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Earlier this year, I broke my resolution to not buy any new games when I had the chance to get last year's AEG Black Box, which contained two games I was very interested in getting. (Trains and Guild Hall, by the way) So I was looking forward to this year's black box.
But I shamelessly looked for spoilers and decided that it wasn't something I really wanted. (Yeah, it's cheating but I've gotten very particular about my game shelf so no regrets)
Instead, I used the power of Black Friday to get 7 Wonders: Duel and a used copy of Garden Dice with the card expansion.
We both really enjoy 7 Wonders so getting Duel was exciting for me. I am very impressed with the decision to not use drafting for card selection but a layout like a solitaire mahjong game. I was worried it would be simply like a more complex Fairy Tale but it clearly has its own identity.
Garden Dice was much more of an impulse purchase, one that reflects the direction I see my collection and gaming going. Family fare with a relatively short playing time but still being a game that still appeals to a gamer.
And, in fact, we broke our Garden Dice on Friday and tried it out. I'll admit that our first game of it wasn't that exciting. We were figuring out how things worked and we weren't too inclined to bust out our critters.
But I think the game has potential, enough that I think our next play will be much better. I also am glad we have the card expansion. Not only will our next play include it, I think we will always use it.
Not my most exciting Black Friday but a pretty good one.
Earlier this week, I wrote about how I was going to finally try Reef Encounter out online. I figured that an online game that was turn-based was going to take me a couple weeks to get through but I planned on writing about my experience when it was done.
Three days and ten turns later, I was totally smoked. I got completely blown out of the water and was lucky to even get one shrimp's worth of tiles into my parrotfish. I had been expecting a game that smoothly grew and developed and instead I got blitzed.
Wow. Reef Encounter is one mean piece of sea life.
Of course, I am doing the only thing that I can do. I am getting right back up and getting ready to play another game. When life gives you a black eye, sometimes you just have to give it a chance to blacken the other one.
Here are some of the lessons that I took from my first game. Not counting that it takes a couple turns to get a real sense of how the rules work.
You don't expand the board with every player. Instead, there is another board to fight over for every player. That means that every space that you were fighting over is cramped. Reef Encounter is a series of knife fights in a whole bunch of phone booths.
Second of all, never underestimate the power and importance of resource management. You have the tiles that are behind find your screen. You have the cubes that are required for laying tiles on the boards. And you have the tiles that are in front of your screen, which are the only way that you can do things like buy algae discs.
Which leads to point number three. Holy cow but you cannot underestimate dominance. It doesn't just control endgame scoring. It isn't just a way to attack everyone else. No, it is key to getting those tiles in front of your screen and you need those to fuel your game.
Fourth: ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK!!! This ain't no do-your-own-thing game. The boards are way too small for that. You have to cut the other guy's patches of coral down because that's the only way you get space to grow your own.
Reef Encounter is deeper and nastier than it looks on the outside. It is full of confrontation and tough decisions. It is staying in my collection and I am going to keep on playing it online.
As I go through my collection to do another heavy purge, which might count as one of the most boring midlife crises ever if I was at least 10 years older, it definitely makes me think about repetition and replay value.
When I was being manic about buying games and always play new games, there wasn't a lot of replay. The game had to be really, really good to get a lot of replay.
And, when I remember that while looking at my games, I realize that there are games on my shelf that are really, really good but even if I still had my old gaming group, they really wouldn't see any play.
In The Year of the Dragon is a game I bought years ago. I still haven't played it once and it is exactly the kind of game that my old group would play once, say it was really good, and then never played again. Having it leave my collection stings a little but it's a decision that really makes sense.
Interestingly enough, since so much of my gaming for the last couple years has been online, that has actually really increased my repetition. Although, come to think of it, the same could be said of my years on BSW.
And I have found myself asking myself if I am playing a game online, does that mean I would play a game face-to-face? In some cases, it does. I learned how to play Transamerica online and that made me buy my copy that has seen tons of play. On the other hand, while I have enjoyed my plays of Galaxy Trucker, I don't think that it would be worth the time or space to have my own copy.
