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On Gamer's Games

Wherein I Discuss Those Games Described As Gamer's Games

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A Few Questions

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

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

Thanks! I really appreciate you taking the time to read my blog. If it was not for you, I would not be doing this.
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Tue Dec 4, 2012 4:26 pm
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My Game Weight Preferences

Jesse Dean
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While game weight is perhaps not the most effective metric, its use on BoardGameGeek has caused it to effectively enter the board game lexicon. While I do wish we had more precise tools to analyze game complexity, depth, and difficulty, it can still be a useful tool for dialog as long as you are willing to accept this imprecision.

While thinking about Hawaii and Pantheon for the purpose of writing a review, I became more acutely aware of my general dissatisfaction with middle weight eurogames. This prompted me to take a look at the games I have played and owned and how my perspective of middle weight eurogames compares to my overall preferences for heavy (weight 3+) or light (weight <2) games.

It turns out that of the 84 games that I rate 7 or higher, which is the general threshold for which I consider myself to like a game, only 20 are what I consider to be middle weight. Of those 20 (listed below), only 8 of them are what I consider eurogames: Chicago Express, Clippers, German Railways, Neue Hemat, and Ra, Texas & Pacific, The Manhattan Project, and Vikings. This is not a particularly diverse list of eurogames. Chicago Express, Clippers, German Railways, Neue Heimat, and Texas & Pacific are all opaque Winsome-style games that are notoriously outside of the general trends in eurogames design and development, and I know people who argue that they are in an entirely different category, train games, rather than being eurogames. Ra, The Manhattan Project, and Vikings are all traditional eurogames. The rest of my middle weight favorites are a mixture of war games (Command & Colors: Ancients, Hellenes: Campaigns of the Peloponnesian War, and Sekigahara: Unification of Japan), complex card games (Glory to Rome, Innovation, Puzzle Strike, Race For the Galaxy, and Sentinels of the Multiverse), and old-school American-style games (Merchants of Venus).


As my ratings decrease, so does the average weight of my rated games. The first light games do not appear until I hit rating 7 (Crokinole and Zing!) and heavy games completely disappear by the time I hit my lowest ratings. I have played more heavy games than mediums or light. Fully 45% of all games I have played are heavy, with 39% being medium, and a mere 16% being light games. I suspect both the average ratings and relative quantities are based on the fact that over the last two years I have become much more aware of my general preference for heavier games and have largely self-selected away from games that are lighter. Based on this data, I think that maybe I should start self-selecting away even more aggressively, outside of the three primary categories I listed above (train games, war games, and complex card games).

So what are your general game weight preferences? Do you find that you tend to only enjoy certain types of game in a particular weight class? Is my recent purchase of Magic Realm going to push my average weight of my favorite games up?

Medium Games I Like
Chicago Express
Clippers
Command & Colors: Ancients
German Railways
Glory to Rome
Hellenes: Campaigns of the Peloponnesian War
Innovation
Merchants of Venus
Neue Heimat
Puzzle Strike
Ra
Race For the Galaxy
Sekigahara: Unification of Japan
Sentinels of the Multiverse
Summoner Wars: Master Set
Texas & Pacific
The Manhattan Project
Vikings
Yomi
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Sat Apr 14, 2012 11:16 pm
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How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love A Lean Game Collection

Jesse Dean
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As a child and younger adult I had a strong collector instinct. It started with baseball cards, but by the time I hit my teens I was collecting various Collectible Card Games (CCGs) and role playing games, and I would get things just because they might be useful some day or found something about them to be particularly appealing. Even when I first started into Collectible Miniature Games (CMGs) this habit continued, and by the time I reached the end of my exploration of CMGs I had thousands of the little suckers. I still have a gigantic number of them in my apartment in bins and boxes, mostly due to my laziness in going through the trouble of organizing them by set and then selling them. So based on this history it is pretty natural to assume that I would end up following a similar tack with board games, with a collection in the hundreds. However, with a collection that hovers between 50 and 60 games, and has for years, I have avoided this particular tendency. So the real question is why I have done this and why I would want to do this.

I have never been a real game dabbler. For years, I really only played D&D, with a foray into CCGs in the mid-nineties and a more involved romance with CMGs in the 2000s. However, all of these lifestyle games enabled you to collect within the game. There were always new minis or cards to try with your older ones and new books to provide additional monsters to battle or characters to play. Buying these additions might make you use your older purchases less, but you were able to use as much or as little of the new content as you thought was valuable. I particularly enjoyed the depth of exploration that playing the CMGs allowed. There was a pretty vast game space available there to explore and my enjoyment of this exploration has not diminished (thus my enjoyment of heavier, meatier games).

