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Loofish Ramblings

My thoughts and ponderings on games and gaming, including lunch time sessions, couple and family gaming and thoughts on the games that are catching my eye.

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Pigging on cake under lanterns

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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So for the first time in ages, I got to meet up with the game group. It had been sufficiently long that keeping it to a smaller group was not thought to be the thing to do, so we opened it up to a few couples we occasionally game with, with the idea that we would have a couple of tables going then maybe get together for the party game later on.

Well, the getting together part and the catching up part were both very lively. But while one half was merrily chit-chatting, 5 of us decided to get a game going. I had stocked my game bag with lighter fare, anticipating the crowd as it were, the last game I had thrown in, almost as an after-thought, was Tales & Games: The Three Little Pigs. I had not gotten this played at any previous game night, so I was teaching as well, but this is a pretty quick teach. Or so I thought, as there are a few little rules and wrinkles that some of the group did not anticipate ("incomplete houses don't count?! You never told us that!" Er, actually I did...).

But the game itself, a breezy dice game about building houses out of parts of various materials, while watching out for the wold who might blow it down, went along very enjoyably. There are 9 piles of 3 materials (straw, wood, brick, of course) and 3 different levels (roof, window and door). You put a roof on last, completing the house and the game ends when a certain number of piles are gone; with 5 it is 5 piles and with 5 players they disappear fast, especially the straw ones. The wolf part is entertaining - if you roll 2 wolf heads, you don't spend your dice for stuff but point to a house and spin the spinner (or blow it if you are getting into character). 3 sections show straw, 2 wood and 1 brick. And the material the spinner lands on is removed from the house. I had my wooden door blown out from under my straw roof (which destroys it as only a roof is no longer a house). Ron built a proper straw house (which garners a bonus) but then that was blown down too. Indeed most of us were struggling to get anything built at all (especially in the latter stages, it becomes the roof cursing game because you never get one when you want one). But my wife Jenny managed 2 houses and so she was actively trying to end the game. She missed her first chance because she had to blow someone's house down but we only had time to build a last few things before she did end it the turn later, collecting the bonus for most houses and most flowers.

That was a hit so we played again, this time master of building Ron (learning from his earlier mistake in fairy tale fashion) built a mighty brick house and the points you get for a complete brick house is hard to overcome. And indeed we did not though Jenny gave it a good go, with more houses and bonuses again. I made a masterful play on my last turn to move up to 4th place.

A funny aside, we were all pretty terrible at blowing the spinner to make it spin, though it is not the greatest spinner to be fair. But our host Rick's 6 year old son came to see what we were doing and he made it spin like crazy. So maybe it is just us.

Our final guest Tom was expected soon so we played one more game, a game group favorite: Piece o' Cake. Rick was all set to play but his wife Kristi spotted us playing it and ejected him. Some tough cakes to cut in this game after the initial round, none of the low numbers came out and there was one with 5 strawberry pieces! Jenny got control of chocolate, Ron of blackberry, there was a big fight over 8 and 9 which I was in but that last pie decided it as Jenny took the pie with my 4 in so I grabbed a piece of 8 and 9, getting me those. Kristi got the 9 that equaled me so she got that and that left Ron and Rob with cherry that they had to eat (as I had 2 already). But Jenny had a huge pile of eaten pieces, plus chocolate (11) and peach (4) dominance, enough to just get ahead of both Kristi and me.

We love this game, the simple premise but the tough decisions, which grow in importance through the game. And quick too, so it always has a spot in the game bag.

At this point, the long awaited split into 2 groups actually happened, as the social whirlwinds finally came in to play. Two groups, one the fun party group went off to play Time's Up!, while the strategy gamers gathered in the next room to play Lanterns: The Harvest Festival. I have enjoyed my plays of this, fairly light and easy to get to grips with but still there is something beneath, some subtleties and clever things you can do.

This was new to 2 of us, so I taught this to Rob and Tom, then we got to collecting cards, with a bunch of favor tokens in the initial placements, 5 out of 8 had symbols on. We built up our sets but Jenny was able to build up 4 of a kinds which no one else was really able to do so she had several of those plus a sprinkling of other point tiles. The rest of us also scored, some 1 of each, but mostly the 3 pair. The 3 pair stack dwindled fast, with my final move being a 3 pair for 4 points (if a stack runs out, you use the gray 4 point tiles for whichever pile, the first time we used those) and then Tom got one of those as well. Without counting the winner was pretty obvious.

It always feels like, with everyone scoring regularly and all the points being pretty even, that it is always going to be close. But we really got a lesson here. And that reinforces my feeling that there is more to this than meets the eye.

The Time's Up game was finishing its first round but there were some disagreements and they decided to call it right there. The party began to disperse, folk heading home. So the anticipated Codenames with all us of us together did not happen. My crew and Rick hung around for a while, catching up a bit more and then we idly started playing Electronic Catch Phrase as a one team game, just two of us trying to guess the phrase, taking it in turns. Then our kids joined in which was pretty funny, especially as when they joined the setting was on the 1980s! though he knew not what it meant, my son did manage to get us to say Falcon Crest. And then we changed it to the 2010s and they got a bit more of the answers. Just for fun, but it was fun to see them join in the games rather than hide out with their computer games.

So it ended up a slightly abbreviated game night, not as much gaming done as might have been managed. But all the games were good and one of the group, Rob, who played in all of them was especially enthused. He is new to the hobby but bought his first couple of games (Splendor and 7 Wonders) and is eagerly diving into the hobby. He really liked all the games, so I feel my job as game sommelier was done. A good night.

