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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
BGG.Con is pretty much my favorite gaming convention ever. I have been to Gen Con and the WBC, and various smaller conventions, but BGG.Con easily exceeds all of them for me. BGG.Con’s effective combination of hot new games, the ability to easily focus on gaming rather than secondary distractions, and the fact that I get to meet up with so many friends I have made from BoardGameGeek combine to just bring it to a level that other conventions cannot match.
My enthusiasm for the convention has spread to the locals a bit, so there are usually at least a few who end up coming to the convention. This year we have six people beyond me who are visiting from Orlando including my BGG.Con roommate, and a couple who are among my most regular gaming partners (I am even attending their Halloween party tonight!) So between the desire to play the hot new games with some of my friends from Orlando, the desire to play games with my regular BGG.Con crew (namely Aliza and Jerry), and the desire to play with other people I know I have found that it is worthwhile to do a little bit of scheduling.
Part of my scheduling is, of course, in my planned games. I have been transitioning over the last few years from trying a random smattering of games to trying a focused set of games and deciding at the show which of these are worth delving into further. I had a lot of fun last year with Aliza, Jerry, and some other people exploring Ora et Labora Mage Knight the Board Game in depth and I am hoping that this year I will be able to repeat that experience with whatever game we find to be worth that sort of exploration from Essen 2012. The other part of that scheduling is making sure to plan games with people whom I will not get to game with regularly. Even if this scheduling is no more than a “Let’s try to play this game at the convention,” it is helpful to have these sorts of rendezvous in mind, so that free time can be calibrated towards achieving those goals. Two weeks out seems to be about as good a time as any to do this, so since BGG.Con officially starts two weeks from today, that is what is going to happen.
Games To Play: BGG.Con 2012
This is essentially a mirror of my general Essen 2012 list. It has gone through a number of changes, as initial comments and critiques have emerged and a number of games I was unaware of have come to my attention. This is partially informed by the games I am getting review copies of too. I only requested games I was very interested in, and am using whether or not I am getting a review copy as a prioritization system, I still intend to review games that I am not getting review copies of, I just plan to focus on the review copy games first.
As of right now, the following games are Essen releases that I have confirmation I will be getting review copies of:
Al Rashid (may receive before BGG.Con)
CO2 (will not receive until after BGG.Con)
Terra Mystica (may receive before BGG.Con)
Tzolk’in (will not receive until after BGG.Con)
Even if I do not get copies of them before BGG.Con, I will still try to play each of these games at least a few times at the convention itself, and if any of them capture my compatriots fancy then we will probably end up being played much more extensively.
The next tier of games is ones that I am highly interested in in order to make a personal purchasing decision or because I probably will be writing a review of them. These are:
Grand Zimbabwe (purchasing for pick up at BGG.Con)
Keyflower (purchased and waiting for arrival)
The final tier is games that I am at least marginally interested, but do not expect that much from. I will give these ones a chance if I have an opportunity to play them, but if I do not I am not going to be particularly upset if it does not happen:
Clash of Cultures
Polis: Fight For The Hegemony
General BGG.Con 2012 Schedule
On Tuesday I arrive by noon and tend to focus mostly on opportunistic gaming, either roping people into the games I have brought or inserting my people into other people’s games. If none of my incoming Essen games arrive in time, I will have the Glory to Rome Black Box Edition and some other heavier game that I will probably decide on the night before. Maybe Mage Knight. I am really hoping some of them arrive in time.
Wednesday is focused on playing as many different games from the above lists as possible in order to identify which ones are strong candidates for more extensive play later in the week.
Thursday usually ends up being a hybrid day, where I finish off any games on my lists that are high priority, and start replaying the ones that I particularly liked from day 1.
Friday and Saturday end up being pretty similar. I focus a lot on the games that I decided are the ones I want to explore deeply, with a few random games of other stuff thrown in for good measure. I also try to hit the remaining low priority items on the list to make sure I have not actually missed anything. Saturday night inevitably results in very late night gaming and really bad, yet hilarious, jokes as sleep deprivation really starts to hit. I have had both my best and worst experiences at the convention late on Saturday night.
Sunday is another day of scrambling, as people are pushing to leave town, and I try to get as much gaming in as I can. I tend to leave a bit later in the day which removes some of the pressure for me, but the pressure on everyone else is still relevant.
Current Planned Gaming
As I noted above, I usually end up playing the large majority of my games with Aliza and Jerry at the convention. This is always fun and I would not have it any other way. Beyond that, I have these specific games planned:
Tzolk’in with Ben, Aliza, and Jerry. I need to confirm with Aliza and Jerry they are actually in for this though, as I sort of volunteered them.
Ginkgopolis with Rich (and others, I assume).
Some sort of game with David Short.
Anyone else interested in planning any gaming with me at the convention? Any games that should be on my list but are not? Any games on my list that should not be there?
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
The Essen 2011 Crop: One Year Later
Last year about this time I wrote an article where I looked over the games released at Essen 2011 and predicted where they would end up in the BGG Top 100. Now we have a new crop of games, and have had time to see where previous ones have settled.
Last year, I decided that the following games had a strong chance of making the BGG Top 100:
Mage Knight: The Board Game
Ora et Labora
All three of them are now in the BGG Top 20, having successfully maintained their momentum and finding a pretty wide fan base. Eclipse and Mage Knight: The Board Game were even successful enough to make the BGG Top 10.
I thought that Dungeon Petz, thanks to its designer and the game’s structure was likely to make the BGG Top 100. It has not quite made it, as it currently stands at #117, but at this point I think it is simply a matter of time. It may not stay in the Top 100, but getting there seems to be a pretty sure deal.
Three games I indicated would make Top 100 or not depending on their distribution:
Trajan made BGG Top 100 even before it got distribution in the US, but I am sure that the US distribution did help to propel it to its current position of #55. Neither Vanuatu nor MIL (1049) got an especially wide US distribution. Based on their current ratings, it is possible, though unlikely, that a wider distribution would have helped Vanuatu get into the Top 100. It is no longer possible that MIL (1049) will achieve this position.
The last three games were ones that I thought were “possible” based on initially strong ratings if they were able to maintain this momentum and get effective distribution:
Colonial: Europe’s Empires Overseas
None of these games were able to maintain their momentum, though Hawaii was “trashed” by some reviewers.
Looking over the BGG Top 100, the only other 2011 games that are present are ones that were released prior to Essen 2011: The Castles of Burgundy, Summoner Wars: Master Set, A Game of Thrones (Second Edition), The Lord of the Rings Card Game, and A Few Acres of Snow. So I think I did a pretty good job of picking out the games that were likely (or somewhat likely) in making the BGG Top 100 based both on quantitative and qualitative factors.
The Essen 2012 Crop
Last year I established a criterion for determining which Essen releases have a shot of making the Top 100. Based on its success last year, I am still satisfied with it so I will be using it again:
Generally, for a game to be able to make it into the BGG Top 100 it has to get pretty strong initial ratings. An initial neutral to negative response from early adopters can slow down the game’s momentum, and barring something extraordinary, prevent it from ultimately getting the quantity and quality of ratings it needs to make the Top 100 as people will get scared away from a game that rates poorly. This is particularly true since initial ratings tend to be from early adopters who are more likely to rate a game well. Once it hits a wider audience, average rating almost always goes down, meaning that the earliest ratings frequently indicate the highest average rating this game will ever get. So for the purpose of this blog, I am going to look at those games that I consider being in the running for the Top 100 and am outright rejecting games that have below a 7.80 average rating. This average rating is higher than that of many games that currently are in the BGG Top 100, but as noted above, it is reasonable to expect these ratings to decline over time.
In addition to high average ratings over time, a game needs to be able to get a sufficient quantity of ratings in order to reach the Top 100. A game with a low number of ratings but a really high average rating, like the War of the Ring Collector’s Edition, can get there, but generally you need to have thousands of ratings in order to break past the dummy ratings and have a shot at getting into the Top 100. This means that games with a wide distribution, particularly with the American audiences that are the most common on BGG, have a definite advantage in getting into the Top 100. This wide distribution comes with a cost though, as a game with one is also more likely to encounter people who do not like it, bringing the average rating down.
2012’s Essen crop is significantly weaker (from a rating perspective) then 2011’s. I am not expecting any great shake-ups in the rankings or any new games (much less two new games) in the BGG Top 10. That being said, I think there are a few contenders for games that will make the Top 100.
