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The Reformatted Video Gamer

This blog (thanks to Mezmorki on the name) is a collection of my thoughts as an individual new to hobby board games. I have played video games for much of my life, and am recently discovering the joys of physical games. Observe my wide-eyed fascination with the commonest of board gaming concepts!

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Firefly: What Could Have Been

Brock Poulsen
United States
West Valley City
Utah
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[I played the First Time in the Captain's Chair scenario solo and had an idea...]



Marco stepped into the cockpit, his knuckle making a hollow sound against the steel frame.

"Wave came in from Persephone. Badger's got a job for us." He hesitated. "A heist. In Jiangyin."

Jesse leaned away from the controls, her eyes fixed on the inky darkness out the window. "That'll take us into border space."

Marco's hand drifted to his holster, resting on the cold metal of a hand cannon. "Not deep. And it's a job. Niska - " He paused. "It's a job, and the money's right. Let's just get the thing done."

Jesse flipped a pair of switches on her console. "Sure thing, Captain."

Captain, thought Marco. I could get used to the sound of that. Provided I can pay that snake Niska back.

They'd pulled out of the Space Bazaar only a few hours ago, the ink still wet on the ship's title. A good pilot was the last piece of his plan, and Jesse came recommended. And cheap.

The first part of Marco’s plan had been a certified, respectable companion. Saffron was close enough. She was trained in the academy, but she came with some questionable connections. Marco felt a shiver considering her place on the ship, but a companion opened doors that would otherwise remain closed, and she paid her rent.

The job from Badger was a fine piece of luck. An Alliance train moving their payroll across a backwater planet, minimal security; a real peach. It should go a long way towards clearing his debt.

Part two of the plan was a paying passengers. A trip into the black always seemed to go smoother if someone else was footing the bill. The doctor was willing to part with the coin, and Marco appreciated someone who shared his distaste for Alliance interference.

"Morning, Doc," said Marco as he passed the doctor's open bunk. Simon sat at makeshift desk, his back uncomfortably straight, peering over his red-tinted glasses at a datapad with a rapidly shifting display. The doctor waved dismissively at Marco, but his traveling companion, a young girl whose blinded eyes were wrapped with a bandage, stepped gracefully toward the door.

She leaned close to Marco. "I'm not blind, you know," she whispered. "I can see through you. I can see space from here."

The captain stood in the doorway, mouth agape, as she turned and leapt across the room, landing on her bed without a sound. Simon glanced at the door, then at his companion, and slid the door closed with his foot.

Marco gathered himself enough to raise his hand and stop the door. "Doc, I need to talk to you about something. We've got a job on the next world, could use your help."

Without shifting his gaze, Simon answered. "Does someone require medical attention?"

"Not in so many words. Ship could use a new drive core, bills gotta be paid. But really I'm in need of your status. The job's on an Alliance train, and I could use a little credibility."

"Do I want to know the reason we'll be boarding an Alliance train in Border Space?"

Marco crossed his arms. "It's a liberation mission. Freeing some cargo, held captive against its will. You help on a job like this, it could serve to further endear me to you; convince me to keep you on the ship."

"I paid my fare," said Simon, placing his datapad on the desk. "My credits should be all the endearment required."

"Fare pays for fuel, sure." Marco scratched his stubble. "Helping on a job like this will make me likely to keep you around, in the event that fuel ever runs low." He turned from the room, then called over his shoulder, "And bring the girl!"

The Yun Qi entered Jiangyin's hazy atmosphere a few hours later. Saffron waved a potential client for clearance to land, and within moments of the ship touching down they were met by a carriage, drawn by four horses. A bearded man climbed out of the carriage, his boots heavy on the dirt and his clothing immaculate.

Saffron gathered her skirts and descended the ship's ramp, taking careful steps across the dusty ground as she crossed to meet the man. Her heels left tiny indentations in her wake, like morse code in the dirt.

"Hello, Ernest!" She greeted him with a kiss on the cheek, then whispered something in his ear that turned him a bright shade of red.

