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Mix of reviews, critiques on the classic games, and my random musings about board games.

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Carcassonne Review

David Montgomery
United States
Modesto
California
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http://bitsofboardgames.blogspot.com/2011/12/carcassonne-rev...

Designed by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede
Published in the U.S. by Rio Grande Games
Plays with 2-5 players (6 with the Inns & Cathedrals Expansion)
Plays is around an hour, depending on expansions and number of players.



Overview
Carcassonne or “Carc” as I will now call it is an older game, published in 2000, which makes it old in modern game sense. It’s commonly placed in the trio of “gateway games” alongside Catan and Ticket to Ride. Carc is a tile-laying game, which is exactly what it sounds like. On your turn you simply draw a tile, add it to the board and then you can place one of your meeples on a feature to score points on a future turn. You play until all the tiles have been played, then you figure out who had the most points.
Components
Meeples - Amazing. If nothing else, you can stack them and do different things with them while you wait for your turn which is handy in a game. The tiles are thick and great quality.
The tile bag, which comes with the Traders and Builders Expansion is great quality and holds just about every tile made so far.
Score - 10/10


Game Mechanics
I talked about mechanics in the open, but to recap, you draw a tile, place it, then throw a meeple on that tile if you can. Several expansions add to that idea in terms of features on tiles, but the basic ones are cities, roads, farms and cloisters/monasteries. Cities, roads and monasteries score when they’re complete, while farms don’t score until the end of the game. This leads to a good balance between in-game scoring and end-game scoring. Players have to take to both if they want to win, because focusing on only one will usually lead to a loss. The mechanics aren’t that deep, but there is depth to the game, and the tile laying concept is best done in Carc, so for that my score for mechanics is a 9/10.



Player Interaction
My first instinct is to say that there isn’t a lot of player interaction, but then I realized that there actually is. While you can’t add directly to another player’s feature, you can try to get in and either share, or take it over. Of course someone is more likely to share if they have to as opposed to doing everything they can to avoid a takeover. The way in which players go about sharing has a large impact on multi-player games. You can also place a tile in a way that makes it difficult, or perhaps even impossible for an opponent to complete their city. This is delightfully fun at times, but is also likely to have the favor returned.
I give it a 9/10 for a lot of freedom in how you interact.
The Twist
Not much of a twist to Carc. Expansions certainly do some different things, but those add complexity rather than a twist.
Learning Curve - Short
I’d say this is one of the simplest games to teach someone, since the basic rules are so simple. Expansions turn it into a short-medium learning curve, but at that point someone has had a game or two under their belt.

Why I like this game
It’s a giant puzzle, and by that I mean that I enjoy creating the board. It’s fun to see something develop. It’s also fun to figure out how to share as much as you can while managing your limited supply of meeples.
Why I don't like this game
Some of the expansions serve only to lengthen the game, or add a lot of complexity without doing something for the game.
Expansion Talk
I’ve made reference to some expansions, but I’m going to collect them in this little segment.
Inns and Cathedrals is a must get for the game.
Traders and Builders is probably my favorite, though it’s diminished slightly. It still gives an interesting twist in completing other player’s cities to earn the trade goods, which can yield up to 30 points at the end of the game.
Princess and the Dragon. I really like the dragon once in awhile. It basically negates farming, but it leads to interesting maps. The princess is really needy, like Rapunzel from Tangled, except without the endearing smile and character growth. The princess throws meeples out of cities, which is just really annoying.
The Tower is one I’ve never played. I think that it serves to prolong the game without adding anything that interesting to it.
The River and River 2 does a lot for the early game. It gives you some actual choices to start, and speeds up the game overall.
The Count makes things a bit more personal, and it lengthens things out.

I could go on and on about expansions. If there’s a specific one you’d like to know more about, leave a comment, and I’ll respond.

Overall
I give the overall game an 8.5/10.
It’s a game I enjoy, but I don’t play much. It’s tough to score it without taking expansions into account. I’ve never played a game without Inns and Cathedrals, and as far as I’m concerned, the basic game should include I&C.