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar (8.25 average; 204 ratings)
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar is the only Essen game that I feel is almost certainly going to make the BGG Top 100, and is definitely the only one that I think has a shot of making the Top 25. Part of this is of course just due to its average rating. 8.25, while not an exceptional start, is still a strong indicator that it will do well. CGE is a well-regarded company, and even though Tzolk’in was not designed by Vlaada Chvátil, its attachment to CGE and the savvy marketing campaign that they have conducted has definitely caught people’s attention. Having played Tzolk’in I can say that its combination of a unique timing structure with a fairly typical resource combination back-end is one that will probably do very well. It is interesting and innovative enough to get people excited, but is grounded enough in familiar territory that it is still fairly comfortable.
Ginkgopolis (7.85 average; 85 ratings)
Ginkgopolis designer, Xavier Georges, and publisher, Pearl Games, have one game that has had significant results in the BGG rankings: Troyes, and another one that has done well, but has not quite made the BGG Top 100: Carson City, which is ranked 155. In addition to continuing popular enthusiasm for Troyes, Ginkgopolis also has a fairly unique hook: players are collectively laying tiles to build a city both outwards and upwards, adding a three-dimensional spatial element. There is still lingering excitement for Pearl Games and there is a lot of talk about how “fresh” and “different” it is. That is usually a good sign.
Myrmes (7.94 average; 112 ratings)
Myrmes and Suburbia (below) both look like they have an opportunity to take the “middle-weight hit” title. Myrmes biggest advantage appears to be how thematically well-integrated it is. There are not a lot of anthill management board games out there, and the main one I am familiar with (Antics) handles the anthill problem much differently. If anything is going to sink it, it will be the games replayability. I have already heard rumblings that the game has a low amount of interplay variability, but I admit this may end up being irrelevant. It matters a lot to me, if it is true, but will not necessarily matter to other people.
Suburbia (7.97 average; 194 ratings)
Suburbia has a number of things going for it. It has an absolutely great looking graphic design and the fact that it has a city building theme which, while popular, has not yet seen an extremely successful implementation yet. A 7.97 rating is also pretty solid, particularly since it has a significant (for an Essen release) amount of ratings. It has also been sitting pretty high on the “Hotness” rating, indicating that it has maintained some level of momentum post-Essen. It has caught people’s attention, and this is likely to create a bit of a snowball effect that could make or break its overall chances in a very short period of time. Since I have played Suburbia, and quite liked it particularly for a medium weight game, I think it is more likely to fall on the “make it” side of the equation. The only question is whether it will be able to maintain its current high average rating, or if it will see a steeper decline that is more typical of Essen releases.
Keyflower (8.15 average; 71 ratings)
Keyflower has a high initial average rating, but I consider it a bit of a “soft” rating. 71 ratings is usually less strong of an indicator then 200, which is usually at about the point where you can get an idea whether a game really has a shot at hitting the Top 100 or not. Still, an 8.15 average rating is a good start, and if it can maintain this level, while getting put in front of enough gamers, it will end up making it all the way. If anything ends up holding it back, it will be the fact that it does not really bring all that much that is “new and different.” Most recent games that have been successful have had some sort of hook to catch people’s attention, and I suspect that Keyflower’s lack of such a hook might prevent it from getting an exceptional ranking.
Terra Mystica (8.18 average; 117 ratings)
Terra Mystica has come out of Essen with a lot of buzz, getting 2nd on the Fairplay poll and also doing well on the Geekbuzz. Uwe Rosenberg is also listed as contributing to the design, and while not all his games are hits, he has enough winners, that it can be counted as a positive factor in how likely it is that a game will do well. Beyond that there are no strong “indicators” it is going to be a big success. Neither of its designers have published anything that has previously made the BGG Top 100 (though I enjoyed both Kaivai and the Scepter of Zavandor) and the publisher is not an established name. I personally, am pretty excited by this one though, and I have strong hopes that the initial reaction to the game at Essen will be sufficient to indicate that the game is both of high quality and will be able to climb into the Top 100 once it gets more publishing partners.
Al Rashid (8.06 average; 58 ratings)
Al Rashid falls into the same category as Keyflower in regards to the overall reliability of its ratings. An 8.06 is an excellent start, but with only 58 initial ratings, it is still quite possible that it will see a high rate of degradation as time goes on. Its strongest secondary indicator is its rank on the geekbuzz, where it got 6th place with a total of 105 ratings. Beyond this, there are no strong indicators about whether it will be successful in the rankings or not. Neither the designer nor the publisher is established; this is the first game the publisher has produced and none of the designer’s previous credits are hits. This is not to say the game won’t do well, it is just it has a much greater degree of uncertainty because of this.
Antike Duellum (7.80; 42 ratings)
Antike Duellum is at the very low end of the rating range where I consider Top 100 to be reasonable, and with only 42 ratings that is a poor sign, as it is far, far more common for a game to degrade in average rating over time then increase. On the plus side, the designer, Mac Gerdts, has two Top 100 games to his name (Navegador and Imperial), and this game is based off a previous design of his, though that one does not hold nearly the ranking of his two big games.
Archipelago (7.80; 120 ratings)
Archipelago’s designer, Christophe Boelinger, has two games that have achieved significant traction: Earth Reborn and Dungeon Twister. Earth Reborn is in the BGG Top 50, and has achieved quite a bit of critical fame, but did not do well enough financially to get an expansion. Dungeon Twister has a sub-7.0 rating and is sitting in the 300s. Entertainingly enough, it has a bunch of expansions. Archipelago sounds interesting, with the potential for everyone losing, and secret victory point conditions and end game triggers, but these points of interest are also points of risk. They are enough that it is easy to turn people off with them, and have been frequently commented as being among the game’s flaws. They have not been quite enough to turn me off, I am still quite interested in the game and am uncertain if they are true flaws are simply a matter of inexperienced play, but it is still something that could impact Archipelago’s chances in the rankings.
Snowdonia (7.80 average; 116 ratings)
Snowdonia may suffer the same problem as Keyflower, while having a lower average rating: there is not nearly enough to clearly differentiate it from the other worker placement games out there beyond its rather unique theme. The most common negative early comments reflect this, and it does not appear to have enough top end enthusiasm (9 and 10 ratings) to indicate that it is likely to maintain the level of momentum required to get to the Top 100. On the plus side, it does seem to effectively tie the mechanics to the theme, which is usually a good indicator that a game could be successful in the rankings, and with Lookout Games as a publisher there is a strong chance it might end up with a US distribution deal.
CO2 (7.70 average; 111 ratings)
CO2 is noteworthy simply because of how divisive it is. While, 7.70 is well outside of the usual ratings range that I consider for this article, its standard deviation (2.21) is twice that of any other game on this list. Looking at the rating comments, it is not tough to see why. There is a bit of a war going on, through the ratings, by people who are offended by CO2’s theme and those who find it particularly refreshing. Based on how frequently CO2 appeared on the hotness, and the generally positive reaction from people who appear to have played the game at Essen, I think this game still has a shot of making it into the Top 100. It is simply a matter of whether most people end up rating the game based on its gameplay or for political reasons.
So that is the field of Essen 2012 games that I think have the biggest possibility of making the Top 100. The amount of games is a little bit lighter on the top end, as I think only Tzolk’in is guaranteed a spot, but the total that has at least some potential is higher, with 11 versus 10. It will be interesting to see which of the ones on the borderline end up breaking away from the rest and shooting towards the Top 100 and which ones just fade away.
Wed Oct 31, 2012 12:16 am
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
Though I expect that to change after I get to play some of the sweet-looking new Essen releases, or if I ever get an opportunity to play Andean Abyss in more depth (outlook: not so good), Dungeon Command is currently my favorite new game of 2012 and that has only been reinforced with the release of Dungeon Command: Tyranny of Goblins.
Tyranny of Goblin’s Pre-Constructed War band
For those that intend to primarily use Tyranny of Goblins without any customization I think Tyranny has a lot to offer. The biggest reason why is how different it plays then the other factions is. Playing Tyranny of Goblins, with its plethora of ally-boosting abilities and beneficial attachments, feels like playing a much more disciplined military force then seen with the sneakier drow or rag-tag band of adventurers. So I think this will be quite effective for those who simply want a new war band to play against their older drow or heroes war bands, even if I think the biggest strengths are in how it contributes to the overall availability of war band construction options.