Sometimes, playing online gives me enough of the taste or understanding of a game. Yes, I think that it is always better to play game face-to-face. However, since owning games cost money and space and playing games face-to-face costs time, you sometimes have to really look at what you are investing.
Mind you, my online playing of Reef Encounter has actually saved that game. So I guess I have to look at everything as a case-by-case basis.
After years of not diving in, I have finally decided that it is time for me to take the plunge and swim on down to discover if Reef Encounter is really a game for us.
Since the game came out in 2004, I have had plenty of years to hear how great it is. Also, to hear how complicated it is. I'm not even sure exactly when I brought it home from Gencon. (Goes and checks records) 2008. Sweet Y'Golonac. I have owned this game for over seven years and I haven't even punched it out.
Despite that fact, which really should be a red flag that I don't need the game, I'm not ready to let go of Reef Encounter without a fight. Which, by the way, it's a lot more than I can say for a lot of other games that have seen their way out the door over the years.
Part of it is, yes, the game does have an awfully good reputation. Another part of it is that both my wife and I really like aquatic life. Heck, Black Molly has stayed in my collection because it is about fish and it's really small. The fact that Reef Encounter does try to reflect some aspects of the life on coral reef goes a long way to making me want to hang onto it.
So, since we really don't have the time or energy to play out a game of Reef Encounter after our son goes to bed, I have done two other steps in order to try and figure out if we really want to keep Reef Encounter. I have watched Board Game with Scott's tutorial on the game and I have signed up for a learning game on Spielbyweb.
(Which is no small thing. A couple years ago, I found that my online gaming had become a really big time sink. Making one move the day in the game doesn't take up that much time but if you have over 50 games going on, it ends up being a huge amount of time. So Spielbyweb was a site that I said goodbye to. However, for this, I'm paying it another visit.)
And damned if I'm not excited about Reef Encounter.
I also have to say that damned if I'm not glad I watched that tutorial. While watching Scott talk about games is always fun, I had some real problems wrapping my mind around the game from just reading the rules. A lot of that came from the terminology and the fact that the separate boards are just playing areas for everyone, since it really felt like each player got their own board which didn't make any sense. They don't, which is why it didn't make any sense.
While I am willing to play anything, as long as it doesn't get in the way of other responsibilities, the two areas which I have found myself the most interested in gaming are euros and abstracts. Although, I have found that the difference between European games and American games has really shrunk in the last five or six years. Be that as it may, Reef Encounter hits a lot of my sweet spots.
Normally, I'd wait until I finished at least my first game but that might take a while and I'm pretty excited about actually trying out Reef Encounter. I am sure that I will return to this topic, either to write about how great a game it is or how big a disappointment it is.
Tue Nov 24, 2015 12:04 am
My start back into board games took place sometime around 2002, when I learned Catan and Carcassonne and Puerto Rico from different friends. But I really didn't start down the road of being really into board games until 2004 when I ordered Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers and Settlers of the Stone Age.
I did have a few card games, including copies of Fluxx and The Very Clever Pipe Game that ended up getting worn to pieces. However, buying games in actual boxes with actual boards was the step that turned me into a serious collector, not to mention a serious student of designer board games.
For the next five or six years, I was an obsessive game buyer. Mind you, I was also an obsessive game player. There were times when I was having three to five times a week and I always wanted to try out one of my new games.
Looking back, that was a crazy and educational time. I learned a lot about games and game mechanics and game designers and at least a little bit about the gaming industry itself. But, unless you are a professional game designer or game reviewer, that isn't a life style you can really keep up for too long.
I've swung over to what is probably the equivalent of the far end of the pendulum for me. I'm now actively planning on purging my game collection of games that I know are really good but I don't have the time to play with the space to store them. That something that would have never occurred to me in an earlier point in my life.
In a lot of ways, my initial mania with boardgames reminds me of being in college. It was fun but it was educational and I made a whole lot of friends in the process. But college isn't for life and people who I have known who tried to keep on living like they're still in college into their 30s and 40s honestly don't seem very happy or satisfied.
So, in honesty, I have found that I am very happy to have moved onto the next stage in my gaming life. I may yet become one of those people who has only 100 games in their closet but they are 100 games that I am always willing to play.