Board games are mostly different. There are a few lifestyle board games, but most board games are intended to offer discrete experiences that are intended to be explored on their own rather than in conjunction with previous purchases. So while new board games may be able to allow you to enjoy the experience of board gaming as a whole, they do not provide for additional depth to a previous play experience. This of course has its advantages, as you usually do not need to make quite the same investment in time or money to get involved in a board game as you would in a typical lifestyle game, making it easier to involve more casual players or for people who prefer the more varied experience that playing a wide range of board games provide.

Of course there is a downside to this in that the plethora of available games and the constant influx of new games encourage people to just try out a new game rather than continue exploring a particular one, especially if one player in the group is less than satisfied with other players’ favorites. Involvement in any of the prominent board game hobby sites only encourages this further, as the inevitable focus is on discussing new games. People want to know what to buy, what will provide them the greatest new thrill and serve as an excellent addition to their ever growing collections. So it becomes unusual for any particular game to be explored in depth, even if the game deserves this exploration.

I am not immune to this particular affliction, and it has become even worse now that I have entered the world of board gaming criticism, but I have come to discover that keeping a smaller collection allows me to more effectively explore games both in breadth and in depth. By constantly cycling out games in my collection that no longer meet either my particular standards and desires or those of my group I can ensure that even while exploring some fun new games I can also keep both myself and others in my group focused on playing a smaller set of games a lot rather than it being a more scattershot affair. Sometimes this results in me getting rid of games I actually like; I sold my copy of Labyrinth simply because of lack of two player gaming opportunities and I suspect that I will ultimately get rid of Bios Megafauna, Rex: Final Days of the Empire, and Upon A Salty Ocean because of the fact that group interest in these titles is low.

Of course, based on my previous tendencies it is likely that I would have never come to this conclusion if outside forces had not forced me to experiment with how a smaller collection might be good and ways to effectively manage said collection. The first of these pressures is simply based on space. I share an apartment with my long-term partner and while I like board games I do not like the idea of them taking over our available living space. I do have room in some of my cabinets for more games, but I have noticed games that are not in my central bookcase are less likely to come into play and if it is relegated to the cabinets, it probably is one I probably should try to get rid of anyway. The second is the afore-mentioned partner who tends to start teasing me whenever she thinks my collection has become too large. There is some level of seriousness behind the teasing of course, our comfort zones for the quantity of board games in the house is almost certainly very different, but it helped me to keep my collection small earlier in my days as a board gamer when I was more inclined to just let it grow.

Now, of course, my tendencies are so ingrained that we do not even really talk about it anymore. While I am constantly buying new games, every few months I reach the point where I am getting uncomfortable with the size of the collection and I purge any games that are on the borderline between owning and not owning. Originally I handled this mostly through trades, particularly math trades, but I eventually reached the conclusion that the trades were not actually worth it. Since my local game store is also an on-line retailer, and when I do order from others it is usually enough games to get free shipping, the fact that I had to pay for shipping my own game greatly decreased the value of the transaction. Selling, where the shipping is paid for by the buyer simply makes more financial sense for me, and what is what I focus on to this day. Brand new games tend to be much easier to get rid of then older games, so being an early adopter has additional advantages beyond those involved in being part of the initial discussion of a game.

It also helps that my tastes are defined enough that it is usually not that difficult to figure out which games are going to work for at least 30 plays (my requirement for longer games) or 100 plays (my requirement for shorter games). Even if I do not think that I have explored the extend of a game, if I can see a point in the near future where I will reach that extent it is very easy for me to get rid of a game. Of course, sometimes I am wrong and end up keeping a game that does not quite make it to my goal, but that is something I am willing to live with. The only game that I sold or traded and felt any regret afterwards is Puerto Rico, and now I am trying to get rid of my new copy again, so it seems that the reacquisition was the mistake rather than the initial rejection.

The result of this is that the games in my collection have a pretty high total number of plays. Even the less frequently played games in my collection, that are not on their way out, are sitting at 4-5 plays rather than 1 or zero, and almost half of my games have been played twenty or more times. It also has allowed me to dive deeply into new releases that are my favorites; as of today I have played Mage Knight 30 times with other people and have 20 non-solo plays of Ora et Labora.

I am pretty happy with this set-up. It allows me to participate pretty extensively in conversations about the new games I care most about, find great new games for my collection, while still keeping my overall costs fairly low and my plays of the games I like high. I can understand why other people like to have large collections, but it is not for me. A small collection allows me to focus on the style of gaming that I care about most.
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Wed Mar 7, 2012 7:39 pm
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It Seems I Made My Best Game of 2011 List Too Soon (Part 2)

Jesse Dean
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There is always some risk that when making one’s end of year list so close to the end of that year that it will end up being inaccurate in some ways. Either you can find that some game you put on their isn’t as good as you thought it was (see: Warrior’s & Traders) or you will happen upon a game that is so exceptional that if you had played it prior to the end of the year it would have definitely made it to your list. This is what has happened to me with Cave Evil, by Emperors of Eternal Evil. It first came to my attention when I saw it on Michael Barnes’ end of year list behind Mage Knight and Eclipse. While I do not always agree with Mr. Barnes about when he is critical about a game his enthusiasm, particularly for meatier games, is enough for me to at least consider a game, and what he had to say about Cave Evil was sufficient to push me over the edge into purchasing it.