Expanding Options for Customizability in Dungeon Command
Dungeon Command is a customizable miniatures game, played primarily with two players, where each player has a commander that provides morale and leadership ratings, initial order cards, a creature card hand size, and a special ability, a deck of order cards that provide special bonuses, and a deck of creature cards which are used to limit the options of what creatures you can have on the board. I have written a review for the base game, which is essentially just the first two packs, so I recommend you should check it out if you want a more detailed look at the game.
For customizable games to really be successful there has to be real opportunities for the players to use their available pieces to construct a wide array of “deck” options. This is not to say that their needs to be a wide array of options for it to be successful as a game, it is quite possible to play say Netrunner or Dungeon Command with just some of the pre-constructed items, but that does not really unlock the full play potential that the game’s offer. However, the potential for customization can be important even for more casual players who do are unlikely to do so, as they want to have the available packs in case the situation allows for customization to be relevant. With only two packs available, Dungeon Command did not really have effective customization options yet.
Customization in Dungeon Command comes along three primary axes: your commander, your order cards deck, and the creatures’ deck. Commanders provide an overall guiding structure for your war band. Several of them provide bonuses for only particular types of creatures, the Sting of Lolth drow commanders being an example of this, but most of them are generally useful, providing bonuses that are just optimal with certain creature or order card combinations rather than being completely useless unless you have certain types of creatures or war band configurations. The cards that are in your creature deck and the ones that are in your order deck are more intimately related, as most cards require a certain level and attribute combination. So in an optimized war band you will want to make sure that either the order cards are such that the you will always or almost always have creatures that can use them in play or that there are ways to get around the attribute limitations of included creatures. A combination of both will probably end up being the preferred way to go.
I think that with the introduction of Tyranny of Goblins there are enough options to make customization worthwhile enough to explore. Part of this is simply due to the fleshing out of a number of attributes that were poorly represented before. The vast majority of the Sting of Lolth miniatures had Dexterity as one of their attributes, so there were plenty of options if you wanted to make a pure Dexterity war band or one that combined it a single other attribute, and with the strength and specialization of the Sting of Lolth commanders. However, all of the other attributes were either lacking cards entirely (Constitution, Charisma) or had such a small number of available cards and/or figures that including them seemed to have a limited amount of worth (Wisdom and Intelligence). Tyranny of Goblins changes that by adding a significant number of creature and order cards that focus on Constitution and Charisma and a number of order cards, though only a single creature, that focus on Intelligence. Wisdom unfortunately remains neglected. With these new cards it is now possible to make interesting combinations of war bands featuring a relatively large variety of creatures sporting Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma and have a reasonable amount of variety and real choices as to what cards to include or not include. Intelligence also has enough support that it is possible to have cards based on that attribute in a support function, though they are not yet significant enough to form the bulk of a war band. This is aided by what I see as one of the most exciting new order cards to be introduced: Arcane Scroll.
The Arcane Scroll card opens up the possibility for all sorts of interesting customization options because it allows a creature to use an order card with the Intelligence trait even if they lack the trait itself. While I am not quite sure that it is worthwhile to use this card in war bands that do not have a reasonable number of Intelligence based creatures, it does allow for some interesting options for those that either have them as a subset of the total or even a major part of the war band, giving you the ability to add consistency for the sake of some level of power. It also allows you to pull off some interesting surprises, such as having an otherwise slow unit without range capabilities do something your opponent was not expecting and thus give you an advantage.
Other utility order cards have also been included, providing with interesting options that push the limits of the game further and provide fun decisions during deck-building. The ability to consistently and effectively maintain offenses and preserve your units with defense cards is helpful, but the addition of the strong utility cards, like Arcane Scroll, seen in Tyranny of Goblins is a strong positive on the mind as it expands the potential of order deck construction beyond jamming in as much of the best attack and defense cards as possible into the decks.
The other big mechanical advancement comes from the large number of beneficial attachment cards. A few of these, particularly ones that gave one shot bonuses or card draw income, were featured in the previous sets, but Tyranny of Goblins really pushes this further allowing you to improve the movement or damage capabilities of an individual unit, probably a high-level or otherwise powerful one, further.
This also leaves me pretty excited to see what is coming with Curse of Undeath and Blood of Gruumsh. Curse of Undeath is particularly intriguing because of how it looks like it will have a pretty good mixture of units that will provide a way to flesh out current attribute selections with a significant amount of options for Intelligence-base bands. I am hopeful that Blood of Gruumsh will have similar sorts of options for Wisdom.
Customizability and Game Play of Dungeon Command vs. Mage Wars
When I wrote my previous review of Dungeon Command, I noted that Dungeon Command seemed to be less interesting then Mage Wars from a customizability perspective, with both being clearly superior to Summoner Wars. While I still believe that they are both superior to Summoner Wars in customizability, I think I enjoy the construction process with Dungeon Command more.
Mage Wars uses a restricted point based system for customization that allows a great degree of variance in building options, even if this variance is filtered through thematic limitations. What I did not account for in my initial analysis is the linearity of the Mage Wars economy. Essentially Mage Wars is the tactical miniatures expression of an economic snowball game. You are attempting to build an efficient enemy mage killing engine by spending your currency to affect the relative position of each player’s economy or to advance your position to the eventual goal. So most of the customization options are based around deciding how many cards to have for the construction of engine building, and what combination of cards should be devoted to moving towards the victory condition vs. undermining the ability of other players to achieve those victory conditions.
Dungeon Command has a multi-dimensionality that results in both more interesting game play and construction. Rather than a deeply intertwined system where the one type of income is directly related to board presence and thus victory, Dungeon Command forces players to juggle multiple types of income and build based on the differences in how these incomes relate to the pursuit of their victory conditions. These incomes are largely card based, which allow both for interesting ways for players to build and for WotC to introduce cards that allow do things that do not necessarily effect income or creatures on the board.
The first of these incomes is order cards. At the basic level a player gets a single order card per turn. There are existing cards that can accelerate, and one of the commanders allows for certain units to exchange the morale of treasure acquisition for order card draws, but I still believe that these cards are the single most unbalancing aspect of Dungeon Command, and am still inclined not to play with them. The majority of the order cards are related to attack, defense, movement, or some combination of these items. Even with these cards the increased amount of consideration for building is relevant, as you cannot simply build a tool box of cards that you will find useful. Instead, the distribution of the attributes and levels in the creature deck and how they interacts with the distribution of attributes and levels in the order card deck needs to be accounted for and built around to ensure that the vast majority of the time you will be able to use your order cards while still being able to harness the more powerful, less widely usable cards.
The creature card deck is managed in an entirely different sort of manner then the order card deck. Rather than drawing a single card per turn, a player draws up to a commander-defined creature hand size whenever new creatures are deployed to the board. The ability to deploy creatures to the board is limited by the commander’s leadership rating, which has a pre-set value and automatically increases by 1 every turn. When building for the creature deck, this rating, its rate of increase, and the number of creatures that will be in a player’s hand at a given time all need to be considered. Being able to effectively build a collection of creatures that allows for optimal board presence based on leadership limitations will allow for a particular war band to be more effective than one that frequently is forced to keep a smaller board presence.
The way the creature deck works also allows for some interesting order cards, two of which are featured in Tyranny of Goblins. The first of these is a card that does nothing but provide an immediate increase to leadership rating. This is good, but considering the cost is an order card, which tend to be a very valuable and scarce resource, makes the question of if it is quite good enough quite relevant. After all, if you draw this card you are not drawing a card that will have one less card to use for movement, attack, or defense and while having the ability to bring out slightly bigger creatures is good, is it quite good enough to make up for the opportunity cost. Similarly, there is a card that allows you to discard as many creatures as you like from your creature card hand and then reshuffle your discarded creature cards back into your hand and then draw back up to your creature card hand size. This is a good effect, as it allows you to potentially recover lost units you would like to have back and get rid of cards that are not currently useful but it brings up the same questions of opportunity cost that the leadership increasing card present. I am not sure if they are worth it yet, and I strongly suspect that their overall worth will depend on the particular war band you are using them in, but I very much like the fact that these cards can even exist as they imply that there are a lot of potentially interesting and exciting directions that they can go with future order card releases.
Of course, a much more multidimensional economic and customizability process does not necessarily mean a particular game will produce more interesting gameplay. And from a complexity stand point, Mage Wars definitely has Dungeon Command beat. There are more abilities, more special powers, and more ways that individual units can create conditions on other units. So people who appreciate this level of complexity will probably enjoy Mage Wars more than Dungeon Command. I am one who typically does appreciate this sort of complexity, and I still enjoy Mage Wars, but I find that the items that Dungeon Command brings to the table, more interesting construction, a less straightforward economy, and more spatial complexity, are sufficient to make Dungeon Command my preferred tactical combat game of choice.