Now, that might sound like sour grapes. After all, I'm now married and have a young child. No way that I can be out gaming all the time or play games until three in the morning. There's also no way that I can spend so much space or money on games. So of course I'm going to say yeah, this is so much better.
But, you know what? I was starting to get bored and frustrated with having so many games that I was never replaying anything other then Dominion. Having all of my social obligations revolving around games was starting to feel scale. Ultimately, living like that turned out to not be very fulfilling. So, yeah, my wife really is better now!
And I don't consider myself to no longer be a gamer. I have anywhere from 20 to 60 games online going on at any given time. I have developed a real interest in print and play. And I still get out to the convention and we play the occasional game when our son gives us the time and energy.
Clearing out more of my game collection has made me think about both change and maturity. I'm not saying I wasn't an adult when I got into gaming. I'm not even really saying I'm an adult now that I'm acting all responsible and stuff. But I have found, as I grow older and life keeps changing, it really does get better.
Accepting and embracing the change that I need to game collection that takes up less space and is full of games that will really get played is actually a good thing.
The time has come again for me to do another purge of my game collection. It's been a while and I haven't added a lot of games to my collection but it still really should be done.
The big reason is that I've been using my son's closet for game storage. Which wasn't a big deal when he was infant but he's a toddler and he's going to actually need to use that closet himself soon.
But, let's face it. There isn't a good reason to keep a bunch of games around that I'm not only not playing but might not ever play just doesn't seem like the act of a healthy mind. Never mind the fact that I did that for years back in my collecting and hoarding days.
Really, I've got three criteria for games that I'm planning on purging. The first one is, well, size. I mean, one of the big goals is to get some storage space. Getting rid of a couple little card games isn't going to help me do that.
Second, no one ever tells you this but having a kid really eats up a lot of time. I'm not playing a lot of longer games right now. I'll have to wait until I can force our son to play them. Which will probably be when he's eight or so and probably as an alternative to spanking. So, if a game takes more than an hour, it gets some scrutiny right now.
Third, if I have never actually played the game... I mean, seriously? That's a good reason to ask myself if I really need a game.
And, yeah, there will be exceptions. I can't bear to part with my unpunched copy of Reed Encounter, for instance. (Although, I could try it out online. Maybe I should do that and then reconsider my position.)
While getting back storage space that we can use for toddler stuff is the biggest reason, having a collection that is too big and unwieldy also gets in the way of actually getting games played. Just from a getting games out of storage to play perspective, it's better.
Don't get me wrong. At this point, I'm going to be getting rid of good, even great games. But I genuinely believe it will be better for my household and for my mental health.
Sun Nov 22, 2015 11:40 pm
Cacao is the latest game to show up on Yucata. It's a fairly simple game, a tile laying game that uses a lot of tried and true mechanics. Without trying hard, I can point to at least four different games that different pieces of Cacao remind me of.
Which isn't a bad thing.
In Cacao, you are the chieftain of a tribe, trying to earn the most money by harvesting and selling cocoa, as well as exploiting the other resources of the jungle, like gold mines and lost temples and water holes.
Actually, I think would actually make more sense if you were playing entrepreneurs who were hiring local workers to exploit the jungle. I mean, if you're trying to take control of an archaeological site, that probably means you aren't a local.
Of course, as is par for the course, the theme really only applies as far as the artwork is concerned. The game could be taking place on another planet or on the ocean floor or on a cyberpunk Internet without changing any of the rules. But, as a long time Euro player and an even longer time abstract player, that really doesn't bother me.
I'm not going to go over the rules in great detail, I will do my standard practice of glossing over them so you know where I'm coming from and what I'm talking about.
As I mentioned at the start, Cacao is a tile laying game. Each player has their own stock of worker tiles while there are jungle tiles that serve as a common pool. Players will have a hand of three of their worker tiles while there will be two jungle tiles available on any given turn.
You see, in Cacao, your meeples are printed on your tiles. Each worker tile has four workers on it. Some of them have one on each edge, others have different combinations, with blank edges.
