Boardgames To Go

Mark Johnson's occasional and opinionated podcast, Boardgames To Go, now has its own blog on Boardgamegeek.

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Solo wargaming

Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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The podcast that will come out next is one with Davebo and I discussing the seasonal topic of playing games outdoors. I'll edit it down a little bit and post on Tuesday. (Sometimes it actually goes on iTunes sooner, but the start of the week is when I announce it.)

After that, I think it will be a solo show talking about wargames...which I've coincidentally(?) been playing solo. This isn't unusual when it comes to wargames. Statistics taken many years ago revealed that the majority of wargames were being played solo. That is, a 2-player game where one player took turns playing both sides. While that's nearly meaningless in a euro that's all about balance, competition, and mechanics, it's entirely reasonable for wargames where an objective is to learn what this little model made of cardboard counters and a hexmap can tell you about a historic battle. Often, they can tell you a fair bit, and who wins is a lot less important that seeing how they win.


I've always liked light and/or short historical wargames, but I haven't played any in a long while. In April my son & I went on a spring break trip to some military history sites in Europe, and I did a lot of research beforehand. Besides books, films, and websites, some of that research took the form of historic wargames on battlefields we would visit. Although I already own two good boxed wargames on Napoleon's Battle of Waterloo (and some magazine wargames, too), I purchased Waterloo 20 from Victory Point Games. VPG's offerings strongly remind me of the classic microgames that got me into this hobby in the late 1970s. Now, though, the same low price (adjusted for inflation) covers color, mounted counters and a sturdier (still paper) map.

The components aren't what these games are about, however. Nor do they matter if the game underneath isn't compelling. Fortunately, Waterloo 20 is compelling. A few weeks after returning from our trip--where I got to walk the perimeter of the Hougoumont farmouse!--I played a solo game. I thoroughly enjoyed it! The rules are simple, but with a little chrome for cavalry pursuits and whatnot. The unit density and amount of movement are just about perfect for me (low and moderate, respectively). The real fun, however, came from the event cards that are turned on each player's turn. For someone that had recently studied the battle, these injected quite a lot of historical flavor and consequence at negligible additional complexity. A real design success, in my book.


Unfortunately, my other two experiences were mixed (plus one more I'm still contemplating). The one wargame I played before the trip was The Drive on Metz. I played the second edition, a nice graphic update by Victory Point Games (again) of an introductory wargame presented by legendary designer Jim Dunnigan in one of his books about wargaming. This had a lot of emotional significance for me. When I was about the age my kids are now, I went to the local public library and was thrilled to find a couple books about the hobby of wargaming I'd just discovered. One of these was Dunnigan's book, and I remember looking at the black & white WW2 wargame printed in the pages of the book. I never played it, but read the rules and especially the instructional replay Dunnigan included that helped teach the game as well as some lessons about military history and strategy.

Now fast-forward thirty years, and I'm finally playing a nicer version of the game, about the visit the cities shown on the map with my son. How cool is that?! Incredibly. The game, however, was underwelming. I don't think there's anything actually wrong with it, just that it's primary purpose is a teaching aid, rather than a tense competition that could go either way. I'm still glad I bought it, spent the time clipping counters, and tried a solo play. Almost against my better judgment (I should hold out for a better game), I think I'm still going to get my son to play it with me.

I'll write about my other wargame experiences in a future post.

-Mark
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Sun May 27, 2012 7:37 pm
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Recent gaming (and an episode recorded)

Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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That's a Palm Pilot on the left, and a pink iPod mini on the right. Yes, I've been doing BGTG that long!
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I've done a lot of good gaming lately. The discovery of another local gamer really helped bring our group back to a viable level, and we now may have another. If so, we should have 3-5 gamers every week, which is ideal for a single table.


Tigris & Euphrates
For a long time I've wanted to introduce Tigris & Euphrates to the lunch group. It's too long, actually, but the two most serious boardgamers in that casual group deserve to be introduced to such an awesome game. They've enjoyed the light games I've brought before, titles like For Sale, Exxtra, and Piece o' Cake, but I know they wanted to see something intense. Which E&T is. When the opportunity finally presented itself, I jumped on it. We got through about 3/4 of a game before we ran out of time, but hopefully we'll get another chance that will go quicker since they know the rules.


