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Gaming with Sasquatch

When you live up in the Cascade Mountains, you get to think about games far more often than actually playing them. Gamers are a rare breed out here, so I have taken it upon myself to share my hobby with the locals. If by chance I ever manage to get one to the table, I just hope I remember...Let the Wookie win.

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The Nickle and Dime New Year's Resolution takes a detour...

Jeff Pratt
United States
Anacortes
Washington
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Just admit it already, Small World is not a fantasy wargame...it's a Mancala variant!
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Well, my intentions were good. Oh, I was motivated too. I wanted to put those lightly played games on my shelf through their paces. I need to figure out what I should keep around and what I should move along, to make room for the future. (Both physically and mentally, as the shelves are full and it's awfully tough to keep a working knowledge of how to play a couple of hundred games.) I'm failing mostly because I've been blind-sided by a back-to-back-to-back run of fantastic new games that are sucking up all of my free gaming time, namely Android:Netrunner, Spartacus and Clash of Cultures.

I think everyone is pretty familiar with Android: Netrunner at this point. Simply put, it's a LCG style game that features a hefty dose of bluffing, a skill that is not often tested in your typical "dueling" card game. Playing through it has made me realize that Richard Garfield deserves a lot more respect as a game designer, at least here on the geek. You don't usually hear him mentioned alongside the legends, because the aversion to Magic that exists on BGG has painted him as sort of a one-hit wonder. Netrunner is so fundamentally different from Magic that it can hardly be said that Garfield was recycling or refining ideas the way many other designers tend to do. When you look at the full spectrum of his ideas, you see that he rarely repeats himself. Games like RoboRally, Vampire: The Eternal Struggle and King of Tokyo are both unique in mechanisms, engaging in play and have very little in common with each other. I suppose King of Tokyo might not necessarily be as ground-breaking as the other titles I listed, but it sure is fun, at any rate.

To get back on point, Netrunner has been soaking up a lot of my gaming time. Most of it has been spent deck-building, although the results of my labors haven't been great. One thing that has been giving me problems is my inability to recognize the relative power level of the various cards. In most games of this ilk, it's usually fairly easy for me to spot where a particular card will shine. If it's late game or early game, if it's a combo card or an enabler, etc. Not in Netrunner, at least not that I have been able to discern. The relationship between resource cost, ice (or ice-breaker) strength and card effects is a mystery to me, so hopefully after a dozen more plays or so that will become a bit more clear. I also feel as if the usual paradigm of running multiples of cards and following a "mana curve" for your card selection might not apply at all. As a whole, this game feels very alien to me. That's good thing, because it also makes it feel fresh and exciting.

I knew Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery was going to be good, judging from the various reviews I had watched. What I didn't count on was how much everyone else was going to enjoy it. I thought it might be too mean, or too disjointed to appeal to everyone in the group. The game is so broad, I thought the auctions, munchkin card wars, dice chucking and the tactical miniatures mini-game being all in one box meant that some part of it was bound to irritate someone in the group. Nope. They (and I) absolutely love it. The only nit-pick and I mean itty-bitty nit-pick, is that there isn't much reason to really move around the arena, making the gladiator fight more of a dice-off than a tactical battle. That's a little disappointing for the miniature gamer in me, but as it turns out it still creates some exciting moments in the game, so the bigger experience doesn't suffer for it. Improving that aspect of the game is probably more of a wishlist thing, than a problem. I suppose it could use some lions too, in case anyone from Gale Force Nine is listening.

The last game jacking up my resolution is Clash of Cultures. We all like Merchants & Marauders around here and personally, I'd say that it is the best shot anyone has taken at a non-fantasy adventure game. Yes, I know that the pirates and situations presented in M&M are "pirate-fantasy". What I mean is that it is an adventure game that doesn't involve orcs, dragons or chainmail bikinis. There are parts of it that are a bit over-complicated and clunky, but generally speaking it's a solid game. Honestly I expected the same sort of issues with Clash of Cultures, as it was coming from the same designer, Christian Marcussen. I figured that I would be in for a fun game, that would make a few winks to fans of the Civilization genre, but then bog down when the design stretched too far to recreate that experience.

Those issues aren't there. In fact, every unnecessary complication that could have crept into this design has been avoided. There are few, if any exceptions to the standard rules laid down as the base structure of the game. Combat is completely modifier free, except when a tactics card is played and even then, it is usually a simple addition to the final total of the roll. Production of resources, unit building limits, and empire sprawl are all tied to the same number, city size. City size is determined by how many plastic pieces comprise the city. Three pieces is size three. It can harvest three hexes or it can build three units. Simple. No petty modifiers to remember, no calculations need to be made. Combat is resolved by tossing one die per unit and adding up the result and dividing it by five. Your opponent losses that many pieces, the remainder is ignored. Again, simple and effective with nothing to bog down the battle.

The technology chart is also a delight and really, it's the star of the show. Going in to my first game, it was the thing I most expected to find disappointing. With only 48 techs and virtually no prerequisites (READ: No tech-tree!), it seemed like it was destined to be one-dimensional or at the very least predictable. Well, after a few plays, I am comfortable saying that is clearly not the case. While the techs do not chain together in a specific order, they do bounce effects off of each other and interact with the rules in a surprising variety of ways. Everyone I've played with, even 3 or 4 games in, is finding new ways to manipulate the game through their technology selections. Most notably, they have done it by using a different set of tech combinations each time. The technologies themselves do a great job of providing many clever paths through the game. For instance, things like gold can seem a bit superfluous at first blush through the rulebook...until you realize that proper tech selection can allow you to produce so much of it, that you literally can buy your way through the game and never waste an action harvesting. Conversely, you can turn your attention elsewhere on the tree and never even miss having that gold, using some other benefits to make your way through the game. The Theocracy tree I find particularly interesting, because with only four techs, it boosts peaceful conversion style conquest of the map as well as supporting aggressive zealots that take opposing cities by force; it all depends upon what supporting techs you have taken elsewhere on the tech chart. All of the technology categories work this way and it's a remarkable piece of game design, squeezing so much out of such a constricted space. I don't think this part of the game will ever get stale and will probably get even better with experience, as ripples from moves on the tech chart become more instinctual.

