On Gamer's Games

Wherein I Discuss Those Games Described As Gamer's Games

1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5  Next »  [10]

Recommend
149 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide

2012 In Review: Part Five ("The Best")

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
flag msg tools
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
mbmbmb
So after a year of new releases it is time for me to go ahead and put together a list of my Top 10 games of 2012. This is liable to change. There are still a few games I need to play and a few that I want to play more, but as of right now this is a pretty good luck at what games I consider to be the best of the last year.

10. Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar

Tzolk’in is a visually stunning and effective worker placement that effectively uses its wheels to present the impending conflicts and difficulties inherent to the decisions presented in the game. Unfortunately, as a worker placement game it is entering a crowded market and it does not do quite enough to distinguish itself from the best of this genre. It is still an effective game though and compared to other releases from this year it does well. It is just not quite exceptional.


9. The Great Zimbabwe


Splotter’s latest release is innovative and interesting, with game play that squarely puts it in the same league as their best releases of the past, but it also shares some of the problems that have presented themselves in other Splotter games, particularly the tendency for later game states among experienced players to become extremely convoluted and painful, as players use the weapons presented to them to grind the game into an excruciating slog to the finish. Still, its innovation is to be lauded, and even if I do not find the entire game to be as engaging as I would like I still appreciate and admire quite a lot about it.

8. Coup


Coup is a bluffing game that seeks to create an effective environment of deceit as players layer lie upon lie, hoping that this network of lies, and the threat of someone accusing them of lying and being wrong, is sufficient to push themselves to the finish line. Its success at this is why I appreciate it so much. After playing it I see little reason to play most other games of this style, including ones that are significantly more complicated than this one. Still, there are some risks in playing it, as there are some groups that it simply will not work with. However, in most groups it will work well, and in some groups it will be a truly outstanding experience. I am suitably impressed.

7. Mage Wars


Mage Wars is a card-based miniatures game that revels in marvelous complexity. Mage Wars is exception-based and uses a series of keywords to differentiate individual spells and creatures, allowing for a suitably textured play experience around the more typical maneuvering and combat that are indicative of this genre. Differentiation is further granted by the funnel that is used to control access to cards. Players only have two potential cards they can play per round, but they are able to choose which cards are accessed from the larger selection that is available in their deck. I appreciate this complexity, but am still bothered by some of Mage Wars’ rough edges as well as the initial difficulty in picking up the game. New players have a lot of mechanics and keywords to wrap their minds around before they can play in anything close to a competent manner.

6. Android: Netrunner

While technically a remake of a collectible card game from the late 90’s, Android: Netrunner is different enough, and it has been long enough since the previous release that it is worth considering it on its own merits. And its merits are considerable, with an engaging bluffing dynamic and a solid enough mechanical framework that entertaining, interesting decisions are available both from a game play and a deck building perspective. Unfortunately, the strength of this deck building is the main reason why I have no real intent to explore Android: Netrunner further. Without an active an energetic community involved with the game, there is little opportunity to explore this deck building without making the game less fun for all involved.

5. Keyflower*


I was wrong about Keyflower. Looking over its rulebook I was convinced it would be similar to what I ultimately decided Tzolk’in was; pleasant with an interesting core but not quite different enough to really stand out from the crowd. I was wrong. Instead Keyflower’s individuality is secure, as the combined auction/placement system reverberates throughout the system resulting in a network of decisions and options that creates an experience that is unique both in the universe of worker placement games and in Key games. This is the second excellent game in a row to come out of R&D games and I am now much more willing to give their future releases the benefit of a doubt both based on its quality and how wrong I was about it.

*My appreciation of Keyflower is based in part on the fact that I play it with a house rule.

4. 1989: Dawn of Freedom


1989: Dawn of Freedom is a refinement and reimplementation of Twilight Struggle that may actually exceed the original. The designer, with the aid of one of the designers of Twilight Struggle, has created a game that is both more balanced and more significantly differentiated then the original. Does this make 1989 better? Well that depends on how much you value the rough edges of Twilight Struggle, and whether you think the balancing in 1989 goes too far. I suspect that 1989 will ultimately be determined to be the better of the two games, but I am not sure if I will ever play it enough to be able to really find out.

3. CO2


Vital Lacerda’s second game easily exceeds his first. Its entire structure is built to force players to think about how their moves are setting up the positions of other players and how they can make moves that induce other players to make moves that help them both. Every single secondary mechanical structure in the game is built to enable players to consider these decisions, as well as juggle a number of other plays in the process. It is fantastic and it makes the game very much worth exploring.

2. Terra Mystica


In many others years (not 2011 though!) Terra Mystica would have been my top game. In fact, I would not be surprised if in six months I end up changing my mind like I did last year with Ora et Labora and Mage Knight. Terra Mystica is exceptional. It is a complex resource conversion and management game with a touch of snowball characteristics that are managed and redirected in clever and interesting ways. It combines interesting mechanical and thematic innovations (power and terraforming being the biggest) with tense and well balanced gameplay. In other word it is the full heavy game package and is something that I expect most fans of heavy, modern eurogames to enjoy.

Extensive play has convinced me that the factions are not completely balanced and this lack of complete balance is not actually all that important. For one, there are enough factions that are close enough together in power level that it is unlikely that you will end up completely screwed even if other people take the theoretically better factions. The other is that I like the potential for players to choose a potentially “tough” faction in order to use a self-imposed handicap or create new challenges.

My own remaining concern about Terra Mystica is the importance of initial faction and bonus selection and placement choices. I can frequently identify someone who has removed themselves from contention from the game based on their early placement and faction choice, and I am mildly concerned that I will eventually be able to identify which person is likely to win based on their faction choice. However, I am nowhere near that point now, with about 20 plays and, considering the amount of time most people play a particular game, this will unlikely to be a problem for most people who play Terra Mystica.

1. Dungeon Command


As a long-time miniature game player, with most of that experience being with Wizards of the Coast produced Collectible Miniatures Games, I actually was pretty skeptical about Dungeon Command. They killed Dreamblade quickly and D&D Miniatures has become a bit of a mess near the end, but two things convinced me to try out Dungeon Command. The first was the designers, I know both Peter Lee and Kevin Tatroe from my time playing the game, and I had some awareness of both of their design sensibilities thanks to discussion with Peter Lee and from actively working with Kevin Tatroe to redesign some miniatures for WoTC for the new version of the D&D Miniatures game. The second was some initial positive buzz I got from people with opinions I trust that played some earlier versions of the game.

So I acquired the initial sets and the result was fantastic. I have little problem stating that Dungeon Command is among the best tactical combat games that I have played, with the only real competition being Earth Reborn (note: I have not played Space Hulk) and Command & Colors: Ancients. The game combines depth of strategic and tactical decisions with portability, approachability, variability, and just enough luck to make things interesting without allowing it to overwhelm play decisions.

Unfortunately, the true strength of the game does not really come out in full until you can see more of the game then is really possible with just the two initial sets. Creature and order deck building pushes it into an entirely new level, and once you reach that point you have already put a significant investment into the game even if you only play with one copy of each of the different faction packs.

Still, if you are willing to get past that initial investment, then Dungeon Command is a hell of a game. Tense, fun, and full of possibilities, and I am glad that I overcame my initial skepticism and tried the game out. It has greatly reduced my desire to play most other tactical combat games, and I am really looking forward to seeing what possibilities are opened with expansions.
Twitter Facebook
45 Comments
Thu Jan 31, 2013 1:22 am
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
30 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

Two Small Updates

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
flag msg tools
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
mbmbmb
#1: Aldie has posted his annual "Top X of 2012" set and has honored the blogs section by adding it to those that are listed. You can check it out here: Top Blog Posts of 2012. It is a pretty interesting list and it is nice both to see how my blogs have done in comparison with everybody else's over the course of the year. It has also been helpful in identifying to me some fun entries I missed!

#2: I posted my review of CO2: Vital Lacerda's Best Game (So Far).

In the next two weeks I expect to have up my Top 10 of 2012 as well as the next review in my series: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar!
Twitter Facebook
6 Comments
Fri Jan 4, 2013 8:00 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
120 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

2012 in Review: Part Four ("The Rest")

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
flag msg tools
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
mbmbmb
There is always some level of uncertainty in putting together an end of year list at the actual end of the year. Unlike most other mediums, it takes a lot of time, and the involvement of other people, to critically assess a board game work, and there are enough games at this point that I only have a shallow understanding of that a list like this will always be tentative. Still, I think there is some value to reviewing all of the games that I played over the course of the year, even if there is some understanding that at some point in the future (probably in June) I will be revising my Top 10 based on additional experiences with both the games that are on the list and ones that I have not yet played.