"Ernest is head of security on this lovely planet." Saffron wrapped herself around Ernest’s arm, her eyes on his face as he addressed the rest of the ship’s occupants.

“Welcome to Jiangyin. Anything you folks need, you just let my men there know.” He gestured to a small group of men.

Marco tipped his hat to the men. “I reckon we’re going to take a ride on this train of yours. See the sights while we’re here.”



The doors to the train slid open without a sound, and the travelers boarded a passenger car. Simon’s hand rested on his companion’s arm, guiding her to sit next to a window and settling himself cautiously into the aisle seat. Marco glanced at the car directly in front of theirs. Two figures wearing alliance blue stood guard at the door connecting the cars.

The girl - who Marco had overheard Simon calling River - had abandoned the blind guise and the bandages, to the obvious chagrin of her protector. She stared out the window with a look of wonder, her mouth hanging open as the train picked up speed across the unsettled plains.

Marco leaned across the aisle and spoke in a low voice. “It’s a simple thing, Doc. I’ll handle those guards and get us in the next car. Cargo’s being held in there. Jesse will run the Skiff up next to the train, easy as you please, and latch on.”

He paused as a woman in a crisp uniform stepped between them. ”It’ll keep Jesse close and steady, and we just toss the loot, and then ourselves, out the window onto the Skiff. Then we turn around with our haul, collect Saffron, and leave this place in our wake before they even know it’s missing.”

Simon listened, his face unchanging, as Marco finished. “How do you plan to get past the guards? And what exactly is my part in this?”

Marco nodded toward the woman sitting in front of him. “I think this lady is having a heart attack,” he whispered. His hand, holding a small syringe, slipped around the seat and pricked the woman in the thigh.

Almost immediately she began to convulse. “I think she’s having a heart attack!” Marco said, louder this time. He scrambled past panicked passengers to the front of the car, exiting to the outer platform with the two guards. Simon had already begun tending to the woman, but River watched as Marco gestured wildly to the guards, describing the emergency within the passenger car. Every traveler’s attention was on Simon and the stricken woman, so only River saw Marco put a bullet into each of the guards. They slumped to the platform, and Marco quickly made his way into the cargo car.

Once inside, Marco radioed Jesse, and she reported all was going according to plan. He found the payroll stored in several bags; a sizeable sum in untraceable Alliance credits. As he lifted the first bag, River was at his side.

“Gorrammit, girl, don’t you make noise when you move?” His words hissed through his teeth.

River was looking past him, a distant horror in her eyes. “They’re coming,” she whispered. “Two by two…” River collapsed in a heap on the payroll bags.

Marco stood for a moment, considering his options. “Supposed to be an easy job,” he said as he stepped over her body toward the passenger car.

He shoved several people aside as he returned to Simon, and the woman who had been convinced she’d simply had a fainting spell from the heat.

“Excuse me, folks,” said Marco, “but the doctor is needed in the next car.”

He dragged Simon by the arm to the cargo car, and his unconscious companion.

“What did you do?” Simon accused, lowering himself to his knees and checking River’s pulse.

“Your girlfriend went loony. Loonier. And fainted. She said something about ‘two by two.’”

Simon looked at Marco, then the far door. “Sister. She’s my sister. And we need to leave.”

Marco seized a bag. “Not without my loot, we’re not.”

Simon took the other man by the coat and lifted him bodily to the window. “We won’t just be caught, Captain. We’ll be killed. Go!”

As Marco slid down to the Skiff waiting below, Simon lifted River in his arms and exited through the window behind him.

River came to quickly on the floor of the Skiff. The small transport remained latched to the side of the train, partially obscured by the dust and the sheer size of the train.

“What was that about?” Marco shoved Simon’s shoulder.

“I recognized that phrase. ‘Two by two, hands of blue.’ My sister is not afraid of anything, but that’s what she says in her nightmares. If that’s what in that train car now, we don’t want to have anything do with it.”

