Playing my Collection 2013

I want to play all the games in my collection this year. In this blog I'll document my progress and make some brief comments about each play.

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Game #44: The Dwarf King

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The Dwarf King

My wife and I bought this a little over a year ago when we saw it in our FLGS and thought its theme looked delightful.

We need to do a better job of checking how many players new games will support before buying. Too late we discovered the three-player minimum on this game. We tried playing it back then with just the two of us and found it quite unenjoyable.

So on Sunday when my nephew came over to play some games, I was apprehensive about pulling this one out. But we had three players and we needed three players and I have this goal to achieve, so out it came.

I was sorry I ever shortchanged it!

We used to play a lot of Hearts in my family growing up, and in sixth grade I played a lot of Euchre when blizzards kept us from going out for recess. In high school I got into Oh Hell!, and for a while my wife and I played Pinochle all the time. So I was no stranger to trick-taking games (though my nephew, surprisingly, was — I think I need to have a talk with my sister about how she's raising her kids before my nieces become adults).

But The Dwarf King does something with trick-taking that really makes for an exciting game. In each hand, the method for scoring changes. So in one hand the scoring might be negative points for taking cards of a given suit, as in Hearts. But then in the next turn, you might win positive points for taking cards of a particular rank. And then in the next turn you might win points for the size of the largest single-suit sequence in the cards you've taken. And it changes in each of the game's seven hands.

This required a lot of mental shifting in how I approached each hand. Though the possibility to shoot the moon in Hearts can open up the option to play your hand a different way, for the most part the underlying strategy of each hand is the same, which can lead to monotony. The Dwarf King eliminates that strategic rut, and I loved that. I didn't want the game to end after seven hands.

I'd love to play this game more. It's quick, simple, and fun, with a rather cute (albeit non-integral) theme. It would make a great filler/icebreaker game in any 3- to 5-player group.

The final score:
Tiwsman: 3
Nephew: -10
superwingers: -14
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Fri Jul 12, 2013 10:18 pm
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Game #43: Poker

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Poker

Happy Independence Day! We wanted to celebrate with a good American-themed game and after looking over our collection, we felt like this would be the best choice. And it felt very patriotic (especially following it up with a rodeo).

I was introducing the game to my nephew, so we played just some basic varieties: five-card draw (the first variety of poker I learned), five-card stud, and then seven-card draw.

Nothing of value was involved, and we used chips basically just to keep score. We each started with the same amount of chips and played until we ran out of time and had to leave for the rodeo.

My nephew loved it! I was surprised that he hadn't played it before. It was always a favorite in my family growing up, but now that I think about it more, I suppose my sister (his mom) didn't play it as much as my brothers and I did. But he loves it now. He even came over this weekend to play it again, so I introduced him to Texas Hold 'Em. I could see us developing regular poker nights.

The final percentage gains and losses for our Independence Day play:
superwingers: +31%
Tiwsman: -9%
Nephew: -22%
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Tue Jul 9, 2013 4:35 am
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Game #42: Battle Cry — Sesquicentennial Edition

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Battle Cry: 150th Civil War Anniversary Edition

I cannot believe the horror of this day's carnage.

Five full brigades of infantry emerged from Spangler's Woods on what might have been — what should have been, by all rights, in such heat and one day before Independence Day — a lazy, sunny afternoon, and were immediately set on by fire from the Federals' cannon and infantry, sitting as happy as you please behind their stone wall.

Take that ridge, was the command from Old Bobbie Lee. Take that ridge. It's less than a mile away and you'll have five brigades full and fresh in your center and three brigades on your left, with a whole line of artillery to support your advance.

Take that ridge, and you break the Federals' line. Take that ridge, and you win the day.

We set out double time to crest of the ridge.

Federal fire sliced two entire brigades into ribbons before a single Virginian boot came within kicking distance of that damned wall.