Photos for this post from Backerfield, olavf and Epsilon_Balls. Thanks!
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Fri May 20, 2016 6:13 pm
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Hexagonal Community Building

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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I have had a bit of a road to travel out to the suburbs and finally see what the fuss is about out in Suburbia.

At first glance, it does immediately seem like a game I would like, managing an economy and triggering abilities based on what you played before, tableau building of a sort, but interconnected and spatial. And its longevity here on BGG is a plus sign too, still talked about and with multiple expansions. It was definitely one for me to check out.

When it came out in app form, my wife Jenny downloaded it and played it. She seemed to enjoy it but when I tried it, it just didn't grab me. I could play through it mechanically but had no grasp of what I was doing. There was a disconnect in what moves I was making and their consequences. When I told my wife about that, she looked at me funny - clearly she didn't have that problem. But I think it is just something about how I learn games, how to really play them, I need to see the nuts and bolts of everything that the computer takes such good care of in that application.

So Suburbia seemed to have become a game I was missing out on but it was relegated to the back of the mind while other games jostled for attention in the front. Then one day I was taking my kids to the mall to see the new Jungle Book movie. It was part of a birthday party, so I was dropping them off with the birthday boy's mother and I could have a quiet Sunday afternoon. Except I messed up the time I was supposed to get there, mixing it up with an appointment of my wife's. So I get to the movie theater with the kids at noon, only to find the movie doesn't start for another hour. So we decided to hang out at Barnes & Noble for the intervening time. There I found they had a sale on so I had to check it out and see if anything interesting was out. And sure enough, there was a copy of Suburbia.

Still, I hesitated. I mean, it was on sale but that was 50% off what they normally charge, so it was still a chunk of change. But I got hold of my wife and she agreed it was a worthwhile purchase. Buying Pick-a-Dog at the same time was a much easier sale.

Is a quick summary needed? Well, that is what I usually do so I will. Each player is building up their little suburb by laying out hex tiles in a interconnected spread. Tiles cost money to place (or can be converted into lakes which generate money) and they will then provide a combination of income, reputation (which draws people to your city growing the population turn by turn) or just straight money or population. A lot of the effects of these tiles are dependent on what is played immediately around it, in the same borough or even across the whole game. As population grows (which you want as highest population wins), you will encounter red lines on the board which reduce both income and reputation, modeling the loss of small town charm, hopefully made up for by the array of features and amenities you have added. Once a 'last round' tile has been drawn, each player gets one last move and finally accounting takes place. Highest population wins.

So we got to playing it. Set-up is quite involved, with multiple stacks of hex tiles, your initial suburb-park-factory in a specific order, shuffling up and distributing goals. Working out just where all the markers go, even. I'm sure it becomes routine quickly but it still took a while. Then we got to playing. And within 2 turns, that disconnect I had about the game was gone completely, it just fell away and I could see how the game was played and the consequences of actions. I really did wonder why it had foxed me so.

Anyway, my wife jumped out into a population lead early on but this rather hampered her development as she crossed red lines and her income was curtailed. I concentrated a lot of income initially, spending quite a bit of my initial funds on a parking lot, then adding office buildings next door. I solidified that with a casino.

Meanwhile, my wife had rebuilt and pushed her own income up and there was the battle over a run of gray buildings. This had a significance I did not know because most grays was her secret goal but there was a whole slew of them and the only other color out there was green - and my secret goal was fewest green! Fortunately for her, several of the tiles looked for green buildings for their benefits - she picked up one of the stadiums that came up to great effect then doubled it. But I had a nice little museum district just off my offices which boosted my reputation and it looked like I was running away with it. But then in the late game, Jenny's reputation kept growing while mine kept falling, partly due to the red lines and also the choices out there. In the end, she almost overtook me, though my dominance in the blue buildings (one public goal) and us tying in the other goal meant I hung on for the win by 5 points, 129-124.

So my initial feeling, that this is the sort of game I would like, was quite definitely brought out in this play. I had a lot of fun building my little 'burb, playing the abilities off each other and even making up a little story about the developing town, as bored office workers looked for entertainments after work. And despite that enthusiasm for the game, it is very unlikely I will break open this box again.

I kind of brushed over the little calculation you make every turn after placing a tile, looking for everything out there affected by what you just did. It is easy to miss something, $2 here, a reputation point there. This didn't bother me that much, part of playing the game. But Jenny, oh dear, it drove her crazy thinking about it, sure that it had cost her some move a couple turns ago when she would have had $2 more and could have afforded that tile a turn earlier, etc etc. And under normal circumstances, that would be annoying and maybe she could get over it. But in this game, we have the aforementioned app version which takes care of all of that flawlessly and painlessly. There is almost no reason to play this nice physical version other than to really see how things work and because playing games with physical bits is a much more pleasant experience. Sometimes that just isn't enough.

Photos for this post from Mavericius, Ambush3 and Sekwof - thanks!
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Fri May 13, 2016 5:50 pm
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What I did on Tabletop Day

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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It did involve play, but not so much a table top. Or any board games.

We added a new member to our family, a fox terrier/border collie called Inara:

Our dog was not so sure:


Our cat even less sure:


But I think it will work out:
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Sun May 8, 2016 1:56 am
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April Update - Yes I Am Still Here

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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If absence makes the heart grow fonder, the readers of this blog will be positively ecstatic. But it isn't that I have not been playing games, just the trouble of finding the plays "blog-worthy".