“We’re not leaving without this loot. I didn’t drag your hide out to this unsettled horse-drawn planet so we could turn tail.” Marco drew his gun and aimed it at River. “Get back in there and get my loot.”

Simon stared the other man down for a tense moment. At last he turned to the train, and began to climb the latch to the window.

River stood. “No. Simon.” She pulled him down from the connection. “You’ve taken care of me. It’s my turn now.”

With inhuman grace she bounded up the connection and leapt through the window. As she landed in the darkened room, two men stood in white coats. They both reached blue hands into their pockets, retrieving silver guns with long barrels.

River kicked a bag of money at one of the men, and slid on her knees toward the other, passing just under his first shot. She rose with a hand clutching his wrist, driving the heel of her other hand into his elbow, the sick crunch of bone signalling its break. She spun him around, placing him between her and the first man. She ran toward the end of the car, leaping to the side as she reached the first man. She held onto the second man’s broken arm and ran along the wall, using him as an anchor to swing around and kick the first man across the face.

As she landed between them, she brought her heel down on the side of the first man’s knee, collapsing it at an unnatural angle. She thrust her fist into the first man’s throat, and brought her knee across the second man’s forehead, reducing both to heaps on the floor of the train.

In the Skiff, Simon sat wringing his hands, held at bay by Marco’s gun.

“I’m giving her ten more seconds, and then you’re going in after her.” Before Marco could start counting, the first bag slid down the connection. It was followed by several more, then by River.

She sat next to Simon, whose shaking hand wiped a bit of blood from her cheek.

Jesse unhooked the Skiff and wheeled it around, headed back to Saffron and the Yun Qi.

Marco holstered his weapon with a smile. “Having you aboard is going to be interesting, isn’t it?”
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Mon Jun 15, 2015 6:37 pm
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Turn and Face the Strange

Brock Poulsen
United States
West Valley City
Utah
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It's been a while since I last posted, and some fairly significant changes have taken place within my gaming environment.

Probably most significant, I've joined the 1 Player Guild. It is, in my opinion, up there with the Thrifters Guild as two of the best places on the Geek. Joining this guild has been only slightly harmful to my wallet, largely as a result of me realizing that most of my gaming opportunities are solo ones.

I play games sporadically with a small group of friends, or with my wife. With my wife it's mostly Bohnanza or Carcassonne, though I recently found a copy of Swish that has gone over exceptionally well. Short review of Swish: it is fast and fun (even faster if you ignore the rule about announcing "swish" and stopping play), and teaching the game is literally a matter of showing someone two cards. Lots of fun.

With my game group it's a wide variety. We've tried games with campaigns - Mice & Mystics, Gears of War, Level 7: Omega Protocol - but none of us can really make that kind of commitment. I think a solution may have just presented itself: my friend recently acquired Star Wars: Imperial Assault, and we've talked about a 2-player campaign. It's much easier to coordinate just the two of us rather than an additionaly 2 or 3 players.

But with the unreliable nature of multiplayer gaming, one thing I can always fall back on is the block of time after the kids are in bed, and before I go to bed. My wife runs a business from our home, and can often be found using that block of time for sewing (more on that in an upcoming post), and I typically use it to read or write, or watch something dumb on TV.

When I started this hobby a few short years ago, the idea of playing games alone seemed sad and strange. I would set up a new game by myself for learning purposes, certainly, but to play alone? Very odd.

Now I can't imagine life without solo gaming. Not getting pummeled by the robot from Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm? Inconceivable!

(Short review of that game: There's a reason Race for the Galaxy is considered a classic. The game system is elegant. Ignore anything you've heard about the iconography - the included reference sheet has everything you need, and after a play or two [bet you can't play just once!] you'll pick it up quick. Add the Gathering Storm expansion and a backdrop starts to develop; cards begin to socket together in interesting combinations, using keywords and common attributes to pile on the victory points. Using the robot AI to play solo makes for a fantastic challenge and really helps the game shine.)

