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Musings from a not-so-serious gamer

Random thoughts from someone who loves the idea of games, spends way too much time on BGG, does actually play games, but isn't all that passionate about them.

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Going SMALL!

Kevin B. Smith
United States
Morro Bay
California
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Being a minimalist at heart, and living in a relatively small space, I decided a few years ago to constrain my game collection to a single set of shelves (about 6' tall and 3' wide). I'm spilling over a bit, but not as much as I was a few months ago. I managed to sell a bunch of games in an auction at a local con.

I also transport games to game days and nights in a backpack, and recently have been doing so without a car.

All of that has led me to favor games in smaller boxes. Within the last year or so, I have managed to find and obtain quite a few really good ones. This seems like a good time to survey all the small boxes in my collection. I can squeeze a TON of great gaming into a single bag!



Before we talk about the small-box games, here are some "Dishonorable Mentions". Games that *could* and *should* have had small boxes, but didn't:

Progress: Evolution of Technology. Cards and player boards could have fit in a far smaller box. Fun game, though, at least with 2-3 players.

Pandemic: The Cure. All the components fit inside the draw bag. Maybe expansions will make me glad to have the box, and it's not huge, but I wish it were smaller. This is our only Pandemic game, at least for now.

Augustus. ARGH! The components easily fit in a small box, but they chose a full TtR-sized square. I created my own smaller box to carry it around in. Now I need to decide whether to be bold and discard the original box, or store it. Solid gateway game, which I especially enjoy with 5-6 players because it is so quick.

Level 7 [Escape]. Not only is the box larger than necessary, but it's a bit larger than a TtR box. Stupid. Seems like a great game, but the rules make it hard to get to the table.

Phoenicia. Again here, the box is not just bigger than necessary, but is also bigger than a standard size. The board is mostly pointless. I really wish this great game would get a reprint, with great components (and a small box).

Forbidden Desert. It's not a big box, but there was no reason for them to make it bigger than the earlier Forbidden Island box. I'm also not a fan of the tin. It's one of our favorite co-ops, especially when we travel (and I take it in a much smaller box).

I'll discuss Rise of the Zombies! and 51st State later, but they could have been listed here as well.

UPDATE: There are games that I haven't bought, specifically because of their large or oversized box. Escape: The Curse of the Temple and Escape: Zombie City are prime examples. Put them in a right-sized box, and I probably would have bought both (and then traded one away). Another example is Outpost.



Next up are games that I have ordered, but haven't yet received.

Neolithic is on its way to me as I write this. I have blind ordered this one, so I don't actually know that it's a good game. Fingers crossed. It's a tiny one-deck game.

Speaking of one deck, I also backed One Deck Dungeon on Kickstarter. It's a gamble, since there weren't playthrough or neutral reviews. But the mechanisms look solid, and the all-female cast convinced me to take the risk.

Also pre-ordered via Kickstarter is Expedition: The Roleplaying Card Game. This one might not even be a game I enjoy all that much, but I had to back it because they have released the source code to the companion app.

My final upcoming Kickstarter game is Fire of Eidolon. I'm a bit skeptical about it, but the price is low, and the box is small. Another gamble.



Ok, enough about games I don't even own. What about games sitting on my shelf already? First, the games I own but haven't yet rated:

I recently picked up Mottainai for $8. At that price, and with that glorious tiny box, I couldn't say no. The gameplay is both simple and convoluted at the same time, which appeals to me. There are some attack cards, but I'm hoping they are a small enough part of the game that I'll still be able to enjoy it. I'm guessing it might end up an 8 for me, but could rise to 9, or could end up a 5 if the attacks are too annoying or if it just doesn't click.

Too Many Cinderellas was too cute not to buy. I have watched it played a few times (although with incorrect rules), but haven't had a chance to try it myself. It's a light filler, so I suspect it will end up a 7.

Dungeoneer: Tomb of the Lich Lord, and others in that family. I have drafted co-op variant rules for them, but haven't had a chance to try them out yet. So the game sits there, unplayed and unrated. It's likely to end up an 8 if the co-op variant works.



Low-rated games:

We'll skip over the small-box games I have rated a 4 (Onirim), and 5 (10 Days in... and Rory's Story Cubes).

In the 6's, we have my newly acquired Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier Game. It's not a tiny box, but I appreciate that it's at least a bit smaller than the standard 12x12x3 square. Then there is Balloon Cup which is way too aggressive for me to really enjoy, but has sentimental value since my wife and I got married in a hot air balloon. Red November would rate higher if it worked better with 2 gnomes, and perhaps was slightly less swingy.



Good (but not amazing) fillers, rated a 7:

Rolling America. I've only played it solo so far. Not sure if I'll find the right crowd for this one.

Black Stories. More of an activity than a game, but several people have quite enjoyed solving the mysteries.

The Builders: Middle Ages. I'm not a fan of the tin box. The game itself seems good, but I haven't enjoyed it as much as I had hoped. I would like to get more plays in so I could decide whether or not it's a keeper.

Friday. Turns out I'm not that into solo games.