The time for gaming has been rather restricted, slipped in between my wife's crazy schedule over the last month. She is a pet sitter and dog walker, a job that has its ups and downs depending on the owners and their vacations. But right after we got back from our trip, one of the busier pet sitters quit and my wife was one of those that got a lot of that work piled on to her. It was great in a 'we just spent a lot of money on this trip and need to rebuild the saving account' sort of way but it did mean we didn't see as much of her as normal. Plus the semi-regular monthly meet-ups with my game group have been thrown off by various spring break type activities and visiting parents/in-laws, we didn't even see those folks for gaming all month.

Normally, I just hit the highlights but the list of different games is short enough this week I will go game by game.

Most played game, in a shocking surprise, was Star Realms, including a bunch of plays using the stand alone Star Realms: Colony Wars. That came in at 31 plays, which, even as one who participated in these, I found slightly surprising, but it is one that almost always gets a 2nd play of we have time and occasionally a 3rd one. Even after all these plays it is still a go-to game, no, it is THE go-to game. Fast to set-up, fast to play.

I still have more to see in this game though. I have my older copy of the original, all sleeved (because the cards were showing wear after many plays) and the Colony Wars unsleeved because I haven't gotten around to sleeving it yet. The wider issue is that I might not have enough of the sleeves I used, which would suck since then I am going to have to decide if it is worth redoing the whole lot. I also haven't dabbled much in the little mini-expansions, my wife got some of that for the iPad version and we played one game pass and play. But that game did not really reveal much of the expansions, only of the difficulties of buying really expensive cards right at the beginning of the game.

Second most played game was, joyfully, another space card game, Race for the Galaxy, my first forays into the newest expansion, Race for the Galaxy: Xeno Invasion. We played it 3 times, the first game was cards only and my wife grudgingly agreed to play it that way. She wanted the full experience, so the subsequent plays have been full on Invasion mode.

Firstly, the Invasion game is not a big overhead at all, not like the Orb scenario. Everything is clear, right away. I thought it was a lot of fun and gave the whole game a different slant which was refreshing and interesting. There were consequences for getting your head down and just building your produce-consume engine and ignoring everything else. It is the same game but with an altered frame of reference.

My wife thought it made military a bit too important. I think that was shaped a bit by our last game where she was New Sparta and jumped out to a military lead but then stalled, unable to find more military cards. And my token military while I focused on other things ended up surpassing hers and I was Admiral rather than her. I think that was pretty bad luck on her part (though she did all right with a Replicant Robots-aided settle gambit). I thought it was an exciting game. Hopefully a lot more plays of this.

I also got back to The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, specifically a couple of runs at The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – The Hunt for Gollum. I picked up what I thought was this scenario a while back, then found out I had the Nightmare version! But I won a set of the 6 scenario packs including the Hunt for Gollum in the Jack Vasel auction and at long last I got my decks out, dusted them off and gave it a go.

It remains a tough game to win, even 2 handed, though I have not yet modified my decks to combat the troubles here, the main ones I see I have stuff in there to deal with - it has the Hunters from Mordor who can get nasty, but I have Forest Snares and good fighters. And we have a lot of locations which in both games (especially the first) ended up clogging the staging area so much that I could no longer make any progress on the Quest and lost by the Threat Level maxing out. So I think I have to try and change it up a little and I have a couple ideas. Still fun to wrestle with these things. Masochistic fun, but fun nonetheless.

The new game purchase of the month was hardcore strategy game Pick-a-Dog. A bit of a tale behind the purchase, as I was taking my kids to meet friends for a movie/birthday party. But I mixed up the times in my head and we got there an hour early. So we went to the book store to look around and lo and behold, Barnes & Noble is having their Clearance Sale. We picked over everything and I found a copy of Suburbia, so I texted to my wife to see what she thought - I was tempted because she has the app version but I never quite "got" it and thought playing it in real life might help with that. And then I stumbled over a copy of Pick-a-Dog in the piles of assorted junk. $5? Sold! (And I did get Suburbia as well).

We played it once just the two of us then after the kids were back at home, we roped them into a game too. Both of them were so methodical, it was quite funny. But they made no mistakes, which is more than can be said for me or my wife...however my 2 good rounds were enough to beat out their 3 more steady ones (though I have since had a round where I messed up worse...).

This is chaotic and silly but it was great fun and we immediately got the Pig version as well for even more chaos. That I will save for another post.

And the only other game we played was the very excellent Patchwork, a game that continues to delight. This one my wife built an almost perfect 7x7, making a nice double play to complete it ahead of me, though my board was more slapdash as I had some of the odd shaped pieces. However, my income was a little better and that turned into better coverage. My wife made a nice play to deny me any more pieces but I had decent coverage and then just collected buttons and that was enough for a good win.

And that was it for April. But some new games and a game day already planned for May so hopefully some fun stuff to talk about.

Photos by Kaffedrake, W Eric Martin (twice), Eagle_Gryphon_Games and Sada - thanks!
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Fri May 6, 2016 5:52 pm
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March Summary: Another Game of Star Realms?

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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March gaming was a little sparser than the previous months of the year, mostly because we had a 9 day trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos in the middle of it. So both packing and going on that trip took up a lot of potential gaming time. My wife has been busy with work too. So I was a little surprised to find we managed 37 plays but the clue comes with the number of different games, only 8 different ones. They are very much dominated by quick games, 30 minutes or less and highly familiar at that, so barely any rules crunching occurred. And the undisputed king of that is Star Realms, with most of those plays coming from the new set Star Realms: Colony Wars. Those on the base set were mostly pass n play games on the iPad, exploring the new cards has been the driver of our play. We also had our little Rosenberg trio (including a first play of Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small – More Buildings Big and Small) and, as a change of pace from pass'n'play Star Realms, we had some pass'n'play Ascension: Deckbuilding Game.