The thing I give it the most credit for accomplishing however, is that the game is just about the perfect length. It ends right when things are about to get unwieldy. I praise the tech chart for its level of interaction, both with itself and with the other players at the table; but make no mistake, it does take some focus to keep up with all of their subtle interactions. If the game went any further down the timeline, I don't think most casual players would be able keep up with it. I'm not sure what that means as far expansion goes, but even a wider tech tree might ruin the delicate balance the game has already achieved, between player options and complexity. Maybe this game would be better served with a sequel, rather than an expansion.

I hope so.
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Mon Feb 25, 2013 8:17 pm
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The Dime Survivors (and a casualty or two)

Jeff Pratt
United States
Anacortes
Washington
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Just admit it already, Small World is not a fantasy wargame...it's a Mancala variant!
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With the experiment underway, I thought I should take a minute to touch on some of the games that have already made the cut, surviving through 10 or more plays and cementing a spot on my shelves for the foreseeable future.

World of Warcraft Trading Card Game It's unfortunate that this game is forced to live in the shadow of its MMO namesake. For the most part, it's a Magic the Gathering clone. This sort of imitation is generally a turn off, but in this case the knockoff improves on Magic in every possible way. There is no mana screw, creature combat offers more choices and better control for the players, and the class distinctions for deck building all lead to what I feel is an overall better design. The downside, and it's a big one, is the total lack of a player base. I haven't played in a couple of years at this point. This means I should sell, but realistically there is no market. Since I actually do love the game, I suppose this one stays.

Thunderstone Thunderstone has grown on me like a wart. I was less than impressed at first, but as soon as I played the Launius/Vasel Epic variant I became a believer. At this point, Thunderstone Advance has clearly replaced the original game so I'm not sure there is any market at all for this, even in trade. With a good offer I will probably move this on, but if not, I'll keep it together as a closed Epic set. This is especially attractive to me because I think the new Advance sets play better without the epic rules, in the format of the original game.

Dominion Yeah...I'm going to get rid of one of the best game systems of the last decade. Not happening.

Race for the Galaxy Another solid game that I am more than happy to bust out every now and again. It was actually the go to card game for most game nights before the coming of 7 Wonders and Dominion. The learning curve is still a little steep, but the game has held up and I still get quite a lot of enjoyment out of it. It stays. (I might even get around to expanding it.)

Innovation Maybe the most brilliantly designed card game I have ever played. You should go buy a copy for yourself, because there is no way you are going to get mine.

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game I was really into this, then I got bored, then the dwarf sets were awesome, then I got distracted by Netrunner...The release of the Hobbit in theaters has rekindled my enjoyment of it again. I'd like to play it co-op as intended, but for now I just hit it solitaire because no one else is really interested. It does a nice job of challenging my tactical decision making, so it will continue to live on my shelves.

Liar's Dice My favorite drunken party game, bar none. You'll have to pry my awesome Pirates of the Carribean Liar's Dice cups from my cold dead hands, because not only am I keeping both of my two sets...I'll probably buy more if I ever stumble across them.

Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game This game clicked with me from day one of its Gen-con pre-release and I have stayed with it through a myriad of expansions. I still love it and so does my wife. (Well, she still loves zombies anyway) It absolutely stays.

Chrononauts This game is a little Fluxx-like in that sometimes you accidentally win, through no actions of your own. It's a bit silly, but playing with the timelines stimulates some interesting discussions and some of the characters are just hilarious. This one stays, as it's simple to teach and easy to socialize over.

Hive I tend to avoid abstracts, but this one is just brilliant. It also travels well and the components are nigh indestructible. Not only is this one staying, I may buy another copy for the glove box.

Agricola My copy is so pimped I couldn't imagine parting with it. Plus, I think the game is pretty good as well...Keeper.

Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers I bet if the designer had a time machine he would scrap the original Carcassonne and release this version instead. Scoring is way more intuitive than the original and the bonus tiles add a nice layer of strategy.

Biblios The mechanisms in this game are so clever. I heartily recommend this to anyone that enjoys drafting games. I only recently acquired it, but I am confident this will eventually hit the century mark. It's that good, and it is NEVER leaving the collection on my watch.

Power Grid Easily one of my favorite games of all time. This one is a hall of fame pick for me, so it isn't even going to be considered for the toss pile. I love it and I haven't even gotten through all the expansion maps yet...

Arkham Horror Great storytelling, challenging problem solving and an absolute mountain of material to keep it fresh for years to come. I just need to get the iOS app, to manage the 6.2 billion cards that now live in my expansion boxes. Also, of all the games I own, this might be the only one my incredibly tolerant wife would actually stop me from selling, even if I wanted to. She loves it, and because of that, I REALLY love it.

Survive: Escape from Atlantis! I waited 25+ years to revisit this one. It still holds up beautifully and I'm glad to have it back in my collection. It plays with kids and adults equally well, which is a very difficult thing to do. Obviously staying.

Now, the not so lucky.

Quarriors! I've taken quite a roller coaster ride with Quarriors. I was underwhelmed by the game's debut at Gen Con, I later came to appreciate it's value as a family/party game, then became more impressed with it as a strategy game when the designers released the "expert" rules. Then the corrupted quiddity dice were added, which were completely impotent as a new mechanism, to the point that they're barely even worth using. The next two expansions added even more problems. Spells that allow wins in the first 3 or 4 turns, new dice that do not work with the "expert" rules and an apparently lackadaisical effort by Wizkids to address any of this. I'm think I'm done with this game system...

Elder Sign Like many people, I've discovered the Android App. It is more challenging, more thematic and almost one hundred percent more fun than its cardboard counterpart. I could try and adapt the board game to be more like the App...but why bother? Trade/Sell pile.

World of Warcraft Miniatures Game This was a very creative miniatures game. It almost plays like a three dimensional card game. It's an incredibly solid system, but the booster packs were way too expensive, which kept the game from getting any real traction and it was cancelled before there was a lot of diversity to be had. Even though I like it, I'd like to move it out because I just don't see any realistic chance of anyone around here wanting to play it. Ever.