Martian Dice and Zombie Dice. I enjoy push-your-luck dice fillers, and these are good ones. 7 is about as high a rating as a solid dice filler is going to get from me, I think.

Jaipur. For a while, this was our "go to" non-cooperative couples game. Early on, my wife tended to win with her intuitive play style. As I got better, that shifted, and I started to see ways to mess with your opponent. That all made it less fun, so we rarely play it now. We're usually happier playing a co-op anyway.



Here come the 8's. For me, an 8 is a really good game, that I *want* to play. As opposed to the 7's, which I'll play if asked, but generally wouldn't suggest unless the situation calls for it (like Zombie Dice).

Quick Quest is a dice game from The Game Crafter. I had quite a bit of fun playing it solo, but got tired of it. Theoretically it's a co-op, but really it's a solo game. I should try it again at some point.

I have only played The Game of Life: Card Game 4 times, which is a shame. For a light mass-market card game, it's quite awesome. It's hard to find, which makes me a bit reluctant to bring it to public events. But my wife finds the theme too mundane to be fun. So it sits there unplayed.

Cypher is a microgame in a velvet bag. I picked it up in a trade, and have played it a couple times. The rating might slide down to a 7 with more plays. It depends on how confrontational it feels, when I play it with people who have played it before.

Bear Valley is new, and I have only played it by myself so far, so this is a very tentative rating. The basic game seems like it might be a good quick filler. The advanced game has a surprising amount of decisions, and might become my new push-your-luck exploration game (replacing Roll to the South Pole which I love except for the box size). Small note: The Bear Valley box is about twice as deep as it should be. Grrr.

Rise of the Zombies! has a needlessly large box, but it's still on the smaller side. This rating is tentative, because I need to find a good houserule variant to make it easier to win. Until I do, I'm not even going to try playing it with my wife. But the mechanisms are fun and thematic.

Oh My Goods! sounds perfect on paper. Tiny box, production chains, and some push-your-luck. So far, it hasn't been quite as much fun as I had hoped (even with the 2nd edition rules). But I want to play it more before really passing judgment. For now, the 8 rating represents a bit of hopeful thinking on my part.

Port Royal (with Port Royal: Ein Auftrag geht noch.... Small box, push your luck, and deeper than a filler. That might not completely convince me, but the cooperative variant in the expansion got me to buy it. I haven't actually played it as a co-op yet, but I suspect it will remain an 8 regardless.

Tiny Epic Defenders is an adorable little box. I enjoyed my first couple games enough to give it an 8 rating, but I really need to play it more. My wife didn't take to it like I had hoped, so I'm waiting to re-introduce it to her. Or try it with someone else.

51st State (original edition) has a box about 5 times larger than necessary, but it's still slightly smaller than average. This is another one that I have enjoyed in my few plays, but need to play more to have a solid rating. It's a total brain-burner for me.

Run, Fight, or Die! (with Run, Fight, or Die! Expansion Pack 3) isn't a tiny box, but again, it's smaller than average. And about as small as it could be, considering it has all those plastic zombies inside. The co-op mode in this one has been an absolute delight in my few plays so far. I suspect that if there were more objective cards available, it could become a 9 for me (as a co-op).

Burgle Bros. is a charming heist co-op in a small box. I'm not a fan of oddly-shaped boxes, but at least this one is very functional. This is a solid 8, but the length and swingyness will probably prevent it from rising to 9 status.

Sail to India hits a lot of my buttons. Tiny box, minimalist components, rich euro gameplay. Figuring out how best to use those cubes is just awesome. I have only played a couple times, but REALLY want to play this one more. Officially it requires 3+ players, but it seems to work with just 2. It might get old with more plays, but I'm certainly not at that point yet. If not, it could easily become a 9.



And finally, the amazing 9's!

Peloponnes Card Game replaced the original Peloponnes for me. I really enjoyed the original, but the oversized box was annoying, and I didn't really care for any of the expansions (aside from increasing the player count). The small-box card game captures the same feeling as the original, but is easier to teach, and adds some interesting new decisions. Even if I preferred the gameplay of the original, the small box wins out for me.

Uruk II: Die Entwicklung Geht Weiter replaced the original Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation for me. I really enjoyed the original, and in fact it had an even smaller box than this new edition. But the new edition is far easier to teach, between the English cards and some streamlining. Plus the new components are awesome. The new version is different enough that I can see why some people still prefer the original. But for me, whether I enjoy the old or new edition a bit more is irrelevant. The new edition is easier to get to the table, so it's the one I kept.
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Sat Aug 6, 2016 6:09 am
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Hang on...so you're saying I like *zombie* games now???

Kevin B. Smith
United States
Morro Bay
California
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I'm not a zombie person. I've never watched or read The Walking Dead, and I don't think I've seen any zombie movies. Dawn of the Dead? Day of the Living Dead? Warm Bodies? I think those are some zombie movies, right? Dunno. Haven't seen them.

I have sat by and watched the zombie craze in board games (and other media) build up to a fever pitch. Sure, I bought Zombie Dice, but it's hard to consider that a "zombie game".

