on, admittedly, but it does work - at least on the level of making the game become more than just pure numbers. The aim of the game is to secretly pledge support (by setting aside point cards) for one of the three Roman leaders - Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. These are represented by three coloured suits ( red, yellow, and black), and players must try to make that suit win the most tricks. The interesting part is that what matters is not which player wins those tricks, but which colour. Genius! This indirect trick taking mechanism makes for very interesting and subtle gameplay, and there's good elements of bluffing, as well as potential for clever tactical and strategic choices. Admittedly Triumvirate's strength is also its weakness, because the indirect trick taking mechanic is not for everyone - it will primarily appeal to people who enjoy trick taking games and who are prepared to stick it out after their first game.

Altogether it's an innovative and thematic trick taking game for two players that actually works, and really does live up to its billing! So if you enjoy the nuances of trick taking games, and are looking for something to play with two players and are prepared to try something unconventional, definitely go check out Triumvirate! I enjoy it immensely.

Want to learn more? See my full review on Triumvirate: mb An innovative and thematic trick taking game for two players that actually works! and mb A guide to the new edition


Haggis (2010)

Haggis - which happens to be the subject of my latest review - is the second entry in the Postcard Box Games series, and was designed by Sean Ross. It is not a trick-taking game in the conventional sense, but is part of the climbing game family, along with the immensely popular Tichu, which can rightly be considered an esteemed parent of Haggis. Unlike Tichu, which excels as a partnership game for four players, Haggis is designed for 2-3 players, and is widely regarded as doing a superb job of bringing Tichu-like play to a table with less players.

The object of the game is to try to be the first to empty your hand of cards, thus earning points for the cards left in your opponent's hand. In the course of play, you capture the specific scoring cards in the tricks you win. But to really ramp up the fun factor and the excitement, the points that you acquire in this fashion can be further supplemented by betting that you will be the first player to divest yourself of all of your cards. The `betting' at the start of each round just increases the stakes and adds to the tension. Tricks require playing combinations of cards like sets and sequences - concepts that will be somewhat familiar from games like Rummy. But in Haggis each player also starts with three wild cards, and not only can these help you make sets and sequences, but they can also be played together as `Bombs' - essentially big trumps that beat all other combinations of cards, and virtually guarantee you the trick. Bombs help you retain the lead, but come at the cost of giving up the cards from that trick to your opponent. In most cases retaining the lead is worth this cost, because it can help you ensure that you go out first, and so make your bet or stop your opponent making his.

If you are already familiar with climbing games or are an ardent Tichu fan that's looking for something to play with just 2 or 3 players, then you most definitely want to check out Haggis. If you enjoy traditional type card games, you should also give this a close look, because it could well become a modern classic. Once again there are quality components with attractive artwork, and the gameplay itself is tense and exciting, and leaves a lot of room for skill. I've loved Triumvirate from the get-go, but I have to concede that the indirect trick taking mechanism sometimes makes it harder to find willing opponents - that's less likely to be the case with Haggis, which has proven to be a real hit with most people it's introduced to.

Want to learn more? See my full review on Haggis: mb Introducing a Tichu-inspired Haggis You Won’t Want to Hurl!


The Resistance (2010)

The most recent title in the series is The Resistance, which is a social deduction game designed by Don Eskridge, in the style of the ever-popular Werewolf.

In the game, players assume the role of either a Resistance freedom fighter, or a spy for a repressive government that is trying to thwart the efforts of the Resistance rebels. The fun part is that these roles are assigned secretly. Players must then together vote on which of them goes on a mission, which will either pass or fail - the outcome depends on the secret votes cast by those who go on the mission. But this is where the heart of the game kicks in: players will use discussion, deception and intuition in an attempt to identify the members of the opposing force and ensure victory for their team.

It comes in a small pocket-sized box and consists largely of cards, but wow, if ever there was potential to pack an incredible social game experience in a small box, this is it! This is a party game that may prove to become one of the most popular and one of the best. It's a superb social game, very similar in feel to the well-known Mafia or Werewolf - but arguably better. How could a social game be better than Werewolf? Well, for one thing, there's no player elimination. There's also room for more deduction, because players have more data to work with, based on how players vote and the outcome of various missions. It also handles smaller groups, from as few as five or six players. If you enjoy social games with hidden roles, and if you're a fan of Werewolf in particular, The Resistance is essential - I highly recommend it!

Want to learn more? See my full review on The Resistance: mb Potential winner of the next Golden Geek Award for Best Party Game


Join the discussion: Have you played any of these titles, and if so, what did you think? If you haven't played any of these titles, then which one looks the most appealing to you based on the above, and why?
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Thu Mar 17, 2011 4:44 pm
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