Will you like this game?
If you like puzzles, you should enjoy Carc. Also if you’re looking for a fun game for two players that can play with more, this works well. If you’re looking for a lot of theme in your game, it’s not here.
Final Thought
Carcassonne is one of the few games that I’ve been able to play with just about anyone interested in games. It’s also served to get some of my family members interested in playing games, which is always a plus.
I think it’s something you should give a try if you haven’t played it, but it’s not like you’re missing an amazing game if you don’t play it. That isn’t to say that Carc isn’t fun, I rather enjoy it and would gladly play a game with anyone who’s interested.
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Tue Feb 28, 2012 2:43 am
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You Play to Win the Game, Or Do You?

David Montgomery
United States
Modesto
California
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I've always believed that boardgames are something to have fun with, but they are also something where people can compete in a friendly fashion.

I suppose it boils down to this thought, if you don't play to win, what are you playing for? Now, don't get me wrong, winning isn't everything, but it is something. We're in the midst of a culture where everyone gets a participation ribbon or trophy. Excellence isn't rewarded for fear that we might offend someone. That's silly! Knowing that you do something well is character building, but more importantly, knowing that you don't do everything well actually forces you to examine yourself. It isn't enough to get a prize for playing, you should strive to do your best.

I'll step off the soapbox and bring this back to gaming. For all my statistics of games, the one thing I don't track are wins. That's because my ultimate goal when I sit down to play games is to have fun. One of the ways that I have fun is in TRYING to win. That doesn't mean winning at any cost, or becoming upset if I don't win, but it means doing my best in an effort to be better than everyone else. It also means if I can't win, let's play for 2nd, or 3rd, or however high I can manage. In co-op games, it's about working as a team member. I've had more fun in games of Forbidden Island where we all drown, or Fool's Landing sinks to the depths of the ocean, than I have in games where we win going away.

I played roughly 30 games of Settlers of Catan before I won a game. It made me a great player, because I saw what worked and what didn't. Some of those games were poor dice rolls, but I learned from those. As a child, I played a lot of games with my grandpa. He never let me win. This didn't frustrate me too much even as a 5 or 6 year old. What it did was make me rather excited when I finally beat him in a game, because I knew that I had earned it. When I was learning to play Chess as a 4th grader, my dad didn't let me win. He did help me make smarter moves, and eventually I won a match.

I submit to you that I am a better game player, and more importantly a better person because I was not simply allowed to win games as a child, and because I play the game to win.

It's a fine line between being competitive and being a good sport. I can't say that I always walk that line well, but I do my best.

I'd love to hear any comments about this subject, and perhaps get a good discussion going.
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Tue Feb 28, 2012 2:28 am
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Ticket to Ride Review

David Montgomery
United States
Modesto
California
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http://bitsofboardgames.blogspot.com/2011/12/ticket-to-ride-...
Designed by Alan R. Moon, published in the US by Days of Wonder. Plays anywhere between 2 and 6 based on the map.

I’m going to talk mainly about the US version, but I’ll bring in some of the differences between versions.

Components
The components in TtR aren’t amazing, but they do a great job for what the game needs. The cards are of good quality, the wood score tokens (plastic in Marklin) are nice, but easily roll around. The best component are the plastic trains. They have a bit of sculpting on them, and while they are all the same save color, they still are an enjoyable visual aspect. The boards are also well designed, especially the Nordic map with a winter motif.
8/10


Game Mechanics
Ticket is a very basic game in terms of what you can do on your turn. You have the choice to draw two train cards into your hand, play a set of train cards from you hand to the board to claim a connection between two cities, or draw more route tickets. This goes on until one player has 2 of fewer trains remaining in their stash, then everyone gets one final turn. At that point you add up points from trains on the board and your completed tickets, subtracting for any tickets you didn’t complete and the high score wins.
8/10

Player Interaction
On the surface TtR doesn’t offer a lot of interaction, but as you dig deeper you start to see how players build their routes, and then you can block them, or at least re-route them a bit, costing them trains, turns and cards. You also gain a sense of what routes to build early, and which ones can wait based on what other players are doing. If this blocking sounds a bit mean, I suggest the Europe edition which gives players 3 stations, allowing them to borrow someone else’s connection to use as their own.
5/10

The Twist
There are double routes, but the second part is only open in a 4 or 5 player game, which makes a 3 player game rather tight.