Lancaster
At recent game nights, I finally got to try Lancaster. I'm trying to decide what I think about it. Especially having played Lords of Waterdeep earlier. Both are clean, attractive worker placement games. Lanc has more "stuff" in terms of mechanics, some of which are thematic if you look really closely, and care about the sedate, historical theming of most euros. LoW stands out in contrast--its extra stuff is in the fantasy theming hiding just under the surface, with those quest cards and character-type resource cubes. Which is better? To my surprise, I think I might go with LoW for its clean gameplay. However, I'd gladly play either some more.


Africana
Designer Michael Schacht has steadily been building up his own pbem site (which draws on the mabiweb software, as far as I can tell). He recently introduced Africana, and I've been enjoying my plays quite a bit. I had to learn online (never ideal), but there's not too much to this game. For me, that's a good thing! The comparisons to Valdora are reasonable, a game I liked but nothing more than that. Africana seems to work best with a small number of players, like 2-3.

-Mark

P.S. The podcast episode was recorded last night. Dave Gullett met me and we talked about playing games outdoors...while recording the podcast outdoors!
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Wed May 16, 2012 9:26 pm
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Game night: Water Lily, San Marco, and Dominion (plus Friday)

Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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A couple different game orders came in yesterday. Hooray! I swear Greg gets at least one new game every week, but my purchases are few & far between. They're also in clumps to take advantage of free shipping deals online.


The first included Eurorails, Friday, and Water Lily. I ordered Water Lily on the strength of recommendations for an enjoyable, light game, combined with Gameworks top-notch productions. I've really enjoyed many of their games, maybe all of theirs at the light end. Friday was intriguing as the solo deckbuilding euro, and Eurorails was a reacquisition for my wife. It was a game we played together long ago, I thought was way too long, and eventually sold it. A couple years ago she asked why I'd done that when it was one of the few games she enjoys! Oops! We'll see if it gets to the table.

The second order started with just LocoMotive, which my son & I loved at a recent Games Day. When some friends added games to get halfway to free shipping, I searched until I found a couple more titles I wanted to buy: Cambria and Mondo. I haven't played them yet, though, so no opinions just yet.

When Santa Clarita Boardgame night took place, we thought it would just be Greg and I, but then our newest member Marcin showed up unexpectedly and we had the minimum number for multiplayer games!

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Sun Feb 5, 2012 4:20 am
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Lunch hour games: Exxtra

Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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That's a Palm Pilot on the left, and a pink iPod mini on the right. Yes, I've been doing BGTG that long!
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Every couple weeks some work buddies and I play a game over Friday lunch. It doesn't always work out, and often our times get cancelled, trampled by meetings or business trips. Lately, though, we've been on a roll. Today there were four of us, and I brought out Exxtra.



Although light, this is an awfully good game for lunch since we can eat pizza at the same time, laugh & tell stories, all while playing the game. It's like "Bunco for gamers," that way. We got through three quick games, and they all had those wonderful dilemmas Knizia baked into this one: leaving gaps to tempt other players, the thrill/agony of doubles, trying for more points versus knocking out other players, etc. Just great. I have the original edition, but I understand the recent remake (Excape) does a faithful job recreating it.
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Fri Feb 3, 2012 9:30 pm
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Relocating?

Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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That's a Palm Pilot on the left, and a pink iPod mini on the right. Yes, I've been doing BGTG that long!
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I'm not yet sure about this, but I think I may "move" my BGTG blog over to BGG this year. For long time I've preferred to have my own content at my own location, but that now seems less relevant. So much of our information is already on someone else's servers these days, whether Gmail, Facebook, or Amazon...why not BGG?

Second, the usage of the web has shifted, and I think more gamers might read & respond to BGTG's incarnation over here, rather than at an independent blog.

Finally, it's just so darn slick to include photos and links to game material that is here on BGG, it ends up looking nicer.

For now, this is an experiment. Let's see what happens.
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Fri Feb 3, 2012 9:22 pm
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