So other than hiking up volcanoes, seeing penguins, flamingos, tortoises, blue-footed boobies and sea lions, we didn't do much else.

Game Qty
Star Realms (including Colony Wars) 26
Ascension: Deckbuilding Game 4
Rat Hot 2
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (with More Buildings) 1
Le Havre: The Inland Port 1
Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King 1
Lanterns: The Harvest Festival 1
Patchwork 1

I had a strangely up and down time on Yucata: I got promoted to Chilan Priest but then decided to go on a massive losing streak and was promptly demoted back to Macom Priest. But I wasn't done yet - I seemed to only win my non-scoring games - so got demoted again to Astrologer. Trying to decide if I want to go down again or not, the magic 8-ball says "Ask Again Later". The meta game on Yucata is fun, especially when you are getting promoted, but sometimes it makes losing even less fun. I see they have introduced a rank of Hermit, for those that no longer care about their ranking. I still like it, despite the last month, that it encourages me to get better at games and try new games to get the variety you need to go up in rank. But somehow it still doesn't feel fair when you lose so many ranking points in a game you lost on the tie-breaker.

Overall, the year so far (as the end of the first quarter) has been great for games. 152 games played is massively more than usual for me (I've been roughly at a game a day in previous years), over 39 different games, which somehow feels lower than usual, perhaps with good reason. Star Realms of course heads that list with 44 plays already, but Codenames and the comeback of Small World both have dimed and there are quite a few sitting at 5+ plays. Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King will definitely see more plays and I have been pretty happy with the new games in the collection: the afore-mentioned Colony Wars, Codenames and Isle of Skye, but also Matcha and Cat Tower have been fun and the Small World and Takenoko expansions we got (both of which got those games back in the mix).

Still to come: my favorite game and its best expansion (maybe?). Now all I have to do is find time in my wife's crazy schedule to play it. Hmmm, those The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game packs I still haven't played yet might have to come into play as well then.
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Fri Apr 1, 2016 6:04 pm
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What's Happened to the Colonies?

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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After the quick and successful card play of the original Star Realms, especially in our house where it led the most played lists for 10 months straight, the release of the stand alone expansion Star Realms: Colony Wars was always going to be hotly anticipated. Having picked it up last month, it has seen some pretty heavy play and I thought I'd share my impressions of the set.

I'm assuming for this post that the reader is at least passingly familiar with the original game, a quick playing deck builder with a central row of cards (representing ships and bases) to buy, with the aim of knocking out your opponent's authority through attacks. There are four factions, each with a different focus and a key part of the game is the ally action where you get some bonus if you played another card of that faction during the current turn.

And before I go further, I am not pretending to be some kind of expert at this game, pretty much casual 2 players against my wife is the extent of my experience. So tournament scene insights will not be expounded here.

The new set is, as I said, stand alone, so the familiar vipers and scouts are in there. But other than those cards, there are no repeats from the previous game, so every basic ship has been reinvented, though mostly along familiar lines; there are very few truly new mechanisms here. The one new thing comes from the cards that you can buy and take into your hand as long as you played a card of that faction this turn, a neat twist on the ally mechanic. And one that produces some dramatic moments.

Another aspect I noticed is that the bases feel more prevalent. I didn't do a count of the relative amounts, but from the games we have played, the outposts are still there but less common while the bases are more common - and bases that have 2 or 3 defense as well, so it adds to the decisions of a player turn, do I spend that combat to destroy the base or go for the player. Outposts are a neat idea but they force your move - you have to attack them first. With more bases, the attacker has to choose what to attack and that makes it more interesting.

The individual factions have broadly kept their focus, the blobs attacking, the trade federation boosting authority, the machine cult deck culling and the star empire draw and discarding. But they have tweaked it a little - especially the trade federation, used to be blue got a bit of fight in their defensive ways, but aside from a couple ships (the Peacekeeper!), a deck that has too much blue will lack the bite to take out their opponent.

The more aggressive factions seem just a bit more aggressive to me. Not a lot more. But we have had a string of come from behind victories, where one lands a punch that almost KOs their opponent and one more will take them down, only for that seemingly mortally wounded player to produce a monster turn of their own. That happened occasionally in the original too, but less frequently, more common was one player gets on top and stays there, wearing their opponent down. This one feels more swingy and exciting.

There is some interesting variation that you have to read carefully. The Machine Cult bots still cull your scouts and vipers, but they have mixed things up, some now only scrap cards in your discard pile and some only from your hand. The Stealth Needle of the set is Stealth Tower which copies another base in play. I noticed a bit less buying power from those bots though.

The blobs have the most similarity to the previous set, aggressive attackers, some get one free cards and a bit of card draw via allying. The Parasite is an interesting one, 6 combat or get a 6 cost ship for free, so good early, good late. They were also the faction that had more bases to gain ally abilities rather than defense, so that they have new ones there is not as such a change.

The star empire have been pumped up a little for my money. The low cost ship star barge is good for cash, giving them the money that the original bunch lacked. There is some decent medium sized hitters though, the lancer which does extra damage against players with bases is a popular choice. A bit of card draw, though a couple of those feel a little underpowered (I am especially thinking of the falcon here, 3 cost but 2 combat?). But they do have the heavy weight, the Emperor's Dreadnaught, a monster ship that can come directly into play as long as you played an imperial ship this turn. That can be a game changer.

Another thing I like about the set is the self-scrapping cards. Most of the time, these are a non-decision but sometimes, scrapping a card you bought (often with a useful ability) gives you that one more thing you need to turn the game - or finish off an opponent. Sometimes it is just an extra 3 or 4 trade to buy that big ship, or the extra combat you need. I have seen games where the scrap for one more card turned a modest attack into a monster one. But they do always provide that moment of indecision, am I going to see this again, do I need it any more? More of this can only be good.

