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I managed to play and review almost 50 different new games in the last 12 months, not including familiar games I've learned in previous years and which made it back to the table. I figured that this would be a good time to reflect back on the games that I've had a chance to look at over the past year, especially those that I was able to explore in more depth by means of a review.
I've arranged them into different categories as follows:
• Strategy Games
• Family Games
• Two Player Games
• Card Games
• Word Games
• Party Games
• Dexterity Games
• Children's Games
• Themeless Games
• Unique Games
• Old Favourites
Look for the first installment to appear here within the next day! (and consider subscribing to the blog if you wish to be notified of additions)
A full six and a half years after posting my very first session report to BGG, I've reached a new milestone: 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:
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 Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: A sample turn of Carl Chudyk's innovative new civilization-themed card game
103 Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: A sample game of 2 de Mayo
102 Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: A sample turn as a weakened King Henry VI fights desperately to save London!
76 Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: Let's learn how to play Haggis!
60 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 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 The perils of serving Haggis for a date-night on Valentine's Day: an eyewitness report
50 New World Records: Celebrating the 2008 Olympics with Knizia's Decathlon
37 Rewriting History: the intense and hilarious drama of my best ever game that I didn't even play
37 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 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 Extreme Scrabble: Taking Scrabble to where it's never been taken before!
67 A giant sized version proves a big hit with seniors at an outdoor garden party (with pictures!)
44 Introducing three children to the city of Belfort (a report with pictures)
35 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 The Masked Man goes homeless and hungry after drafting his beloved Cube (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #25, Week 10)
37 The Masked Man helps usher in a new error* in the anals* of human history (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #14, Week 5)
31 The Masked Man fiddles while Rome burns (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #11, Week 3)
20 The Masked Man meets the world's ugliest San Juan themed tablecloth (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #21, Week 8)
18 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 In which Ender plays his first ever game of Tigris & Euphrates
22 Will 1960 fade into obscurity in 2012?
20 The tension that is Agricola - but do I like it or not?
19 Ender revolts against the game: Why should I play for 3 hours and not even finish Turn 1? (with pictures)
16 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 The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #1 Lifeboats
11 The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #3 Vikings
4 The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #4 Pandemic
5 The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #6 Age of Empires III
4 The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #8 Attribute
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:
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?
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: 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 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: 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: 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: 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?
Thu Jul 28, 2011 11:48 am
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
● 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!
"What a BRAIN BURNER!"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:
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:
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:
Ender's Greatest Hits: Celebrating 100,000 thumbs and a platinum meeple
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!
Tue May 17, 2011 12:56 am
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
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: 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!
Wed May 11, 2011 10:00 am
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.
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:
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.)
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:
The Most Award Winning Party Game in History - not just a trivia game, but a game show in a box! (Wits & Wagers)
The winning Wits & Wagers formula goes family friendly with the arrival of the meeple in trivia land! (Family Edition)
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:
The perfect gift to buy for your non-gaming family and friends (Say Anything)
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?
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:
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:
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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