Colosseum As I covered in my last blog entry, this one is only a nickel play but I'm pretty sure I am done with it. After playing The Princes of Florence, which is almost identical except for being noticeably deeper, I see no need to ever revisit it.
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Thu Jan 17, 2013 12:00 pm
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Some unexpected casualties of the Nickel and Dime New Year's resolution

Jeff Pratt
United States
Anacortes
Washington
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Just admit it already, Small World is not a fantasy wargame...it's a Mancala variant!
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Here we are, roughly two weeks into the New Year. My wife has crashed and burned on her 365 game challenge, every game I've played has been new to my game group, (if not new to me) and High Frontier sits there mocking me, still left unplayed. Now I didn't really expect to get a game in with my spouse every day. There are real life occurrences, like unexpected overtime at work and various after school commitments with the kids. Those are always bound to crop up. I figured I would count it as a success as long as her total plays added up to her 365 day target. By my count, we are sitting at 4, on day 15. It looks like I'm either going to have to call it a broken resolution soon or let her cheat it off with 10 straight games of GUBS: A Game of Wit and Luck with the kids...

One unexpected turn of events in my nickel and dime personal challenge was the sudden realization that it is time to let Colosseum go. From the vantage point of a collector, it is absolutely one of the best looking Euros out there. The pawns alone make me want to irrationally hold onto it. They come pre-painted sporting little togas.


Image courtesy of Łukasz Segiet


I mean seriously, how ridiculous is that?

This past week we had an impromptu get together where I hadn't really prepped anything. (I like to refresh on the rules ahead of time, so that we hit fewer snags while actually playing the games.) We decided to go with Colosseum, a game the current group has played a couple of times and that everyone is still familiar with. As luck would have it, that play ended up being the one that put it on my nickel list. If you had asked me two weeks ago if I was done with it (or right after that play, for that matter), I would have said absolutely not. At the table and later on that night, in a response to a previous blog entry, I said that it seemed like the game might get a little repetitive over the course of a bunch of plays. That particular game it had seemed like everyone was more or less doing the same thing and that the turn structure was feeling a little restrictive. It was something to look into later, after a few more plays.

Then Tuesday night happened. In a concerted effort to get my resolution back in order, I decided to learn and teach everyone The Princes of Florence. I have had this title for a while, but reading through the rulebook always gave me the impression that it would be difficult to learn. It seemed like there was an awful lot of arbitrarily assigned costs and victory point awards and the graphic design looked dry as dirt. As it turns out, once I actually spent some time with player boards, I realized that most of those confusing and arbitrary values were laid out pretty clearly and easily referenced...making my concern completely baseless. Lesson learned, lay out the game while reading the rulebook, it will make way more sense.

I had originally acquired The Princes of Florence because the game was a perpetual top 20 title here on the Geek. (At least until the quality game boom of 2010-2012.) I am also a big fan of El Grande by the same designer. It wasn't lost on me that Colosseum was also on that list, but previous to last night's first session, I had no idea that it was actually a re-tooling of Princes.

The auctions are similar and matching up the artists in Princes with the buildings and terrain features is not much different than matching up the plays with the asset tiles in Colosseum. Both games even feature a 3VP bump for finishing a round with the highest scoring performance.

Reading a review or two and looking at the box, I expected the game to have a lot in common with Vegas Showdown. I suppose that's because I knew it featured auctions and a Tetris style mini-game. I was completely off base with that comparison. The game play feels nothing like that title, leaving no doubt in my mind that Colosseum was intended to be a lighter, family friendly version of The Princes of Florence, which many consider to be a strategically heavy game.

With that realization upon me, I have begrudgingly decided that I'm probably done with Colosseum. After finally experiencing The Princes of Florence, there is little doubt that I will never go back to playing a simpler version. The older title features far more avenues to victory, more time and more actions to improve your works and a far more meaningful role for all the money you acquire over the course of the game. Really, there is no comparison.

I thought my trade/sell list was going to fill up quick with Tanga experiments, not with one of my favorites, right off the bat. This is turning out to be a very interesting experiment. Stay tuned.
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Wed Jan 16, 2013 12:00 pm
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Nickel and dime, decision time.

Jeff Pratt
United States
Anacortes
Washington
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Just admit it already, Small World is not a fantasy wargame...it's a Mancala variant!
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For the new year, I have decided to focus on getting clustered, repeat plays on my games instead of shotgunning a hundred different titles like I did in 2012. Last year, I was coming off a pretty substantial gaming drought, so that approach was fine...but now I want to look into deeper experiences. I've also run out of room for any new acquisitions, so I have to seriously look at unloading any games that just aren't doing it for both my family and my gaming group.

 


Now technically, as soon as I add some shelves to the top-side of that cabinet, I'll be able to squeeze a few more in. Still, I have a large tote of Star Wars Miniatures, a dozen long boxes of World of Warcraft Trading Card Game and another tote of Heroscape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie that I will have to find room for when I fetch it from storage. I'm spilling over the allotted space, so I have to act now if I'm going to add any of the new things that have caught my eye such as Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island or the Up Front reprint. So that's my goal, play as many games as I can five to ten times and then sell (or trade) it off if it's not begging to be played anymore. I'm very much of the mind set that if you get your price per play down to that of a movie ticket, you've got your money's worth out of it.

The only thing I have to work out now is how to do that efficiently while allowing everyone else to still have fun. I don't want to force feed the rest of the group ten plays of Age of Conan: The Strategy Board Game if they are all miserable playing it. Of course, if that's the case I will know where that game probably belongs anyway, so that little problem might just sort itself out.

I also need to work on a system for what order to play these games out. Should we vote, should I randomly pick, or should I attack them chronologically by release date? That last one sounds like a lot of fun, but that might just be my personal interest in the evolution of the hobby, not because it would serve any real value in keeping things fun for everyone else. Working out a system in the first place is probably completely unnecessary, but it might help to get everyone engaged with my plan and interested in helping me complete it. Any thoughts out there?

I'm sure it will provide for some blog fodder as well. My thoughts on reasons to keep, reasons to pass it on or advice from the rest of the geek on either option.

I'm also going into this with a few obvious games that have already made the cut.

Dominion and all of it's expansions. Everyone I know loves it and if anything I think we have neglected it a bit in the last year.

Innovation This game is simply brilliant. Thirty-eight plays and counting. I guarantee it will hit the century mark before I even consider getting tired of it.

Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game I love everything about this game. The cheesy movie scene mock-ups on the cards, the funny events the cards generate and the entire cinematic experience the game provides. I also like that I can teach you to play a hero in 5 minutes. The expansions have bloated it a bit, but I like what they add to the game for more experienced players.

Biblios I was just introduced to this in the past year and it shot up to the number one spot as our quick game/filler of choice.

High Society Well maybe I spoke to soon when talking about Biblios. I also discovered this game by accident, paying five bucks for it off a clearance table at the FLGS. We will hit this one as often as Biblios in the coming years, I'm sure.

Arkham Horror It's tough to reliably get this one played, but my wife adores everything Lovecraftian and when everyone knows what they are doing, the story that unravels during play is unrivaled. So many funny gaming stories about this one and so many more to come...

There are more games that I already know are going to Survive!, but I will wait for them to hit dime status before I address them...so we have an excuse to play them some more. Clever, right?
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Thu Jan 10, 2013 12:41 am
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Please welcome everyone's favorite Orcas, Shamu and Willy to the group!

Jeff Pratt
United States
Anacortes
Washington
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Just admit it already, Small World is not a fantasy wargame...it's a Mancala variant!
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It's been a good long while since I last bashed out a blog entry. Well over a year, in fact. A lot has changed since I wrote the first "Gaming with Sasquatch" and almost all of it has been for the better. No longer am I stranded in a one horse town with no one to game with but the local Yeti. I have traded all that in for a slice of island life. Now I get to chill with the local Orca pods and maybe, If I'm lucky they will want to get in on a little Survive: Escape from Atlantis! LARP'ing. We'll see how it goes, once they get comfortable with me...

Orcas aren't the only thing I've discovered on this little island to which I have relocated. I've actually found some local gamers and a well hidden FLGS as well! That's the primary reason I have fallen off the blog, I spent the last year actually playing games instead of just thinking about them! I've also found another BGG'er to join the Team Digression: West Coast Chapter.
Bryan Meyers
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Bellingham
Washington
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Welcome aboard, sir.

Now that the gaming has gotten regular, I have come to realize that my collection has gotten pretty unwieldy. Those few years of gaming famine found me stock-piling way more games than I actually need. Now that I have met a few like-minded people, I hope to make a concerted effort to work through them and decide which to keep and which to move along. With luck, I can get everyone on board to play those games I'm not sure about 5-10 times and we can make a decision about whether or not to keep it on the roster.

In a somewhat related note, last night my wife told me to shut down what I was doing and give her half an hour of my time. Turns out, that half an hour was to play a game of High Society with her and the kids. She then threw down a 365 day challenge...to play a game of some sort every day for the next year. No, I'm not sure who or what is possessing her...but I'm not about to look that gift horse in the mouth! I'm not going to hold her to Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization every night, but at the worst we should be able to make time for some runs through Omen: A Reign of War and Summoner Wars which I really think she will enjoy.

So that's about it really. I'm going to take another shot at doing this more regularly. I found myself pondering my new game experiences and the various issues with them, usually while on my drive to work. I'd always think to myself that I should reactivate the blog. I never did, nor do I remember what I was thinking about when I decided to it.

Still...consider it reactivated.

(In another shocking twist, my wife also decided she wanted to blog about the 365 day challenge. I know, weird right? I hope this is really happening and I am not sitting in a ditch somewhere dying right now of a brain aneurysm. That would suck.)
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Wed Jan 2, 2013 12:00 pm
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Quarriors! is working out much better than I had anticipated...

Jeff Pratt
United States
Anacortes
Washington
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Just admit it already, Small World is not a fantasy wargame...it's a Mancala variant!
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I haven't posted anything since my Gen Con recap because, well, I've been too busy gaming. Two games in particular have been responsible for that and both of them are pretty controversial, at least here on the geek. Namely, Innovation and Quarriors!, both heavily hyped and in the end, somewhat critically bashed. Right now, I'm loving both of these games and here's why.

Innovation has been attacked by some for being a giant pile of random effects that offer players very little control of their game as it goes wildly careening into a chaotic and completely unpredictable ending. This is absolutely a true statement, but weirdly, only for the first 3-5 games. As you play through it again and again, you realize that there is an "innovation" to combat almost every single tactic your opponent can use against you. Things that seem unbalanced and out of whack your first time through can be fairly easy to counter, once you know what you are looking for. Also, aside from the card abilities that drive the game, there are also some tactics built into the game's basic rules that aren't readily apparent until you have played a few times. It took me three games to realize that sharing a technology with my opponent could be a more effective weapon than a direct attack. Weird, right? I understand the criticisms leveled at the game from those who have only played it once or twice, but take my word for it, the game doesn't show it's true colors until you invest some time with it. My wife and I have played almost nothing else for the past few weeks, it has even made Dominion sit down for a spell. Trust me, if you didn't like it the first time give it another shot (or six), it's worth the effort.

The other game I want to talk about is Quarriors!. This one has really been taking a beating on the forums for a number of reasons. (Of course it's still selling out, so maybe the silent majority actually doesn't have any complaints!) Like Innovation above, I actually tend to agree with, or at least understand, some of the complaints leveled against it. There are times when it is much too random. I have seen my son buy four Dragon dice, yet never get to summon one because of freakishly bad die rolls. I have seen the runaway leader problem that crops up when someone gets lucky and scores multiple assistant dice and then culls down to a super efficient dice bag. These are real problems...but Quarriors! has still been an enjoyable hit for my family because of one simple feature of the game. The fact that summoned monsters attack everyone at the table, every time and with no targeted aggression makes for a fantastically peaceful family game session. Sure, there is the occasional Spell card that must be targeted; but for the most part there is little, if any reason, for anyone to ever feel picked on. Would I necessarily want to play this with my Power Grid buddies? Probably not, but I think that's what everyone who is complaining about it is missing. I wasn't all that impressed with it either (just check the Gen Con recap), but I also hadn't played it with my kids. I think maybe this is just a kid's game and for that target audience, it really does work.

That's not to say that it can't evolve into something more and I certainly hope it does. Looking back I felt much the same way about Dominion when I first played it. I thought it was a neat idea, but poorly executed (or at the very least, boringly so). A half dozen expansions or so later and Dominion has evolved into one of the best games in my collection. Quarriors! is built for the same type of expandability, so hopefully the game's design team will be able to address some of the its flaws through clever and interesting new card abilities, the way Dominion has done it. I think it's certainly possible to tighten up the game play, even if it never quite makes it up to par as a hardcore strategy title.