It's not that I hate zombies. Well, I guess I would hate them if they were trying to smash their way into my house. I just have never really understood the strong appeal they seem to hold with so many people.

But imagine my surprise when I rearranged my bookshelf this weekend, and discovered that zombie games now comprise over 7% of my collection! (see footnote 1).

Ok, so confession time: On a whim, my wife and I tuned into the pilot episode of iZombie a couple years ago. And we really enjoyed it. Much to our surprise, it has held up well, and after 2 full seasons, it's still one of the very few TV shows I actually make an effort to watch. Perhaps my icy heart has started to warm up to the cold ones after all.

My zombie games are:


Zombie Dice - light push-your-luck fun. Generally I prefer Martian Dice, but ZD is a bit lighter, so it's nice to have both. It's basically an abstract, but the pasted-on zombie theme works well as far as helping the rules make sense.


Dead Panic - light tower defense (with an escape rush at the end). I enjoyed Castle Panic, but traded it away because it was too light. Then I got it again because the Castle Panic: The Wizard's Tower expansion made it interesting again. But it's still light, so mostly it sits on the shelf.

Dead Panic is quite a bit more interesting than CP. First, I'll mention that I ignore the "if you die, you turn against the group" rule. I pretty much only play 2-player, and it's more fun for us to just call it a loss as soon as someone dies.

I love the narrative arc in this one. Defend the cabin long enough for survivors to show up with radio parts. Gather the parts, assemble the radio, and call for help. Then, around the time the cabin is filling up with the horde, try to rush through/around them to get out to the van, to escape. Awesome sauce.

The line-of-site and combat rules are slightly more complex than I would prefer in a family game like this, but they are manageable. I love the rush of being (nearly) overrun, but my wife finds it stressful, so I haven't actually gotten to play this one much. Yet.


Rise of the Zombies! - Brutal thematic card-based game. I heard about this a while back, but only became interested and got it this year. I love the way item, skill, and location cards work, and I like the ways that the players can help each other out.

But it can be brutal. I have already taken the easiest mode offered by the official rules, and houseruled it to be quite a bit gentler. And I still got crushed in my last couple solo attempts. Either I'm going to have to improve my skill, or I'll have to invent an even easier mode. My wife hates to feel like a game is hopeless. We would rather win 90% of our co-ops than lose 90% (with the ideal being to win around 50-75%).

So the jury is still out on this one. I want to play it with a friend a couple times before unleashing this zombie apocalypse on my wife.


Run, Fight, or Die! (with Run, Fight, or Die! Expansion Pack 3) - Light dice game that is surprisingly thematic. The price tag and mixed reviews kept me away from this one for a while, but I picked it up in a recent math trade. I'm only interested in this one as a co-op, which is why this expansion was necessary.

Based on 2 plays, this one seems like a winner. Sure, the dice can be fickle, and the card draws can be swingy. But it's a quick, cinematic game, so those are reasonable attributes. I rarely think minis are worth the extra cost, but I have to admit that having 20 zombie figures coming toward you on the first-person perspective board does add a lot to the flavor.

I love the personal goals in the co-op mode. Last game, I was "Just plain ole crazy", and near the end of the game, one bad die roll would have caused me to shoot (and kill) the other player. It's just fun.


I should probably also mention that Escape: Zombie City is on my wishlist. My main hesitations are a) my wife doesn't enjoy real-time games as much as I do, and b) the box is big. I have small shelves, so a game has to be REALLY good to justify a big box.


So there you have it. Apparently I have become "one of them". A Z-man. A zedder. A fan of the grey and green. A brain-eater beater.

I guess I can live with that.


(footnote 1: The percentage is calculated based on all of my non-expansion titles, excluding ones I am actively trying to trade away.)
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Thu Jun 16, 2016 7:18 am
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Games with a negative value

Kevin B. Smith
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Morro Bay
California
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I think I realized this a year or two ago, but hadn't put it into words until now: Some games have a negative value, for me. That is, I'm better off not owning them than owning them.

Truthfully, *most* games fall into that category. I have always known that I don't want to own Risk, for example. But there have been games that I kind of like, or games that I don't like but I highly respect, or games that I like but know nobody will ever play them with me.

I used to look at auctions, and when I would see games like those, I would think "Ooh, if only it were $5 cheaper, I would get a copy." Now, I don't. Even if that type of game were free, I would most likely turn it down. My shelf space is limited, and I already have a dozen or more games on the "I really need to sell/trade/give this away" list. I definitely don't need more.

A couple times, I have picked up a cheap game with the intention of trading it away. That was a questionable idea when I lived in Portland, where there are tons of gamers, so local trades are feasible. Now that I live in the middle of nowhere[1], shipping would consume most of any profit I might hope to get. Plus the hassle of finding a box, and padding, and doing the actual shipping, is a pain.

So when I put a value on a game, I now tend to over-value games that I actually really want, and I tend to put a negative value on the rest.