So overall, Colony Wars is another set of Star Realms cards and that can only be good, but I think the little tweaks provide a little more dimension to the game. And I haven't even experimented with mixing the two decks together yet.

The photos for this post come from W Eric Martin, Firyar and FreedomDriven - thanks to all 3 of them!
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Fri Mar 18, 2016 9:34 pm
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The Rosenberg Three

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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We got in a trio of plays featuring the work of Mr Uwe Rosenberg in his 2-player series.

First up, calling to us from across the room, was Patchwork, the game of Tetris style quilting. This has been a big hit with us (along others) and surprises me with its subtleties. This play was no exception.

I got off to a fine start with patches spreading across my board while Jenny is more methodical with a better income. I spread across the board rapidly, while her patches are clustered in the top corner. I look for bargains and Jenny builds on her income, building out steadily so she gets the 7x7 bonus as I fill area but with some stylish holes worked into the design. But despite losing out on that bonus, I cover more and it ends up very close, especially as my income grew steadily (plus I wasn't spending too much) while Jenny got a lot with each income but spent a lot too. It ends up desperately close...my greater coverage and retained cash not quite matching her greater cash and 7x7 bonus though her larger empty space.
D: 24 buttons - 2x6 = 12
J: 28 buttons +7 - 2x11 = 13

Another play of this where in the middle of the game, I thought I had it covered (ahem). Super easy to learn but somehow it feels like one of his strongest designs in a while, and utterly different from his farming based oeuvre of late.

Immediately under Patchwork on the shelf was another Rosenberg game, Le Havre: The Inland Port.

It turned out to be a rather curious play. I laid it all out but then I remember I have to go get the car inspected. We get back to it later but Jenny had trouble getting back to it, the gap between plays being longer than I realized and there is some catching on to how it all works. She got a little frustrated that she needed to pay me for clay, having no other source available and not wanting to spend her last Francs. But she got over it, a building firm of her own then using my restaurant right ahead of me. And she consistently bought valuable buildings while I bought for utility first. And she had the cash for the pier and got the port too while I had the zoo and got a big pile of fish right before Jenny bought the fish bonus building. The clay one I did get was much less lucrative (and neither would have made up the gap).

D: $22 + 160 building + 8 clay = 190
J: $11 + 218 building + 5 fish + 5 wheat = 239

I'll point out that our previous games have all had a difference of 5 points or less. I am still processing just what happened. It is odd that I feel like this is a game I am familiar with and have played a lot but in actual fact, I've just played a few times. My wife says she finds it quite intense and is happy to have a gap between plays, not because she doesn't enjoy it (she does, especially when she wins by lots of points!) but because it is a brain burner in a little box, a lot to think about and a lot to consider.

After the two Uwe 2 player games, it seemed natural to suggest Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small especially as we hadn't played this with the expansion Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small – More Buildings Big and Small yet. The shiny new buildings were the Insemination Center, the Hay Rack, the Sawmill and the Farm Shop. Jenny immediately built the Insemination Center. Adding the Hay Rack, she thought to grab 3 singles and breed quickly but then found she needed to do some work to make room for the animals she would breed - a definite infrastructure problem. Meanwhile I went stall...open stables, fencing and growing the herds the normal way. So I had a good amount of sheep and some horses. Jenny tried to get set to grab pigs and cows but the timing was off and I ended up with the bulk pig haul. She got better scoring buildings and finished 2 expansions but I had many more animals.

J: 12 sheep, 0 pigs, 4 cows, 6 horses; 2 expansions; 9 points buildings = 39
D: 16 sheep, 9 pigs, 1 cow, 7 horses; 1 expansion; 4 points buildings = 48

There had been a good gap between our plays of this one as well. I had got it because I wanted that mini-Agricola fix and Jenny has been less enthusiastic about playing the big game. AACBAS has the advantage of being shorter and more forgiving - no feeding your family - and only the animals to look after. It should be an easy sell. But she did not really ever take to it, finding it unsatisfying. After this particular play, she had something of a personal epiphany which partly explains her dissatisfaction for both the little and the large versions - it is a tight game in which you do not have time to do everything. You just have to pick what you want to do and hope for the best that it is better than what your opponent is up to. But it drives her a little crazy that nothing is ever quite finished. Even when the farm is complete and the board filled, there is almost always something else you could do. I have heard that criticism of Agricola before, where it ends just as you have your engine set up. Though really you should have it running by then and it loses its edge if it gets loose and easy. And my wife likes to finish things. So AACBAS, as a bite-size Agricola that retains at least some of that tension and that feeling that you can't do it all, falls short as a game that my wife can love.

It is funny how it goes, I would probably have ranked these 3 in the exact opposite order before I played them, though partly due to how I'd see how I'd like a game rather than considering how well they would go down with my main gaming opponent. I still might have thought she'd dig farming the animals though, over moving things through a warehouse or stitching up a quilt.

Thanks to bovbossi, The_Blue_Meeple and LiteBulb88 for their photos!
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Fri Mar 11, 2016 6:42 pm
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February: Codename Colony

David
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DURHAM
North Carolina
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After January's mass of plays, I expected February to fall a little short, but in the end, it held its own, with 48 plays of 16 different games, a very robust month boosted mostly by the arrival of new games in the form of Codenames and Star Realms: Colony Wars, plus our explorations of Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King. That's my best February in my records.