Showing an open double route, blue occupying one part of a double and blue and black using both parts of one.
TtR is fun because when you’re done you can actually see the route you built over the board. This gives everyone, especially young children something to appreciate afterwards even if they don’t win. I play the game where you don’t score trains as you place them on the board, but rather at the end which enhances the late tension. Besides that, there isn’t really a twist.

Learning Curve
Ticket is probably one of the easier games for anyone to sit down and play. It may take a turn or two for some to understand, but I’ve seen new players pick it up and play well in their first game.
Learning Curve - Short

Why I like this game
There’s a lot to like about TtR. It’s simple and plays in an hour or less. With the expansion (1910 for US, 1912 for Europe) there’s a lot of replayability and variety in the tickets. New players can easily understand what’s going on and can keep up with experienced players. There’s also enough depth for experienced players to enjoy over and over again.

Why I don't like this game
The game can take a bit long at the beginning, because everyone is just drawing cards. There is a dice expansion which allows players to start placing routes on the board right away, but that has it’s own drawbacks. Other players can conspire to block you, or you may find yourself unable to complete a ticket, but that doesn’t happen all the time.

Overall
It’s hard to find a lot that I don’t like about Ticket to Ride. The US is great for getting into the game, Europe adds some complexity, but also is a nicer way to play, Nordic takes the complexity of Europe and gets rid of the stations, and Marklin adds a lot to the game, turning it into more of a gamer’s game, but something that is more than TtR needed. Ticket to Ride is a game that is more than the sum of it's parts, which is fortunately a good thing.

Scores
US - 9/10 - geography familiarity
Europe - 9/10 - niceness
Nordic - 9/10 - heritage
Marklin - 8/10 - additional complexity knocks it down
If I had to take one, I'd take Europe, and if you give me a 2nd, I'll take Nordic, but that's not to say that the US is a bad version.

Will you like this game?
If you like boardgames at all, you’ll probably enjoy this in some version. I can’t promise that, because I do have friends that don’t like it. It’s not a deep game, and I think the fun for me lies in trains and simple mechanics. There is an elegance to Ticket to Ride that I’ve not seen elsewhere.


A Good Moment with the Game
One of my favorite moments of Ticket to Ride was a 5 player that was tight all the way through. When we counted up the scores, another player and I were tied. We searched the rulebook for the tie-breaker, and were tied for that. So that left us in a pure tie, which normally I dislike, but this time, with 5 players and 2 of us tied several points ahead of the others, it actually worked.

Final Thought
As a child, I had a huge obsession with trains. It started with Thomas the Tank Engine, though I always preferred James since he was red. It then grew to include Lionel trains, as well as trips to the Santa Barbara Train Museum. So that made the theme of this game work perfectly for me.

Ticket isn’t that deep, but it is fun for what it is. I find it best with 2 or 4 players, since most of the time 3/5 feels too crowded for the routes that are open.
If you have any questions or would like to know, as always free to ask.
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Tue Feb 28, 2012 2:27 am
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Gaming History pt 2

David Montgomery
United States
Modesto
California
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When I last left my history in gaming we were at Christmas 2007 and Ticket to Ride Marklin. (thats the German map for anyone wondering). Enter January 2008 and my return to Westmont College. One of my section mates brought back his Catan set and we started looking for anyone who knew or was willing to learn. We found a couple of players, and eventually had a core group consisting of 4. We played just about every weekend, sometimes twice for the next 4 months. We mostly played Cities and Knights, but every once in awhile we'd add Seafarers in or just play the base game for a change.
After that I think we were all a bit burnt out on Catan, and even with a summer off, we still didn't play much in the years that followed.