My overall impression of 2012 was that it was a good year, but not one that quite lives up to 2011. I had no new 10 rated games this year, but there were plenty of games that I rate an 8 or a 7 across a variety of genres, and two 9s that may potentially shake up my personal Top 10. My average ratings for the games played this year (37 different ones) is about the same as for those played in 2011 (40 different ones) and I do not expect very much drift over the course of time. Some will almost certainly go up while others go down and I will end up considering both to be very good years, though for different kinds of games. 2011 was stronger for thematic games and special power card games, while 2012 was a better year for eurogames.


Like last year, I am going to discuss games that are on my “The Rest” list first, covering the good (that did not quite make my Top 10 for the year), the bad, and the ugly for 2012.

3: Poor Game. Will Strongly Resist Playing.



D-Day Dice (2 plays)
The cooperative elements are essentially irrelevant, as this is effectively a solo game that you can play with other players on your team. As I am not really into solo dice games, and repetitive ones at that, this game ultimately failed for me.

Dragon Rampage (1 play)
Dragon Rampage is a thematic dice drafting game where players are attempting to steal loot from a dragon and then escape from its lair. I found it to be a bit overwrought for the core mechanic, and generally not worth the amount of time it takes.

Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre (1 play)
Extremely stupid but mercifully short in its stupidity.

4: Below average game. I avoid playing and would need to be persuaded.



Abaddon (1 play)
The most simplistic and boring expression of the Command & Colors system I have seen. I was hoping for a bit more from C&C plus mechs, but I guess I should have realized that this might have been geared more towards a younger demographic

Divided Republic (1 play)
At first look this game looks like it should work, but the game is subject to such wild swings of fortune that I would already be at least somewhat skeptical of it. The fact that it is subject to uneven wild swings of fortunes is what pushes it over the edge from “potentially intriguing” to “problematic” particularly when combined with the take that card play. I was hoping that this would have potential as an alternative multi-player CDG to Successors, but it just did not measure up.

Dominare (1 play)
Dominare has an extremely interesting system based on drafting character cards and combining these cards into a cohesive strategy, but it muddles the strength of that structure with in your face take that game play and late game abilities that make most actions during the early rounds completely irrelevant. I still have some hope that this system, which is good, will be used in some other game that implements it well, but this game is not it.

Sky Traders (1 play)
A medium-weight marginal decision game disguised as a long and heavy game. If they found to cut this down to an hour it might be worth playing, but as it is the fun I got out of it was entirely in seeing how ridiculous the combat system was and blowing up each other’s ships. I gave it away after my first play.

5: Average game. I'm indifferent, but may be willing to play.



Dragon Valley
I appreciated the I split/you choose aspects of the game as well as the emulation of tower defense, but I found that the game seemed to be uneven, with a reasonably large amount of downtime and an overemphasis on tactical decision making for a game of its length. This was one of the games that I requested and received as a review copy, and ended up being fairly disappointed about.

For The Win (2 plays)
A special power abstract that reminded me a bit of Hive, I found the theme to be a bit silly but the game play was solid. I suspect I would actually like this one a bit more if I was into abstracts, but as it is, I would rather just play with the extra depth and nuance of a tactical miniatures game.

Infiltration (1 plays)
I thought Infiltration worked well thematically, and I actually respect the game quite a bit because of that. Unfortunately, the game play, which is mostly based on a single giant push-your luck exercise was not quite enough to excite me or pull me in for a second play. If your interests are more driven by theme or tend more towards the lighter end of gaming, then I suspect this would be a pretty reasonable option.

Milestones (1 play)
Milestones is very, very solid for a generic mid-weight euro but it suffers from being a mid-weight euro. Competent, but not particularly exciting and lacking some of the depth and potential for exploration that makes my favorite games sing.

Seasons (1 play)
I only have played this with four, and I have since been told that this is a bad number to play with. I also got into a position of lock-down, where I was effectively not able to do anything for the latter half of the game. That being said, looking over the cards both prior to the play and immediately afterwards I did not find anything about the game that said it stood out or was worth playing in addition to other special power card games out there, there was a few things that were interesting about it, but nothing that was interesting enough for me to bother with after one of the first initial impressions I have had of any game.

Smash Up (1 play)
This has essentially the same theme as For The Win, only developed in a slightly different direction, being a special power card game rather than one focused on abstract positioning. It was mildly entertaining, but ended up being a little bit too straightforward and reliant on bash the leader maneuvering to really be something that I like. Still, it is better than a lot of games of its ilk, so I would be willing to play it again under the right conditions.

6: OK game. Some fun or challenge at least. Enjoyable in the right circumstances.



Ginkogopolis (1 play)
I played this at BGG.Con, and found it to be a pleasant and reasonably interesting experience, but not one that I felt featured a huge amount of depth or need to play again. Still, it has been tickling my brain a little bit, and has a marginal chance of going up in my estimation if I ever play it a bit more and discover some of my initial impressions were wrong. This seems unlikely though, as it is not one that has been picked up for play by the locals.

Legacy: Gears of Time (1 play)
I found both the prerequisite system and how you could travel back in time to be both entertaining and fun, and the resources system to be pretty effective, but the relative randomness and high impact of the special power cards, that could completely screw with or undermine a player’s position with little chance of mitigation or prediction. I suspect I will play it again, mostly because we have enthusiastic fans of it in my game group, but I suspect that my estimation of it will not change with further plays.

Lords of Waterdeep (5 plays)
Lords of Waterdeep is effective, but slight, giving enough of an impression of longer, deeper, and more involved games that it makes me just wish that I was playing them. It is still good at what it is, being a gateway worker placement game, or something like that fans of D&D can enjoy, and I do appreciate some of the more clever parts of the game, it is just that there are many other worker placement games I would rather play.

Pax Porfiriana (2 plays)
My first play of Pax Porfiriana left me intrigued and the second one left me frustrated and bored. So I am left torn, hopeful that my first experience is one that will end up being the most common result of a play of Pax Porfiriana, but concerned that I am deluding myself and that the more tedious experience of my second play will be much more indicative of my most common experience. Either way there is enough here, and enough uncertainty that I plan to play this game more extensively once it is more generally available. As such, its rating and overall ranking is probably the most tentative one on this list. If my further plays are as flaccid as the first then it will plummet, while if it was as promising as the first it will improve.

Pirates of Nassau (1 play)
As a dice-driven pirate-themed euro, Pirates of Nassau isn’t bad. I found its central mechanic to be clever, but most of the game beyond the central mechanism was neither distinctive enough nor interesting enough for me to want to play it beyond that initial play. Chunky victory points and trivial hidden trackable information only added to my overall disinterest.

Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin (9 plays)
The revised edition improves on Thunderstone, but not so much so that I felt any strong desire to play it extensively. I can say that I distinctly prefer Thunderstone Advance to Dominion at this point, but if I want to do deck-building, I would rather play Mage Knight, and if I want to play a shorter game there is a plethora of other ones that I enjoy more. Still Thunderstone Advance does hold some measure of enjoyment and fun, and it is one I would play under the right circumstances.

7: Good game. Usually willing to play. I might even request or recommend it.



Ground Floor (7 plays)
Ground Floor is an effective, solid worker placement eurogame that is distinct largely because of its thematic tightness and the fact that it breaks the typical trend of additional workers being better than less workers. I quite like the dynamics but the amount of time you spend focused on that seem to be overshadowed by the time you spend focused on the resource conversion. Still, quite enjoyable, particularly if you are fan of the worker placement genre.

Keyflower (2 plays)
Keyflower is better than I expected, and I find both the auction mechanic and the worker placement to be clever and enjoyable. Unfortunately the game offers only limited opportunities for planning. While giving each player a preview of the potential scoring tiles is much appreciated, this only tells you if things you are bidding on will be useful at the end, not if they are going to be useful on the journey there, resulting in a bit of possibility for someone to be put into a particularly poor position to random factors. It also relies a bit on hidden, trackable information but that is easily resolved, and the game seems infinitely better for it.

Merchant of Venus (Second Edition) (1 play)
I have only played the classic version, but MoV (SE)’s components are garish and distracting enough that I doubt I will ever play FFG’s new version, instead sticking with the classic copy that I own. They are bad enough that I have lowered MoV’s rating by a point, though this point loss is only from the perspective of a world without an available copy of the old version of MoV. With that available, I put this more around a 4 or a 5.