General Armistead, he cut a fine figure leading his men over the wall, his hat perched aloft on his upraised saber. But the bluebellies sure cut a fine figure out of him in short order. Within maybe two minutes of taking that portion of the wall, they lunged at him from every direction. His entire brigade went down right before my eyes. I did not see Armistead himself fall, but I learned later that he had been mortally wounded.

The Yankee artillery then turned on me and the last brigade remaining from among my five that had initially advanced. Three thousand men had walked with me the whole way from out of those trees just a mile back. Three thousand men had braved that march. Three thousand fell dead all around me, marching now through the gates of heaven.

I sent word back to the artillery to advance. By God, the artillery! But I had been told to the take the ridge, and if I had to do it with nothing but the damned artillery, I was going to do it.

The artillery held out longer than my boys had done. And they gave enough fire to those people on the ridge to let Pettigrew's three tired brigades advance into the fight.

But the end was written before the day had begun. It was too much ground to cover, uphill, in an open field of fire against an entrenched Federal position. They had us licked just like we'd licked them back at Fredericksburg, and from the jeers those bluecoats gave us, I knew they knew it, too.

And old Hancock, well that devil would never cede an inch of ground to us, no matter how valiantly we advance or how valiantly we fought. No, Hancock would just make sure we were all valiantly slaughtered. Not that he had a taste for blood, mind you. Just that no one had ever taught that poor bastard how to quit.

All told, I lost all five of my infantry brigades, a section of artillery, and General Lewis A. Armistead, my veritable right hand, to those Yankee curs, while putting only two brigades of theirs out of the fight and seizing one battery.

I walked back alone to our lines. When General Lee saw me, he told me to reform my division at our rear in preparation for a Federal counterattack. My division? I asked him. General Lee, I said, as calmly as I knew how, Sir, I have no division.

Talking later with General Longstreet, I learned that the entire charge had been unnecessary. In the previous day's fighting, General Hood had breezed through some rocky terrain that their Federal captives took to calling the Devil's Den on his way up Little Round Top. His men were setting up camp on what had been the Federals' left flank while the rest of Longstreet's men had pushed the bluecoats back from a lovely wheat field and peach orchard that gave good protection for what could have been our best chance to fold up the entire Federal army into our pocket. And instead, I was ordered to lead my 15,000 brave Virginians to their graves.

Now I know for a certainty that this war will never end.
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Thu Jul 4, 2013 1:21 am
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Game #41: San Juan

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San Juan

We got this years ago after getting Puerto Rico and discovering that we couldn't play it by ourselves. We used to really enjoy playing this one and played it a lot, but we hadn't played it in years until last Saturday.

We had lost track of how similar this game is to Puerto Rico. Having recently played the original game, the similarities really jumped out at us.

But the differences did, too. This game is fun, but it's not as rich or rewarding as Puerto Rico, in my opinion. If you don't have the time or space for Puerto Rico, it's a good substitute. But now that we've learned about two-player Puerto Rico variants, I don't feel inclined to play San Juan nearly as much as we used to do.

In this play, I drew a Palace in the initial deal, which gave me hope for a good game. After building an early Library to let me leverage my roles, I took the Builder role frequently, often when I knew my wife wouldn't be able to build, and I loaded up on high-VP cards like monuments.

Fairly early on, I also drew the Chapel, which ended up giving me 8 VPs by game end — a huge haul.

I finished the game when my wife still had just eight buildings out and managed an overwhelming victory: 56–33.

I think my wife was too unaccustomed to the game. We used to be fairly evenly matched, but I think she just forgot too much about how to succeed in the game during our hiatus from it. Either that or the thematic mojitos were getting to her.

I look forward to losing to her again sometime soon, like we used to do in the old days.
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Wed Jul 3, 2013 4:02 am
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Game #40: Small World — Be Not Afraid . . .

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Small World: Be Not Afraid...

We have been wanting this for years and saw it in a small but excellent game shop in a small but excellent town while out camping this last weekend. So we bought it. And played it on Sunday with my nephew and his girlfriend.