Tyranny of Goblins is an exciting addition to the Dungeon Command, not just because of its fun and effective pre-build war band, but because of the options it creates and possibilities it implies for future Dungeon Command releases. I am still disappointed that there are not more possibilities for purchasing order cards and miniatures in a less expensive fashion, but even with just acquiring one of each new set, it still looks like there will be plenty of fun possibilities.
Fri Oct 26, 2012 11:01 pm
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
On the whole awards are silly, and I have not been particularly impressed with the awards by any dedicated awards group in quite a while. That being said, I do still like the Golden Geek Awards. Partially because they are “our” awards as the BGG community, and also because I more frequently find myself agreeing with them then the awards of any other organization out there. So I still participate, both in the voting and the nominations, every year. This year is no different, and I have put together a selection of games I will be voting for this year. Note, I do not vote for games I have not played, or seen in the case of the art award.
1. 1989: Dawn of Freedom
2. Android: Netrunner
3. Summoner Wars: Master Set
4. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
Notable Omissions: Dungeon Command, which would have otherwise been in the first spot for me.
Who I think will win: Android: Netrunner
I have not played any of this year’s nominees.
Artwork and Presentation
1. Dungeon Petz
2. Mage Knight: The Board Game
3. Lords of Waterdeep
4. King of Tokyo
5. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
I think Dungeon Petz has a particularly effective combination of presentation and functionality, though Mage Knight is also noteworthy in how effectively it presents complex game state information. Good show on both.
Notable Omissions: None
Who I think will win: Eclipse
1. Blood Bowl Team Manager: The Card Game
2. Android: Netrunner
3. Sentinels of the Multiverse
4. Summoner Wars: Master Set
5. Eminent Domain
6. Core Worlds
7. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
8. Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin
Notable Omissions: Mage Knight the Board Game
Who I think will win: Android: Netrunner
I have not played any of this year’s nominees except King of Tokyo, and do not feel qualified to vote.
I do not have any particular appreciation for any of the games with nominated expansions, so could not accurately judge which was better than the others. So I did not vote.
I do not approach board gaming from a family gaming perspective, and did not vote for this category.
1. Mage Knight Board Game
2. Risk Legacy
3. Ascending Empires
5. D-Day Dice
10. Last Will
For reasons I have gone into extensively elsewhere, I think Mage Knight is a very innovative game. That being said, I would not be too torn up about Risk Legacy winning, and honestly expect that to be the winner. I do not consider, Eclipse, Last Will, or Village to be innovative enough to be in the running for this award.
Notable Omissions: Cave Evil
Who I think will win: Risk Legacy
I do not approach board gaming from a party gaming perspective, and did not vote for this category.
Print & Play
I have not played any of this year’s nominees except D-Day Dice, and do not feel qualified to vote.
1. Mage Knight Board Game
2. Ora et Labora
3. Dungeon Petz
6. Lords of Waterdeep
7. The Castles of Burgundy
I apparently need to play Village in order to have an effective perspective on last year’s games.
Notable Omissions: Andean Abyss, Vanuatu
What I think will win: Eclipse
1. Mage Knight Board Game
2. Blood Bowl: Team Manager the Card Game
3. Dungeon Petz
4. King of Tokyo
6. D-Day Dice
Notable Omissions: Cave Evil
What I think will win: Mage Knight Board Game
1. Andean Abyss
2. 1989: Dawn of Freedom
3. Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan
4. Risk Legacy
5. D-Day Dice
I think Eclipse is a better game than D-Day Dice, but I also do not think it is a wargame or belongs in this category.
Notable Omissions: N/A
What I think will win: Eclipse
So there we have it. Are there any particularly notable omissions that you noticed? Anything in particular you want to win?
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
Milestones is a two to four player medium weight euro game by Stefan Dorra and Ralf Zur Linde and published, in the US, by Stronghold Games. This is the first eurogames that Stronghold Games has published, and also one of their first games that is not a remake of an older game. This trend looks to continue though, as they are scheduled to release another, heavier, eurogame, CO2, at Essen this year.
I received an unsolicited copy of Milestones directly from the publisher for review.
Components and Theme
Milestones is thematically focused on the idea of the players being builders, responsible for managing workers who are collecting resources from the countryside and translating those resources into constructions on the countryside, specifically roads, houses, and marketplaces or use them to supply marketplaces with food. This is a pretty drab and standard theme, but it is also largely irrelevant. Very few people play middle weight euros for their strong thematic underpinnings.
The components are simple and utilitarian. The worker tiles, bonus tokens, and flour tiles are all illustrated. This is particularly helpful for the bonus tiles, as otherwise it would be very difficult to tell them apart; as it is clarifications had to be made at least a few times per game for those who had color issues.
The board is interesting only because of how different from that of “typical board games”. Rather than being a standard square, it is a bit more rectangular and a bit smaller then is the norm. So if you have a deep, transcendent love affair with more standard boards, then I would recommend you stay far away from this one. Beyond that the art is cartoonish and fairly simple with nothing about it that particular draws your eye and makes you say “Wow!” but it also does not actively detract from the game which, when you get down to it, is the main thing I ask for from a game’s components.
Players also have somewhat flimsy player boards, but this flimsiness has not been an issue so far. I imagine if we start to invent new games that require more resilience from them, such as “Milestones Player Board Frisbee” this might become more problematic.
Milestones is a rondel game. For those who do not know, a rondel is a circular structure where a pawn is moved around the various available spots, activating individual spots by landing on them. It is organized such that you have to wait a certain amount of time, taking intermediary actions along the way, before you can take the same action again.
What makes the rondel in Milestones most distinct is its customizability. Half of the board is made up of the four spots that every player must have: a location to exchange resources and money, a location to construct buildings on the main board, a location to convert grain into flour and place it onto a marketplace, and a location that serves to blunt a player’s momentum and force action. Across the top of the player’s board are a number of empty spots that are used for customization. Players may purchase worker tiles that can be placed to cover any two of these spots. These tiles are used to generate resources and, sometimes, victory points.
While the types of resources you can get from of the tiles is very important, so much so that I suspect that players with certain resource combinations will have a much more difficult time winning then those with others, the order of tile placement is even more important. During a player’s turn they may skip as many spaces as they like on the rondel, with the only limitation being that they are forced to stop on the location that forces player’s to blunt their forward momentum. If they land on a resource spot they get all the resources of the same type they passed in that move. This reinforces some level of specialization, as it enables the player to get a lot of resource very rapidly if they select lots of the same time of worker. Similarly, by placing these workers in an order that allows the player to avoid having wasted “skipped” spaces and thus generating large amounts of resources for scoring opportunities. Bonus tiles, which are gained through certain building activities, reinforce this further as they give you bonus points every time you collect resources from the associated worker.
This desire to group the same resource types together is complicated by the fact that workers also have a number value, and if you are able to keep the number order of your workers sequential you get a coin every time you stop on the resource conversion spot. This money can be significant, particularly if you have no coin generation of your own or you are already planning on stopping at the resource conversion space on your way around the rondel. This money, and the resource conversion space in general, is particularly important because the required momentum sapping space forces you to discard down to three resources (including money) and cover up one of your workers. So unless you have a way to generate money on your own, a gigantic amount of resources to sell for money, or sequential workers, then you will rapidly find your workers depleting to the point where you have so few that you are effectively out of the game.
In addition to money, the major resources are wood, stone, sand, and grain. Grain is special, but the other three are each used to construct one half of the game’s major buildings. Wood is used for marketplaces and houses, stone is used for roads and houses, and sand is used for roads and marketplaces. Roads are probably the most important of these buildings as they define how effective the other structures are. Marketplaces are the worst, simply because they do not score any more points than roads, are dependent on roads in order to score, and can be used to set up big scoring opportunities for players with grain. As a result of this, it strongly appears that specializing in wood production is a trap. You become very reliant on other players to build roads and establish scoring opportunities for you and you can only generate roads through inefficient resource cash conversions. Grains is similarly situational, as in order to effectively use it you need to have another player not only construct marketplaces but also construct them in locations where you can get the maximum amount of victory points. It can be argued that you could specialize in markets and grain, but you are still reliant on other players to create scoring opportunities, and will ultimately be collecting fewer resources because of the increased number of required stops around the rondel.