Rex: Final Days of an Empire (4 plays)
A remake of Dune, which I still have never played, I liked Rex but could not love it. I really liked how the game constrained diplomacy, I have always been less than fond of wilder and more wooly diplomatic games, and the resource management and bidding were all quite fun. Unfortunately, balance concerns, fragility, and thematic disconnect all held me back from truly loving the game, and between that and distaste for it with my frequent gaming partners I ended up passing it along.

Suburbia (12 plays)
I like Suburbia despite my usual inclinations. As a middle-weight economic snowball game it should be somewhere in the 3-5 range, but Suburbia’s strengths seriously outweigh the problems I have with some of its core mechanics. I appreciate the subtlety that is involved in Suburbia’s combo building. The many ways that the game’s goals and structures interact, and the myriad of decisions available on any given player’s turn are both compelling and I have found that this is an easy choice in the 60-90 minute slot.

Honorable Mention (Outlook Unclear: Ask Again Later)




Al-Rashid (1 play)
My one play of Al-Rashid was pretty satisfying, but I am not quite sure yet whether it was good enough to stand above all the other great worker placement resource conversion games out there. It does have the advantage of having a pretty interesting resource conversion system, and I like the breadth of the special powers, though with a single play I can’t realistically claim to know how balanced they are. The only real problem area I saw was with the relative tightness of the resources. Even with four players it seemed a little bit too loose, and going into the end game, there was no real competition left, making activation order somewhat irrelevant. I suspect it would be better with five players and with more opportunities for players to maliciously activate locations, but these are both things that will require further play to identify. Luckily, a review copy is on its way, so I will be able to effectively explore it and determine how good of a game it really is.

Because of my uncertainty after a single play, I have only given it an extremely tentative rating of a 7. After/if I play it further I will revise this, and potentially consider it for my Top 10.

Archipelago (6 plays)
Essentially Archipelago is a civilization game that replaces opportunities for war and direct conflict with a shared loss condition, based on the rebellion of the archipelago and the players, as colonial powers, being forced away. This is a very real threat, and three of the five games I played ended with a collective loss based on this condition. What makes the game particularly interesting from this perspective is the fact that it is up to the players to prevent this from happening, either through market management, which requires some level of experience, or luck in regards to what source of resources are demanded by the populace. Some of the actions that players are most likely to advance their own position are also the most likely to cause the island to go into revolt and if one player gets too far ahead the incentives are there for them to tank the game, if they can, bringing it to a halt if they are in an unrecoverable position.

What the ultimate effects are of shared loss are for experienced players is something that I need to explore before I determine what I think about the game, and why I think I will need a significant number of plays of Archipelago before I feel ready to give it a proper review. Even beyond the shared loss condition, the game has a lot of interesting subsystems that tie the game together on both a thematic and a mechanical level. Each of my plays has revealed something new that I appreciated on this level, and I suspect that I have not even seen a fraction of what the game has to offer.

Andean Abyss (1 play)
Andean Abyss is a complex game, complex enough that a single play is not going to provide nearly enough of an insight to determine its actual quality. On the plus side, I appreciate the distinctiveness of the varying player powers and goals and the action selection mechanism. On the downside it looks like there is a strong chance that the game will come down to a mere bash-the-leader fest as players knock down whomever dares to get too far up until someone is able to pull off a victory. Unfortunately, this is also one that I may never get a firm conclusion on because of the utter lack of interest in it locally. I quite liked my single play of it, and now I may never know if that play was reflective or deceptive.


Up next will be my list of my Top 10 games of 2012!
Twitter Facebook
25 Comments
Thu Jan 3, 2013 8:32 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
70 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

2012 In Review: Part 3 (BGG's Top Games of 2012)

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
flag msg tools
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
mbmbmb
As 2012 comes to a close I find myself fairly interested in how the most-well regarded games of 2011 reflect on the year as a whole. Since 2012’s Essen games are only just now making an impact on the board game world, I’ve gone ahead and included two charts reflecting BGG’s consensus on 2012 games, the Top 10 of 2012 by Ranking and the Significant games of 2012 by Average Rating.





I went ahead and included more than the Top 10 (or so) games of 2012 in the average rating chart, because of what I consider to be the defining feature of gaming in 2012: The sheer quantity of reprints that are on these lists. The Top 10 has 3 or 4 (depending on where you categorize Android: Netrunner) and the Significant Games list has 4 or 5 (once again depending on where you categorize Android: Netrunner). I consider this to be mildly corrosive from an idealized perspective, as it kind of disrupts the ideal of having a list of the hobby, as seen through BoardGameGeek, games viewed with the most respect, but I understand that other people perceive it differently. Regardless, the sheer quantity of them compelled me to go a bit deeper into the highest average rating list in order to get a better idea of the significant new games of 2012.

Something else that differentiates 2012 from 2011 at least, I do not have sufficient data for previous years, is the sheer quantity of games with an average rating of 8.00 or higher. Granted, I looked at the average ratings on the 19th last year, but I would be rather startled if a large number of these games had a significant drop in average rating over the course of a week. I suspect that a lot of these games will not end up making a bit impact on the rankings, simply due to a lack of ability to accumulate a large number of ratings, but it does seem that that the average board gamer thinks that 2012 was a high-quality year.

2012 is distinct from the sheer diversity of games styles that are doing well. Where in years past there was usually one type of game that dominated with others having a few spots here and there, in 2012 there seemed to be a selection of games across types. Even games that periodically have weak years, such as cooperative games, are well-represented. Whether this is indicative of a change in the quality of different types of games being produced or a change in the BGG rating electorate is something I am less certain of, but on the whole I think it is positive as it does allow a large variety of people to be able to find games that might interest them.

Personally, I have only played about half of the games that made it on these two lists, and of the ones that remain, there are none that I am actually interested in playing. In fact, at this point in time there are only two games left that were published in 2012 that I have a strong interest in playing (Myrmes and Polis: Fight For the Hegemony) meaning that I have either become much more adept at finding the games I am more likely to like and ignoring the rest, that there are less games of the sort that I am interested in playing released this year, or that I am missing out on some fantastic games that would suit me well.

A Look Back At 2011
Since I wrote an article like this last year too, I can go back and see how games released last year ended up doing. Based on last year’s average rating list, the expected game rank list should have looked something like this:
Eclipse
Mage Knight
Ora et Labora
A Few Acres of Snow
Star Trek: Fleet Captains
Gears of War: The Board Game
Trajan
The Castles of Burgundy
Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
Dungeon Petz
Yomi

This is how it ended up:
Eclipse
Mage Knight
Puerto Rico: Limited Edition
Ora et Labora
The Castles of Burgundy
Summoner Wars: Master Set
A Game of Thrones Board Game: Second Edition
Trajan
Lords of the Rings: The Card Game
A Few Acres of Snow
Village
Risk Legacy
Dixit Odyessy
Dungeon Petz

There are a few surprises here. The first is that for some reason I decided it would be a good idea to leave out games I considered being expansions or reprints. That was obviously silly of me and I will avoid doing that in the future. I expected both Star Trek Fleet Captains and Gear of War to still be on this list, but apparently they followed the typical trends and were not able to maintain their previous averages, though Fleet Captains was able to do much better than Gears of War and mostly suffers due to the low number of total ratings. Yomi, A Few Acres of Snow, and the Lord of the Rings Card Game all lost average rating and rankings, with AFAoS’s decline being both the most noticeable and the most satisfying. Village is the most notable in the opposite direction. Apparently it winning a major German award was sufficient to give it a new wave of attention as its average rating increased and its ranking increased significantly. I remain somewhat tempted to try it out. I trashed it pretty heavily in my pre-release prediction article, and it would be nice to know if I was actually wrong.

Of the past five years 2011 makes up the second largest share of the overall games in the Top 150 (and the Top 100), with 19 total games. 2010 has 16, and further years feature an increasingly smaller amount of games, as only the most popular and/or successful are able to maintain their position in the face of relentless pressure from new games. The exception seems to be 2009, which currently holds the most total games in the Top 150, despite the fact that I, and many other people I discuss game with, consider it one of the less interesting years in recent memory.

So that is where we currently stand. I look forward to seeing what the rankings do for next year and, now that I am collecting this data, seeing how the shares of particular years in the Top 100 and Top 150 shifts over the course of time.
Twitter Facebook
20 Comments
Mon Dec 10, 2012 7:41 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
134 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

2012 Year In Review: Part 2 (State of the Blog)

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
flag msg tools
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
mbmbmb
I started On Gamer’s Games a little over a year ago for a few reasons. The first, and most important, reason was that I was greatly enjoying writing and the discussions that resulted from that writing. I had been a founding member of the original Geekchat League (a discussion style group on BGG, of which there are several active) and while I had enjoyed my time there it was no longer as fulfilling as it once was. I wanted more, and I saw BGG’s relatively new blog feature as a way to both produce writing and be involved in the discussions that I craved.