Basically we played Small World, but we stacked the race–power combos so that the five races and five powers from this expansion were all available at the game's start. And my wife and I made sure that all five of each got to see action in the game.

My nephew started out with Berserk Ghouls, paying 5 for the privilege. That turned out to be not such a good combination. You want to keep a berserking civilization active longer, but Ghouls are better put into decline early. And I think he hung on too long to his Ghouls.

I went next with Corrupt Pygmies. I know I held on to these too long. The combination of the Corrupt and Pygmy powers lured me into keeping them active, but I was attacked only three times in 4 or 5 turns of activity and drew no new tiles on any of those attacks. It was a real waste.

My wife chose Imperial Barbarians for her first civilization. Daisy chose Flying Tritons. They were sitting on the opposite side of the table from me, so it was harder for me to follow what they were doing.

The first round of civilizations wasn't very exciting. There were no attacks as we just took lands that were either empty or held by lost tribes. In fact, most of the game progressed that way through additional rounds of civilization choices: attacks on one another tended to be conservative and limited. New civilizations had an amazing tendency to claim lands vacated by a departing in-decline civilization.

The most exciting feature of the late gameplay was Daisy's second (and final) civilization: Merchant Skeletons. Though she didn't use the Skeletons' power to full advantage, everyone's reluctance to attack let her reap massive rewards for her mercantilism. She kept the civilization for 5 or 6 rounds, and for many of those rounds she pulled in around 15 VPs each turn. For my part, I always forgot about her power until the end of her turn when she'd collect massive rewards for relatively tiny holdings.

I thought this expansion added reasonably to the gameplay, but I'm happiest about the tray it came with. Now we can finally store our Small World expansions somewhere other than an old Danish butter cookie tin!

The score for this play:
Daisy: 106
Superwingers: 96
Nephew: 92
Tiwsman: 82
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Thu Jun 27, 2013 12:00 pm
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Game #39: Dungeon!

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Dungeon!

I used to love this game when I was a kid. My big brother had a copy of it and he would let me play it rather frequently. I would play it by myself for hours and hours.

When my wife got it for me for Yule in 2011, I was pretty excited!

We played it immediately after I opened it, but it lacked the thrill it had always brought me. So I was a little apprehensive to introduce it to my nephew and his girlfriend last week. But we decided it could be a good way to ease Daisy into playing Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition) with us, so we gave it a shot.

It was a blast! Almost as fun as I remember it being when I was a kid.

Daisy played an Elf. I played a Wizard. My nephew and my wife each played Superheroes.

Daisy went first and she quickly started adventuring in the 3rd level, where a monster wounded her so badly she had to drop all her treasures and go back to the start. After that she stayed in the 1st and 2nd levels.

I went first into a 4th level room on my way into the 5th and 6th levels. There I fought a monster that gave me a crystal ball! Such a delight for a wizard. No shooting spells blindly into rooms hoping they work or sticking my neck out so I can see what to cast. I viewed a number of 5th- and 6th-level rooms and chose the monsters that offered the best treasure, using each spell to good effect. It was wonderful!

My nephew and my wife went into the two different wings of the 4th level and got beaten pretty soundly. That left the game to me and Daisy. But while I was roasting blue dragons for huge diamonds, she calmly collected enough sacks of gold to haul 10,000 gp back to town to win the game.

We played the game out until everyone made it back to the surface. I came in second. My wife came in third. My nephew came out last.

I'm not sure what made it so exciting this time. Maybe it was having more players out adventuring. But it was a lot of fun. Probably the most simple fun I've had in a gameplay this month.
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Wed Jun 26, 2013 7:00 am
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Game #38: Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rico

We got this years ago and haven't played it much, since we don't regularly have three or more players handy.

Two weeks ago we played it with my nephew and his girlfriend, after finishing a game of Risk (The Revised Edition of Risk plays uncharacteristically quickly).