These interdependencies are both one of the more interesting part of the game but also the most worrisome. The method that gives you the most control over your victory point accumulation, road building, also opens up victory point possibilities for the other players. However, with the board layout it is possible for players to build roads in such a way that they are able to avoid opening up too many opportunities until they have acquired secondary resources that will allow for big points from a house placement or a smaller, but still significant market placement. What counterbalances this is a combination of greed from those who are focused mostly on road building resources to seize the better road scoring locations, and willingness for those players to let other players gain a marginal pay off in exchange for their own personal advancement.
This struggle between deciding when it is appropriate to allow others to score points off of a situation you create is essentially what the game is about. Rondel management is also very important, but deciding what resources you have and when you have them is merely a means to create context for these decisions. This focus on allowing scoring opportunities puts additional weight on both how players establish initial scoring stances and develop them over time, and brings some level of clarity into why the momentum reduction spot is so key to making Milestones work as well as it does.
At the beginning of the game a selection of worker tiles (two per player, plus one additional) are presented for selection, with whomever is the last player getting the first choice of two tiles, with each player closer to the first player also getting a choice between two from an increasingly smaller available pool. This selection process means that, at least for the early part of the game, it can be difficult to control what your scoring options are relative to the other players. If a particular player, probably later in the turn order and thus with earlier tile choices, ends up with a pair of deeply synergistic tiles producing resources that allow them to have some control over board development, such as stone, sand or both, and potentially push them into an early lead.
The ability to maintain this lead is restricted by the momentum reduction space. Each player is required to stop on this space when going around their rondel, and in doing so are forced to cover up one of their workers, making it unavailable, and discard resources down until they have three. This serves two purposes. The first is that, at the very least, a player with a too perfect initial board set-up will be forced to degrade it. The second is that it prevents players from hoarding materials for a super optimized scoring round, thus creating action on the board and driving forward the central dynamic of the game. Because of this mechanic, attentive players can purchase tiles that could allow a dominant player to retain their current position of strength. As the player’s available workers shift, the particular scoring stances of the players will also shifting, making it so that what was scoring points for a player early in the game will not necessarily prove to be successful later in the game. Of course, all of this requires players who understand the implications of both their actions and those of others; otherwise it is very easy for those who do not understand to throw the game to someone else.
After you understand and master this aspect, of the game, there is really not that much less to explore. Milestones becomes a game of tactical brinkmanship, as players seek to create and destroy scoring opportunities for other players, while attempting to reshape their scoring opportunities until they are in a stronger position to push for the end of the game then their opponents. This works very well for a shorter game, but I personally prefer a game that has a few more layers to it. Still, this is probably the best middle weight euro I have played since Kingdom Builder, and is one of the few that I will remain willing, if not eager, to play again.
On the whole I have enjoyed my plays of Milestones, but I strongly suspect that I will not play it more than a few more times. Part of this is simply due to how streamlined Milestones is. I prefer my games to have a lot going on, and Milestones is pretty restrained. However, I am not the target audience for this game and I suspect that fans of more middle-weight euros will be very pleased with it.
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
For those who do not know, Android: Netrunner is a two player living card game (LCG) by Richard Garfield and published by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG). It is a remake of the well-regarded Netrunner collectible card games (CCG) released by Wizards of the Coast (WotC) in the late 90s, and has undergone a bit of tweaking as it transitioned from a WotC property to a FFG property. I did not play the original version, so this is mostly a fresh look at the game. I will be comparing to other card games I have played, but will not be commenting on how effective of an update it is.
Core Game Play
In Android: Netrunner each player is either a netrunner or a corporation. Over the course of the game the netrunner attempts to hack into the corporation’s servers, attempting to steal agendas by either getting them from R&D (the corporation’s deck), HQ (the corporation’s hand), the Archives (the corporation’s discard pile), or a remote server (a location established by the corporation and used to complete agendas). At the same time, the corporation is seeking to complete these agenda’s, while establishing defenses around them that will keep the netrunner out.
Game play revolves around the “run”, where a netrunner attempts to attack one of the previously mentioned locations. If there are no defenses, the netrunner is able to simply waltz in, either looking at a single card from the deck or the corporation player’s hand or accessing all of the cards that are in the remote server. In the event that the corporation has established defenses, known as ICE, then the netrunner has to use their own attack software, known as Icebreakers, to try to get through. If the netrunner lacks the ability to break the ICE’s subroutines, then they will be hit by their effects and probably be unable to actually get to their goal.
Resource management is very important. The primary currency of the game (credits) can be a major bottleneck for how effective a runner or corporation is, and it is frequently the case that the player who is able to most effectively manage their credit flow will be able to successfully defeat their opponent.
Similarly, card availability has a big impact on the game. It is possible for the corporation to lose if they get to the bottom of their deck too quickly, while a runner can lose if they are forced to discard, due to damage, when they have zero cards in hand. I have seen players lose due this forced discard, but a corporation loss due to lack of available cards to draw seems unlikely with the current set of cards. I suspect that this will change as expansions are released.
A Game of Bluffing
One thing that sets Android: Netrunner apart from most of the other two player special power card games that I have played is how important bluffing is to the game. The corporation player plays all of their cards face down and does not actually have to pay for them until they choose to reveal them. This allows the corporation player to set up all sorts of different, layered mind games with the help of their available cards. By playing cards that the runner is generally less interested in, such as most assets, or actively harmful to them, such as traps, the corporation can force the runner to make potentially fatal miscalculations as they decide whether they can get away with using valuable credits to get past the corporation’s defenses when the target may not actually be worthwhile.
This bluffing pushes Android: Netrunner above most of the other two player special power card games that I have played. The tension this creates can be delightful for either side, the netrunner has the to decide if it is worth it to spend the resources required to get through the corporation’s ICE, as a wrong decision, particularly if the Corporation has built up effective defenses, can drain so many resources that the player will be put permanently behind. In contrast, the corporation is constantly concerned about whether the particular traps and misdirection they have established are going to result in something concrete or will simply be wasted effort.
Yomi features a similar focus on bluffing, but is also a much more simple game. Android: Netrunner’s focus on tableau building and multilevel resource management are such that it ends up being a deeper game but also a longer game. They are both very thematic and thus offer a very distinct feel. For people who like bluffing in their two player games, I think that it is easy to own both of them without feeling that either one particularly intrudes on the other’s space.
Within that basic framework there is a delightful variety of special powers and possibilities. The current available runners and corporations have a fairly distinctive feel and the deck building rules, which ensure that at least 2/3s of the deck, and possibly even more, belong to the same faction even as players have the option to customize their decks in great detail. Unfortunately, with the core set it does not appear that there is a huge amount of variety available for that customization, but there is still a lot of potential for there to be quite a bit based on future releases.
Comparison To Other Card Games
I am deliberately unfamiliar with most of the other living card games. I have not been willing to invest in them for various reasons and that lack of interest in investment has also translated into a lack of interest in purchase. I have however, played most of the other non-CCG special power card games (and my fair share of Magic), and I think Android: Netrunner stands up well to most of them. I do not think it will ever displace Race For the Galaxy or Mage Knight as my favorite card games, but it still stands well with or above the other card games that I have played.
One of the big attraction factors for customizable games is the potential to create and build a wide variety of different configurations of the game’s unit for each player, whether that is the deck, war band, or whatever. Of course, in doing so you have to be willing to put enough of a financial investment into the game to make that customization worthwhile. The expected dividend of this investment is the amount of time you are able to play and enjoy the game. Of course, in order for this investment to pay off you either need a dedicated partner or a community that is available that allows you to continually play the game and thus make it so your financial investment can turn into fun. A dedicated partner is great, but relies too much on the continued interest of said partner for my tastes. It is very easy for the partner to decide they are no longer interested in the game, and then you have to either find a new partner, and deal with the skill differential or just stop playing. Having a community to play the game against is better, but for a game like Android: Netrunner, which does not have a community yet, this requires you to actively be involved in the community building. I have been involved in community building before, and it is a frustrating activity, that I am not really willing to do again unless it is a game I absolutely and completely love. I like Android: Netrunner quite a bit, but it is not to the point where I love it enough to perform the required building.
In hindsight this is one of the things that is particularly brilliant about the Lord of the Rings LCG. By making it so you can play it solo, it allows for people who like solo and cooperative games to be able to continue to buy and customize their decks without having to rely on the continued interest of other people. I do not personally like solo or cooperative games, so this does not help me, but I cannot help but admire this effectiveness.