Another solo staple has been Rallyman. This game caught my eye a few months back, surprising me because it's not a theme I ever had any interest in. I really enjoy the push-your-luck aspect and the little cars!

Okay, that's enough for now. More on lots of stuff later!
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Tue May 19, 2015 4:23 am
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Smash Up and Game Conversion

Brock Poulsen
United States
West Valley City
Utah
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I have a friend, we'll call him Dave. Dave and his wife are the best friends my wife and I have ever had. Those of you in couples are likely familiar with the frustrations that come with trying to make couple friends. Maybe you all get along together, but not separately. Maybe one half of each couple enjoy a hobby or activity, but the other half despises it.

The point is, Dave and his wife are our perfect couple friends. And until a couple weeks ago, we hadn't seen each other in over a year and a half. We both have had children (coincidentally the third child for both couples) in the intervening time. Their precocious four-year-old girl is now a very grown-up six. We live perhaps a mile from one another, and both have felt absolutely wretched about letting a cherished friendship slip from our grasp. But Dave works extremely hard to support his family, and travels more than he'd like, and this leaves little time for him to see his kids, let alone coordinate an outside social life.

But a couple weeks ago, we finally were able to coordinate our various schedules and bring the kids to Dave's house for a barbecue and a rousing night of games.

My gaming with Dave had in the past consisted entirely of a few games of Munchkin, and him confiding in me that his favorite board game is Risk. "Best game ever made," he told me.

But I was still excited for some games. Dave is good company and I was sure we'd have fun regardless.

He went to his game cupboard, and I snuck a peek over his shoulder as he reached for a game out of my sight. I spotted a familiar game, and said, "Hey, you have Forbidde Island! I was going to bring that!"

He revealed the game he'd been retrieving. "Have you played Smash Up?" he asked. His fists raised triumphantly in the air when I indicated that I had not.

So we had a rousing game of Smash Up on a table on their back porch, interspersed with chasing and comforting kids. It was a delightful evening, and I insisted Dave join me at my next game night.

Game night arrived and, by a stroke of luck, he was able to make it! We played a four-player game of Smash Up that was enjoyed by all. I like the odd combinations and crazy mental images, and the gameplay is good.

I also introduced Brad to my faorite game, one that I was certain he'd like: Summoner Wars. I feel like I can't avoid mentioning it on any of my blog posts, because much of my gaming revolves around it.

Dave was instantly a fan, and has since called it his new favorite game. He owns the app with all the factions, and has recruited friends and family to the game. He's joined me in the great crusade of spreading the good word of Summoner Wars!

I attribute a few things to his (and anyone's, really) instant affection for the game.
1. Varying factions - The variety and balance of the different armies means there's something for everyone, and often multiple somethings for an individual anyone.
2. Quick to learn - The rules are easy to grasp within a turn or two, and once you get the basic rules you can focus on strategy.
3. Deep strategy combined with randomness - Dave is a fan of both the mental excercise of chess, and also the dice-y swings in Risk. Summoner Wars is neither, but manages some of the fun of both of them.

So another game night is in order, and next time, I think it's going to be City of Remnants on the table.
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Thu Dec 25, 2014 4:04 am
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This is also not a review of Dead of Winter

Brock Poulsen
United States
West Valley City
Utah
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The first thing I want to say about Dead of Winter is that is beautiful. The artist, Fernanda Suarez, is extremely talented. The characters' faces really seem alive with emotion. Plus most of them are super attractive (what's up, Mayor Zac Efron?). I first admired the cover with the shrink still on, and enjoyed the dramatic close-ups of the characters, and the psuedo-3D lettering. Then I removed the shrink, and KAPOW! The way the light plays off of the combination of glossy and matte finishes is fantastic, and really needs to be seen to be appreciated. So as soon as you get a chance, buy yourself a copy and crack that shrink.

I think the decision to go with cardboard standees instead of miniatures was 100% the right way to go. It means you get great art on the characters every play, and it means you don't pay $100+ for a giant box of plastic. The other components are also lovely, though the search cards might be a slightly thinner card than I'm used to with Plaid Hat. Basically a non-issue.