Because it had been years since we'd played, I wasn't up on the rules. We played it once to try to understand and then looked up the mistakes we'd made so we could play it again the right way.

I remember thinking this game was sort of dull when I first tried it. It seemed very solitary. I hadn't heard of board games described as multiplayer solitaire at the time, but when I first encountered that phrase I thought immediately of Puerto Rico. For someone who's first exposure to board games was Chess and who went on to Diplomacy fairly soon after that, Euro-games can seem quite dull.

Apparently since then I've gotten a bit more experience with Euro-games. This time Puerto Rico seemed reasonably interactive.

I built a construction hut early and then cornered the market on quarries right away in this play, which was a real boon to me. That plus an office and a market helped me push ahead fast to build a large violet building halfway through the game, something I've never been able to do before.

The end game was simply a follow-through from that early lead.

The final score:
Tiwsman: 55
Nephew: 49
Superwingers: 44
Daisy: 29

We're going to have to find a way to play this game more often. I fear it might have to be this, but hopefully we can simply get it out with friends more than we have done.
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Tue Jun 25, 2013 12:00 pm
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Game #37: Risk (Revised Edition)

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Risk (Revised Edition)

I think we got this while we were living in a remote part of the country away from all our games, thinking it would let us play Risk. I suppose we could have played Risk with it, but we were thrown by the extra pieces and extra rules and decided we needed three players to make this work.

Two weeks ago we got some extra players — my ever-obliging nephew and his increasingly formidable girlfriend — and gave this new version a shot.

I immediately noticed the similarity to Risk Legacy. It was easy to see where the designers of Legacy got their start. Because my wife and I had played Legacy before, this version was pretty easy for us to fall into.

My nephew was amazed immediately by the differences between this version and Risk. Global domination is out, creating a game that's less likely to lead to player elimination and more likely to be over in time to get to bed. Instead, you win by achieving a certain number of objectives. Another major difference (in terms of gameplay) is the seriously reduced swinginess of turning in cards. Instead of getting more armies with every set of cards that get turned in, this version rewards a set amount of armies based on the size of the card set turned in; the hand limit is gone.

We set up the board for the basic training scenario, which differs from the full-fledged game in two main ways: it's not a randomized start, and it doesn't include rewards for fulfilling objectives.

We rolled to see who got first pick of the available players. My wife won and immediately chose the player with the starting position we all later agreed was the worst (Green). She was eliminated rather quickly.

Fairly soon everyone who could get a continent got one (everyone but my wife). And fairly soon we all started shutting out the players who couldn't get any continent (my poor wife). And then we were just out to snag up objectives.

It was Daisy's first exposure to the Risk family of games, so she didn't do as well as her native ability would otherwise have allowed. We have since played it again and she made it to virtual global domination before anyone hit three objectives. But in this first play, my nephew got an early start to the objective race that led him to an inevitable victory.

After playing this, I'd say the temptation to create Legacy from this version would be nearly unstoppable. Once you open up the concepts of objectives, rewards, and randomization, it's tough to want to stop. If I had started playing this version years ago when it came out, I could see myself making a Legacy-style game out of it pretty quickly. I might end up doing that with this version, in fact.

All told, I like the gameplay of this version of Risk better than the original, but the romance and charm of my old 1980s copy of Risk just can't be beat. Plus I prefer Siam, Congo, and Ukraine to Southeast Asia, Central Africa, and Russia.

The final score:
Nephew: 4
Tiwsman: 2
Daisy: 1
Superwingers: 0
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Tue Jun 25, 2013 12:22 am
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Game #36: Viticulture — Arboriculture Expansion

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Viticulture: Arboriculture Expansion

We got this included in the Viticulture base game when we Kickstarted it. So far I'd say it's been our favorite Kickstarter experience.

We tried this expansion last night for the first time. It's attractive and offers a real strategic expansion to the base game. It also really makes you crave to extend the road on the left side of your base game player mat into a cheesemaking operation. But as a game, Arboriculture kicked my butt!