The second reason was simply because I noticed a bit of a hole in the BGG marketplace of ideas. There really wasn’t anyone doing in-depth reviews of the deeper and heavier board games that I loved so, and I figured that if I wrote well, and wrote often, I could build an audience and, potentially, get involved in some fun and interesting discussions. By making my voice consistent, and having a relatively strong idea of what I liked and did not like, individuals who liked these games could compare how their tastes matched to mine and make a more informed decisions then they would be able to when just reading a random lady or gentleman’s review.

The third was my desire to investigate the social dynamics of BoardGameGeek. Considering that thumbs are the most obvious indicator of popularity, I figured that trying to experiment with seeing how many thumbs I could get, while still achieving my previous two goals, would be fun, as it would allow me to potentially learn about what attracted and held people’s attention while still pursuing my previous goals. As part of this I eventually decided I also wanted to learn how to go about getting review copies from publishing companies. This was partially because I figured it would be an indication that I had “made it”, that I had developed enough of a reputation and understanding of social dynamics of BGG. It was also partially in order to help build my audience, as early access to hot new games is one of the best ways to draw attention to your work, though of course it also requires that you have effective content that is worth consuming.

I have learned a few things based on my efforts. One of those is that when writing about a particular game anywhere from 50% to 75% of the thumbs you get are based on the game itself rather than anything you are writing, assuming you have written an article of high enough quality. When you post it is also key. The most popular reviews of a game are frequently the first and/or the most comprehensive. My most popular review was the first one of a game by a popular designer and was also very comprehensive and I think most of my other reviews have been successful because I try to push hard on the comprehensive end of things. Another is that that if your goal is a combination of quality of analysis and popularity that there is a particular sweet spot in quantity of words. My most popular reviews have all had a roughly similar length, and I have reached the point where I have a good idea of how many thumbs any particular article is going to get based on what the game is, how long the article is, and how good the article is, though I am still surprised sometimes such as with my Terra Mystica review (I was expecting a bit more thumbs) or quite a few of my blog entries (where I was expecting less).

One unexpected, though very welcome, benefit of this has been the creation of an absolutely top notch set of commenters. I get excited to post my articles not only because of all the effort I put into them or to test a social hypothesis, but also because I am looking forward to what my newfound digital friends have to say about some idea I am putting forth or game that I am examining. It is also fun to see who thumbs the post because, outside of commenting, as that is a way I can see if someone I know reads the blog (or my reviews for that matter) got a chance to look at this new entry, and also to see if there is someone new following along.

I also like how the BGG blog community has grown in that time. It does seem that quite a few frequent and semi-frequent bloggers comment on my entries, and that some of them have made connections with each other through this comment section. For some articles it almost feels like my comment section has become a café of sorts, as people get together and talk about whatever topic is on their mind. Sometimes it does not even end up being what I wrote about in the first place, and while sometimes I wonder, “What does this have to do with anything?”, it is still fun to see the conversations evolve and everyone’s opinions of the particular topic of the day.

Part of the reason I asked about everyone the questions I did was in order to get an idea of what occasional commenters were finding to be particularly engaging or boring. I was pretty thrilled with the response, both because of the quantity of responders, but also because it was able to give me a good idea of both the diversity of things that everyone seems to like about my writing as well as topics that I could start touching on next year.

The two things that seemed most universally popular were the reviews and the pre-release predictions articles. The reviews did not surprise me, to be honest, as I have always known that they were popular, but I was a little more surprised about the pre-release predictions. I have heard more complaints about them than anything else, and the fact that a significant percentage of you enjoy them stands as a good indicator that I should continue producing them. Producing the reviews was never in question, but I admit I was wondering how much value people were getting out of my pre-release prediction articles, and am glad that the response was positive.

Some of the more unpopular items were strategy articles, my articles about BGG itself, and my writings about miniatures and more Ameritrash-focused games. Strategy articles are not something I am going to ever stop writing, as I enjoy writing them about as much as I like writing reviews and they do get a pretty favorable response, even if they are not my most popular item. The same applies to my articles about BGG rankings and awards. I love seeing how objects behave in a system and how the psychology of BGG results in certain outcomes, and seeing how things are going to work out each year, and if I can successfully predict them, is enjoyable enough that I am going to continue writing about that. I am less certain about writing about miniature games. I like these games a bit, and enjoy writing about them, but I am in this as much for the discussion, and with less of a response, and thus less discussion it may eventually prove to no longer be worth it.

I got a lot of fun article suggestions, and I have put together a list of things that I am planning on writing about for the rest of 2012 and 2013, in addition to articles that sneak up on me in that period. The list is:
1) Hansa Teutonica Expansion review plus a voice of experience review of the game in general. (This got multiple requests and thus will be a high priority)
2) Agricola review (under the general request for a voice of experience/older games review)
3) Mage Knight Expansion review plus a voice of experience review of the game in general
4) Polis: Fight For The Hegemony review. (This depends on me finding a copy and finding someone willing to explore it with me.)
5) Discussing games that my opinion of changed significantly over time, including recent examples.
6) Discussing my Top 5 games.
7) Discussing how the games of 2012 fit into my “Innovations, Reimplementations, and Retreads” article
8) An article discussing the various people I play with, to give further context for what I write about and my experiences.

If you have any other specific article requests let me know. I am open to suggestions!

There were also some questions or concerns that were asked that I did not get to in the comments, or which I felt should be highlighted further that I felt warranted mentioning in a larger post.

The first was about review copies, and a general preference that I do not receive them. I have long had mixed feelings about receiving review copies, as I have noted in previous works that I have been involved in, and even now, despite the fact that I think I have been able to keep my opinion’s separated from the relationships built in the pursuit of getting these copies, I feel uncomfortable with it. So I will no longer be accepting review copies after my current commitments have come to an end.

The second was about how to get review copies. Essentially my answer to that, is to write (or better yet record, as publishers like video better) reviews that are popular. Find a niche, get lots of views on YouTube and/or thumbs on BoardGameGeek and then contact the publishers with a resume. If you have an established body of work and proof that people listen to you, it is not that difficult.

A few people asked me about writing more about games or in ways I am not that interested in. Instead it was phrased as in, “Write about games I like!”, “Write more about medium and light-weight games!”, or “Write with less analysis and more emotion!” All of those items are unlikely to happen and if they do happen they will be because I happen to like those sorts of games, or feel emotional about something, rather than through any specific decisions on my part. Doing otherwise will just lead to burn out and will ultimately result in me no longer writing. This is something I would prefer not to happen.

I was asked if I would consider doing a regular podcast segment. The fact is, I was actually offered such a segment on the Dice Tower, and while technically I am still considering the offer, I mostly decided against it for a few reasons. The first is that while I do like podcasts a lot more then I like video, I also would prefer that most of my content be directed at my blog and reviews, and while I am perfectly fine with being involved in roundtable discussions, such as the ones I have participated in for my favorite podcast, The Long View, I do not think I would want to divide my attention in the way required to effectively produce a segment.

So that is where I am at. I expect to post a lot this month, mostly because my end of year posts have the unique combination of both being fun and easy to write about, but I suspect that after the new year I will write about one major article per week, either a review or a blog post. The Fall and early Winter will typically be focused on new releases and Essen speculation while the Spring and Summer will be more focused on meta-commentary, articles about genres and games families and reviews of older games or ones that I missed over the course of the previous year.
Twitter Facebook
17 Comments
Fri Dec 7, 2012 8:55 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
60 
 Thumb up
1.00
 tip
 Hide

2012 Year In Review: Part 1 (My Played Games)

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
flag msg tools
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
mbmbmb
As 2012 comes to an end, it is time, once again, for me to start performing my year in review. Last year I started out with a look at my games played. As was the case last year, I doubt I will be playing much that is new between now and the end of the month, with the only likely exception being Myrmes, so if anything these numbers should just improve between now and then. Instead I expect most of my plays to be repeats of newer games or older favorites, particularly Terra Mystica (extremely popular locally), Archipelago (extreme hesitance locally), Keyflower, CO2, Al-Rashid, and Coup.




• One played game was an Unpublished Prototype. It is not included in this table.