[1] I'm not really in the middle of nowhere, but from a "how many gamers are within 20 minutes of me" perspective, it's a pale shadow of Portland.
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Sun May 15, 2016 1:41 pm
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Expedition: The [FREE and OPEN] Roleplaying Card Game

Kevin B. Smith
United States
Morro Bay
California
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I don't back many Kickstarter projects. And I don't generally blab about it when I do. But this is one I really want people to know about. It's: Expedition: The Roleplaying Card Game

The game itself seems pretty cool. It requires an app, which I downloaded and played around with, although I couldn't do a lot without the physical cards that form the bulk of the game. From what I could tell, the game looked like it might actually be pretty fun. But the reason I backed: The app source code has been released under a Creative Commons license.

Other games have required an app, and I have always asked: Is it open source? The answer has always been "no". Well, actually the response from publishers has been a resounding silence, but the "no" was implied. As a result, I have stayed away from them.

Having an app be open source is important to me, because:
- It would allow someone to fix a bug if the developers choose not to
- It allows the game to be translated into different languages
- Even if the developers disappear, we can keep the app compatible with future OS upgrades (and security fixes)
- It shares knowledge and generally strengthens the gaming community

Now, the license they chose is not perfect. First, it's a Creative Commons license, which the CC folks say is not recommended for software. And they chose the "ND" variant of the license, which prohibits distributing modified versions. That means if I fix a bug, I can't share the fixed version, which is a bummer. The best I can do is to submit it to the publishers and hope they release it more widely.

One of the designers assured me that if they stop supporting the app, they'll release it under a more liberal license. There is no guarantee that he would follow through, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Releasing the app source code is a BIG DEAL. To show my support for their license, I backed at the "Legacy" level. That means I get to help name something in the game, which will be cool, but isn't something I would pay to do. I backed at the $100 level because I'm voting with my dollars. I want the project to succeed, and I hope you'll take a look and consider backing it as well.
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Fri Apr 15, 2016 3:35 am
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9 Games I wish I had played in 2015

Kevin B. Smith
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Morro Bay
California
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I got to play a lot of good games in 2015. But there are several games I would like to have played, but didn't get a chance to. In descending order of how many times I played them before 2015, they are:

Walnut Grove (34 plays total)
I traded my copy away for PACG Rise of the Runelords. It was a good trade, since I have already played PACG over 100 times. But I do miss Walnut Grove. I normally hate tile-laying, but WG does it well. And I love the feeding/heating each year. Maybe I'll pick up another copy at some point.

Legends of Andor (9 plays total)
My wife and I played several times, plus I played a few times solo or with others, but only the first 2 scenarios. My wife soured on the game, and the setup is a bit daunting, so I'm unlikely to take it to game night. Somehow I would need to get my wife back into it. She's not a big fan of dice resolution of combat, but she's OK with it in PACG. And although she prefers to win co-ops, she's OK losing half the time in both Witch of Salem and Forbidden Desert. I think she didn't like the scripted nature of the first 2 scenarios, where you were pretty much guaranteed to lose the first time (or few) tries.

So my plan is to play the 3rd scenario solo, to see how much it feels like the early scenarios, and how much it feels more like a conventional co-op. If it seems like something she would enjoy, I'll probably be able to get her to try it at least once. Hopefully we'll both enjoy it, and it can enter regular rotation. She enjoys fantasy-themed games, and highly thematic games, so there's hope.

The Game of Life: Card Game (4 plays total)
This game is a lot better than you would expect from a single-deck filler with the name "Life" on the box. It's not a fantastic game, but it has some solid mechanisms, and generates some fun storytelling. Ironically, although it is cheap, it's hard to find. I am reluctant to take it to game nights where food and beer are prevalent, which sadly has been the case for me for the last year. My wife doesn't love the mundane theme, so she'll only play occasionally. And I didn't try to push her into it in 2015. Don't confuse this with other simple card games with Life in the title--from what I have read, this is the only decent one.

51st State (3 plays total)
I have only played this a few times, but want to explore it more. The fact that you lose all your unspent resources each round bends my brain in really interesting ways. Ramping up your production without also creating ways to effectively use those resources is counter-productive. It's a bit of a pain to teach, so ideally I would find one or a few people interested in exploring it for several plays within a reasonably short time. Despite its violent post-apocalyptic theme, it's actually a very low-conflict game--much friendlier than the cute Imperial Settlers.

The Voyages of Marco Polo (.5 plays total)
As soon as I read about the "overpowered" characters, I wanted to try this mid-weight dice-placement euro. I got to play half a game at a con, and that convinced me that my initial interest was well-founded. My brain struggled in a good way, although there's a chance it might be a bit heavy for my tastes in the long run. I wish we could have finished that game, and I wish I knew someone who owned a copy. Now that it's back in stock, I could buy it, but honestly I don't have anyone to play it with right now. As soon as I get into a regular euro-friendly gaming group, if nobody else has it, I'll probably buy a copy.

The Dwarves (never played)
This looked awesome in Rahdo's runthrough, and I think my wife would really enjoy it. Unfortunately, the kickstarter campaign for the English version was very oddly structured, where you would have to basically buy the game twice to get one really good edition. I understand they did it to leverage their existing German customer base, but I really hope they end up releasing a simple affordable English version at retail. If/when they do, I'll almost certainly buy it.