That summer I ordered Ticket to Ride US for myself and that was the beginning of what my parents and friends continue to roll their eyes over. Not that TtR was a bad game, in fact it is probably my sister's favorite game, and one of mine as well. That next semester at school, so we're now in the fall of 2008 game play slowed down as school was more intense, but we managed games of Carc and Catan every so often. Then I finally saw that FFG was reprinting Cosmic Encounter and things were never the same.

When I came back to school in January a friend of a friend came by my room and asked if I'd like to play Starfarers of Catan. I had never heard of this, but he said it was similar to Catan and that I would enjoy it. So I went with him, learned the game, and ended up winning my first time which didn't please this friend. That was the start of a beautiful friendship, because after that game I said "I have this game called Cosmic Encounter, would you like to learn sometime?" That next weekend I had a few people playing, and he came and watched. When we were done, he asked if we could play another game with him in it this time. We agreed, and he became a mainstay at the table which lead to 75 plays of the game and many happy and frustrating hours. I gained much more than a friend through that, as his then girlfriend, now wife also played, as well as another couple.

Gaming to me is more than playing a game; it's about making lifelong friendships and having a good time with people that I might not have otherwise known had it not been for boardgames.

So to all the people I've met through games, thanks for all the great times, and sorry for the hat throws.

As always, I'm open to any comments, questions, snide remarks, etc. Just comment below and I'll get back to you.
Also, please visit bitsofboardgames.blogspot.com
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Tue Feb 28, 2012 2:22 am
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Cosmic Encounter Review

David Montgomery
United States
Modesto
California
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Components
The components in this game are top notch. FFG puts out good quality in all of their games, and this is no exception. The stackable ships just scream for a power like Fungus, hopefully for the expansion. The one thing that I will say against the components is the Prometheus ship that is a tech. Tech is a variant after all, and as others have said I would much rather have high quality in other things, than an optional variant.
Components 9.5/10


Game Mechanics
The basics of this game are pretty simple. When it is your turn, you randomly draw a card from the destiny deck to determine who you have an encounter with. Once that it determined, you place ships into the "hyperspace gate," point at a planet in the defensive system, ask for allies, play cards, and determine which side has a higher total. Losing ships go to the warp and can be retrieved at the start of your turn. This goes on with players taking turns until one or more players has 5 foreign colonies. There isn't much innovative about the mechanics, but the alien powers are what makes it.
Mechanics 8/10


Player Interaction
For me, this is where the game shines. When encounters occur, players have the option of playing attack or negotiate cards. Some players will be more inclined to make deals, where a foreign colony can be traded for a foreign colony, thus aiding both players aim to achieve 5 foreign bases. Other players may choose to play attack cards, where the higher total wins. If the offense has the higher total, they gain the colony, and the defense loses it. Whatever route a player chooses, more likely a combination of both, makes the game interesting. Alliances can tip the battle to one side's favor, or help make things level. There are always risks and rewards for either choice.
Interaction 10/10

The Twist
The thing that gives this game replayability are alien powers. Each player will have the chance to break a game rule with their alien power. Some are as simple as not having to discard the card you use to attack with, while others can make the loser of a challenge win and the other way around. The Fantasy Flight version included 50 different alien powers, but other versions such as Eon or Mayfair have included upwards of 75. Point of that is that there are a lot of things that can be done with expansions.