Next up, I think it's time for a return trip to Arkham Horror. I'd say the kids are good and ready to receive their scholarships to Miskatonic U.

I just hope all those cards don't collapse the kitchen table...
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Thu Oct 13, 2011 12:00 pm
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Escape from Endor (The Gen Con Adventures of Team Digression...West Coast Chapter)

Jeff Pratt
United States
Anacortes
Washington
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Just admit it already, Small World is not a fantasy wargame...it's a Mancala variant!
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Now that I've had a few days to recover from the 20-hour days and binge drinking nights that are the Gen Con experience, I figured I should probably throw something up here about some of the new stuff I got to test drive at the convention. I flew back to Ohio on a red eye Monday night, slept away most of Tuesday (jet lag is a bitch) and set off Wednesday for the hallowed halls of Gen Con. The drive flew by, as it was a long overdue reunion with my best gaming buddies from Team Digression. After we got to the hotel, we dropped our stuff in the room and made a quick run to the local liquor store for the evening's entertainment.

The first official game of the convention for us was a run through Cutthroat Caverns. Aside from Dave and myself, no one else had ever played it. After a quick rules briefing and a few more beers, the beautiful backstabby goodness of the game commenced. In the end, we made it to the final boss with only three of us left standing. I managed to put myself into a pretty strong position to stall the others out and claim the winning kill...until new Team Digression recruit Devo accidentally downed one too many cocktails and handed Matt the win. At any rate, the game played out great and I think everyone had a good enough time that we will be very happy to revisit it in the future.

After we packed up Cutthroat, Matt brought out his Summoner Wars decks. He had been talking this game up for the better part of a year, so I was very eager to take it for a ride. I came away from the convention (after several plays beyond this first one) a total convert. At first glance the game seems too light to be anything special, but as I tried out a few different decks I became very intrigued with how uniquely each faction plays. For such a simple game, the depth of tactics is pretty impressive. Summoner Wars has flown to the top of my Must Buy list.

Thursday morning we leapt out of bed and hit the Con running. Well, I actually kind of just staggered, as the Jet Lag was still hitting me pretty hard and I never really went to sleep. Fortunately, the adrenalin rush of opening day kept me upright and alert for most of the afternoon. The first stop was Z-Man Games. Matt was absolutely dedicated to grabbing a copy of The Ares Project, about which he had been hearing a lot of positive buzz. Now I'm going to jump a little bit ahead here and talk about the game. We didn't actually grab a demo until Saturday, but we had vastly uneven experiences. Matt managed to sit down with Geoff Engelstein and learn most of the basic game. Dave and I however, just missed him. We got a guy that had just read the rules on the plane for something to do, without ever playing it. Now that's not a knock against him, he tried his damnedest to guide us through it...but to no avail. I think I managed to grasp at least the primary function of most of the mechanics, but still, I really have no idea how to actually play the game to its conclusion. Bad demo aside, it still seems like a pretty neat game once you puzzle it out. One thing that I can't dismiss though, it sure is ugly. The graphic design is a mess, the cards are too full of stats and arcane symbols to impress the game's theme upon you, and the whole package just feels like it was pulled through a worm hole from some grognard's closet circa 1983. Yuck.

The next stop was for another game I had never heard of, Mage Wars Arena. Our primary motivation was to swag a free t-shirt, but amazingly enough we found ourselves participating in a pretty enjoyable demo. The big gimmick of this title is that while it's a card game, you build your deck into a spellbook and are allowed to find and cast any spell that you want in any order that you need to. There's no blind card draw or resource issues to speak of. I had a few issues with the sheer volume of different status effects and the amount of hidden information (not because I dislike hidden info, but simply because it got to confusing to keep track of what was where!). But overall, it's a very intriguing concept and I am looking forward to seeing how the game does when it's released to a broader audience next year.

Next up was Star Trek Deck Building Game: The Next Generation. This was recommended to me by Dave, who had gotten a demo earlier in the year at Origins. I personally had already read through the rules PDF a few weeks before, so I had a feeling that I wasn't going to like it. The demo guy was bored and our fourth player was far more interested in surfing his i-phone porn hub than taking his turns. There's no question the bad demo made my impression of the game worse than it probably deserves, but nevertheless I just don't think the game does a very good job of representing the Star Trek universe. The characters are all there, but the game doesn't utilize them in a way that makes you feel like you're playing through an episode. I think it's a dud, but hardcore Trekkies might give it some love.

One Trek game I did enjoy was Star Trek: Fleet Captains, Wizkids new big box board game. This one supplied everything that Bandai's deck builder lacked. There was exploration, missions and ship to ship combat. It's all very abstracted, were not talking Star Fleet Battles here, but overall I think Wizkids has done a nice job of putting together a game that looks right at home in the Star Fleet Universe. The only drawback to the game is its incredibly cheap cardboard components. Both the hex tiles that make up the primary game board and the cards used to trigger missions are paper thin. It's a shame really, because to me the bad tiles are a deal breaker. There's no way I'm going to pay a hundred dollars for a game and have the board wear out in three months. The game's mechanics require you to manipulate both the tiles and cards quite a bit, so I think it's pretty inevitable that it's going to happen. Hopefully, I'm wrong.

We also spent quite a bit of time kicking around Fantasy Flight's booth for demos of Rune Age, Blood Bowl: Team Manager – The Card Game, Elder Sign and Star Wars: The Card Game. (That's us demoing Blood Bowl Team Manager in the still frame that's posted below the Aug 11th BGGNews Blog, for Fantasy Flight's Day 1 video.) Team Manager was a solid game. It did a pretty good job of distilling a long and complicated board game down into a quick and manageable card game. I'm not sure it has legs though...The consensus among Team Digression was that it would probably get old very quickly after ten or so plays. Matt also pointed out that realistically, the game was closer to Lost Cities than to its Blood Bowl namesake. It seems kind of crazy, but the more I think about it, the more I tend to agree. The game really boils down to just a battle for a majority presence at one of four locations, there's actually very little football going on. It was fun, but not exactly what I hoped it would be...