Worked tiles and jungle tiles get placed in a checkerboard pattern, with the workers sharing an edge with a jungle tile getting to use that jungle tile. Jungle tiles get added when two edges form a blank square that needs to get filled. Then EVERY worker next to that new jungle tile gets to use it.
You get to do things like harvest cacao and sell it at different markets, not to mention mine for gold, collect special sun tokens, get water points and use area of control to take over temples. When no one can make any more moves, whoever has the most points, excuse me, the most gold wins.
As I already mentioned, Cacao reminds me of a whole bunch of different games. The obvious one is Carcassonne, since that's pretty much the poster child for tile laying games and meeples. But there are elements of the game that remind me far more of other games.
The checkerboard tile laying reminds me of Architekton, since that's the first game that I ever saw that used a checker pattern. I know it's far from the only game that does and I doubt it was the first one but that's where my mind goes.
The way that you fill in the blank spaces with jungle tiles screams of the older game Trax, which is over 30 years old now and really doesn't get enough love. While you can get a cascade of moves in Cacao, you can get an explosion in Trax!
The way jungle tiles can be activated by already placed meeples reminds me of Oregon, another game that deserves more love. That was a regular game for my old group to play, and thanks to the power of Yucata, we almost always have a game going now.
Offhand, I can't think of the game with the meeples printed on the edges of the tiles but I'm willing to bet there's one out there that I just haven't played.
If it wasn't already obvious, I've really enjoyed playing Cacao. While it might not have created any new and amazing mechanics, it brings a whole bunch of tried-and-true ones together in a good way. I appreciate synthesis as well as innovation.
If I were still regularly buying games, Cacao is one that I would pick up. It has a relatively short playing time, something that I have come to treasure as life is gotten busier, and it would be pretty easy to teach. It's the kind of family game that I can see being easy to play with most families.
But even if I never play Cacao face-to-face, I am really enjoying it on Yucata. You see, it fits into that nice spot for me on Yucata in which the game is just heavy enough that I feel like I am really playing the game while being like enough that I don't have to take more than a minute to figure out my move. On days when I am snatching minutes to make moves, that's a real plus.
I have found that playing games online and turn-based artificially makes them heavier. Spacing out your moves over days and never seen your opponents creates a disconnect, at least for me. Games like Hawaii or Castles of Burgundy feel pretty heavy. So, what would be a pretty light game in person can become a meatier and more satisfying game.
Cacao was a delightful little surprise for me and a game I see playing regularly.
Yucata has been my primary game shelf for the past couple years. So every time a new game gets added to the site, it's a reason for me to rejoice.
For the first eight months of this year, the only game that was added was Nations the Dice Game. Which, I have had a lot of fun with. Frankly, one game that I enjoy playing over and over again is pretty darn good. But, since September, we have gotten Kashgar, Helios, La Isla and Cacao. That's pretty cool!
As I have commented on in the past, playing games online and, in particular, learning games online is more difficult than face-to-face. For me, at least, games gain additional weight from being played in this way.
Learning how to play a game face-to-face, even if I am teaching and learning the game at the same time, is easier for me. Having to go through the work of moving all the pieces myself and keeping track of the housekeeping really helps me understand how the game works.
When I am learning a game on Yucata, I am physically removed from the game itself. All the housekeeping gets done for me. Which is actually pretty awesome when I already fully understand the game but it does make figuring out everything that's happening harder. And, I am removed from the other players by both time and space. A game that could be put under an hour is often played over the course of several days.
Mind you, there are also some serious advantages to that as well. But it still means that every time I go back to the board, I have to remember what was going on. In a face-to-face game, I would not living life and other things so I would already know what was going on.
While none of the four new games would be considered that heavy face-to-face, they are all new to me. Life has kept me from really being able to focus on learning them so it's still definitely still in process for me.
At this point, I understand the moving parts of Kashgar and La Isla enough to understand the games. I just need to figure out how to play them better (and I'd be further with La Isla, if I didn't have to go over all the special powers) Helios remains annoyingly opaque for me. I need to carefully reread the rules a couple times, maybe watch some videos and tackle it again.
Cacao, despite being the newest game in the site, is lighter than the other three and has mechanics I've seen before so it's the one that was easy to figure out. In fact, this started out as a blog about Cacao but I got distracted with Yucata in general
I didn't mean for this to become a My State in Yucata Address but it was fun to mull over all of these different thoughts.