I played a solo game tonight, playing 2 groups of survivors. I enjoyed it, and it was a tense and pretty satisfying victory in the "We Need More Samples" scenario. I know it's been said before, but this game probably needs more than 2 players to truly shine. It still has a ton of potential with 2, and I think playing through the other scenarios strictly two-player co-op could be a lot of fun.

But tonight's game was mostly a learning game, trying to get the flow of the game and the mechanics down. I'm extremely excited to play this with my group. I look forward to the fear and suspicion, the accusations flying around the table. I truly haven't been this excited about a game in a very long time. I found myself not reading the Crossroads cards if the first line didn't apply, because even though there are 80 of them, I don't want to spoil any more than was absolutely necessary. I haven't read any of the secret objectives, because I want to be surprised.

I love the way a story can emerge from just a few simple card flips. It's a pretty amazing system, and I can't wait to get into it.
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Wed Aug 13, 2014 2:00 pm
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A Triumphant Return

Brock Poulsen
United States
West Valley City
Utah
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Okay, so there's a distinct lack of triumph, but it has been nearly two years since I last updated this blog, so let's at least agree to call this a return. I last wrote in October 2012 (!), and at the time I was just starting out as a volunteer for Plaid Hat Games, having just run my first Summoner Wars demo for a very Magic-focused group.

Since then, I've continued to volunteer in the Plaid Hat Corps, teaching the delightful Mice & Mystics, the criminally underrated City of Remnants, and the gorgeous BioShock Infinite: Siege of Columbia. I attended Utah's board game convention, SaltCon, in 2013 and 2014, and will definitely make it a tradition.

I'm really looking forward to Dead of Winter. My copy is currently sitting in the Salt Lake City post office, awaiting delivery on Monday. I had really hoped I would have it by now, and be able to write some thoughts. I'm also currently helping to playtest the next game from Plaid Hat, Ashes. It is a two-player game about battling spellcasters, and it uses some very fun mechanisms. The art that I've seen so far is gorgeous. This new artist they've hired is extremely talented.

I'm also hoping to contribute some fiction for the game. Without spoiling anything, the game world's magic system is a very intriguing one, and I have a few ideas I'd like to develop.

Recent gaming has mostly included games I've already mentioned, however I have played a good deal of Firefly: The Game lately, both solo and 2- and 3-player games. There is a gaming group I found on Meetup that has a pretty good turnout and meets every Saturday, and this is also where I was able to try Lords of Waterdeep a few weeks ago.

I enjoyed it as a worker placement game, though my experience in these games is pretty shallow (the only other I've played being Carson City, which I think is superb). I agree with what seems to be the general opinion that the theme is weak, but with a little mental effort I was able to imagine those purple cubes as crackling with supernatural energy. I think it's a solid game, and I would definitely play it again. I like the way the buildings work, how being the player who builds it usually means you won't get to use it right away, but having ownership grants other useful perks.

More blogs to come. I'd like to make this a more regular occurrence, as an outlet for my thoughts as I continue to be immersed in this lovely cardboard world.
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Sun Aug 10, 2014 6:35 am
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Plaid Hat Corps and other Stuff

Brock Poulsen
United States
West Valley City
Utah
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It's been pretty quiet for me in terms of gaming lately. I've been doing some video gaming, because PlayStation Plus has been very generous lately. I've downloaded Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game and Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One (among others) for free, and have been enjoying them.

The Ratchet & Clank games are probably in my top 5 favorite game franchises. All 4 One isn't the best in the series; it's a much lighter take on the formula, and suffers because of some the exclusions. It does some interesting things, some of which I like and some I don't. It's too linear for a Ratchet & Clank game, but the Save spots/Checkpoints are too far apart for a "casual" type game. I do like the way the game encourages teamwork through mechanics, like the way using the same weapon as your partner increases your fire rate and damage. I'll probably play at least a little bit more, because I love the humor and creativity in these games.