Our game nights this month were dominated by the lighter games - Codenames did take over a bit, but it was also the right game for those particular nights, a less hardcore crowd, some non-gamers even. A good time with some of the sillier games and trying out Deep Sea Adventure at its maximum capacity - and finding it quite satisfactory.

Game Qty
Codenames 15
Star Realms (including Star Realms: Colony Wars) 9
Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King 6
Small World 4
Deep Sea Adventure 2
Rhino Hero 2
Cards Against Humanity 1
Cat Tower 1
Coloretto 1
Electronic Catch Phrase 1
Piece o' Cake 1
Rat Hot 1
Splendor 1
Spyfall 1
Steam Works 1
Wits & Wagers 1

Codenames was obviously the hot game of the month and I already feel like I talked about it a lot. It did feature at our last game night of the month, last weekend, with our hostess repeatedly asking for it. To say it left an impression might be an understatement. But in addition to the two couples who had played it before, we had 4 more and these were at most occasional gamers, a quick party game when the mood was right. But they all took to it wonderfully, especially with us to take the Spy Master roles for the first game. Everyone took a turn at it though and we learned of the dangers of stretching a bit too far - my clue gave the opposition a word instead of us and we also saw our first assassin. It's a great design, so flexible and malleable by the group playing it and each clue giver can interpret it in their own unique way. So I suspect though I have talked about it a lot already, it will see much more play through the year.

And talking of games which see a lot of play, February saw the long-anticipated arrival of the new Star Realms box, Star Realms: Colony Wars. I can't remember ever buying a game and breaking the shrink right in the store before, but we did it with this game (though that was partly because we had a little spare time before we had to be somewhere). So far, we haven't mixed things, just played 'pure' Colony Wars. I like the mix of cards, feels like more bases than outposts with neat little abilities. And the cards which you get straight in your hand if you played the right faction that turn are a neat twist on the allying mechanic of the base game. It also felt like we were dealing out a bit more damage, but that might be just how things panned out, as there was one game where we hung out around our starting authorities as a bunch of trade ships kept both of us afloat and they definitely felt like they had less punch, which seems appropriate - better cash and authority boosting would be their specialty. Anyway, really nice to have new cards in the mix plus the added bonus of another 2 sets of scouts/vipers so multi-player games become more viable. It remains to be seen if those transpire.

I have to mention our game of Rhino Hero. We had already played once and we had fun piling up the cards. But we were playing on the kitchen table which had a light hanging down over it. And the tower was building up toward it. Our host thought it unlikely that we would reach it before it fell, but that next game we did. It was hilarious, players off turn were tasked with holding the light out of the way while the stories piled higher. We reached 12 stories, it was impressive. I tried to take a picture but my crappy iPod takes bad photos.

The other new game of the month was Cat Tower, which is rather like Rhino Hero in that it is a stacking game using cards but the twists come from a dice roll rather than the card play of the previous player. We just got the initial play in and it was pretty silly fun, though it seemed to lack a bit of the drama of the teetering tower from Rhino Hero as it never managed to get very high; the randomness of the dice roll rarely let things build up in any kind of stable fashion. Or perhaps my wife was just in a clumsy mood, because it was mostly her knocking it over. But for a whim purchase (and her whim not mine for once!), it should work out OK. The cats are cute.

We did explore Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King, but I already talked about that. The only game night since then I did bring it, hoping to play a multi-player game but the group was too big and it wasn't really right for the moment. I think they will like it though, some juicy assessments to make.

The only non-light game we played was Steam Works. My friends had borrowed it and Rick had read the rules, but they were not getting it played, so they invited us over specifically for that purpose. Our first attempt at that had ended badly, started it too late in the evening, and the path to victory in this game is somewhat obscure at the beginning, prompting such comments as "I can see what I can do, but not what I should do". This time around, we got through the whole game and especially those latter rounds were exciting and engaging, lots of possibilities and opportunities. Rick's wife, ever the planner and analyst, won the game and then promptly declared she could never play it again - it was just too much calculation, that it became unfun for her. (And sadly she can't turn that off, her brain won't let her). Rick enjoyed it though, so we might bring it out again on a game night when Kristi is not around. And at home, I have been looking for a chance to try Mina's variant for 2 players with less tiles in the mix.

Online plays I have not tabulated, but there is news. I had a rather up and down month on Yucata, got promoted to Chilan Priest in a fairly tidy fashion and then went on a glorious losing streak, losing enough ranking points that I was promptly demoted again. There was a while when I thought I would never win again. Continuing to enjoy things on Boiteajeux, Agricola, Deus, Dungeon Petz, Trajan. Our game of Dungeon Lords was a bit of a disaster (I got the Paladin coming after me and then one of my monsters was turned into a sheep) and I still am struggling a bit with Tzolkin. Last game I finished with a negative score. And in the current one I thought I was getting corn that I didn't get because rules. SO I am not quite there with that one,to say the least.

I have also returned to Boardgamearena after not playing on there for a long time. I just found playing live games stressed me out, which is perhaps a weird response but the systems in place on BGA for making sure no one waits too long on a turn does feed into my anxiety. I knew they had implemented turn based gaming there but I had enough going on. However, the recent addition of Keyflower (plus the excited encouragement from some of my fellow online gamers) made me go over there again and I am in glorious summer of my first game. I already know I will have to play it again and that this was another good recommendation from readers of this blog (and on various other places on BGG!).
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Thu Mar 3, 2016 6:02 pm
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What's the Password?

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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I may be just jumping on a BGG bandwagon here but my copy of Codenames arrived last week and thus this week I have to talk about it.