I am both happy and upset I did. I am happy because it is a fun and unique game, and I think it is absolutely worth owning for anyone who likes tactical combat games. Before I was a board gamer I played competitive collectible miniature games and Cave Evil definitely scratched the same sort of itch, but rather than the building your squad before the game starts you have a unique and competitive resource system that lets you build your squad during the game, which adds for a fun bit of dynamism that is not present in my favorite CMGs. The fact that they are able to alter the structure of the board during the game itself adds to this. While mastering the environment of a new map was always fun in Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures the ability to create and destroy your own passages is equally, if not more fun.

On the downside, the game does feature player elimination, which can be awkward at times and may eventually kill its ability to be played with most of my group due to their distaste for this particular mechanic. I empathize with this particular distaste, but I think the game is good enough to overcome such an issue, though if they continue to disagree with me it will not matter because I will not be able to play.
Cave Evil is probably the most Ameritrash (AT) game that I have played in a while and I have actually had some of my local opponents express surprise at my interest in this game, despite the fact that it fits well with the sorts of games that originally attracted my attention to the hobby: Dungeons & Dragons, Magic, and Collectible Miniatures Games. When I first got into board gaming I largely focused on eurogames, with my enjoyment of Arkham Horror being the only real break from that general trend, probably due to a fatigue and general dissatisfaction with the sort of AT games I had played up until that point. So I see playing games like Cave Evil and Mage Knight less as a divergent change rather than a return to my roots. Of course the question is why is this happening?

One possibility is that I am just getting over my burn out in that style of games, and thus am much more willing to look at them then I once was and this has resulted in me being more open to play a game like Cave Evil then I was at previous points. Of course this willingness has not extended to an interest in games like Quarriors or Kings of Tokyo; I still retain my lack of interest in lighter games of this style.

It could also be that my natural exploration of boardgaming in general has led me back to AT games as the last big area that requires major definition of my interests. I already have a good idea of what I like in war games and euro games, what works and does not in AT board games is a bit more vague. Since a major part of my enjoyment of board games is about deep exploration, both of individual games as well as the genre in general this uncertainty and lack of definition is alluring.

Of course it is also possible that rather than it simply being about a change in my perceptions of AT releases or my desire for exploration, it could simply be about a change in the sort of designs that have been released. Mage Knight and Eclipse are both hybrid designs more than anything else and Cave Evil seems to be deeper and meatier then a lot of AT designs released in the last few years while at the same time effectively avoiding some of the pitfalls that are common in games that are highly interactive.

As it stands, I expect to continue paying attention to meatier games of all styles in the future and I expect to be paying special attention to AT designs in order to continue to investigate whether it is my preferences that are shifting, if the style of designs is changing, or if it is some combination of both.

If you have not seen it already my review of Cave Evil is here: A Deeply Rewarding Experience

So are there any deeper and meatier AT board games released over the last few years that you have particularly enjoyed? Anything I missed that I should check out?
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Thu Feb 16, 2012 8:52 pm
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Two Different Styles of Civilization Games

Jesse Dean
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My absolute favorite style of video game is the civilization game. Something about needing to manage the multiple facets of an empire while expanding and prospering in the face of other civilizations attempts to do the same just works for me, and I have spent thousands upon thousands of hours playing various implementations of this idea. The most well known of these is the Civilization series, of which I have played every game except for the first one, but after a decade of playing that series almost exclusively I have slowly but steadily been introduced to other games, most notably Europa Universalis III (EU III) and Crusader Kings (CK), that have redefined what I want in a civilization game. As a result of this, most board game civilization games, which tend to follow the model seen in the Civilization series, have increasingly felt lacking.

The Civilization series of video games, regardless of the particular bells and whistles associated with each iteration, follow a general model that has been translated into some very popular board games such as Eclipse, Through the Ages, and Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game. In it you start with a limited knowledge of your environment, and through exploration learn about the world and its resources. By exploiting these resources you grow from a small nation to an empire and win either through military dominance, technological advancement, or cultural achievements (or some combination thereof).

On the whole it provides for a pretty entertaining narrative, and I completely understand why these sorts of games are very, very popular. However, too many board games hew to this particular narrative a little bit too closely, which is good for the sake of ease of entry, but after so much time focused on the video game, and board game, iterations of this I admit I am a bit tired of it, particularly since most of these games focus on combat at the expense of other, equally interesting styles of conflict.