Most of my board gaming had been sort of unintentionally put on hold in preparation for Wednesday night's event: I hosted my very first Summoner Wars demo at a local game store. I heard about the Plaid Hat Corps (basically their "street team") a couple weeks ago on their podcast, and I knew it was my destiny to spread the good word.

The store I demoed at is the Game Den, at 2700 West 4700 South in Salt Lake City, Ut, and for the most part it is a very Magic: The Gathering focused store. Every time I've been in the store it's just a few guys (usually including the owner) sitting at a table playing Magic.

Initially I was a little nervous about a group that is already so invested in another game, but they took to it very quickly and enthusiastically. One pair played through about 5 games, with one player trying out several decks and the other sticking with the Benders the whole time.

I've taught Summoner Wars to friends, family members, and now strangers at a game store, and it's an absolutely fantastic game to teach. The rules can be explained in 10 minutes or less, and are easy to grasp (after 2 games, most of the first people I'd taught were teaching new players). But my favorite thing about teaching this game is answering questions that new players might think are outlandish or funny.

Some examples from last night:

Can you heal your units? (Let me direct you to the Vanguards)
Can my walls attack? (Can I interest you in a Grognack or a Fury of Godshome?)
Can I move through walls? (Perhaps a Winged Mutant or Archangel would tickle your fancy?)
Can my walls move? (Maybe sir would like to sample the Sand Goblins or Deep Dwarves.)
Can I put walls on my opponent's side? (Allow me to demonstrate an overgrowth of Vine walls, or an event that transforms Stone Golems into Walls.)

There's so many crazy possibilities that have already been thought of and implemented. What a fantastic game. I'm excited to keep teaching and running demos.
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Thu Oct 4, 2012 9:48 pm
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inFAMOUS 2, Finally

Brock Poulsen
United States
West Valley City
Utah
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I had originally titled my blog "The Reformed Video Gamer," but changed it to its current name for a couple of reasons. First, it was pointed out to me that "Reformatted" was a better and more clever name, which is certainly true.

Second, I felt like "Reformed" carried a suggestion that there was something wrong or undesirable about being a video gamer, and that was not at all my intention. Video games have been my primary entertainment/hobby for quite some time, but in the past year or so board games have slowly taken that spot.

But I still have a place in my heart for digital media, and I still play video games from time to time. The past week or so, circumstances have presented me with an unusual number of opportunities to spend time with my PS3. I decided to revisit Infamous 2, a game I haven't played in probably close to a year. I had finished about 60% of the game, and for reasons I can't remember I lost interest (possibly I just sold it while the value was still high [I'm cheap, remember?]).

Having reacquired the game, I dove right back in as if I had never left New Marais. There is a lot to like about this game. I really enjoyed its predecessor, Infamous, but found it to suffer from a few rather serious drawbacks, to the point that I never finished it. But it had an interesting story, a good character progression system, and some seriously fun gameplay mechanics. The "stunt" system (also present in Infamous 2) makes combat an absolute blast, rewarding players for defeating enemies in creative and elaborate ways.

The setting for the sequel serves as a sort of tribute to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. Large parts of New Marais had been flooded prior to Cole's story. These flooded portions of the city, with their partially destroyed buildings and makeshift shelters, serve a mechanical function, since Cole's electric powers don't allow him to be immersed in water, in addition to providing powerful thematic images.

These images, in part, serve to endear the player to the people of New Marais and their struggle. Side quests become less of a completionist obligation and more of an implusion; I feel like I really am the hero of New Marais, and should act the part. That the citizens join in my fight, throwing rocks and attacking my enemies, reinforces my feelings of loyalty.