There are some games that you can't really tell where the game is by reading reviews or the rules but Codenames is not one of those, a game so brilliantly simple in its premise that it seems amazing that no one has come up with it before. So despite the claims to be Cult of the Proven, I knew from the description that this was a game I would enjoy. And after failing to find it in my FLGS the last couple of trips, I got them to pre-order it for me, then got only 'out of stock' messages for the next week or so. Finally, suddenly, the email arrived. I stopped by the very same evening.

Codenames is a word game (look, it says so on the box) in which 2 teams are trying to pick out their words from a grid of 25. How they do this is via clues given by their Spymaster, the team leader who knows all the answers but can only communicate in enigmatic word:number utterances. So the spy master says "tree:2", he is saying that 2 of our team's words are related to the word tree somehow. The rest of the team then points at cards and the color of that card is revealed. If they are right, they can point again (up to the number their boss said plus 1), but if they are wrong, the turn is over. If it is a neutral (white) word, then not so bad, but the wrong color helps the opposing team and the dreaded assassin (black) means you immediately lose the game. First team to reveal all their words wins.

Now, we got it mid-week and the next mooted game night was not for 10 days. So what was I going to do? Well, there is a 2 player variant in the game, which from reading about it sounded like a good way to learn to play the game. Both players are on the same side and go first (so have to get 9 words revealed). One is the spy master giving clues, the other is guessing and after each turn, the spy master covers one of the other team's words up. There is some strategy to doing that. You win if you get all your words first and the extra challenge is that your score after doing so is ranked from "Well, at least you won" (1) to "Is that even possible?" (8: technically possible, yes, but only if you get all 9 of your words on turn 1!). So I proposed to my wife that we try it just to learn, knowing as I do her disdain for co-ops. She plays games to beat me, not some cardboard AI.

So we tried it with me as spy master and we did win on our first try, just about (score: 2). I did expect to win, but it turned out to be harder than I thought. Coming up with words to connect the words in the grid is not that hard, but coming up with words to link the words you need linked while also not linking them to other words you don't want to link to is notably harder. The assassin never was found but his presence was always felt.

What surprised me was how enthusiastic my wife was for this game, even as a 2 player. Obviously, she wanted a go as Spy Master, but we kept playing after that, for a total of 6 games back-to-back. Turns out she is the better clue-giver: Waterloo:3 got me war, tube and line! But some of mine were clearly a bit off, most of our "mistakes" were off my less-good clues. But after 6 games in a row, we were definitely ready for a "proper" game, though game night was not supposed to be till the following weekend.

But then we got a call on Friday night from our friends Rob and Karen. They are pretty new to gaming and we talked a lot the last time we met about games. Both are in love with Splendor right now and play it a lot, as a couple on a week night. So some of the talk was about other games like that. But they wanted us to come over and play some games, along with another couple, Rick and Kristi (who have been mentioned many times here before as they usually host our game nights). So I gathered up my 6 player games that play quickly and on top of the pile was Codenames.

Even as I opened up my box-o-games, the buzz grew. "A word game, I like word games." Now we know why it says it on the box.

I proposed that we held off playing Codenames and try some other things first. We played Deep Sea Adventure 6 player and it was a hoot. And then I was over-ruled and we played Codenames.

The reason I had suggested we play other things first was I suspected it would take over the game night and we wouldn't play anything else. That almost happened, we played 5 games in a row, with each couple taking a turn as Spy Masters then Karen declined on going again wanting to guess rather than clue. Needless to say it was a big hit. We saw some new things - Rob gave the clue litter:2 when that word was in the grid (and wasn't either of the words he was cluing for!), then I once again showed my subtle skills and went for fall:3. Rick correctly identified my 3 words right away and then Rob pointed out another word - 'trip' which I had failed to notice. And they guessed that one first.

The ladies did much better as a team, they lost the first game with some bad luck but stormed back and took all the rest.

I was struck again, perhaps more forcibly, how difficult it is to come up with strong clues without pointing at the wrong words. Again, the assassin never struck but still, it was a worry (and there was one moment where I was struck by 2 words that were possible, we were behind so I really ought to chase hard and try one...and fortunately I chose wisely). It is a game so clever and deceptively simple, you can hold it in my mind just hearing a brief summary of the rules, you can see what you need to do right away, but it is quite tricky to play well.

It is clearly a classic already, a brilliant game that anyone who loves words and games should try. I think it might take over a few more game nights in the future.

Photos this post from JanaZemankova, jgoyes and henk.rolleman - thanks to them!
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Fri Feb 19, 2016 6:13 pm
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A King Among Chieftains

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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After the urging of my dear readers (and as alluded to in my January summary post), we picked up Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King at the end of the month and we've been touring the highlands and the islands. So what did we think?

Firstly, everything looks excellent. The tiles are nice and thick, the art is wonderful (as expected from Klemens Franz), the graphics are clear, the bag is plenty big enough to really rummage around in and the screens are really good - stable but mobile and with a concise summary of the workings of a round on the back.

The game is a tile-layer with an interesting tile acquisition mechanism. It is played over 6 rounds with 4 (out of a possible 16) scoring tiles in play for each game. These are arranged in 4 spots, labelled A to D and these will score 3 times per game. But which scores on which turn is one of the clever parts, for on a given round only a subset of the scores will occur. So on turn 1, only scoring tile A will score, then on turn 2, only B. On turn 3, both A and C will and so on. This has a profound effect on the game.