I like Android: Netrunner. It is not one of my absolute favorite card games, but I like it a lot, and I strongly suspect that the game will become increasingly deep and interesting as expansions are released. I do not expect that I will personally purchase the game beyond the initial pack, but that is due to the fact that in my personal situation I do not expect to get a good enough return on investment. For those who can, I suspect this will be a very enjoyable and engaging game for years to come.
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
Keyflower, by Richard Breese and Sebastian Bleasdale and published by R&D games, is the latest in Breese’s long line of “Key” games. I am mostly unfamiliar with these games, but was mightily impressed by the 2010 release of Key Market. This, plus a promising description of the mechanics, was sufficient to get me to pre-order the game. The rulebook was released last week, and after digging around a bit in it, I think I have a pretty good feel for what are going to be the key differentiating factors of the game.
Workers, Workers Everywhere
One of Keyflower’s core differentiating factors appears to be how the game handles worker management. At its core, it is a worker placement game, where players take turns placing one (or more workers) on the board in order to activate abilities or get access to new powers. However, unlike other worker placement games these workers are able to be spent permanently or transferred between players, with a steady infusion at the end of each season insuring that no individual player runs out.
Players are able to freely place workers on any tile on the board; even tiles that are currently up for auction are available. However, any worker that you place on another player’s tile ends up in their hands at the end of the turn. You essentially end up trading an opportunity for access now for a reduced ability to take advantage of opportunities on the board later. Workers come in four colors, with these colors having a direct impact on how the players are able to use them. A given tile starts the round as being associated with no color, but once a particular color is used to take an action on a tile, or used to bid on a tile then all further actions on that tile will require using the tiles of the same color. If you know what colors the other players have then you can use this as a weapon, taking advantage of their perceived weaknesses in order to force them into an awkward situation, as they are either unable to take advantage of a particular tile or bid on it.
It is also possible to use a space that has already been activated by another player, but only if they place more workers than a previous player. There is a hard cap of six workers that can be placed on an individual tile, so if a player is willing to be slightly inefficient in their worker usage, it is possible to prevent other players from being able to use a spot, either by making it so it is not possible to meet the minimum worker threshold and not exceed the worker limit, or by taking advantage of other player’s lack of the right color of workers.
Your ability to take advantage of this information is limited by the fact that a player’s current allotment of workers is hidden information. This makes sense to some extent, as a player’s initial allotment of workers is hidden, but as the game goes on it becomes more of a memory game, which is something that I find a bit disappointing. I understand the general desire to use hidden trackable information in order to create an illusion of tension, but I find the possibilities for being able to use known information as weapons to be far more interesting and will likely keep public information public when I play Keyflower, much the same way I did with Key Market.
Ownership of particular tiles is granted at the end of a round based on whoever has the most workers placed adjacent to the tile at that time. When someone else exceeds your bid on a tile, then you are able to move those workers, as a group to another tile. This results in what I suspect will be some pretty interesting interactions, as players are able to interfere with other player’s ability to get needed tiles, forcing those players to bid more with only a minimal effect on the bidding player, as they will lose earlier access to the available tiles without losing the action itself. I am not quite sure how relevant this will end up being, but the interaction itself looks like it has the potential to be entertaining.
The tiles themselves do the sort of things you would expect in a resource conversion game: give you new workers, give you skill tokens, give you resources, or give you victory points. Workers are the primary currency of the game, with skill tokens used either to help get additional workers or resources, and resources used to upgrade tiles, making them more effective, or to get victory points at the end of the game. As far as resource management games go there seems to be relatively little conversion and fairly short logistic chains. While it is helpful to get complimentary tiles, it appears that the important decisions will be mostly in the form of how you use your workers.
Individual tiles have roads and rivers on them to indicate how they can connect with each other. These are important both because you are required to place like on like, Carcassonne style, but also because it determines how far you need to transport goods in order to get them to the tile you want. This is relevant for tiles that need goods for an upgrade or the tiles you can collect in game that score bonus points for you at the end of the based on the number of goods on those tiles.
Keyflower looks like it is going to be a fairly average “good” game rather than anything particularly excellent or awful. For these sorts of games a lot depends on how effective and tension-inducing the interactions are, and that can be difficult to identify based on just the rules. It does look like there will be some interesting things happening in the game, but I suspect it will not be quite good enough. The main thing I will be looking for as I play is if the game is interesting enough, if what it is doing is distinctive and entertaining enough to make it worthwhile in the face of all the other resource conversion worker placement games out there. Right now I am not cancelling my pre-order, but I think it has a reasonable chance of not maintaining its status in my collection for an extended period of time.
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
Terra Mystica, published by Feuerland Spiele and designed by Helge Ostertag (designer of Kaivai), Jens Droegemueller (designer of The Scepter of Zavandor), and Uwe Rosenberg (designer of Bohnanza), is one of the games scheduled to be released at Essen that I was most excited about. This was partially due to the pedigree of the designers. I greatly enjoy the uniqueness of Kaivai, and find The Scepter of Zavandor to be among the better economic snowball games I have played. Similarly Uwe Rosenberg has produced a few games that I enjoy. However, looking at both the details provided with the game images was enough to drive my interest even further. I found both the game’s artwork and format to be attractive, and the hint of a large number of different factions, with associated player powers was also attractive.
As part of my preparation for Essen coverage I e-mailed a number of different publishers asking for reviews copies of their games. One of these publishers was Feuerland Spiele. At first they politely said they would consider my request and get back to me, but eventually I was contacted about proofreading the rulebook in exchange for a copy. I agreed, which enabled me to not only get a copy for review, but also to get a preview of the rulebook. What I saw impressed me.
A Game of Majorities and Tech Trees
The game is essentially one of majorities and tech trees. At the most basic level players will be spending their turns terraforming terrain, using workers to twist an adjacent hexagon from its current terrain to the one that matches the player’s faction’s preferred type and building basic structures. These structures serve both to provide players with income in one of the game’s currencies (workers), and serve as the basis for construction of all of the other buildings in the game.
Advanced structures are upgraded from the basic, dwelling structure, and provide additional income of one or two of the game’s currencies, as well as access to special favor tiles that provide some combination of advancement on the cult track and special powers. Each faction also has a special bonus that they gain when building their “Stronghold”, typically either a new action that only they can take, a large onetime bonus, or a permanent bonus that makes their unique ability better. I like the variety this adds to the game, as it looks like each of the factions will be very different to play, creating both additional variety in how you player your side and in how each faction interacts with the others.
The game’s two tech trees provide the means for players to make the construction of basic structures more effective, by making the costs for terraforming cheaper or by making it so that they can use river tiles to build at greater distances. Advancing on either of these trees, also provides victory points, making it so it is much less costly to do so instead of advancing your board position through construction.
A War Over the World
The focus on terraforming is probably the thing that intrigues me most about the game. The idea of rival groups seeking to use magic to shape the very world to suit their own particular needs is very evocative, as is the conflicts that are engendered by this transformation. A particularly terrain’s type is only locked down after a player places a settlement on to it. Until then another player has free reign in changing any terrain shifted by another player in another, more helpful, direction. I suspect this will result in players only transforming tiles that they can build on immediately or ones that no other player can access, however there are enough awkward transformation opportunities and faction powers that improve the range of terraforming that this will not always be possible, thus incentivizing players to build away from each other.
Luckily there are also strong incentives to build next to other players too. The first of these is the opportunity to take transformation opportunities from other players. The other is the potential for symbiotic interactions. One of the things I liked about Kaivai was how it forced you into a symbiotic relationship, as if you wanted to advance your own position, and you did of course, you had to sell your fish to other player’s huts, allowing them to turn those fish into victory points. Terra Mystica also has some level of symbiosis, but I am not sure whether it will end up being something that is nice to have or something that is required if you want to be successful. Essentially, whenever another plays constructs something adjacent to you, you are able to gain power, one of the currencies of the game, based on the structures you have adjacent to their constructed structure. However, this bonus comes with a victory point cost, so players will need to make decisions about when the trade off is worth it.
Currencies and Cults
The game has three primary currencies: workers, coins, and priests, and one secondary currency: power. Coins and workers are used for the bulk of your building needs, while a combination of coins, workers, and priests are used for tech advancements. Priests are also used in order to advance on the four cult tracks, which provide advancement bonuses every round as well as bonus points at the end of the game. Power is used primarily to allow you to purchase additional amounts of the other currencies, but also enables you to take power actions which generally supply you with these same currencies but at an improved rate. There is a bit of resource conversion and management in the game, so players who are not a fan of this will probably not enjoy Terra Mystica. For those who do, valuations for the various resources are changed significantly enough based on a player’s faction that there should be plenty of replay value in just playing new factions. When you combine that with how the game’s 14 different factions interact with each other, the amount of replay goes through the roof. With how much I like to play my favorite games, I consider this to be a strong positive.