Paradox Interactive, the video game company that publishes EU III and CK, publishes a large number of video games that are good at appealing to more historically minded gamers. They do follow the general civilization game model, in that you end up managing the economic and military aspects of your empire, but they add additional levels of conflict, in the form of diplomatic relationships and trade, that were very important historically but have been largely ignored or abstracted in games of this style. While wars and alliances are powerful options, they are not the only available tools in undermining and interacting with other nations or achieving civilization goals.

So with my shift in preferences in video games, I have also found a shift in preferences in my civilization building board games. Sid Meier’s Civilization: The Board Game was perhaps the first casualty of this, in that it roughly coincided with the beginning of my disenchantment with the genre; it was such a great distillation of the Civilization series that it allowed me to begin to crystallize my thoughts on why I was no longer happy with games built on that model. My dissatisfaction with that model is also why Eclipse and Through the Ages do not quite work for me anymore. They are both very, very good examples of that model, but when I no longer am particularly happy with their baseline it is difficult to be completely happy with a game built on that baseline.

The best examples of what I want are probably found in some of the two player hybrid card-driven games, many of which are published by GMT. Hellenes: Campaigns of the Peloponnesian War and Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage are good examples of this as they have a fairly strong political component despite being largely focused on sieges and battles, but they pale in comparison to Labyrinth: The War on Terror and Twilight Struggle. Both of these games include wars as tools that can be used to help accomplish your national objects, but they also focus a great deal on other methods of conflict, with coups and contests to influence secondary nations that are important to the conflict in Twilight Struggle, and insurgency and counter-insurgency actions in Labyrinth.

Multi-player games that provide a similarly deep look at multi-player conflict are a bit sparser. Of recent games, I find Colonial: Europe’s Empires Overseas to be one of the better examples of this. While you can and do have the ability to make war on other players, a large part of the game is focused on direct non-military competition. In addition to influence wars over colonies, it is possible to inflict privateers on opponent’s merchant fleets, incite native revolts, and even potentially push other countries into revolution. The importance of trade is highlighted rather than either ignored or abstracted away, though I admit even with my appreciation in how Colonial handles it, I would appreciate slightly more differentiation in this area then is actually present.

Because of its comparisons to EU III, I was quite optimistic Warriors & Traders would also work for well for me. With a focus on country unifications I was hopeful that it would end up providing a multi-faceted look at how these countries founders used a combination of diplomacy, bribes, and force in order to bring their burgeoning nations together. Unfortunately, it mostly ended up being a somewhat scripted, with a focus on combat that is maintained by the sheer difficulty of fights against barbarians and how quickly they escalate in power. It seems that this was meant to make the game challenging, and in that it is succeeds, but it also makes the game a bit too narrow, with only a few reasonable options available at any given moment of time. It does not help that most of the conflict is against the game itself rather than other players. You can trade, and I do very much like how different levels of trading technology can make a trade valuable to both players involved simultaneously, but otherwise interaction is limited to forcing barbarians to retreat into territories your opponents want, and thus make them difficult to impossible for them to claim, or declare war, which is so costly in actions that it is frequently not worth pursuing.

Here I Stand, also fits this model well and with a great deal of depth, but at the cost of extended game length. There are opportunities to politically influence third parties, fight out religious conflicts, compete for the new world, and even engage in piracy in addition to engaging in extended wars. The costs and opportunities of the conflict are very well handled with the card play, and the diplomatic opportunities are heightened by the ability to make mechanically meaningful deals, particularly as the game is designed so that other players will have things that you want that cannot simply be claimed by taking one of their cities.

The fact that probably the best example of a multi-player implementation of this style of game, Here I Stand, is so lengthy is probably a good indication that to have the full experience I desire will require a game that is outside my typical comfort zone for time. I can spend dozens of hours on a single game of EUIII or CK, and distilling it down into something that is similarly rich, yet still playable in a three or four hours is a daunting task. Some additional levels of abstraction are required, but at some point this abstraction shifts too far from something that is useful, and you end up with something like Age of Empires III or Endeavor, which discard what was interesting about these conflicts in favor of something that is bland and largely uninteresting.

It will be interesting to see if someone is able to reach this perfect midpoint between playability and breadth. Colonial and Here I Stand both come close, from opposite sides of the spectrum, but are not quite there. Still, I am pretty happy that I have finally been able to identify what I want in a civilization game and why I find games such as Through the Ages and Eclipse, which are generally well loved by the gaming community, to come up short. They are very good games for their particular style, but it is simply a style that I am just not that interested in anymore.
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Thu Feb 2, 2012 5:24 pm
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Mob Ties, Tigris & Euphrates, and Acceptable Levels of Direct Player Interaction

Jesse Dean
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In case you have not seen I wrote a review of Mob Ties: A Million Gangland Murders. Please check it out if you have time!