I consider this year to be a bit mixed both in quantity and quality. Compared to last year I have played more, but that is in part because of a brief stint into Magic which netted me 100 plays since the summer. I played a lot more games I rate 6 and 7 and less that I rate an 8 or 9. I blame that in part due to the brief disintegration of my play group over the summer, which resulted in my playing more random stuff at game night and losing my regular Sunday game day, and in part due to the fact that I reviewed, due to receiving review copies, more games that I ended up being only mildly favorable or unfavorable towards rather than truly enthusiastic. In all likelihood my plays will shift back up towards my favorites or ones that have a good chance of being favorites as I accept and request less (or none at all, still deciding) review copies. On the bright side, I ended up playing a lot more of the games I rate 10 this year. This is largely due to my intense enthusiasm for Mage Knight, which made up 29 of the 49 10 plays this year.

The percentage of games that I played 10 or more times remained fairly constant, but the percentage for the next two categories dropped in the face of more singleton plays. Part of this is due to collection maturity. There are some games in my collection that I like a great deal, want to keep, but only get to play a few times a year. Considering my overall desire for a lean collection, these are ones that are probably most likely to get the chopping block as I have a few new favorites for which I will need to make room.

I am honestly not sure what my gaming conditions will look like in 2013. I hope to continue on with regular Wednesday gaming and irregular gaming at other points in the week and also have a desire to increase the amount of time I spend playing my favorites. I think my ideal would probably be to get a two player game partner, as that would allow me to play some two player favorites more frequently without it cutting into my multi-player game time. I am not quite sure how to go about that though, so we will see what happens.

Up until last night I would have picked some game from BGG.Con 2012 as my favorite. However, last night exceeded that. We were figuring out how to sort into games (I was pushing for CO2 but we had a lot of people who wanted to play Terra Mystica). So we drew game pieces. I ended up in the Terra Mystica game, and someone who really wanted to play TM was not, and I relented and offered them my spot. The mentioned gentleman and his wife suggested maybe I should play in both games simultaneously. So I did. That in of itself would have made it pretty fun, but what made it even crazier is that I won both games. I do not expect that to ever happen again, I almost certainly had to have several things that I did not have control over to break my way for it to happen in the first place, but the sheer fact that it happened is both crazy and very, very entertaining.

How was your gaming in 2012?
Twitter Facebook
23 Comments
Thu Dec 6, 2012 4:27 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
55 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

A Few Questions

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
flag msg tools
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
mbmbmb
On Gamer’s Games has been around for over a year now. I covered the most interesting games of Essen 2011 and am in the process of doing the same for Essen 2012 (CO2 is next!). I have really enjoyed both writing this blog and reading all the great commentary that you, my readers, have made. One thing that I am curious about, because BGG does not give out this information, is how many and who my subscribers are. I can get a rough idea of who reads the blog based on people who comment, thumb, and message me about particular entries, but I would like to get to know my subscribers a little bit better and get an idea of what you are interested in. So if you see are subscribed to this blog or are a regular reader, please take a few moments to answer these questions:

1) How did you find your way to On Gamer’s Games?
2) Why do you read On Gamer’s Games?
3) What On Gamer’s Games content do you find to be most interesting or beneficial?
4) What On Gamer’s Games content do you find to be least interesting or beneficial?
5) Any suggestions/questions/comments?

Thanks! I really appreciate you taking the time to read my blog. If it was not for you, I would not be doing this.
Twitter Facebook
115 Comments
Tue Dec 4, 2012 4:26 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
93 
 Thumb up
2.25
 tip
 Hide

Factions in Terra Mystica

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
flag msg tools
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
mbmbmb
Introduction and Categories
One of the things I like most about Terra Mystica is the breadth of the strategic space. I talked a little bit about this in my review, Magical Earth (which I highly encourage you to check out), but I felt it was worthwhile to write about the strategy space that I see each of the Terra Mystica factions existing in, and how they interact with and overlap with each other and the bonus and round tiles.

Terra Mystica features 14 factions, each of which has its own combination of abilities, building costs, initial positions, and incomes. While each one is distinct, there are some particular commonalities that allow the factions to be dissected, categorized, and effectively compared.

Faction special abilities cover pretty much every aspect of the game, with each faction having a set of abilities that appears to be largely thematically consistent. However, even with the diverse combination of way that makes each faction unique there are a few particular aspects of the game that seem to have more attention focused on them than others.

Terraformers
Modification of the game’s rules on terraforming is one of the more common way the factions are differentiated, with the Darklings, Giants, Halflings, and Nomads all having special abilities related to it. Darklings change the cost structure of terraforming by making it so each terraforming action requires a single priest. Giants change the spade cost structure by making it so that all terraforms require 2 spades, no matter what the distance. Halflings get cheaper terraforming tech, victory points from terraforming, and free terraforms from building their fortress. Nomads get to circumvent the terraforming process entirely through their fortress.

Considering that the challenge normally associated with terraforming, the fact that all of these factions, except perhaps the Giants, have an easier time of it makes them quite attractive in a general, competitive sense. While I have not come to any particular decisions about which of the factions is the strongest, both the Darklings and the Halflings are in the running due to the flexibility of their terraforming capabilities; they have more control over what the board will look like then any of the other factions.

Extended Range
Five factions also feature the ability to ignore the normal rules about where you can build. Dwarves, Engineers, Fakirs, Mermaids, and Witches all have the ability to more effectively build a rather sprawling set of dwellings breaking them away from the normal limitations on expansion while also giving all of them, except the Engineers, the ability to turbo-power their income in ways that most of the other factions are unable to do.

Dwarves and Fakirs are the two most similar factions in the game, with each featuring the ability to ignore one adjacent terrain hex when building new dwellings. The costs of this action is different for each faction, with the Dwarves needing to spend 2 workers and the Fakirs only 1 priest, but both also get victory points for using this travel ability. Their fortress differentiates them as the Fakirs are able to go up to 3 hexes away while the Dwarves are able to reduce the cost of their tunneling. Unfortunately, the rest of their differentiation is in ways that make me wonder if the Fakirs are either the weakest faction, or at least one of the weakest. The first part of this is the fact that the Fakirs only get 5 power in their 2nd bowl and 7 in their 1st, greatly weakening their ability to get as good of a start as the other factions. They also lack the ability to increase their terraforming capability beyond the 2nd level. While this is only a marginal problem, moving past the first level seems worthwhile only infrequently, it still reduces the ability of Fakirs to build towns and consolidate their territory. They also have one of the most expensive strongholds in the game. I hope that these restrictions indicate that the Fakirs would simply be too powerful without something to hold them down, but as it stands I intent to watch them closely so that I can try to understand why the designers and developer’s felt a need to hold the Fakirs back.

Cultism
The Auren, Cultists, and Chaos Magicians all have abilities that make them particularly well-suited to dominating the cult tracks, with the Auren and Cultists both having abilities that directly interact with the track while the Chaos Magicians have abilities that give them extra favor tiles, which also help with Cult track advancement. These bonuses give these factions a leg up on competing to dominate the cult tracks for scoring victory points, true, but I think the best thing about these factions is the ability to get extra use out of the bonuses that come for being far enough along a given cult track in any given round. None of these factions have the ability to expand efficiently as a default, but with enough bonuses gained from the cult tracks they can gain just as much board position as the rest. Unless you are the Chaos Magicians, of course. The Chaos Magicians should not expect to expand very far at all.

Faction by Faction

Alchemists
Core Ability: Convert victory points to money, better money -> VP conversion (money)
Stronghold Ability: 6 money; one shot 12 power; every spade gives 2 power (money; power)
Secondary Ability: Better money for 2nd, 3rd Trading Post (money)
Unique Initial Allotments: 1 Fire, 1 Water

The Alchemists are unique in how focused they are on many and their lack of abilities focused on any of the big three categories mentioned in the previous section. Their core abilities are weak enough (money for victory points and a better money to victory point conversion) that I really think of their stronghold ability as their real special ability, as it is strong and very helpful. Most other factions get either two or four power per turn from their stronghold, and 6 money a turn provides the alchemists with a level of flexibility that a lot of the other factions lack. This flexibility is further compounded by the fact that they get 2 power every time they use a spade. With the fact that Alchemists should be (relatively) swimming in money and the bonus they get from power, the Alchemists are one of the few factions that I think should seriously consider going to the top of the Terraforming track. This puts them into a good position to compete for largest settlement too. Even if you pursue other avenues, the additional money from the fortress and the later trading houses is sufficient that it gives the Alchemists plenty of flexibility and power.

Without a strong reason otherwise, you should try to build the Alchemist’s fortress early. If not the first round, it should definitely be something you are shooting for in the second round. So much of their position is tied to their stronghold that you should try to maximize your use of it.