The cult tracks provides an additional opportunity for resource income, as they give an income bonus at the end of every round if you have advanced far enough on the track, and an opportunity for competition, as players score bonus victory points based on relative positions in each cult at the end of the game. The primary way to advance on a track is to place a priest in one of the empty spaces at the bottom of a track. Unfortunately, this leaves players with one less priest available for the rest of the game, which could decrease their maximum income if they invest too heavily into the cult tracks. Going into these tracks also presents some opportunity cost. Spending priests for cult advancement early is more valuable than doing so later in the game, but comes with some opportunity cost, as an early priest placement will also restrict the ability of a player to use that same priest for either tech advancement or some other bonus that will provide dividends throughout the rest of the game. It looks like this will introduce some tough, interesting resource management decisions.
My excitement over Terra Mystica has only increased with reading the rulebook. It was previously a game I was highly anticipating from Essen 2012 and now it is contending with CO2 and Tzolkin: The Mayan Calendar as my most anticipated game. Its potential replayability, strong spatial component, and symbiotic game play are all things I enjoy greatly. I suspect that this game will really only appeal to players who can appreciate eurogames, but for those who do I think it is definitely worth checking out. I am glad I am getting a copy and plan to thoroughly explore it.
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
So I am back from the WBC. It was a pretty satisfying convention though, just like after my visit three years ago I find myself questioning whether I am ever going to come back. It was not because my overall experience at the convention was bad, I had a great deal of fun gaming while I was there, it was simply that I seemed to have fun at the convention despite the convention itself rather than because of it.
The first problem was the location, which was the largest factor in my decision to wait for three years before coming back. Last time I took a small plane from Baltimore to the Lancaster airport, and while the travel time was a bit less then taking the train ended up being, it was a bit nauseating and I decided that I did not really want to do that again. This time around it took just as long to get from Philadelphia to Lancaster as it did for me to fly from Orlando to Philadelphia. Now this would not be a real problem if the `convention itself were fantastic and a great reason to go to Lancaster, but for me, fundamentally, it is not. I am not interested in the tournaments because of my own particular biases about how the games should be played and disinterest in the various alterations they make to the games. Additionally the Lancaster Host seems to be unable to deal with the quantity of people present at the show. By the time the weekend rode around, the place was starting to gain a bit of a funk, and while it was obvious that they did some cleaning every evening, it was also clear that whatever they were doing was not enough, as the environment kept deteriorating throughout the week, with increasingly questionable tables, and disgusting bathrooms. On top of that there was clearly not enough space to accommodate all the desired open gaming and no indication as to where people should go if the official open gaming area was filled. I ended up playing a lot less games on Saturday then I wanted, mostly because I had to spend way too much time wandering around looking for a place to game. We eventually found a room where the A/C had not failed and there appeared to be space for us to play, but even then we were eventually driven to stop because of the noise from a particular late-night party game.
None of this is really the fault of the convention staff, though I think having an open gaming plan for the weekends would help ease some of the strain, but it does point to the fact that perhaps the WBC has outgrown its current location. According to convention staff they have two years left in their contract with the Lancaster Host, and I am hoping that by the time the contract comes up for renewal they will have found a location for the convention that is at least in a city that has a real airport and has the capability to actually deal with a convention of the size that the WBC has achieved. If I get any indication that these things are going to happen I will visit the WBC again. However, until then I will probably investigate other options. I am currently planning on visiting Essen next year, and will probably return to Gen Con the year after that, partly because I have heard that the open gaming there has improved and partly to visit with friends who attend Gen Con but not the WBC. If the WBC continues to be held in remote locations and I find Gen Con to be unsatisfactory again then I will probably continue to attend just BGG.Con every year. It has proven itself to me so far, and them moving to a larger facility this year that is in the airport itself is an added bonus, as it will make it extra easy for those who are traveling by plane to visit.
My complete playlist for the convention was pretty broad: (games in italics are new to me)
Mage Knight: Board Game 8
Glory to Rome 3
Ground Floor 2
Ora et Labora 2
Airlines Europe 1
Andean Abyss 1
Cave Evil 1
D-Day Dice 1
Divided Republic 1
Duck Dealer 1
Race for the Galaxy 1
Tammany Hall 1
Unpublished Prototype 1
I came to the convention without any real game goals, but decided pretty early on that I wanted to try to hit my 50th play of Mage Knight while I was at the convention. I did that thanks to consistently getting in a play every single day. Otherwise my gaming was a mixture of playing old favorites, demoing newer games for the interested and playing new to me games that my friends were encouraging me to try out. Since I imagine most people are more interested in my reactions to the games that I tried that were new to me rather than those where my opinion is well-established, I will focus on those.
I did not have high hopes for Airlines Europe going in. I am not a big fan of Alan Moon games (though Clipper is okay), but Joel is a big fan and it made a lot of best of 2011 lists, so I decided that it was at least worth playing. While I can’t quite say that impressed me I liked it enough that I could see playing it again, though it is not one that I would ever own. Essentially it is a very light stock management game, where you are able to take a single option on your turn, either expanding a company, gaining shares in a company, getting money, or trading in shares for those in a general company that has pre-defined value rather than one defined by placement of airplanes on the board. I mostly enjoyed the tension regarding whether to push the value of a company when you are uncertain about whether you have an actual majority in that company. I am pretty sure however, that that particular item is not sufficient to push my interest in it long term though, which is why am I never going to buy it. I am willing to play it again though.
The star of the show for me, Andean Abyss is a GMT game which was offered to those who P500ed it for convention pick-up at the show. I had not P500ed it, in fact I had almost completely forgotten it existed until I saw some boards set up at the show. The board is quite eye-catching and between that and the description of the game play I received I jumped at the opportunity to play the game.
Essentially, Andean Abyss is a multi-player (I would not play it without four) asymmetric conflict game with a rather interesting action selection mechanism. Essentially the game is driven by a series of event cards, of which the players have a one round look ahead. Each card has a sorted list of the faction symbols on the top of the card as well as two events, which essentially point to two different ways the particular event could happen. The player of each faction, in the order listed on the faction card, is permitted to choose to take an action from the menu or pass. If they take one of three options then the next player has an option to take an associated, more limited option, or pass as do all the other players down the line. Any player who takes one of the options is out of the selection process for the following card. This leads to some very interesting maneuvering as players attempt to get out of phase with each other and try to take advantage of opportunities that arise.
On top of the interesting aspects of the action selection mechanism, the game successfully implements asymmetrical player positions. Each player has a variety of goals and capabilities that intertwine in interesting ways and ensure that the experience of playing each faction is rather different. I played the AUC and it seemed that my personal goals were resulting in me playing a very different game from each of the other players, at the table, though by its nature my victory conditions required me to interact with each of the other factions in very specific ways.
The game does have some elements of ganging up on the leader in order to stop them from winning, but actions are constrained enough, and the game is fluid enough, that even though I found myself almost completely wiped off the board at one point, I still felt that I at least had the potential to win at the end. I was able to drag myself back into contention. Both of these things are important to me as I am not generally a fan of games where you have to try to look like you are in second place before you move in for the win.
I am definitely going to pick up, and will almost certainly review, Andean Abyss. I am sure there were some rules intricacies we missed in our first play, and I look forward to finding out if this game is as deep and exciting as it appeared at first glance. Also, despite its publisher, this game is definitely not a war game. Most euro gamers who can appreciate more strategically complex games should feel quite comfortable picking it up, as when it is boiled down to its base parts it is an area control and resource management game with a fun action selection mechanism.
Assyria was a pleasant surprise. It has the generic middleweight euro vibe that would normally put me off, however, the strong opinion that Ben has for it was enough to convince me that it would be worth trying as I was looking through the library for something to play. My compatriots were willing to give it a shot so while Kurt tried to remember the rules Bronwen and I, whom I had not spoken to since I was last at WBC in 2009, talked about what had happened since we last saw each other and I showed her videos of my adorable cat (I have a problem, I know. Do not enable me unless you want to be subjected to a plethora of cat pictures, videos, and stories. )
The game is essentially about managing the rise and fall of your civilization in the face of varied grain harvests. Each spot on the board has an associated grain symbol and after the relatively constrained round to round placement, you are forced to remove huts that do not contain those symbols. The ability to manage the risk that comes with these placements and trying to facilitate a reasonable amount of round-to-round board presence in the face of variable grain harvests seems to be the most interesting part of the game. There is a second layer of resource management decisions beyond this, mostly in the form of decisions between VPs and cash, but these seem to be much less interesting then the spatial parts of the game, and the ability to maintain a tenuous hold on your civilization in the face of crop shortages.