Rune Age on the other hand, was much better than I expected. So good in fact, the group left the Con with two copies! In many ways, Rune Age does a lot of the things that I've always wished Dominion could do. There is aggressive player interaction, direct combat and decks that can be built to achieve a specific goal. My only critique is the tiny card pool. There are only a couple of options for randomizing the available cards for a particular scenario, so it is possible that the game might become repetitive after a few plays. It seems a no-brainer to expand it, but Fantasy Flight has branded it a Silver Line game. Typically that's where Fantasy Flight puts their lighter, low cost, non-expandable titles. Maybe they've changed that branding, but if they don't expand this title, they are doing it a grave disservice. It's that good.

Elder Sign was pretty much what I expected. A push your luck dice matching game with a very thin Arkham Horror veneer. It was fun, but certainly not a replacement for the classic adventure game. I'd play it again, but it didn't catch my fancy enough to worry about picking it up any time soon. Again, this has been branded a Silver Line game...So I'm not sure if it's going to expand or not!

Last but not least was the new Star Wars card game. It's definitely going to appeal to fans of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. It plays a little differently, but shares enough to make learning it a breeze if you've played the LotR title. I'm pretty sure it's going to be a big hit...I know I'll be buying it when it finally releases next year. I also got a look at Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game. Wings of War with Twin Ion Engines and S-Foils? I think I've died and gone to heaven...

After we were done with Fantasy Flight, I swept through the Flying Frog Productions booth and picked up Invasion From Outer Space: Cloaked Martian Scouts. I haven't had a chance to play them yet, but I did upload a writeup and a couple of pictures courtesy of my wife:

Shelby Pratt
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I wanted to get a better look at Fortune and Glory: The Cliffhanger Game, but with everything else going on I just didn't have time. I have never left a Gen Con without picking up the Flying Frog pre-release, but I simply wasn't going to be comfortable dropping a hundred bucks on a blind buy. I'll just wait a bit and see what everyone else thinks about it.

Friday night was an evening with Navia Dratp. I relearned how to play, remembered how much fun it was...and also how much I suck at it. I guess I'm lucky I never hit the tournament scene on this one, because I never would have made it past the kiddie table. Matt on the other hand, is sort of a Navia savant. He hasn't played in three years and still managed to pound everyone's face who dared to play him. This was pretty much my cue to scoop out of his way and go play more Summoner Wars, a game I decidedly DON'T suck at.

Saturday night saw Team Digression sit down with Eagle Games for a run through Empires: Builder Expansion. Age of Empires III is an old favorite of ours, so we were very excited to see the long awaited expansion pack. The game itself was a tense as ever, interspersed with a few bouts of smack talk and a dejected Matt crying in his beer about the South American genocide at the hands of Dave and myself. On a more humorous note (I think), we had one extra non-Digression player at the table with us. He was a very nice gentleman who seemed to be a bit concerned when Dave and I continued to line up Matt's colonists and knock them down with the warfare box. "Why do you always kill the Missionaries first?" he asked. "Because they are the one's that ruin all the fun." I responded...He wasn't amused. A little later, we pretty much sent him running from the table when Dave declared "You know Matt, I don't know why you are such a rules manipulating bastard even when we are learning a new game. Did you come all the way to Gen Con just to get one over on me? That's why I'll gladly sleep with Jeff or with Devo, but I'll never get in bed with you!" Now obviously this isn't the Bored Gaymer blog and what Dave was referring to was the perpetual re-assignment of sleeping arrangements as we tried to find a way to fit four dudes onto two tiny beds. The look on our guest's face was priceless. Hopefully we didn't scar him too much, but he certainly didn't waste anytime getting the hell out of Dodge as soon as the game concluded. Good times.

The expansion itself was very interesting. It seemed to add a whole lot of extra colonists to the game. At first I thought that might weaken it, because the competition for prime spots is extremely tight and really drives the original game. The extra guys actually seemed to increase the tension though, as everyone had extra moves to play defensively and block off spaces. Before the expansion, that was a bit of a losing proposition since you needed every colonist available to focus on your strategy. Another neat addition were the 'Spoils of War', which pop up in the technology building tiles. These are free techs that provide a one time bonus and they do a nice job of making the technology box something to fight over, even when everyone is out of money. I want to play it a few more times, but I'm pretty sure this expansion is going to be a '10' and a permanent addition to my game.

Saturday also saw Team Digression take a swing at Plaid Hat Games new release Dungeon Run. It's too bad they didn't make the show with copies to sell, because I'm pretty sure they would have moved a boat load. I'd have to say it was the best of the new games I demoed. It's fast, simple and full of player interaction. It also looks like it's going to have lots of re-playability as well due to the large amount of special abilities each character can be built with. Expandability will also be fairly easy, so I am absolutely going to pick this up when it comes out. Plaid Hat did give away a couple of copies in a drawing, one of which was won by Devo, the newest member of Team Digression. Of course he's staying back east, so Sasquatch and I will have to wait until September...

Finally, Saturday night we learned two new Small Box Games, Irondale and Omen: A Reign of War. Irondale was alright, perhaps a little dry, but Omen was fantastic. The advanced draft mode makes for an excellent head-to-head card game. I hope the publisher has plans to expand it, because the ONLY weakness the game has is it's smallish pool of cards. We played a couple of times and I enjoyed every game.

Overall it was another great trip to Indy. I got to hang out with my dudes (whom I've sorely missed), play a bunch of new games and revisit some old favorites. The only thing I forgot to do was get my copy of Wilderness Survival out of storage and mail it back for the Yeti that make up the West Coast Arm of Team Digression . I guess I'll just have to go back next year!
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Mon Aug 15, 2011 12:00 pm
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There are a few games that I'll never get rid of, even though I'll probably never play them.

Jeff Pratt
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I'm usually pretty good about selling off games that I don't like playing. I've even gotten rid of a grail or two. Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit and Star Wars: Epic Duels left my collection because I just didn't see myself ever really enjoying them. (I found the three-tiered board of the former game disasterously flimsy and the simplicity of the latter game made it fairly worthless to me.) I know both of them are well designed games; that's why they're grails, but they didn't fit my personal tastes...So I got rid of them. I sold off a gigantic collection of Mechwarrior: Dark Age when I dropped out of the tournament scene and did the same thing again with Dreamblade when I realized that it's tournament structure was drying up. I really liked both of these games, but I knew that I would never play them casually.