One thing that playing Mob Ties, and also revisiting Tigris & Euphrates, has made me reexamine is my overall stance on acceptable levels of player interaction. In the past I have been a fairly strong proponent of games that are mechanically meaty yet still have fairly high levels of player interaction, games like Dominant Species, Eclipse, or the various 18XX, where you are putting together an intricate web of actions that can have a big effect on both your own position as well as that of other people. For the most part, I still am a fan of those sorts of games, but playing Tigris & Euphrates and Mob Ties has made me realize that I do have an outer bound on my tolerance for direct player interaction, and both of them are outside of it. The fact that Tigris & Euphrates is outside of this bound is particularly disappointing to me, as it was probably my first “favorite board game” once I started to truly engage in hobby board gaming, and now I have to accept the game is mostly not interesting to me anymore.

In Mob Ties, you have five pawns called mobsters, each of which has varying respect levels and capabilities. These mobsters are used to collect income, due to votes based on respect levels, and are also required to directly affect another player’s mobsters, through the playing of action cards that are used for attacks. The first part of this interaction, where you maneuver for votes and can threaten, bribe and cajole each other in order to work out deals during the various situations in which the game requires votes to determine results, is pretty neat. Unfortunately the card-based interaction pushes the game out of my comfort level. Since it is fairly easy to eliminate each other’s mobsters, and because you have so few of them, it is almost trivially easy to be knocked out of the game by someone else misreading the game situation and making a poor decision as a result of that. The elimination of mobsters is not in of itself a problem, it is the overall level of impact that the elimination has on your position that makes me uncomfortable.

In Tigris & Euphrates my problem is similar in that you can affect each other’s positions casually with a great impact on the overall game state, though in this case the casualness of the ability to affect each other’s position matters to me more than the overall impact of the effect. In Tigris it is incredibly easy, sometimes requiring little more than the placement of a tile or two, to start a conflict that will end up benefiting a third party much more than it helps either the instigator or their target. I have seen countless games won or lost based on these decisions to start external conflicts, as players do not think out the secondary consequences of their actions and give a big windfall to a third party.

It can be argued that in either instance that skilled play among all players can pretty much resolve these problems, and push them into an entirely new level of challenge and entertainment and that is true, but I am not part of a highly skilled group of players for either game, so that argument is invalid for my particular situation and getting to that point is simply not going to happen with Mob Ties thanks to a negative reaction from my local playing group. For Tigris & Euphrates I have pretty much ruined the game for any local play by playing it a couple of hundred times on-line, so I am probably going to simply not play it anymore, since there are other games that I find more enjoyable, even with groups that have mixed player skill levels.

So playing Mob Ties and revisiting Tigris & Euphrates has made me realize that while I like for players to be able to effect each other’s position in games with more than two players, I prefer to make it so they have to work to do so. Making it so that you need to work to have a big impact on someone else’s position is much more acceptable to me then being able to do so casually.

What are your own personal limits for player interaction?
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Wed Jan 18, 2012 3:30 pm
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Mage Knight and the Problem of Too Many Good New Games

Jesse Dean
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In case you didn’t already see it, I have posted my review of Mage Knight the Board Game. I am pretty happy with it, which means it is the first adventure game since Arkham Horror and the first deck building game since Puzzle Strike that I actually like. Of course, neither style of game is one that I particularly favor so if you normally like either style of game, which means either this game is not really geared towards fans of those styles of games, or is a truly excellent representation of both styles of games. I believe the latter is the case, but I imagine there will be those who differ.

My aversion to adventure games has emerged largely due to my fatigue with generic fantasy settings. I played role-playing games (RPGs) from 1992 until 2010, with the vast majority of that time being focused on Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). By the time I quit I had been bored with RPGs for years. It simply took me a while to realize that I wanted two very different things out of RPGs and that I would be better served by separating them out into two entirely different activities. Because of my large amount of exposure to fantasy themed games and media during my long RPG career I have reached the point where a fantasy theme actually makes me less likely to purchase a game rather than increasing the odds or at least being a non-factor. Fortunately, my bias has rarely been an issue as most fantasy themed games are pretty awful or are adventure games, and thus usually end up seeming like pale imitations of D&D. Arkham Horror has been the one exception as far as adventure games go both because it is not fantasy themed and it is a pretty solid game. The fact that my girlfriend also enjoyed the game certainly helped too, as it was something we could play together. So the fact that I like Mage Knight is particularly exceptional because of its need to overcome my bias against fantasy board games.

Since I pre-ordered Mage Knight, I will be picking up my copy today at the Coolstuff Inc. game night. I have every intention of getting two plays in tonight, with the goal of teaching it to as many people as possible as enjoyably as possible. I would like to get as many opportunities to play Mage Knight as possible, since this game has the advantage of being one that I think will both reward repeat plays and will be enjoyable regardless of relative experience levels. Of course, in an ideal world I would play this frequently with a dedicated group, with everyone’s skills growing at a relatively even pace, but with a seven game head start, a large number of locals who are interested in learning the game, and a small number of local owners, I am not sure that is a reasonable goal at this time.