Auren
Core Ability: None
Stronghold Ability: 2 power; 1 favor tile; action to move up 2 on 1 cult track (Cult)
Secondary Abilities: More expensive sanctuary
Unique Initial Allotments: 1 Water; 1 Air

The Auren are another faction that gains a big bonus from their stronghold, and should try to get their fortress in the first round or the second round in most games. This is because the only thing that distinguishes them from the more common races, is their fortress’s capabilities. Playing without is like playing at an intentional handicap.

With their fortress, they have a unique and flexible ability, gaining an extra action that lets them move up two spaces on any cult track. While you can, and should, use this to dominate as many of the cult tracks as possible, the true strength of this ability is in its effectiveness in controlling the per round income from progress on the cult tracks. With this, some priests, and your periodic favor tiles you should be able to get one or more levels of bonuses every single round, allowing you to potentially pull ahead of the players even without any abilities that get you extra cubes, terraforming, money or anything of the sort.

Cultists
Core Ability: Cult Advancement When Power Taken (cult)
Stronghold Ability: 2 power; 7 Victory Points
Secondary Abilities: More expensive fortress and sanctuary
Unique Initial Allotments: 1 Fire, 1 Earth

The Cultists’ special ability encourages them to build in a way that is very different than other factions. Rather than constructing your settlements such that you force other players into hard decisions about whether they want to sacrifice victory points for power, you want to make it as easy for them as possible. That way they are more likely to help you, giving you an advance on a cult track because of the juicy, juicy power you are giving them. Generally, you want to take advances you are given to take advantage of round bonuses, in much the same way that the Auren do. However, I would probably not worry too much about trying to dominate the cult tracks, except for during very specific situations, your bonus is so inconsistent that you are better off trying to take advantage of it for as many short term gains as possible.

The Cultist is one of the two factions that I think are strictly inferior to other factions that are available. For more experienced players, who are less likely to want to give you an advantage in exchange for free power, it seems like the Auren are better, as it seems unlikely that you will get more than 10 advances out of them for the entire game.

Chaos Magicians
Core Ability: 1 Initial Dwelling
Stronghold Ability: 2 cubes; take 2 consecutive actions
Secondary Abilities: 2 Favor Tiles from Temples and Sanctuaries (Cult); Less expensive stronghold; more expensive sanctuary
Unique Initial Allotments: 4 workers; 2 Fire

Chaos Magician’s biggest special ability is found in their secondary abilities: the fact that they get 2 favor tiles from each temple and sanctuary. This is very strong but is also paired with one of the biggest disadvantages in the game, the fact that you only start with a single dwelling on the board. It is very easy to either lose out on the opportunity for free power or get blocked in with this single dwelling, so it is important to be careful about its initial placement. Specifically choosing to stick with a smaller footprint is also an option, and the Chaos Magicians have perhaps the easiest time of any faction in staying small but still doing well thanks to all the options that they have for extra income.

Chaos Magicians also have an expanded ability to compete on the cult tracks. They will be getting lots of “free” cult track advancements, and it can be helpful to use these to either strategically compete for position or to claim end of round bonuses.

Darklings
Core Ability: None
Stronghold Ability: 2 power; convert up to 3 workers to priests
Secondary Abilities: More expensive sanctuary; 1 priest = 1 spade; sanctuary produces 2 priests (terraform)
Unique Initial Allotments: 1 worker; 1 priest; 1 Water, 1 Earth

The Darklings have a very strong focus on priests but, due to their need to use them for terraforming, they are much less likely to aggressively compete on the cult tracks then the other factions. In many ways this is an advantage, as it allows them some additional flexibility; they can take the valuable favor tiles that offer a much lower amount of cult advancement with little impact to their overall game plan. Darklings in general should focus on having most of their structures are dwellings and temples, with the first temple coming out during the first round. These will directly feed off of each other, as the priests coming from the temples will allow the Darklings to terraform and build more dwellings. This is not to say you should ignore their fortress or trading posts, both of these items give you interesting opportunities, but I think they are of secondary importance to the overall temple -> dwelling cycle.

Dwarves
Core Ability: Build 2 Hexes away for 2 worker (extended travel)
Stronghold Ability: 2 power; Build 2 Hexes away for 1 worker (extended travel)
Secondary Abilities: Extra Money from first and last Trading Post (money)
Unique Initial Allotments: 2 Earth

Dwarves should always be in competition for the largest settlement bonus. With the ability to build two spaces away for the cost of 2 workers (or 1 worker) compounded with the fact that they get victory points every time they spend cubes in this manner, they should be able to spread across the board more effectively than any race except for the mermaids and, maybe, the Fakirs. This ability is only enhanced by the construction of their fortress, so this should be built as soon as possible, it will allow you to expand even more aggressively than before, particularly since you should only have to terraform more than one step in the most unusual circumstances.

You should be careful not to get so distracted by this capability that you ignore the benefits of building a town, but I would argue that Dwarves, thanks to the significant amount of victory points gained by their extended range ability, can afford to ignore the town bonus more than most other races. Getting one is still worthwhile, and there are several parts of the map that have helpful one step to mountains terraforming locations on them, so it should not be too difficult unless one of the other, terraforming-happy factions end up setting up in one of these neighborhoods.

Engineers
Core Ability: Build Bridge for 2 workers (extended building range)
Stronghold Ability: 2 power; 3 VP/bridge connecting two engineer structures at the end of each round (victory points)
Secondary Ability: 5 power income for 2nd temple; less worker and money cost for Dwellings, Trading Posts Temples; less worker cost for stronghold, sanctuary; less worker income from dwellings
Unique Initial Allotments: 9 power 2nd bowl, 3 power 1st bowl; 10 money, 2 cubes

Engineers have a tough time of it. Their reduced cube income means that they have difficulty terraforming, and desperately need to get access to the spade generating bonus tiles and power actions. Having the ability to get extra cubes is also key. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I am unlikely to even play the engineers unless the 2 cubes per turn and the one spade action bonus tiles are in play, it is just too difficult to get started with them otherwise.

They, like the Chaos Magicians, benefit particularly well from building compactly. They can build up much more effectively than the other factions thanks to their exceptionally cheap buildings, and the lack of income from many dwellings is enough to push them towards alternative paths. This is particularly true of they can get some of the victory income from their fortress going early enough in the game. This is not to say that you should push for the fortress in all games, just that if you are able to successfully get two bridges running that it is extremely worthwhile to build the fortress and get the three victory points per turn.

Even with this bonus though, the Engineers are tough to play. I would strongly avoid playing them as a new player, and would recommend that even experienced players avoid them unless they are both at the right spot in the initial turn order (later is better) and have the right bonus and round tiles (spades = victory points is usually a no go) out. Otherwise you are setting yourself up for a loss.

Fakirs
Core Ability: Build 2 away for Priest (extended building range)
Stronghold Ability: 1 priest; Build 3 away for Priest
Secondary Ability: Only one level of terraforming advancement; More expensive stronghold
Unique Initial Allotments: 5 power 2nd bowl, 7 power 1st bowl; 1 Fire, 1 Air

The Fakirs are the second faction that is similar to, but strictly inferior to another faction out there, with the other faction being the dwarves. I am now going to go into great detail as to why they are inferior, as I discussed it a bit, above under “Extended Range”. Beyond that though, you want to play them very similarly to the dwarves, expanding as useful to increase your overall worker input, and backfilling as necessary to get the town bonus. This is hurt by the fact that priests are significantly more difficult to get then workers, but after you construct your fortress you should have even less of a need for terraforming then dwarves thanks to the extended range. I remain deeply skeptical about the Fakir’s overall power level though, and if someone can explain to me how they are in any way better then, or even comparable, to the dwarves I would appreciate it.

Giants
Core Ability: All terraforming requires 2 spades (terraforming)
Stronghold Ability: 4 power; Terraform with 2 spades + Build (terraforming; power)
Secondary Ability: None
Unique Initial Allotments: 1 Fire, 1 Air

Giants are one of the factions whose special ability is really a restriction. Being able to transform hexes that are normally only cost three spades for two is an advantage, but it is strongly outweighed by the cost of needing those two spades for ones that would normally only cost one, meaning that even a basic terraform will cost six cubes. That is a lot. This means that the giants are especially dependent on the double terraforming location on the power action spots and in their fortress. The Giants require their fortress ability more than any other faction, and while others benefit greatly from getting their fortress first round, the Giants actually need it.

On the bright side, once you do have it, you do have a great deal of flexibility as to where to build. You should never fear putting an initial dwelling near other players, as once you build up to your fortress, you should have a bigger impact on their ability to successfully expand then they will on yours. This should also provide you with plenty of power, as they will be upgrading near you, and that, combined with the good power income of your fortress, means that you could potentially get two no-cube terraforms in most rounds. I would suggest burning down to six power with them as soon as possible, and to keep your power income high enough (probably through the 4 power per turn favor tile or any of the power generating income tiles) that you are able to cycle it back to the third bowl as much as possible.