Port Royal (never played)
I almost always enjoy a push-your-luck element in games, and I like tableau-building and "spend cards to play a card" games. So I have every reason to believe I'll enjoy this one. If I had a regular gaming group, I would already own it.

Royal Goods/Oh My Goods! (never played)
As I said, I enjoy push-your-luck. I also really love production chains (one example being that I love the misunderstood Vanished Planet). So I'm pretty sure I'll really enjoy this one as well. To repeat myself, when I get into a regular euro gaming group, I'll probably buy a copy.

Starship Panic (never played)
This is a PnP (Print-and-Play) cooperative game that just looks fun. I don't have the time/skills to build it myself, so I'm considering writing a software implementation instead. But of course I don't really have time to do that either. So I probably won't have a chance to try it unless it gets published (perhaps via The Game Crafter, LLC?
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Sun Jan 3, 2016 7:31 am
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2015: Most plays, Best new-to-me, and those I would like to play more of

Kevin B. Smith
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Morro Bay
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In 2015, I played 58 different titles, not counting expansions:

Most played game of 2015:
PACG Rise of the Runelords
(52 plays).
My wife and I finished our first campaign at the start of the year (Lini + Merisiel), and after setting it aside for several months, we completed a second campaign late in the year (Seoni + Merisiel). I would totally be up for yet another campaign, but we'll probably wait several more months.

Most played non-cooperative game (not counting solo plays):
Progress: Evolution of Technology
(3 plays).
It's interesting that my 14 most-played games were all co-ops (12 titles) or solo (2 titles). This year, I wasn't in regular game groups, so my wife and I played a lot more, and we prefer co-ops together. As for Progress, I have really enjoyed my 9 total plays. I would love to find a person or two who also enjoy it, so we could really explore it over a couple dozen plays.

I also played Star Realms 3 times in 2015, not counting my hundreds of solo android plays. But I don't really enjoy in-person Star Realms, so I'm giving the award to Progress.

Best game(s) I first played in 2015 (tie):
Peloponnes Card Game
(1 play, not counting a solo learning game). I definitely have to play this new arrival more. About 5-10 games should be enough for me to know whether I LOVE it or just enjoy it, and whether or not I prefer it over the original (which I rate a 9).

Uruk II: Die Entwicklung Geht Weiter (1 play). I loved the original Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation (rated a 9), but this new edition is much prettier, and is easier to teach. I really enjoyed my one play, but hope to try it another 5-10 times. The smallish box will work in its favor, but the name doesn't help sell it. Plus the people I game with most are into more thematic games, so these euro cube-pushers are less popular.





Other games I played in 2015 that I really, really want to play more of:
Burgle Bros.
(6 plays). This arrived late in the year, so we haven't had much of a chance to play it. I really enjoy it, but my wife doesn't like it as much as several other co-ops, so it will be a bit difficult to get it to the table a lot.

Vanished Planet (4 plays in 2015). After over 50 plays total, I still really enjoy this game. It's not a great game for game nights (tricky to teach, and runs long with 4+ players), and my wife enjoys it but not as much as I do. I would love to play this one at least once per month.

Dead Panic (2 plays, not counting solo learning games). I really enjoy this one, but it hasn't caught on with my wife. I'm a bit wary of bringing it to game nights, because I would want to play without the rule that people who get killed turn against everyone else. I really want to play this at least a few more times, to confirm my feelings for it.

Level 7 [Escape] (2 plays). Another one that I seem to enjoy more than my wife, but I'm pretty sure she'll play it more. We got rules wrong in both of our games--it has a few too many little rules for our tastes. But we love the theme, and I enjoy the gameplay. Again here, I'm wary of taking it to game night because it's technically not a pure co-op, and because of all the little rules. Plus the box is unfortunately large. Still, I think I'll get to play this at least a few more times.

Phoenicia (1 play in 2015). Another game that is hard to get to the table, but I really want to. It would be great to find 1-3 players who would be willing to explore it for at least 5-10 plays. The oversized box doesn't help me get it to game nights.

Sail to India (1 play). I got this recently, so I'm optimistic that I'll get more plays. So far, it has met my (positive) expectations. The small box means it will get to game nights, but will it get to the table?

The Voyages of Marco Polo (.5 plays). We were playing this at a local con, and lost our table halfway through the game. That was enough to show me that I enjoyed the game as much as I expected to. I don't expect to buy it, and I don't know anyone who owns it. If I get back into a euro gaming group, I'll buy it if nobody else has it.



If you want to explore my plays in more detail, they are here: https://boardgamegeek.com/plays/thumbs/user/peakhope/subtype...
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Fri Jan 1, 2016 6:23 pm
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Finding new paths to the Runelords

Kevin B. Smith
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Last year, my wife and I really enjoyed playing through the entire Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords campaign. We are now in the middle of a new campaign.