Learning Curve
While the basics of Cosmic Encounter are rather simple; alien powers complicate the game. Depending on the group and how many new players are there, it can take a few games to get the hang of it. The downside of most of the cards is that asking for help can reveal what you can do, and someone who knows the game can take advantage of it. The best thing I've done when teaching a new player is have someone who knows the game around to answer questions, and guide a player through tricky situations.
Learning Curve - Moderate-Long

Why I like this game
I played 110 games in under 7 months, now over 200 games in 3 years, and have played multiple games on other versions; it can be replayed, over and over. It is rather difficult to be completely out of a game, though the occasional bad game will happen. It has a huge amount of player interaction which can be a bad thing, but it turns out to be a balancing factor. There's not a lot of luck in the game, but it's also not pure strategy. The game is very tactical, and knowing when to have allies, and when to go it alone can be a crucial thing. Ultimately people make the game. It is almost impossible to win a game with no help from any other player at the table.

Why I don't like this game
The randomness of the destiny deck means that who you fight is out of your control. Because of that, some players can form more permanent alliances, but that can be mitigated by the fact that they can fight each other at any point. Some of the add-ons in expansions complicate things, as does Tech in the base game.

Overall Score 10/10 [on player interaction and the sheer number of possibilities in the game.]

Will you like this game?
It's really hard for me to put it in a category. It's unlike anything else I've ever played, so there isn't a way to compare it. I've played with a bunch of people from ages 10-55 and it works. A disposition to science-fiction will help players enjoy the game, but it's not dripping with theme. It's not a great space combat game, it's more complicated than a play a card and see which one is higher, so if you're looking for either, this isn't a game for you. The various alien powers certainly are a love it or hate it aspect. The game thrives on player interaction, and there is some amount of luck. If you like the ability to plan turns ahead, this probably isn't the game for you; but if you like thinking on your toes and adapting, you just might enjoy the challenge of Cosmic Encounter.

Final Thought
If you ever get a chance to play this game, give it a go. It's been around since 1977 in various forms, and a lot of people have enjoyed it. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask, I'm always happy to help however I can.

To see all of this, go to bitsofboardgames.blogspot.com
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Tue Feb 28, 2012 2:19 am
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Purpose and History Part 1

David Montgomery
United States
Modesto
California
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I started bitsofboardgames.blogspot.com in December 2011. I'm going to post back articles on here, and then post concurrently.

So why another blog about boardgames? This is the question I've been asking myself as I deliberate on the purpose of this blog. To quote a friend "You(meaning me) have a good sense for what will appeal to different types of people and I think that will help a lot."

So that becomes my mission statement. I will attempt to communicate to as many different types of people as I can and give my honest opinion about games. I have my game biases, but I will try to be honest about them, and I challenge you as the reader to call me on them if you see them. This will be accomplished through my own reviews of games, and random musings on games. I will also share links to reviews on BGG or through the DiceTower that I find insightful or helpful. I will also attempt to do game comparisons and top lists of different categories. I will always be open to reader feedback and ideas, though I can't promise that they will always be followed up on.

And now for a bit of my gaming history. Things started early on with lots of Monopoly, Life, Risk, Aggravation and Clue. While these were enjoyable games, and still are at times, I do believe that there are better games out there. I got my first taste of designer games late in 2006 with Settlers of Catan. Unlike most people, I started with Cities and Knights, and rarely play the base game at this point. After Catan, I learned Cosmic Encounter in it's original Eon edition which was published 30 years prior. For those of you who don't know Cosmic, don't worry, a review of that will be coming soon.

I would wager that Cosmic had the biggest affect on my gaming life. Don't get me wrong, Catan got me in, but Cosmic hooked me. My "gaming family" and I played Cosmic and Catan for much of the winter and spring and then came Carcassonne. That was their HS graduation gift to me, with the condition that I would bring it and we'd play. The start of college came and I brought Carcassonne and my own copy of Cosmic with me. Carc worked ok, but cosmic flopped at first. When I got home for Christmas, the gaming family had Ticket to Ride Marklin which was a huge hit. At this point you should recognize that we never took the simple approach to games.

So that's essentially my first year in games. There will be more to that, but it's a start.

I have no official connection to any game publisher, producer, distributor or store. I have playtested a game for Northstar Games which I will talk about at a later time.
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Tue Feb 28, 2012 2:18 am
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