Unfortunately, my desire to deeply explore Mage Knight is going to quickly run into what may be an insurmountable obstacle: my desire to deeply explore all the other very good games that have been released in 2011. Ora et Labora is going to arrive before the end of the month (and so far I prefer Ora et Labora to Mage Knight), Eclipse should be here in the next week or two, and I still want to dive more deeply into Colonial, Dungeon Petz, Space Empire 4X, Upon A Salty Ocean, and Vanuatu. Then there are all the other games that I currently own and love that I would like to explore more thoroughly. This means that I am going to have to make some tough choices about what I want to play over the next few months. Some of these choices will be decided by my extended gaming group, other choices will be made by available group size, and the rest will be determined by the whim of the moment, but inevitably one or more of these games will not get the amount of play time I would prefer out of them. The question is what to do about it?

Assuming that I only play a game with the optimal player counts, which is typical for me, and that I focus mostly on playing games from late 2011 and onward, this is the likely breakdown of group size vs. games played:


*1 is the highest play priority
**Assumed ideal player number, I strongly suspect that this number will be revised with more thorough exploration.
Eclipse gets a very high play priority simply because its rating is the one that is most in flux. I had certain concerns after my first play, and I want to see whether my concerns are valid or not, if they are then it could pretty easily move up to an 8 or a 9. Dungeon Petz and Upon A Salty Ocean are also ones that I don’t think I have explored enough and who have very tentative ratings at this point, though I do think that they are more likely to stay in their current position then Eclipse is. The most difficult decisions will come when I have three players, as that is where Ora et Labora and Mage Knight are directly competing. I may have to try to arrange more three player sessions in order to ensure that both get frequent plays.

So I have a general plan of what I want to play and when I will play it, but we will have to see how effectively this translates into actual play time. I will probably take a look at how frequently these games really got played in about 6 months. It will be interesting to see how well my intentions translate into reality.
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Wed Dec 7, 2011 7:19 pm
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2011 in Review: Part 1 (My Games Played)

Jesse Dean
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While it is a bit early to be looking at the games I’ve played in 2011, I think on the whole it is fairly safe to do so now. I expect that I will play no new games in December, and most of my effort will be expended in further exploration of the new games rolling in: Eclipse, Mage Knight, Ora et Labora, Upon A Salty Ocean, and Singapore (The last two just arrived last night!). Here is the list: 2011 Plays


Games Played by Quantity - 2011


Games Played by Rating - 2011
*This is A Few Acres of Snow, whose rating I will raise once its issue is resolved.

So on the whole, I am pretty happy with my gaming in 2011. The total number of plays (even when accounting for an expected 40-50 plays in December) is definitely lower than in previous years, which is unfortunate, but can be accounted for by a combination of gaming burn-out in the Spring, an increased focus on 18XX games during the same period, and the frequent non-meeting of my Sunday group. So even when I was gaming I wasn’t gaming nearly as much. This has turned around since summer hit, and I’ve been able to maintain a pretty steady rate since then.

The bulk of the games I have played I have been able to get more than one play out of, which I think is another promising item. While I suppose this has reduced the variety of games I’ve played, particularly in comparison with previous years, I am much happier being able to explore a smaller group of games in greater detail. I suspect a major part of this increased concentration is that I have largely completed my exploration of older games that I am interested in seeing and have a better idea of the sorts of games that are coming out that might interest me. Thus I am much less likely to find a game that I am going to only want to play once, and most of my single plays were either revisitations of older games that I like but only got to play once this year (such as 1830, Age of Steam, Battlestar Galactica, Brass, Clippers Inca Empire, and Kaivai) are ones that are very new and I have not yet had a chance to explore in more detail (such as Dungeon Petz, Eclipse, The Manhattan Project, MIL (1049), Singapore, and Upon A Salty Ocean). Since most of the items in the second category are expected to hit this month (and the second two arrived last night), I imagine that all of them will have second plays by the time the month is over with.
I have also been able to mostly play games that I like quite well, though the fact that the bulk of my plays were rated 8 rather than 9 or 10 is sad, but mostly unavoidable; the bulk of the fast games that I like are rated 8. Race For the Galaxy has seen a new resurgence locally as a few newer players have grown interested in it, so I hope that it will end up taking a larger number of my total game plays next year. I expect Innovation to still be pretty strong, but Yomi, which was my most play game in 2011, will probably decline in the face of the alternative of Summoner Wars as a fast two-player game.