Before we got the game, I wasn't sure how she would feel about it, and our first game (on a demo copy at a store) wasn't awesome.In that demo game, my wife was Lem. I figured she would love his flexibility, being able to use ranged weapons, arcane spells, and divine spells. Well, yes, but his strength is very low. Compounding the problem, I played as Seoni, who also has a d4 strength. We struggled fighting monsters, and my wife hated that feeling of being weak.

But she didn't dislike the game, and she knew I liked it (I had played a friend's copy a few times already). So she approved me trading to get our own copy of the game (I willingly gave up my beloved Walnut Grove). When we got the game, she studied all the characters, and chose Merisiel. Merisiel is pretty much a bad-ass. She can recharge or discard cards to add to her attacks, and can evade almost any encounter she doesn't feel like dealing with.

As a complement, I chose Lini, who is also one tough cookie. Her animal friends give her massive bonuses on almost every check, so Lini can close locations and acquire boons like no other character. She also has a ton of spells, including important healing.

I used the fan-made Adventure Guide to flesh out the story, sharing the backstory before and then after each scenario. Highly recommended!

The gals cruised through the 30+ session adventure (we skipped the first intro scenario since we had just played it as Lem+Seoni). My wife quickly became addicted, and was regularly asking to play. We often played 2 scenarios in a day, and sometimes three. She is not a serious gamer, so that's saying a lot about how much she enjoyed the game.

Months after finishing Runelords, we tried Skull & Shackles. She chose Seltyiel, while I tried Alahazra, Jirelle, and finally Lem. We were in the 3rd box when we both decided to quit. It just wasn't as much fun as Runelords, and wasn't getting better. Our characters were OK, but the villains and locations were just frustrating. There were far too many tricky twists that just made it take longer to win, or made winning too dependent on the order the cards came up. I can see how it would be more fun for some folks, but it wasn't for us. Based on everything I have read, I suspect we would like Wrath of the Righteous even less.

Fast-forward a couple more months, and when I asked my wife if she wanted to try Runelords again, she quickly said yes. After carefully evaluating all the characters, she chose Sajan, and I went with Seelah. After the first intro scenario, she felt Sajan was a bit boring to play, and while Seelah was OK, I kind of wanted to get away from healers, since I had played them in 3 PACG campaigns (Lini finished, Kyra and Lem abandoned in the middle). So we decided to change characters.

In the end, she decided she really just wanted to play Merisiel again, and I chose Seoni. As with the first campaign, we skipped the first scenario (since we had just completed it), and took our new characters into the second one.

We just started box 3 (13 scenarios into the campaign), and we are loving it as much as the first time around. We have forgotten the details of most of the henchmen and villains, so we're experiencing the joys of adventure and discovery. Different cards are coming up, so (for example) items we had from the start last time still having shown up.

Merisiel is still a powerhouse, and my wife is really enjoying playing her again. However, she is having to play her completely differently, because she is with Seoni instead of Lini.

Not having healing makes a massive difference. Cards that you have to bury (remove until the end of the scenario) used to be terrible, whereas cards you discarded weren't bad because they could be healed. Without substantial healing, burying is pretty similar to discarding, which makes the more powerful "bury" cards more appealing. In the first campaign, Merisiel had almost no armor or protection. This time, she has armor, a shield, and a couple defensive items.

Meanwhile, I'm still learning tricks to play Seoni well. She has some significant strengths and weaknesses, and some are subtle. I'm getting to really explore the arcane spells and items, and am learning the art of getting the most out of a deck with minimal healing. I do have a Staff of Regeneration and until tonight had Father Zantus, but compared to Lini or Kyra, that's nothing. Tonight, I gave up Father Zantus (to Merisiel), feeling like I have been managing my health well enough that I could get more use out of another ally. Time will tell.

Merisiel+Lini only had to repeat one scenario, and finished most with plenty of time remaining. Merisiel+Seoni are having to work a lot harder! They have also only replayed a scenario or two, but they have finished within the last couple turns several times. Tonight's game would have been a loss if I had rolled less than a 5 on a d6 to temporarily close a location at the very end. Last night, we would have lost if the villain hadn't been at the top of a 4-card location. The games are filled with tension...and fun.

We're not using the Adventure Guide this time. I'm not sure how much of it is that we both enjoy the gameplay so much that we don't need the additional dose of theme, and how much of it is that we remember the important plot points from last time, and just don't feel like we need the refresher.

Anyway, the short version is that this game has awesome replayability. I have played almost 100 sessions of Runelords games, and my wife has played almost 50, and we both still eagerly play it almost every night. Some time after we finish this campaign, I'm almost sure we'll do another one. My wife might stick with Merisiel, but I'll choose someone else, and it will be a whole new game.
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Fri Nov 20, 2015 7:45 am
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Unplayed games

Kevin B. Smith
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Morro Bay
California
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Since taking a new job last March, my gaming has been much more limited. The job itself is taking more time, and my longer commute doesn't help. I also moved away from both a gaming buddy (we got together almost weekly) and a gaming group. Fortunately, my wife enjoys some games, so I'm not entirely without gaming.