I am pretty sure I will not buy Assyria, as I am not sure it has quite the interplay variability I desire, but I found the core mechanism entertaining and intriguing enough that I would gladly play it again.
I am not a fan of cooperative games, except Sentinels of the Multiverse, and I am not a fan of Yahtzee variants, except for King of Tokyo, so D-Day Dice had little shot of working for me in the first place. Geof wanted to try it out though, so I played it with him and ultimately found it was not that bad and I actually enjoyed it more than I typically do games of either type. D-Day Dice makes no great innovations in cooperative game play, but I found the way that the dice were used, the special power purchases, and the rather varied challenges that the different boards presented to be varied enough that it was worth playing, even if it was not worth me buying. Essentially I put this game in the same bucket as Airlines Europe: one I would be willing to play again but have no need to ever own, and one I am unlikely to ever request.
Divided Republic is a card-driven election game where players are each representing one of the parties competing in the presidential election of 1860. Players have special powers based on their political party, but most of the differentiation comes from the cards that you draw. Events are strong and can give you a pretty decisive advantage in a particular location (or set of locations) or knock another player down. While on one that is good, as it keeps a game that has no sudden death victory conditions dynamic, it also makes the game a bit chaotic and prone to frustrating take that game play as everything you work for is constantly knocked down while some other player successfully moves towards their goal.
Game play itself is remarkably similar to 1960: Making of a President, though I found Divided Republic to generally be a lot more tense then 1960. This is partially due to the power of the cards but also was in part because you simply had to deal with potential attacks from three different players rather than just one, making the entire game state more interesting. Unfortunately the same things that caused this tension also push the chaos level a bit outside of my comfort zone. I suspect that in general I am much more willing to deal with powerful card effects and the implications of them in a two player game, particularly if you have the sort of tiered decks that exist in Twilight Struggle or 1989, and thus can know when to expect them or at least start to plan for them. Other card games with particularly strong effects that I enjoy require some level of building towards them, so you have times to make tactical decisions regarding them rather than simply being randomly blown out of the water. With Divided Republic you can be subject to strong, targeted effects that wreck your ability to be successful, with limited ability to plan around or prepare for them, and for me that is frankly too much. The underlying structure of Divided Republic is not bad, but these effects are sufficient that I am unwilling to play it again. I think there is clearly a market for this game based on this structure, I am just not part of it.
Duck Dealer is a logistics game with lots of superficial similarities to Merchant of Venus. However, where Merchant of Venus is largely based on taking advantage of luck-driven opportunities and steadily increasing scarcity in order to race to a financial finish line, Duck Dealer is a logistical game where you slowly accumulate action tokens before releasing them in a bit of frenzied activity, collecting goods and establishing markets and factories across the board. I found the experience of playing Duck Dealer to be both enjoyable and frustrating at the same time. I found figuring out the particular chains of actions required to accomplish your goals before other players were able to swoop in and lock down a particular location to be enjoyable but I absolutely hated how much analysis paralysis it induced in me. I generally pride myself on making quick, effective moves even in longer games but that was simply not happening in Duck Dealer and it drove me a little crazy as a result. So I found myself a bit torn, I enjoyed my play of the game, but I hate what it did to me. Maybe future plays will be better as I have my mind wrapped around the system a bit better now, but I fear that they will not and that alone is enough to keep my disinterested in acquiring the game. Maybe if I can get my playtime down to a reasonable level I will get it at some time in the future, but right now I do not think it is a wise idea.
They had an Asmodee representative demoing Seasons at the WBC, and as it had been specifically recommended to me, I brought a group (of four) over to try it. Unfortunately, this game almost completely failed for me and probably stands up as the most unpleasant experience I had during the entire convention. Even with the basic card set there are tons of lock down and denial effects that essentially make you pay another player victory points in order to accomplish something. Even accumulation was difficult as multiple player were able to get powers that let them discard an energy in order to cause other players to lose victory points, resulting in a situation where you had to spend victory points in order to do something, and even if you accumulated some victory points, you were likely to lose them before your next turn, which was rather unpleasant.
I have since heard some indications that Seasons is perhaps at its worst as a four player game, and that I would probably have had a much better experience with two players, and this might be quite right, but I doubt I am going to go back to investigate. The presence of strong denial/lock-down strategies is unpleasant enough that I consider it a pretty major black mark against the game. While a player should not be able to do everything they want, having game states that exist where a player cannot do anything is not conducive to getting people to want to playing the game again, and the two and three player card game market is competitive enough that I do not feel any strong need to explore it further.
Tammany Hall was another game that I played mostly based on the recommendation of friends, and while I can understand its appeal, it is another one that ultimately failed to work for me. The game’s mechanical structure is solid. There are interesting contests two or more-way blind bidding contests for control of districts, multiple, interwoven, levels of area control, and a neat mechanic where the current leader hands out special abilities to the other players. Unfortunately, layered across the top of this is an unfettered negotiation game where players have limited constraints in how they are able to effectively attack each other. I am not really against negotiation games per se, though it is hardly my favorite mechanic, but I do dislike games where most of the game is taking turns beating on the leader until someone sneaks through for the win, and unfortunately that is what Tammany Hall ultimately is. I suspect for those that like negotiation-based beat on the leader games, this one will work quite well (as its average rating of 7.25) indicates, but if you dislike that you probably should stay away.
I ended up liking Trajan way more than I expected to, as I typically dislike Feld’s games, but unfortunately the color issues were pretty severe and I found it very difficult to effectively use the mancala as I frequently had to ask what color particular pieces were and how they matched up to the colors on the Trajan tiles. This pretty much killed my interest in exploring the game further as the mancala really is a driving force behind the game, and if I cannot effectively strategize around it there is little use in me playing it.
Rating: 5 (probably a 7 without the color issues)
So that is it! I ended up playing a lot more new to me games then I was expecting, and while most of them did not work for me for one reason or another I am pretty excited about getting a copy of Andean Abyss and exploring it deeply. I am also looking forward to BGG.Con. It remains the best of the board game conventions that I have attended, and I am looking forward to seeing the new hotel and how well the staff handles the increased sized of the convention.
Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
I am currently riding the Amtrack between Philidelphia and Lancaster. The ride is pleasant enough but each time I travel to the WBC I am reminded how much of a pain it is to get there and this time is no different; I suspect it will be another few years before I visit the convention again. This is not to say the convention is not enjoyable. It is. But the travel annoyances are such that I would generally prefer to visit conventions that do not require as much for my attendance. I suspect that the next US-based convention I visit besides BGG.Con will be Gen Con, to see if the board gaming situation has improved since I last visited.
On the bright side I will be seeing friends both old and new very soon. In addition to Kurt and John, both of whom I have gamed with at least a handful of times before, I will also spend a few days enjoying the company of Geof Gambill, host of the Long View podcast. There has been some discussion of us recording an episode on site, but we will see what happens.
Speaking of The Long View, a previously recorded episode on which I was present as a guest, for the game Brass, was released this week. You can check it out over at www.2d6.org. It was definitely fun recording the episode and between this and my recent guest stint on Wooden Cubes. I am starting to both feel comfortable with the format and appreciate it. In addition to these two podcasts I also have been listening to the Dice Tower (due to its reach) and Ludology (because I enjoy some of their topics). The Long View is definitely my favorite though. If you like podcasts at all I highly recommend checking it out.
I still do not see myself changing my opinion about the general utility of video reviews. While I admit that they are useful for those who want a rules explanation that is not something that generally interests me. As you may have guessed, I prefer slightly more in-depth fare that is difficult to get across in video regardless of the commentators intent. The fact that I do most of my Internet consumption in situations where video is not appropriate only deepens my disinterest. For those of you out there who do appreciate the commentary that video supplies, what is the appeal? Is there something I am missing?
Anyway, my train is getting close to the station so I must bid you farewell. As you might imagine there will be no article this week. Hopefully I will be able to return with a fun convention report. Have a good week!
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