The amount of play of some of my longer favorites will depend a lot on the preferences of my gaming partners. I have some influence over what games get to the table, but both Twilight Struggle and Command & Colors: Ancients will only get as many plays as my two-player gaming opportunities allow, and my declining interest in 18XX may keep 1848: Australia off the table as well. I expect that I will have no problem keeping the total number of plays of Agricola, Colonial, Dominant Species, and Imperial 2030 strong. Hansa Teutonica has fallen a bit out of favor locally though, and the amount of play Ora et Labora and Mage Knight get will depend a lot on how people like them initially so I intend to perform a lot of work ensuring that the initial impression from these is a favorable one.

Of course much of my hope for even more gaming in 2012 could be dashed by my planned move in August. Currently I live in Orlando, FL but at the behest of my lovely girlfriend we are going to be moving an hour away from the city in order to be closer to work. I do not think this will affect my Wednesday Coolstuff gaming, but it might reduce my weekend opportunities unless I can convince someone else to take over hosting duties. It might increase my two-player opportunities however, as said girlfriend has indicated that she will be more willing to play two-player games with me when we have an extra hour and a half a day with no driving. So we will see what happens. Hopefully, this will mean I am getting in even more gaming, with more two-player opportunities, Wednesday night, and a weekend session. However, I might just end up gaming on Wednesday, which will dramatically decrease my gaming options. Alas, woe, etc.
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Fri Dec 2, 2011 5:45 pm
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A Few Acres of Snow, Martin Wallace, and Me

Jesse Dean
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Orlando
Florida
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I have played a lot of Martin Wallace games. In fact, with 15 different played titles, I have played more Martin Wallace games than those by any other designer. In earlier, more innocent times, I described Martin Wallace as my favorite designer. I loved, and still love, Age of Steam, Brass was riding high as one of my favorite games, and I found Princes of the Renaissance and Struggle of Empires to both be very interesting designs. Unfortunately, this initial enthusiasm was not something that could be sustained. I think the beginning of the end was probably After the Flood. This was the first game, and in fact probably the first thing, that I ordered internationally, and it was the first Martin Wallace that I ended up mostly disappointed by. It wasn’t a bad game, per se, but it did not pull me in like some of his other designs. Further plays of his extended catalog also disappointed me, until I reached the game that ended up being a major turning point in my opinion of Martin Wallace as a designer: Automobile.

I was very excited about Automobile. It was getting a lot of positive initial buzz, the theme seemed to be rather unique, and I still put enough stock in Martin Wallace’s name on the box that it alone was enough to boost my enthusiasm and order the limited edition from Treefrog. And during the first couple of plays I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, soon after that I became disenchanted with the low number of meaningful decisions for a game of its length and the game’s relatively low level of tension. After this I became a bit more discerning in my purchase of Martin Wallace games, but I still found myself disappointed again and again. London ended up being the final straw. I went ahead and pre-ordered it because it looked like it might be a good game, and I am a pretty big fan of complex card games, but I decided that if I did not like it then from that point forward Martin Wallace would be strictly on my “Try Before Buy” list. I was lucky enough to be able to play a good friend’s copy twice and found it to be rather mediocre; I sold my copy before even opening it.


•This is a very tentative rating. I don’t have strong feelings about the game yet, and need to play it again to solidify things.

When I first began to hear about A Few Acres of Snow, I became interested despite my previous disappointments. The combination of deck-building and a war game seemed interesting, and initial reports indicated that this one had a lot of potential. My first play of the game was tense and fun and I started to wonder if this was perhaps going to be the game that would cause me to look seriously at Martin Wallace again. However, even at this point in time we noted that the British had a definite military advantage, and I won the game by sieging my way to Quebec.

Due to this experience, I was not very surprised by the identification of a dominant, broken strategy for A Few Acres of Snow. The description of it fit with what I had learned during and after my first game, and I was already developing the basics of the strategy in my head. So it did not surprise me, but it did greatly disappoint me. Yes, I had grown to find that Martin Wallace’s designs were no longer meeting my particular needs, but I still respected him as one of the few professional designers in the industry. The fact that one of his games was released to the public with this big of a flaw indicates that there is something wrong with his design process, his development process, or both. At this point, I have moved from Martin Wallace being “Try Before Buy” to “Wait A Year To Make Sure The Game Is Not Broken Then Try Before I Buy”, though that will likely result in me just not looking at his games anymore. This is a shame, because A Few Acres of Snow is evidence that Martin Wallace is capable of making games that have the potential to be interesting to me. He just hasn’t showed me evidence that these games are good.
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Fri Oct 21, 2011 8:30 pm
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Summoner Wars And My History With Tactical Miniature Games

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
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Personal Background
Back in my pre-BGG days, when the only board game I played regularly was Settlers of Catan, I had another primary hobby: Collectible Miniatures Games. The first one I got into, back in 2003, was Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures, through role-playing games, and after a few years I also started playing Dreamblade. I was fairly successful in both, doing well enough at regional tournaments to attend the championship every year, and doing well at the bigger tournaments around the championship, but I never did particularly great at the championships, with a single Top 8 being my only real note of success. In late 2007 I decided that I wanted to get more into board games, bought a bunch of bad ones at Gen Con. By early 2008 I was more firmly enmeshed into the board gaming hobby, and the my tastes (and collection) rapidly developed after that.