I'm not a fan of having unplayed games, and they are starting to pile up. Here is my current list:

Dungeoneer (Dungeoneer: Vault of the Fiends, Dungeoneer: Den of the Wererats). I have played the base game (Dungeoneer: Tomb of the Lich Lord) once, but competitively. I really want to polish a co-op variant, at which point all the games in the series should become fun travel games for us. I have draft variant rules written up, but haven't had a chance to try them yet.

Mousquetaires du Roy. Having studied the rules, I believe this would be a fun co-op for us, as it has an overall arc that is a bit different from other games. The drawbacks are: 1) it's a bit tricky to learn, 2) all 4 mousquetaires are in the game regardless of player count, and 3) it's unfortunately all about males (for understandable reasons).

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Game. My wife loves mysteries on TV, and we enjoyed the surprisingly-good NCIS: The Board Game. So I picked up Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Gumshoe, and Ellery Queen. Gumshoe turned out to be too intricate and seemingly capricious for our tastes. SHCD was fun, but my wife thought it felt like a whole lot of effort. So I'm not sure if we'll play Ellery Queen, or just trade it away unplayed.

S-Evolution. My dad and his friend are long-time fans of trick-taking games, so I bought this to play with him/them. I don't enjoy abstract games or traditional card games any more, so I'm hoping this will allow us to meet in the middle (trick taking with theme). Unfortunately, I haven't been up to visit my dad since, except for 2 quick trips where gaming wasn't an option.

Burgle Bros.. Arrived yesterday. Looks like it should be a fun co-op for us.

Peloponnes Card Game. I have been a longtime fan of the original Peloponnes, and owned a copy with many expansions. As soon as the card game became available, I ordered it, and gave away my Peloponnes[1]. I have never really liked the Peloponnes expansions (other than to increase player count), so I won't miss those. The card game box is small (I'm a huge fan of smaller boxes), and I won't miss the fiddly resource tracking of the original game. The card game is very similar in play, but has enough differences that I fear I might get confused about the rules. So I need to really study up, and play a couple practice games, before I take this to a game night.



I suppose some people are laughing and saying "Ha! He only has 6 unplayed games? That's nothing!" Yeah, it's a reasonable number. But it is growing, which makes me uncomfortable. I definitely slow down my game-buying when it happens.

However, I have recently become more comfortable with the idea of games remaining unplayed longer, if it makes sense. For example, I really want to play S-Evolution with my dad. I could try to rush it to the table with someone else, but that would miss the point. So I'm content to just let it sit there until my dad and I can play it.

I'm really eager to play Peloponnes the Card Game, but I don't want my first play to be marred with rules errors. So I'm willing to wait until I have had the time to really get it right.

Burgle Bros and Mousquetaires should be a lot of fun, but I don't want to push too many new co-ops at my wife in a short amount of time. We recently got Pandemic: The Cure, Level 7 [Escape], Dead Panic, Prophecy (co-op variant), and Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game, and I want to play those more.

Plus we love Vanished Planet, Witch of Salem, and Forbidden Desert, and want to play those more. And we just started a second campaign of Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords – Base Set, so that's going to take a lot of time. And we would like to revisit other games that we enjoy but don't play that often, like Star Trek: Expeditions, Lord of the Rings, Legends of Andor, and Break the Safe.

With all of those other options, I'm (now) OK letting those new games wait until the time is right. They will still be there, and we'll have a lot of fun with the other games until then.

Perhaps the only thing worse than an unplayed game is one that was played before it was time, resulting in a bad experience.



[1] My copy of Peloponnes was a gift from some friends in Florida several years ago. They were moving, and since I loved the game, they figured it was a win-win to get it into my hands. When I decided to replace it with the card game, I was able to send it back to them in Texas (with one more expansion). Another win-win!
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Sun Nov 8, 2015 8:27 pm
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Java code for hex grids

Kevin B. Smith
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Morro Bay
California
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WARNING: This entire post is about programming to display hex grids. Although my code is in Java, the bulk of this post would actually apply to any language. Anyway, if programming is not your area of interest, You might just want to bail out now.

Ok, you were warned...

Over in my Games I might try to create apps for geeklist, I mentioned that I wrote some Java code to manage a hex grid as if it were a square grid. Derek asked if I could share the code, so here goes.

First, I'll mention that it is available as a Mercurial repo. If you have Mercurial, you can clone yourself a full copy with this command:

hg clone ssh://fxa.org://var/hg/terraprime terraprime

But if you don't have Mercurial, I'll post the actual relevant source code in comments below. Meanwhile, I'll explain the concept.

Before we start, you'll need to know the shape of the Terra Prime map: It's kind of an inverted V shape, with the home base at the bottom, and the outermost reaches of space at the top. Here's a screenshot:


Ok, so first I wanted to identify all the hexes. For my X axis, I put 0 at the home base, with negative X values to the left, and positive X values to the right. For Y, I made the outermost reaches of space row zero, although I'm not sure why. If I were writing the code today, I would be inclined to make the home base (0,0) and the center of the red hexes (0,3).