For a while, I've had a desire to compare Pico 2 with R, even though there isn't a terribly good reason to.
They are both two-player micro games that consist of a small number of cards. On top of that, they have similar mechanics. Each player has a hand of cards and everyone knows what's in each hand. (Indeed, they are identical in R) They simultaneously reveal a card, with one card winning over the other.
With Pico 2, you have an eleven card deck, dealing out five cards to each player, with the last card face up so you know who has what. High card wins, unless it is more than twice the value of the low card. When one player is down to one card, you swap hands and play again so everyone has the same chance.
In R, you have identical decks of cards with each card having a special power. You play until one person has won with four cards, with tied cards being won in the next play.
Honestly, I consider Pico 2 to be the more elegant game. The simplicity in its design belies the remarkable depth of play it creates in a game that lasts less than five minutes. It would be dull if it lasted a half hour but it is deep and clever for five minutes. It's been a part of my traveling game kit for many years.
But the powers in R are really well balanced, allowing for its own share of clever decisions. I'd also say that it would appeal more to folks who like special powers. And, although I don't know if I'd call this a selling point, games of R take even less time than Pico 2.
However, as I said at the start, there's no good reason to make this comparison. If you can't get both games for around twenty bucks, I'm pretty sure you can do it for under thirty. And they take up less space than a paperback cut in half. And I mean one of those old Doctor Who Target books.
So, unless you are a hardcore proponent of the Jones theory, money and storage space aren't a reason to only own one. (Storage space is one of the biggest factors in my application of the Jones theory. Teeny tiny games get a lot more leeway)
If you like one, you'll like the other. They are different enough that it's not like playing the same game. And if you don't like one, I doubt you'd like the other.
Ablaze is an interesting example of the toolbox game. I'm not sure if there's a real difference between a game system and a toolbox but in my head I think of toolboxes as being more specific and limited. A deck of cards is a game system and Quarriors is a toolbox.
Ablaze comes with rules for three very distinct games. All three of them are themed around forest fires, although they are so abstract that the theme borders on meaningless. On top of that, each game can be played competitively, cooperatively, or as a solitaire. So you can have nine distinct experiences before you even add variant rules.
I decided that it was time that I tried out Volcano, which came out as a rule set before it was even formally included when the game was reprinted.
Compared to either Wildfire or On the Run, Volcano is a much simpler game. You lay out all the tiles to form the board and spend the game trying to take them off.
Amusingly, one of the ways you can set up the game is to play a game of Wildfire first. Regardless, one of the centerish tiles gets swapped out to become the volcano by either putting the volcano tile there or just flipping it over.
Each turn, you fly a plane burning forest in a straight line. It can't pass over gaps. It it can't pass over the volcano either, so there's some terrain for you. You drop a pawn, symbolizing a load of water on each file you pass over. When a tile's spaces (higher numbers have more spaces for pawns, showing that that fire is hotter) is full AND its on the edge of the board, it gets taken off.
In a competitive game, someone will get the tile in the name of points. In a cooperative game or a solitaire game, you're just glad to have out out part of the raging forest fire. Orphaned tiles, cut off from the board get claimed by whoever has the most pawns on it, with the active player winning ties. (Amusingly, even if they DON'T have any pawns on it!) In solitaire or cooperative, unclaimed able orphans just lose you the game.
Since the only random element in the entire game is the set up, the game is all about what you make of it and how you respond to what the other players do. In the solitaire or cooperative format, it means you can go in with the plan from the very start.
Let's be honest. Volcano isn't that great game. It works and there's nothing fundamentally wrong with it but there's nothing really interesting about it obvious moves are, well, obvious. Despite pulling off tiles, it feels static, not dynamic. It doesn't help that a game that's all about the shrinking the board of hexes screams out for comparison to Hey, That's My Fish, which is an honest to goodness classic that I like to give to non-gamers for Christmas.
I think it's neat that you can use Ablaze to play Volcano. However, I don't know if I really would try it again.
Fri Nov 13, 2015 10:31 pm
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