At first I was suffering from a bit of fatigue from the whole concept of tactical battle games and largely ignored that particular segment of the hobby, but eventually, for reasons I do not remember, I started checking out the Command & Colors series. I did a bit of research on each game in the series, and even here my preferences for deeper games started to show through, because I ultimately settled on Command & Colors: Ancients, as it was generally agreed to be the one with the most depth (and complexity). The rules for the game looked promising and I ended up ordering both the game and the first expansion at the same time to make sure I had a mounted board, so that it would get the best possible first impression from my girlfriend, Minerva.

It went over well and ended up being a favorite of both my Minerva and I. I appreciated the depth of decision making involved in the game, and how effectively dramatic and interesting situations arose during the course of play. I also noted some pretty strong parallels with the CMGs I played, which is something I both appreciated and found fascinating on an intellectual level. We ended up playing through whole campaigns on opposite sides of the war, and kept track of the total number of flags gained to determine the overall winner. She ended up doing very well, and the fact that she was able to effectively compete with me added to her enjoyment of the game. It ended up being one of the most played games for my girlfriend and I, right behind Race For the Galaxy, up until she decided she was spending too much time playing board games and wanted to spend her time on other interests. I know, I know it seems kind of crazy to think you are spending too much time playing board games, but I guess she hit a period of burn-out and wanted to take a break. Apparently the number of times that I introduced a game, she learned the rules, and I decided it was not good or not interesting enough and then sold it also scarred her a bit. Her break from gaming caused a big decline in the overall amount of 2-player gaming I participated in, as most of my other gaming partners were more interested in multi-player gaming. Unfortunately this effected Command & Colors: Ancients too and my number of plays of it (and plays in general) declined over the last year and a half.

Recently this shifted a bit. While Minerva is still not interested in longer games, as she does still does not want to spend that much times on board games, and is not that interested in learning new games. We’ve actually discussed playing some Command & Colors: Ancients or Race For the Galaxy a few times over the last few weeks, but the annoyance of set-up is always an issue. While I would most likely perform said set-up, she dislikes it on a philosophical level. She similarly isn’t interested in the new Race For the Galaxy expansion, considering it “too much,” and I am generally not interested in removing all of the Brink of War cards from the deck when I play with her. So this has resulted in very little gaming with her. So earlier this week the fact that Summoner Wars, with its short set-up time and tactical miniature game-style play, might be an option bubbled into my consciousness. I performed a bit of research and identified that the Master Set was being released on Wednesday (board game night at Coolstuff Games!) I ran the idea by Minerva and she instructed me to play it a bit first before introducing it to her as she did not want to learn another set of rules for a game I would get rid of.

Summoner Wars
I ended up playing a total of five games of Summoner Wars last night, with each of the factions available in the Master Set being in play at least once. I liked what I saw. For those who are unfamiliar, the game is centered around factions each of which comes with its own pre-built deck filled with commons (the bulk of the faction’s units), champions (three per deck, with better stats and abilities), events (temporary bonuses), and the summoner (a powerful unit in its own right, whose destruction is the game’s only victory condition). A player draws to five cards every turn, and can use those cards in two ways. The first is to play them, in order to implement the event effects or to get another unit on the board. The second option is to “build magic” with them, building up the pool of resources that is used to actually pay for new units. The individual units are pretty straightforward, with the cards providing pretty much everything you need to know about a unit with minimal iconography. Abilities are generally easy to understand and the there were few instances were rulebook consultation was required.

The decks themselves had very different play styles even with non-expert players, and while the decision space is similar to that you would find in most other tactical battle games, the fact that you are managing not only the units you have on the table but also have to make tough decisions about what you will use your cards for only adds to the depth of the game. The variable order of the units coming out also allows for a bit of interplay variety, adding entirely new tactical challenges for players to deal with. I also liked the fact that you hit on a 3-6, rather than a 5-6 as is typical of games of this type, as it adds a delightful bloodiness to the game and opens the game up for some interesting special abilities.

In case you haven’t been able to tell by my praise, I came away impressed with Summoner War’s game play. Even with the simple rule set, it looks like there is a lot of game here, and I am looking forward to introducing it to Minerva sometime over the next few days. Hopefully she likes it enough that I will be able to get as many (or more!) plays out of it then I got out of C&C: Ancients. If not, it should be a fun two-player game for those moments that periodically emerge in gaming sessions were a short game is useful and we don’t want to spend time setting up C&C: Ancients. Either way at $32 it was a good buy, and I expect I will get quite a bit of plays out of it in the near future. I might also have to recommend it to my old CMG buddies.
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Thu Oct 13, 2011 6:24 pm
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