Taking a quick detour, you might notice that the hexes are not perfectly proportioned. To avoid baking my brain, each hex is 5 wide and only 4 tall. Doing that allowed me to draw the corners on integer coordinates on the square grid. Dead simple, and close enough for my purposes!

Ok, so back to the bigger picture. Drawing hexes is nice, and would be enough for many games, but Terra Prime (like Catan) has tokens move along hex edges, rather than from center-of-hex to center-of-hex. So I also had to be able to refer to each corner of each hex. Conceptually, I set it up like this:


+---+
| |
+ +
| |
+---+


And thanks to the hex row/column scheme above, the hexes are just laid out next to one another. Thus, the corners of the green hexes look like this, with each legal corner represented as a + sign:


+---+---+---+---+---+
| | | | | |
+ + + + + +
| | | | | |
+---+---+---+---+---+


Moving the ship becomes simple: Just go up, down, left, or right. As if it were a square grid. And if the ship is on the left or right center point of a hex, it can't move left or right.

I'm not sure this would be worth doing with a map of a different shape. But it was fun to think it up. Even if I'm sure other folks have invented it on their own before me.

EDIT: Looking back at this, my explanation doesn't quite seem right. Or maybe it is, and I'm just tired at the end of a long day. Anyway, it works. Somehow.

EDIT2: Maybe it's really like this?

+---+
| |
+ +---+
| | |
+---+ +---+
| | |
+---+ +---+
| | |
+---+ +---+
| | |
+---+ +
| |
+---+
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Tue Jun 16, 2015 4:18 am
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2015 January Gaming Retrospective

Kevin B. Smith
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Morro Bay
California
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It felt like I hardly got any gaming in last month, but I actually had 33 plays. I played only one new game, but got to play it 6 times.

Mostly I was going back and playing old favorites. Of the 9 games listed here, I have played each an average of 24 times! And every game I played this month (including the new one) has a rating of 8 or 9.

So it really was a great gaming month after all.

Within each category below, the games are listed roughly in order from favorite to least favorite.
New to Me


Break the Safe (6 plays)
Rating: 8

"Surprisingly good electronic 'kids' game from 2003 that works fine with non-serious adults. Has a feel similar to Escape, but is pretty swingy." My plays.


Not New to Me

Forbidden Desert (2 plays; 29 total)
Rating: 9

"Excellent thematic co-op. Straightforward rules, but has interesting decisions. My wife and I like it a lot better than Pandemic or Forbidden Island." My plays.



Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords – Base Set (17 plays; 79 total)
Rating: 9

"Clever deck management game with a good theme, and each hero plays quite differently. The gameplay is not as dull as some claim (it's NOT 'flip a card; roll dice; repeat'), but it's not fantastic either. The charm of this game, and the only reason it shines, is if you campaign over multiple sessions, watching your character grow, and eagerly awaiting new stuff to encounter. I went in with fairly low expectations, but it has become a favorite. "

I really thought I might enjoy playing solo, with one hero. I suspect going through with Lini or Lem might be OK, but I wanted to play Ezren or Seoni, since neither of my full campaigns had any Arcane spellcasters. At least in the first 3 scenarios, it is brutally hard to survive, and even if you do, you don't get good new cards. So after 13 tries, I gave up. Instead, I will finish up my second 2p campaign, and put the box away for a while. Eventually my wife and I will probably start a new 2p campaign. My plays.



Progress: Evolution of Technology (2 plays; 8 total)
Rating: 8

"Clever and fun civ-themed tech tree card game. Not a good choice for AP-prone folks. Official solitaire variant is OK but not great." My plays.



Witch of Salem (2 plays; 44 total)
Rating: 8

"Great light Lovecraftian co-op. Best without the 'portal secrecy' rule. Better story arc and less randomness than Elder Sign." My plays.



Star Trek: Expeditions (1 plays; 12 total)
Rating: 8

"Solid, but not amazing. The plot cards are fantastic, dripping with theme. Other aspects of the game are just mechanical. Ship minis are great. If you don't play too often, the repetition of the plot cards is not bad at all. We're up to 10 plays over 2.5 years, and it still feels reasonably fresh. However, an expansion with more Stardate cards and especially with a new set of Captain's Log cards would be much appreciated." My plays.



Augustus (1 plays; 6 total)
Rating: 8

"Fun and quick (30 minutes with 6p first-timers) game for gamers and non-gamers alike. More strategy than some say but obviously a lot of randomness too." My plays.



Thebes (1 plays; 7 total)
Rating: 8

"Very thematic game with great mechanisms. Great as a 'next-step' game after gateways, but interesting for more serious gamers who are OK with some randomness." My plays.



Ra: The Dice Game (1 plays; 33 total)
Rating: 8

"Yahtzee-style dice rolling combined with wacky Knizia scoring. I like it better than Ra." My plays.


For more details (mini-reviews) of every game I have rated, look at my game comments. I also record mini session reports for most of my plays.
An ongoing tip of the hat to Wes Baker (wesbaker) for creating a little ruby script that pulls play data off BGG. I started with his gist, and enhanced it to automatically create most of the content above. Sweet!
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Thu Feb 5, 2015 6:22 am
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