Each turn, you will take your income (5 for your castle, 1 more for your barrels and possibly some more for being behind in points). Then each player will draw 3 tiles from the bag, putting them in front of their screen. Then they will assign cash to each tile, a bid if you will that anyone else who wants it must match to take that tile from you. Also, one of the tiles you get will get the axe (literally, there is an axe tile), meaning it will be discarded, leaving two others on offer. When this is done and the discards are removed, each player has the opportunity to buy one of their opponents' tiles Just one, and any money they have down in front of them assigned to a tile is not available to spend. They pay the owner the amount they ask then, once all players have either bought or passed, any tiles remaining in front of them they get - also for the price they set. Then everyone adds the tiles to their own bit of Scotland, matching terrain on each edge (as in Carcassonne) but roads do not have to match. Once this is done, the relevant scoring tiles are consulted and everyone scores points. The start player moves to the left and the whole process is repeated. After 6 turns, your current cash balance scores you a point per 5 coins and the scrolls found on some tiles also score now. Most VPs wins!

As of this writing, I have 7 plays of the game, all at 2 player, and all played within a week of getting the game. It was a curious exploration of the game, I played just making plays from the gut, not worrying too much about the amounts I was bidding, just what felt right. And somehow it all came together beautifully and I leaped out in front, then my wife got some things to match up (sets of buildings and lighthouse/ships combos) and had better scrolls for end game scoring, but my pile of coins at the end was such that I held her off. It was an exciting first game then we played again, but this time, I got ships which scored on B, so I obviously had most. But then, no more ship tiles (or at least none survived the axe!) came out until the final turn and I rather ran away with it. So we kept the same scoring tiles and switched starting players. This one was much more even and the ships anomaly did not repeat itself, but while I was slightly behind all game, my end game scoring was much stronger, especially my giant herd of highland cows.

Sometimes me winning several times in a row turns my wife off a game. She was definitely frustrated with the "lack of ships" incident. But a day or two later, she wanted a rematch. This time I got a bunch of completed mountain areas and this pushed me ahead, plus a nice collection of scrolls, which overcame her advantage in lighthouses and ships. Then we switched around again playing the same set and this time I got an early completed water feature, which was worth 2 points per tile. Water areas are sometimes hard to enclose as a lot of the tiles have 3 sides open, so while I got points for that, she was grumbling about her lack of scoring and my apparent ease of scoring. In fact, she challenged me to take over her side and see if I could salvage it. I gave it a go, but even with my magic touch, the original me beat her-and-me comfortably.

I had won 5 games out of 5! This does not usually happen, for a variety of reasons. So I was a little surprised when she got me playing it 'once more', a very determined look on her face. And this was the play, at last, that her bad luck turned around. There was scoring for brochs (stone towers) in the mountains and the more you had in an area, the better you scored. She got a full set of 3 in one mountain and another 2 in another later on. While I fret over every move, she cruised to a big win. And suddenly this game made sense to her. In the rematch of this set of scoring tiles, I did better and she didn't get the big scoring brochs, but she did get a solid income from a bunch of barrels and these were another scoring tile (most barrels), a 3 point per scoring edge that I could not overcome elsewhere.

I have a lot of positives for this game, the variable set up just mixes up every game, making some things so important but irrelevant in the next. The auction offering mechanism of the game is very clever. You have a selection of 3 tiles, one of which you must discard. But which one? The current round scoring and other scoring tiles guide that a bit, but the offering is also an opportunity to make some cash off your opponent and ideally you want to get the most money without being left to pay for it yourself. We would often be offering a cheap option (which did not much for the other player) and the premium option, which was very handy. And deciding how much you are willing to spend on something is something to consider as well, with the end game 5 coins = 1 point coming out as our exchange rate. But following all the ramifications starts to make the head spin.

The tile building part, as one comment put it, is much more like Glen More then Carcassonne (though building completed areas feels very much like city building in Carc), as you build your own bit of Scotland, arranging things as you need them for your scoring. The roads optional part is clever too, it might be a path to nowhere, but the roads need to link to the central castle for you to get the income from them via the whisky barrels and a few scoring tiles require road connections too. So roads are important to maintain but knowing when to break away from that is a big part of the game. Another part that feels a bit like Glen More is the importance of the money. Most games, money into end game points is a poor exchange at best but in Glen More, every coin is a point. It is not so strong here, but you can easily have a lot more money and the points you add from it at the end, in our games it has been in the range of 5-7, can readily affect the outcome.

Plus it is clearly well designed and quick playing, more in the 'is it over already?' camp than ever threatening to overstay its welcome. And that is part of why we keep playing 2 games back to back. Even playing those games with the same set of scoring tiles in the exact same places did not feel too similar, due to the differences in the tiles that came out through the game. There's a lot of game here. Like the box, it is full to the brim.

Concerns, I have a few. The possibility of seeing none of one particularly important feature (I see no ships!) and thus one player getting a big advantage in one scoring area without much effort is one. Is it possible to make up a 9 point swing (or more, in some cases) by just going all out in the other 3 scoring zones? I don't really think there is, though the game is quick enough that you can shrug it off and play again. Another is about the auction, though I think there is some group think coming in here, as after a few games, bids started hovering around the same amount in each phase of the game (low at the beginning, not much spare cash, but rising till it reached a limit of 5 or 6 coins). So is the auction mechanism that I like so much right now becoming a bit predictable? Though maybe that is a 2 player phenomenon. Indeed, the previous concern, the no ships problem, should be alleviated with more players as well, because more tiles will come out but also there will be more competition so everyone will get shut out of something.

So I thank you all for your recommendation and I can't wait to get this to the table with a larger group.

This post's photos courtesy of W Eric Martin, andre1975 and henk.rolleman. Thanks!
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4 Comments
Thu Feb 11, 2016 9:01 pm
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