Infamous 2 does several things that keep it from becoming another "same-y" open world game. The morality system and citizens' reactions help the city feel like a living place with actual consequences. Many open-world games have the player searching for some kind of collectibles, and Infamous 2 is no different. The items in question (Blast Shards), however, serve to boost your abilities and are generally found right out in the open in the course of gameplay. When I finally decided to hunt them down, I only had about 50 remaining. Finding them is simplified by the radar, which can be upgraded to indicate the closest Shard, no matter how far away. Add to this the abilities that assist in traveling , like the Ice Launch, which propels Cole into the air, and the Lightning Tether, functionally a grappling hook, and this item hunt becomes yet another layer of enjoyable gameplay.

I should be finishing the game (as a Good character, at least) sometime this week, and my plan is to play through as an Evil character next. It almost seems a shame, though; I really have grown attached to the people of New Marais, and I really like the ice powers you gain from siding with Good.

Regardless of my alignment, I'm excited to see the story resolved and see what's next for Cole, Kuo, and even Zeke.
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Wed Sep 5, 2012 8:36 pm
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Gaming with my Brother

Brock Poulsen
United States
West Valley City
Utah
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My younger brother, Brandel, is in the Naval Reserves, and has been serving in Afghanistan for about 6 months. He qualified for leave this past weekend, and got to come home to stay for a week or so.

We went to my parents' house to welcome him home, and wouldn't you know it: I just happened to bring some games along! I've talked to him over email about how much I love Summoner Wars, and he was excited to try it out. He's a fan of Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons, and no stranger to the geek world. He, like me, has mostly been into video games, but I'm trying to introduce him to some of the board games I've discovered recently.

When teaching Summoner Wars, I typically try to give my opponent a faction with relatively simple and positive abilities, so they don't feel picked on by me or the game. It's also much more pleasant when I can remind them of the extra cool things their guys can do, rather than stopping the action to remind them of things they can't do.

This usually means I suggest the Phoenix Elves for new opponents. They have pretty straightforward events and most (all?) of their units have positive abilities. With Brandel, he picked them for his first game without any prompting on my part, and immediately identified them as "sort of a squishy faction."

I chose the Cave Goblins to show off their sneakiness and extra attacks. I love the reaction I almost always get when I show my opponent the Eater: typically a combination of awe and fear. The Cave Goblins do a good job of showing the potential for game altering special abilities; there are abilities that activate at the end of the attack phase, at the end of your turn, abilities that let you attack all adjacent enemies, and lots of other interesting things.

I tried some pretty aggressive tactics - moreso than I usually do with a new opponent, playing Goblin Invincibility and then using Sneeks' ability to get him deep into enemy territory. Brandel actually countered it quite deftly with a great use of the Blaze Step ability, blocking my path to his summoner. He played the Elves well, but in the end he made some crucial mistakes and I was able to overwhelm Prince Elien for the killing blow.

One of my favorite things about Summoner Wars is the instant replayability. My brother immediately wanted to play another game, so we chose our factions. He was very excited by the prospect of the Fallen Kingdom, and I went with the Swamp Orcs. I love the way the Fallen Kingdom's thematic events and abilities, like allowing you to sacrifice units to help pay for others, or causing commons to burst out of the ground around Ret-Talus. Very dramatic and impressive, and Brandel was suitably delighted.

I didn't play the Swamp Orcs particularly well, but still managed a victory when he forgot to account for my Vine Wall allowing me to summon near his summoner.

Another game, you say? Of course! This time I went with the Benders and my brother chose the Mountain Vargath. I immediately started to realize just how cruel the Benders can be to an opponent. Brandel took it with considerable grace, and played his units' abilities really well. Quen's multiple attacks allowed him to do some considerable damage and mount a very capable defense.

Unfortunately for him, a couple well-timed draws of Magic Drain allowed me to be a super jerk and summon a champion for the final blow. I feel slightly bad that I defeated him three games in a row, but he really enjoyed the game and was able to see some of the incredible potential in these little decks of cards.