My wife started to try for the Pinot Opening: build a trellis, plant your starting vine, harvest it that winter. She put her grande on the building spot and got a ₤1 trellis.

But in Arboriculture, there's a way to block the Pinot Opening, and I went for it. I planted my initial arbor (an apple tree) on my first field straightaway. It didn't worry her. She just went and gave a tour, giving her ₤4 and a trellis at the end of her first two moves.

I had figured I'd get the morale VP boost each year, so I spent my other two turns harvesting my apple and flying a kite. My wife, meanwhile, tended her vineyard.

In the next year, I grandly hosted a wedding party for a darling couple, letting me hit the top of the morale slider by giving ₤2 to my wife for a 1 VP. Now I could just make sure to harvest an apple each turn and guarantee a minimum of 1 VP per year. So then I tried to build up my vineyard.

Tried was the operative word here. I had difficulty finding simple vines (I drew at least three Cabernet Sauvignon vines during the course of the game), and I had a tough time building a trellis, especially since I needed a yoke pretty early to secure my apple harvest (even if a single tree usually bears effectively only every other year in real life). And though I eventually got enough vines in the ground to get a good supply of grapes, by the time I felt like it might be worthwhile to crush them, I still had only a small cellar. And all the wine orders I'd drawn required large-cellar wines.

On the last year of the game, I finally built a medium cellar and felt like I could stand to crush some grapes. But my wife beat me to the crush pad, and I didn't have any visitors who could crush for me. She then filled some orders with extra shipments of tomato sauce and pushed to a win.

I finished the game with vineyard workers happily munching apples but never making a single bottle of wine. The score was 22–11.

I want to try a different approach next time (obviously). Instead of pushing for the morale VP bonus, I'll just try to avoid the morale VP penalty. There's a lot of room to slide before labor disputes start to detract from my reputation.
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Mon Jun 3, 2013 11:35 pm
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Game #35: Viticulture — Kickstarter Promotional Cards

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Viticulture: Kickstarter Promotional Cards

When we opened up Viticulture, we were surprised to find that our supposedly 20-card winter and summer visitor decks in fact had 22 cards each. I figured there were some extras thrown in for backing on Kickstarter, but I didn't know which ones they'd be. I was happy to find the BGG entry for this special expansion.

We played with these for the first time by letting the two summer visitors be our two starting visitors and then shuffling the two winter visitors in among the top four cards of the winter visitor deck.

The card pictured above (Guest Speakers) is perhaps the most valuable during the early game. I happily played it as soon as I could.

When my wife saw it, she said right away, "Isn't that the guy who designed the Salem board game we backed? What was his name? Is one of these his name?" I recognized Joshua's name. So kudos to the artist for rendering Joshua's face so well that my wife could recognize it instantly from a small pic and brief KS video.

My initial summer visitor was the Wedding Party. I love that card, but I had it in my hand too soon. It ended up getting discarded. In the late game, that card would be fantastic! But who wants to host a wedding party when you're trying to get vines in the ground?

I loved the Volunteer Crew when my wife played it. I had built an early windmill with the help of a Handyman, and so getting the chance to plant was not a bad thing for me.

My wife's Caravan sort of backfired on her. The two face-up cards she didn't pick were ones I wanted but that I knew she couldn't use. So I could afford to let them sit there a while, blocking her desire to waste time taking from those decks. I knew I couldn't push it too long, or she'd take those cards just for discard fodder (which her early cottage made her need). But that added an unexpected twist to the game.

We love all four of these cards. And because we felt like they weren't major game-changers, fitting into the base game perfectly, we aren't going to treat them any differently from the other visitors. I guess if some purist really wanted to play strictly vanilla Viticulture with us, we'd oblige and remove the cards. But as it stands, we'll probably be seeing at least one of these cards every time we play the game.

Our final score on this play was 24 for me and 22 for my wife: our highest scores yet!
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Mon May 27, 2013 5:31 pm
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