It wasn't hard, really.

There is another batch of games though, that I am having a very hard time with. Most of them are games that reflect my interest in history. Titles like Britannia, The Republic of Rome, Founding Fathers and Napoleon in Europe. I can't bring myself to get rid of them, because I know I would absolutely love them if I managed to get them played. Unfortunately, I also know that I will not be finding three other people anytime soon that would enjoy them as much as me. So I know they will go unplayed and the logical part of my brain will continue to question why the hell I'm keeping them around. I don't have a good answer...But no, telling me that you have played those games and they suck is not going to change my mind.

It's not just historical themes that get me. Over the years I have also acquired a few games that have great reputations on BGG. I know I probably won't even like them, but I have a hard time getting rid of anything that I haven't actually taken for a ride. Titan, Warrior Knights, and Taj Mahal come to mind here. Most of these I got through online fire sales or by spending store credits from World of Warcraft Trading Card Game tournament winnings. I have heard enough people speaking fondly of these games, which is why I never minded picking them up...but again, these are generally monster games that I have almost zero chance of convincing someone to play with me.

But wait, there's more.

High Frontier, why is your rulebook so damn incomprehensible? I can clearly see that this is not a complex game, but an hour with the game manual and I don't even know where to start.

Stronghold, do you mean to tell me that whatever sucker I trick into playing you is going to have their own DIFFERENT rulebook to read? How the hell will I teach this?

Dominant Species, I think you might be the perfect game for me. If only you didn't last four hours and have a twelve-step turn structure. I'm sure it's all very easy to follow in practice, but I'm also pretty sure I have virtually no chance of getting any of said practice.

These all should hit the road.

They won't.

See you at Gen Con!
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Thu Jul 28, 2011 12:00 pm
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Does anyone else remember when you only had to learn one new game every five years or so?

Jeff Pratt
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Just admit it already, Small World is not a fantasy wargame...it's a Mancala variant!
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There have been a few posts on BGG over the last couple of weeks about the overwhelming number of games that are being released each year. Reading over the discussions on those threads has gotten me to thinking about my own experiences with new games. Over the years, it seems that most of my gaming eras were dominated by a single game. There was no Cult of the New because:

A) There wasn't that many new games being released at any given time and...
B) If there was, I was unlikely to even know about it unless a copy happened to crop up at the local hobby shop. Of course, it also had to possess an adequately intriguing box cover to make me buy it blind. This was all pre-internet and yes, this is how we did it back then.

I played the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Game (as well as Advanced) from about age 8 until I was 12 years old. Those old AD&D books were like novels...easily a couple of hundred pages long. I knew them like the back of my hand though, as I had literally years of boredom to take them all in.

Next was Star Fleet Battles. Unquestionably the most complicated game I have ever played. This rulebook was easily as long as two AD&D books combined, but written in 1.1.34.a style legalese. I still flip through my Star Fleet Battles: Captain's Edition Basic Set now and then for a laugh. I am amazed that I ever knew how to play through that behemoth, but again...in those days that was the ONLY game I was playing. Nothing else in that period of my life ever came close to capturing my attention from it. I played for about four years or so. Again, the rulebook was daunting...but what else was I doing? It's amazing how much down time we kids had to fill back in the days before X-box Live.

Then came Paydirt. This was an NFL football strategy simulator. The rulebook was much shorter than my previous two obsessions, but it's still a little shocking to look over them now. I'm surprised that I was able to puzzle it all out by myself. (Until this point, all of the games I had played had been taught to me. This particular rulebook must have done a good job of breaking me in, because now I do love my rulebooks!)

I followed those games up with periods of BattleTech, Star Wars Customizable Card Game, Mage Knight and Mechwarrior: Dark Age. I played all of these rather well and rarely, if ever, had to consult a rulebook. All of these games were played more or less in a gaming vacuum, with no other games competing for my leisure time.

In the end, Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) was the game that led me down the path of boardgaming. It is one of my favorite games and some of my best gaming memories come from it. Still, I wonder if I would have ever been able to learn it, if I had been playing a dozen other titles at the time, as I do now. The sheer volume of boardgame releases is rapidly becoming overwhelming and the longer and deeper games are harder and harder to make time for. The Republic of Rome is still sitting in my closet, untouched. All of the reviews and session reports I have read absolutely scream that this will be a game I'll love...but every time I break out that rulebook my eyes glaze over and I find an excuse to do something else.

I like to tell myself that my favorite games are the big-themed and complicated simulation types, but when I look at my ratings (which I always try to be very objective and honest with myself about) they just don't support that. The vast majority of my favorite games seem to have 4-8 page rule sets. Short, sweet and easy to digest. I guess I'm just beginning to accept that you can focus better on the strategy in a game when you don't have to keep a 30-step turn order in your head. It's becoming more and more valuable for me to be able to know a game by heart, rather than having to re-read the rules every time I play. I simply don't have five years worth of free time to dedicate to learning the nuances of a game anymore.

My head may want Advanced Squad Leader, but my heart always seems to go back to Memoir '44...
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Thu Jul 7, 2011 12:00 pm
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You may have suffocated my thread, but I will Survive!

Jeff Pratt
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About three months ago I picked up the new Stronghold Games edition of Survive: Escape from Atlantis!. I had very fond memories of playing it as a kid, so I was super excited to get my hands on the reprint. I already knew that the game had held up over the years, because right before I moved out of Ohio my buddy Matt had brought an old copy he had found to one of our gaming sessions. We were all so caught up in gleefully killing each other's Atlanteans that I think we played it three or four times in a row. I spent the next three years kicking myself for not storing my childhood copy someplace safe when I was eleven and punished myself by trolling all the local thrift shops, endlessly searching for a used copy. None ever surfaced, but thankfully rumors of a new revised version started cropping up on the Geek...and eventually a copy worked its way into my anxious little hands.

While Stronghold was floating their teasers, they hinted at the whales being left out in favor of adding the giant squid to the monster mix. Of course, a small scale nerd shit storm soon erupted. Looking back, it's pretty clear that the whole controversy was a perfectly executed hype generator. Normally that kind of thing irritates the crap out of me, but this time I found the whole thing to be fairly entertaining, not to mention impressively clever.