I love this game so hard. Such an incredible accomplishment of balance and strategy.
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Fri Aug 31, 2012 5:30 pm
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Writing about Board Games

Brock Poulsen
United States
West Valley City
Utah
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A few years ago, a couple friends and I started a website called sell the lie (remnants of which still exist on blogspot, but sellthelie.com is sadly no longer available). We blogged about new music, music we love, and music that we don't love. After regular updates for over a year, I started to lose steam. I reached a point where I felt like I didn't have anything new or interesting to say. I'm not a musician (not a talented one, anyway), and there's something to be said for having a good understanding of music theory when taking a critical ear to music.

More recently, I did some writing about another passion of mine. I wrote reviews and opinion pieces for a small video game site called GoozerNation. I've loved video games since the days of 5.25" floppies on my parents' computer. I (in my opinion, I guess) am better at writing about video games than about music, due in no small part to years of playing classic games like Donkey Kong Country, Yoshi's Island, Diablo II, Metal Gear Solid, and lots of others.

I like writing about video games because of the depth of choice and meaning in a good video game. At GoozerNation I wrote a few articles about morality and metaphor in games, and they are concepts I'm constantly thinking about when I play virtually any kind of game. I find myself projecting motive and consequence onto my characters, and thinking about possible ramifications and symbolism.

Because of these experiences and fond memories, I feel comfortable and competent when it comes to writing about video games. I have a good understanding of video game mechanics, context, objectives, and other essential things to analyze and critique board games.

With board games, on the other hand, I am coming in completely fresh. I don't have a well of experience from which to draw. I can't compare new board game experiences with past ones, other than the occasional childhood game of Chess or Stratego. I have a harder time applying my quizzical eye to board games - not because these deeper elements aren't present, but because my experiences thus far have been so much more shallow when compared to my past with video games.

I recently had the opportunity to help a fellow BGGer (Danath) do some playtesting on an expansion to Railways of the Western U.S., and while trying to write up some of my thoughts, it became apparent to me that I can't yet write about board games the way I do about video games. Reading Justin's thoughts on the game very much impressed me, both with the depth and the specificity of his criticism.

The only possible solution: play more board games! This is a solution I'm very happy with, and am making efforts to have new and different game experiences.
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Wed Aug 29, 2012 2:15 pm
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Lord of the Ringseses

Brock Poulsen
United States
West Valley City
Utah
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I have a good friend - whose name also happens to be Brock - who is a huge Lord of the Rings fan. During and after high school, while we were all a little bit obsessed with Peter Jackson's movies, Brock was purchasing a replica of the Sword that was Broken. A couple months ago I went to visit a bunch of (non-gamer) friends, including Brock, and brought along some games. After a rousing game of Dungeon Run, he said, "It would be so cool if there was a Lord of the Rings board game."

Oh, Brock; you are in luck. I'm going to open his eyes to this marvelous world of gaming one trip to Mordor at a time.

The first games I tracked down were the Hobbit and the 2000 Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit might get skipped in favor of better games, but I acquired them together from a local seller, and figured it might be a fun play prior to the upcoming movie. I like the way Lord of the Rings follows the arc of the books, and has the group struggling to fight, travel, hide, and build friendships with relatively simple mechanics. As much as I like this LotR game, I am really excited to show him Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.

My last blog entry discussed in great detail my struggle to obtain my copy of LotR: LCG. Well, I finally have it! I found an ebay seller who is local, and got a discount (remember, I'm a miser!) on this game plus a couple of Summoner Wars reinforcement decks.

I like the way 2000's Lord of the Rings depicts the different aspects of Frodo's quest, but I love the mechanics of LotR: LCG. It's such a masterful blending of theme and function, with depth, strategy, complexity, and decisions that have genuine consequences. I'm impressed that playing "against" the game, which is simply a pile of cards, can bring such variety and tension. I hate those Shadow cards so much!

I like that both games require the player to balance quest progress with combat, depicting the desperate struggle against evil forces. I have a feeling the Middle-Earth mythology and history in LotR:LCG is going to blow my friend's mind. Now to set up a game night! Hopefully he brings Andúril!
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Thu Aug 23, 2012 5:23 pm
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