Halflings
Core Ability: 1 victory point per spade (victory points)
Stronghold Ability: 2 power; 3 spades (terraform)
Secondary Ability: Less Expensive Terraforming Tech (terraform); More expensive stronghold
Unique Initial Allotments: 9 power 2nd bowl, 3 power 1st bowl; 1 Earth, 1 Air

Halflings are one of the factions that it is easiest to play well. Their cheap terraforming tech advancement allows them to more flexibly transform terrain than any other faction. Additionally, they get victory points every time they use a spade, this is particularly strong when the round tile that gives 2 victory points for every spade is in play, resulting in very high scoring rounds for the Halflings, particularly if they can successfully build their stronghold. There really is not much more to them than that. They are as straightforward as they are strong.

Mermaids
Core Ability: May ignore one river space when building town (Town)
Stronghold Ability: 4 power; Advance 1 on Sailing Track (extra building range)
Secondary Abilities: More expensive sanctuary, Extended and Improved Sailing Track (extra building range)
Unique Initial Allotments: 9 power 2nd bowl, 3 power 1st bowl; 2 Water

Mermaids are another straightforward, yet powerful faction. Their extra sailing technology enables them to engage in a minimal amount of terraforming while still expanding their income, and their ability to ignore one river hex when building a town enables them to construct towns easily and in configurations that no other faction has access to. Mermaids stronghold ability is helpful, but is flexible enough that there is not real pressure to build it any particular point in the game, building it when you can get bonus victory points out of it is probably the best idea but if there are instances when getting the advancement on the sailing track, and the 4 power income, are more important than it is not a major loss if you build it too early, unlike other factions. The fact that they start two positions up on the water cult track is also helpful, as it makes it an obvious place to specialize and compete for scoring purposes.

Nomads
Core Ability: Start with 3 Dwellings
Stronghold Ability: 2 power; Convert adjacent hex into desert (terraform)
Secondary Abilities: More expensive stronghold; Extra Money from Trading Houses (money)
Unique Initial Allotments: 2 workers; 1 Fire, 1 Earth

Nomads share both the flexible terraforming capabilities of the Halflings and the disruptive capabilities of the giants. Since their fortress-based free terraform allows them to ignore the normal terrain costs they are able to terraform easily while also effectively disrupting their opponent with minimal opportunity cost to themselves. They lack the cheap costs of the Halflings, and do not have the ability to potentially perform two disruptions a round like the Giants, but they still have a nice middle ground and have the added bonus of having extra money from their later trading houses and a greater board presence on top of that.


Swarmlings
Core Ability: Get 3 workers for completing town (Town)
Stronghold Ability: 4 power; Upgrade Dwelling to Trading Post
Secondary Abilities: All structures cost more; Additional worker income; Trading Post, Sanctuary produce extra resources
Unique Initial Allotments: 8 workers; 20 money; 1 on each cult track

Swarmlings are, in many ways, the mirror image of the Engineers. Where the Engineers get less cube income, but also less costs for their buildings, Swarmlings get (slightly) more cube income, and quite a bit more power and money income but make up for it in increased costs. At least they do until they reach the point where they get their Stronghold, at which point they can make one upgrade from a dwelling to a trading post per round for free. This creates some interesting opportunities for them, particularly in games where trading post scoring rounds tiles are out or they are able to acquire one or both of the bonus point tiles for Trading Posts. These should probably be part of any Swarmling strategy, though whether one or both of them is acquired will depend on when in the game they receive their first bonus tile.

Towns should be a priority for Swarmlings, simply because completing them allows the Swarmlings to power through with further building and terraforming. Getting more then two in a game seems likely to be difficult, but getting those two should happen every time.

Witches
Core Ability: 5 victory points for building a town (Town)
Stronghold ability: 2 power; Place dwelling for free on forest tile (extended building range)
Secondary Ability: None
Unique Initial Allotments: 2 Air

In many ways the witches are the mirror image of the Swarmlings. Both have town-based abilities, and both have an action based on their fortress that allows them to put down buildings for free (in the Witches case, it is free dwellings). The Witches are much more vanilla then the Swarmlings however, as beyond their Stronghold ability and their bonus for the town, they are pretty close to the Terra Mystica average. This is not a bad thing however, as workers are the most commonly used resource in Terra Mystica, and Witches have the potential to get a lot of them. Their ability to place dwellings on any forest on the board, also allows them to have the greatest capability, outside of perhaps the Nomads or Mermaids, of building multiple towns over the course of the game.

Conclusion
I do not have any strong inclinations about which of the factions are the best and the worst yet, but I do think it is pretty easy to divide them into “more difficult” and “less difficult.” It is good that the “more difficult” factions are not clearly better then the “less difficult” factions as that would perhaps give too much of an advantage to skilled players. As it is, it is easy to determine how much difficulty you want out of a particular game and then choose a faction to match. That, plus the dynamism that comes from the various faction and available tile combinations is one of the reasons I like Terra Mystica as much as I do. Seriously, give it a shot.
Twitter Facebook
68 Comments
Mon Dec 3, 2012 11:21 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
129 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide

BGG.Con: The Return

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
flag msg tools
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
mbmbmb
BGG.Con 2012 has come and gone, and was a great time as usual, with an even larger group of people that I gamed with “regularly” while I was there and a bunch of new games that I got to enjoy exploring. The hotel was pretty nice, and everything seemed much more organized then last year though as a vegetarian I found the food options on-site to be strictly worse than years past. Luckily my cousin, who is a local, was gracious enough to bring me to the grocery store where I was able to pick up a large amount of fruit to snack on throughout the week and made the whole situation bearable. I have every intention of repeating that trip next year, and my cousin has already offered to take me. Of course, you do not care about that. You care about the games!

Unlike in years past I do not really have a game of the convention. There ended up being three games I really liked, and I think it will take a bit more play of each of them for me to figure out which one works best for me. Also, unlike 2011 which had some really excellent, breakout games (Mage Knight and Ora et Labora), 2011 seems to have a larger number of generally high-quality tiles but nothing that I found truly amazing. However, by the same token there was very little that was borderline or outright sucked, and there was only one game where I felt the negatives truly outweighed the positives.

The Best

Three games are vying in my eyes for the best game of the convention (and with Dungeon Command for my best game of the year). I was able to play all of them a significant amount of times, but I only achieved enough plays in Terra Mystica to feel comfortable reviewing it (expect a review later this week). The other two will require some additional amount of plays for me to feel comfortable that I understand them enough to properly review them.

Archipelago (Initial Rating: 8; 5 plays)

Archipelago was one that I had some level of trepidation about prior to the convention. While my initial interest was high, due to my appreciation for Earth Reborn, comments about lots of player negotiation and opportunities for screwage, as well as the concealed end and victory conditions, left me concerned that this one would not quite work for me. Luckily, playing the game, and reviewing all the variants afterwards, proved that these are not extremely relevant issues, particularly since it is very easy to calibrate the situation based on your preferences.

Essentially Archipelago is a civilization game that replaces opportunities for war and direct conflict with a shared loss condition, based on the rebellion of the archipelago and the players, as colonial powers, being forced away. This is a very real threat, and three of the five games I played ended with a collective loss based on this condition. What makes the game particularly interesting from this perspective is the fact that it is up to the players to prevent this from happening, either through market management, which requires some level of experience, or luck in regards to what source of resources are demanded by the populace. Some of the actions that players are most likely to advance their own position are also the most likely to cause the island to go into revolt and if one player gets too far ahead the incentives are there for them to tank the game, if they can, bringing it to a halt if they are in an unrecoverable position.

What the ultimate effects are of shared loss are for experienced players is something that I need to explore before I determine what I think about the game, and why I think I will need a significant number of plays of Archipelago before I feel ready to give it a proper review. Even beyond the shared loss condition, the game has a lot of interesting subsystems that tie the game together on both a thematic and a mechanical level. Each of my plays has revealed something new that I appreciated on this level, and I suspect that I have not even seen a fraction of what the game has to offer.

CO2 (Initial Rating: 8; 3 plays)
CO2 was another one that I felt a slight bit of trepidation towards, even though I was much more certain that I would like it then Archipelago. I was expecting that initial reactions to CO2 would be strong enough to make up for the politically motivated low ratings. This did not quite end up being true, so I was mildly concerned that there was, in fact, a problem with the game that I had not foreseen from reading the rules. Luckily this ended up not being the case. I found the gameplay to be quite engaging with only one major area of concern.