After the dust of the controversy died down, Stronghold announced that the squid meeples were real and that they were going to be released as an expansion. I of course, having completionist sickness, simply had to have them. The best part of Survive! is feeding the monsters, so what could be better than more of them? I added them onto the Survive! order without a second thought. Sure enough, when they arrived they looked absolutely awesome, just like the rest of the reprint.

I set the game up straight away, read through the expansion rules and dove right into a four player game with the kiddies. The squid, with the rules as written, turned the game into an absolute bloodbath. We finished having only saved one or two meeples each and the island was completely depopulated before the jungle tiles were even removed. We set up and played again...and once more the land hopping giant squid ate nearly the entire fleeing populace of Atlantis. This thing needed toned down...badly.

Now I normally have a pretty strong dislike for house rules, I think that comes from years of playing in competitive tournament games like Magic, Mechwarrior and Dreamblade. Rules ambiguities wreck havoc in that environment, so I've always been of a mind set to play the game as written. Knowing the rules is half the battle when it comes to becoming tactically proficient in a game, so I always try to understand them completely.

House rules muck that up. Besides, There's nothing worse than being taught a game with someone else's made up rules and then being completely lost when you jump into that same game at a different venue. Sometimes the reverse is true, you go to play a familiar game and the whole table is playing a completely different way that someone in that particular group made up. You end up challenging all the crap the other players are doing and just generally come off as a rules lawyering Killjoy. I don't like it when that happens to me and I try not to trip up others by doing it myself, even when I really hate a rule.

However, this squid release is just really sticking in my craw. The Squid-eeples are amazingly cool and I absolutely need to use them in my games. Still, I can't stop thinking that the rules as written make them far too powerful. Now that it has been out for a few months, it seems that many out here in BGG land are starting to agree. Stronghold did take notice and offered a FAQ fix to tone them down. It helps, but still...I just don't feel right with squids crawling up on land (or having quarter-mile long tentacles) to eat people. They also have the side effect of making the other creatures, especially the whales, become almost inactive for most of the game. Given the choice it's just about always better to activate a squid, rather then mess around with one of the other critters. I want to play with them, but early on...those squid were wrecking the game.

I decided to access the great think tank of the Geek to get some suggestions. I figured if I threw up a couple of ideas, I could gather some input and find a more comfortable way to use them. The idea I was going for was this (previously posted):

One of the great things about Survive! is how well the theme comes together with the mechanics. The creatures all behave iconically, as popular fiction has always imagined them. The whales act like Moby Dick, the sharks behave like Jaws and the sea serpent wrecks the boat AND eats the crew, basically a diabolical combination of the other two creatures. Again, the gameplay meets popular expectations. The squid doesn't (at least in the originally printed rules) feel this way. Giant squid plucking people off of the island, devouring an islander literally every other player turn and having the ability to kill a whale if it strikes first just feel a little bit off.

I think that to thematically tie in the giant squid, they should have primarily preyed upon meeples aboard boats. That's what all those old carvings of the Kraken always depicted, right? That was the intent of my rough draft of a house rule set for them. I thought it would be neat if you could use them to aggressively peel enemy meeples off your boat, the trade off being you just might feed it some of your own if your opponents were lucky. I even thought it might be neat to place them so that they could guard empty boats and make it harder for your opponents to use them. It seemed like a more fitting use for them than the current land shark rules...


Unfortunately, the post was quickly devoured by a British Kraken. He stomped all over it and screamed POWER-UP from the roof tops at every suggestion I made. Now I've been inhabiting the inter-webs long enough not to let things like that really bother me. I'm sure he had fun and despite shooting everything down, he wasn't really all that rude or anything. He did however, almost single handedly shut down the thread. When I dropped my ideas, I erred on the side of things being too powerful as I figured it would be good to start aggressive and then tone things down based on feedback. Nope. All I got was an angry Brit and a suggestion from Kevin at Stronghold games to just play the FAQ. No playtest reports, no ideas, not even a suggestion to change the expansion name from Survive: Escape from Atlantis! The Giant Squid Mini Expansion to Survive! The Giant Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus expansion. There was nothing but crickets.

Now here we are a couple of months later and I see that finally some others are starting to take issue with the power level of the Squid. I still haven't seen a very good fix though, so I wonder...Is anyone out there playing around with them? I've ran a couple of games using this rough draft:


Giant Squid

1. Whenever a whale tile is revealed, the active player may also place a giant squid in any hex already occupied by a manned or unmanned boat. The whale is placed in the original tile's space as normal.

2. A manned or unmanned boat in the same hex as a giant squid may not be moved in any way until the squid is destroyed or moves away.

3. A squid may be activated instead of a whale anytime a whale symbol is rolled on the creature die.

4. If a whale moves into the same hex as a giant squid, the whale immediately attacks and consumes the giant squid. Remove the giant squid from the game. If the squid was holding a boat (manned or unmanned), it is also destroyed in the encounter. Any meeples aboard become swimmers, as per the normal whale vs. manned boat rules.




I've played two games with this set-up. I haven't decided if I like it or not. It made the board seem kind of static in the early game as the squids pounce early and often on the first surge of manned boats, but things picked up once more empty boats came into play. I feel like there is an over-abundance of boats anyway, so it's nice to have a reason for spawning more of them (to run rescue missions!). The first set of boats to launch typically have a pretty high success rate, so slowing them down might not be such a bad thing. I also like having the squid and whale be a one-two punch. They share spawn tiles, so it's pretty neat to have them work in tandem. Even in normal Survive! Whales don't get a whole lot of action, so having the squid hold the boats in place until the whales get in position to sink them just works...and I can thematically justify it.


Try it out, see what you think. I am very open to suggestions. Just don't stomp up and down and scream Borken! Borken!

I already know that, I want to fix it...

I'm also kind of curious as to what everyone thinks of the dolphin challenge rules. I like the idea of having the dolphin figures on the board protecting swimmers, but they hardly ever activate (the wild card symbol is almost always used to eat someone)...so they are just not that useful. I saw one suggestion that players use the tile as in basic Survive! to move a swimmer three spaces, THEN place the dolphin in the swimmers space. The best of both worlds! Has anyone tried it?
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Thu Jun 16, 2011 12:00 pm
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