Essentially the game is about determining when creating an opportunity for you is worth the costs that come from also creating opportunities for other players. This requires players to remain very aware of game state and thus makes the game very interactive. Each move you make has interesting little butterfly effects across the board. Competition both for control of regions and on the expertise tracks is fierce, and while you can’t control the ability of players to get them, you can influence them and in doing so significantly affect how each player’s position relates to the others. I love this sort of thing, and I really like how the designer implemented it in CO2.

My one concern, which was seen in our third game, is the impact of a single player being in a position where they are unable to effectively build plants. This happened in my third game (second for two others, and first for the fourth), where I was able to effectively prevent one player from building plants for a good part of the game. He came in last place. Of course this was based on our analysis of the game state and our particular calculations on the value of installation of proposals rather than construction of plants. It is possible that I am wrong about how much more valuable plants are then previous steps in the process, particularly considering that we tended to look at the point values of buildings while ignoring their cost (in VP for the supplied money).

Terra Mystica (Initial Rating: 8; 8 plays)
Terra Mystica was the game I was most excited about before the convention. As you can probably surmise, both by my number of plays and my rating, it met my expectations. Did it exceed them? Not really, and this is probably why I am currently undecided about which of these is probably my favorite.

The game is effective and fun, with each of the different factions having a different strategic focus, frequently in ways that result in game play feeling significantly different. Since Terra Mystica is primarily a resource management game, this frequently comes down to varying the efficiencies and victory point games of particular actions, but this is enough that the particular composition of races in the game can have a pretty big impact on how the game plays out.

If I have any concerns about Terra Mystica, it is about the game being a little bit too tight and constrained. I kind of wish that the game’s powers pushed the limits of the engine a little bit more then they currently do, but even then I suspect if that happened the game would end up being less balanced and probably a little less worthwhile as a result.

Good

Al-Rashid (Initial Rating: 7; 1 play)
Al-Rashid’s big hook, to me at least, is how activation works. At its core level it is a worker placement game, but after the placement phase, players take turns activating a location, meaning that it is possible for a particular player to lose out on an opportunity if they are too risky in picking locations for placement. Victory points are largely acquired through the purchase of personages that provide special abilities in addition to their victory point values and through acquisition of more workers, creating a small bit of an economic snowball effect.

It was pretty satisfying, but I am not quite sure yet whether it was good enough to stand above all the other great worker placement resource conversion games out there. (I had a similar problem with Tzolk’in, which I will discuss below). It does have the advantage of having a pretty interesting resource conversion system, and I like the breadth of the special powers, though with a single play I can’t realistically claim to know how balanced they are. The only real problem area I saw was with the relative tightness of the resources. Even with four players it seemed a little bit too loose, and going into the end game, there was no real competition left, making activation order somewhat irrelevant. I suspect it would be better with five players and with more opportunities for players to maliciously activate locations, but these are both things that will require further play to identify. Luckily, a review copy is on its way, so I will be able to effectively explore it and determine how good of a game it really is.


Coup (Initial Rating: 7; 9 plays)
Coup is a relatively simple bluffing game, where players are given two role cards. On their turn they are allowed to take one action from among those that are available to players of any role card. However, there is no rule that says you need to tell the truth about your role, and so there is plenty of opportunity for bluffing and lying while you attempt to accomplish your actions. You can only lose if someone successfully assassinates you, which requires a role card, someone coups you, which requires a certain amount of money, or if you say someone is lying about the role they claim, and you call them on it and are wrong. If any combination of these things happens twice then you are out of the game.

Much of the brilliance of this game is in its simplicity. I am not a huge fan of bluffing games, but with something as fast as this, and as encouraging of outrageous lies, it is hard not to be won over. I regret not picking up my own copy at the convention and if it ends up at Coolstuff I have every intention of picking up my own copy.

The Great Zimbabwe (Initial Rating: 7; 6 plays)
My opinion of The Great Zimbabwe started out strong but decline over the course of the convention. I did not end up playing it after Thursday and I am still trying to decide if I want to keep my copy.

The problem with the Great Zimbabwe was not its quality, it is clearly that there are a lot of interesting things going on in the game, but the sheer amount of enjoyment I derive from it. The first few games of it were dynamic and interesting. But it seemed that with more experience, and the jump-started strategy explanation I gave to players in future rules introductions, that the game eventually lead to players building increasingly destructively located craftsmen that drove the game down to a crawl and resulted in an excruciating grind to the finish.

Now it is possible that the deficiency is not with the game but with me, and I am going to give the game a few more opportunities to prove to me that it is something that is worthwhile for me to explore further.

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar (Initial Rating: 7; 1 play)
Tzolk’in is well-design polished, and an overall efficient design. The temporal investment aspect that is represented by the gears is quite interesting, as players give up resources in the short term in order to get larger pay-offs in the long term. It also forces a timing element as players are required to retrieve their workers at just the right time, as players are forced to either place or collect their workers each turn. Without correct timing it is very easy to discover that you zigged when you should have zagged and vice versa.

Unfortunately, much of the game beyond that is rather mundane, and I am not quite sure if that system alone is enough to push Tzolk’in from a “good” worker placement game into the realms of “excellent.” Of course it is quite likely, considering how much I enjoy and appreciate worker placement games, that I am being a tad too harsh on Tzolk’in simply because of how many different games I am comparing it to. Regardless, I look forward to delving into it a bit further to see whether it can really run with the big worker placement dogs or not.

Adequate

Ginkgopolis (Initial Rating: 6; 1 play)
Ginkgopolis is, for a medium weight euro, pretty good. Essentially it is an area majority game, where players can attempt to gain majorities by extending upwards or outwards, resulting in an interesting visual effect as well as game play dynamic. Placement is constrained in some respects by card plays, with cards that are used for tiles that are overwritten being added to a player’s collection and opening up a new special power or scoring opportunity. Cards are drafted, with a single new card being given to a player each round, and new cards, based on placed tiles, being added after the deck runs out.

I found it to be a fairly fresh take on the basic tile placement/area majority concept but not so fresh that I think it is a game that I need to own or explore thoroughly, particularly since I can already see that I would only end up playing it five or six times at most before I got bored. As far as light card drafting games go, I do appreciate it a bit more than 7 Wonders due to the spatial element, but that really is not saying much as I only tend to play 7 Wonders under specific situations.


For the Win (Initial Rating: 5; 2 plays)
A fun little two player special power abstract. Kind of reminds me of Hive, though slightly less entertaining. Unfortunately, I am not hugely into abstracts, so the likelihood of me keeping it, rather than passing it on to someone else in my game group is low.

Pax Porfiriana (Initial Rating: 6; 2 plays)
A special power card game from Sierra Madre Games, I tried this one largely on the recommendation of a certain Martin from the UK. I absolutely can see why he would recommend it to me, and I was pretty positive about it after the first play. How the four different types of victory points are tied into actually winning the game, and how a player attempting to screw another player is forced to give another player a victory point are both particularly brilliant and I had pretty high hopes after the first game. The second game effectively dashed those hopes due to how particularly tedious it was.

Now it is quite possible that this tediousness came from either poor play on our parts. In fact I think that is reasonably likely the case, so of the games I rated “adequate” this is the one I am most likely to still acquire. I still consider the potential of tediousness to be a strong warning sign, and I may pass on it for that potential alone.

Not Good

Dominare (Initial Rating: 4; 1 play)
I had pretty high hopes for Dominare. I usually like special player powers, and how they evolved seemed to be both thematic and interesting. Unfortunately, two things kept this game from quite living up to its full potential. The first is the fact that the later powers are so strong that it effectively makes much of the early game irrelevant. The second is how the game encourages a tit-for-tat exchange of cubes used to control particular blocks making the game feel a bit repetitive even before players use special powers to blow up each other’s positions. I still think that a potentially good game could be made with some of the ideas included in Dominare, I just which that they had been included in it, so I would not have to wait.
Twitter Facebook
38 Comments
Tue Nov 20, 2012 10:17 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls
Recommend
48 
 Thumb up
0.05
 tip
 Hide

BGG.Con: The Arrival

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
flag msg tools
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
mbmbmb
I have arrived at BGG.Con! Population is pretty sparse this early, but the hotel is pretty nice. I regret leaving swim trunks at home as it looks like swimming would provide some pretty good exercise.

For those who are interested in keeping track of what I am playing and initial thoughts I will be blogging on my google plus account: https://plus.google.com/115827202168486072124
Twitter Facebook
13 Comments
Tue Nov 13, 2012 5:57 pm
Post Rolls
  • [+] Dice rolls

1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5  Next »  [10]

Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.