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My 2011 in Review: Strategy Games

Ender Wiggins
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This is the third installment of a series of articles, in which I take a look back at some of the new games I've played and explored in the past year. Our featured category for this article is: Strategy Games.

I didn't get to play all the strategy games that appeared in 2011, but this year certainly introduced me to some fantastic strategy games, both new releases as well as a couple of games from the couple of years leading up to this one. If I had to pick a favourite of all the new strategy games I learned this year, London and Egizia would be the leading contenders, but really all of the games listed here are excellent. Of the strategy games you learned this year, what was your favourite?

London



London is a two to four player game that tells the story of the rebuilding of the city of London after the Great Fire of 1666. In the world of modern game design, they don't get much better than Martin Wallace, and he's really produced something quite spectacular with this game.

At its heart, London is a card game in which players ‘rebuild’ the various London boroughs they control, balancing their desire to build extensive boroughs and impressive buildings with the challenges of finance, overcrowding and poverty. The player who most successfully manages these various tensions will earn the most victory points and be declared the winner.

Sound good? Oh it is! Very, very good, the heights of eurogaming goodness type good - as much as that's possible in a card game! London is a stunningly beautiful eurogamer's dream of a card game that has deservedly been the subject of high praise, so I was very pleased to learn and play it in the past year. Elegant, interactive, strategic, scalable - it really ticks all the boxes for everything you could want in a euro-game. It's truly outstanding in every way, and while it's a somewhat surprising game for Martin Wallace - especially given how it uses cards - the dynamics of trying to manage your money, VPs, and poverty points is really well done. Highly recommended.

Want to know more? See my full review: mb Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A stunningly beautiful eurogamer's dream of a game


Egizia



I consider Egizia to be Stone Age version 2.0. Like Stone Age, it's a worker placement game, and it shares much in common with it. Yet Egizia has the advantage of being slightly more complex, more strategic, and thus also more satisfying. It first appeared at Essen 2009 and is currently just perched outside the BGG Top 100 with a very respectable average rating of 7.59.

Egizia is an Egyptian themed game which has players send their workers to various locations on and around the Nile river. Over five rounds, you'll try to increase the strength of your construction crews, and use them to contribute to the building of impressive Egyptian landmarks like the pyramids, as well as ensure that you feed your workers and manage them wisely. There's lots of different ways to earn points, and unlike Stone Age there are no dice, but there are cards which can be claimed to offer short term and long term rewards, so end-of-game scoring is an important element of game-play.

For a euro, the Egyptian theme is surprisingly well-developed. And while it uses the traditional worker placement mechanic, it adds some excellent twists that limit ship placement, and promote variable long term strategies. While Egizia is no Stone Age clone, this is a strategic worker placement game that fans of Stone Age will not want to miss, and I consider it the superior of the two! Overall a fantastic game!

Want to know more? See my full review: mb A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Should Egizia be considered Stone Age version 2.0?


Belfort



Belfort is a 2011 release from Tasty Minstrel Games, and could well prove to be their most successful strategy game yet. It's a worker-placement driven euro with resource management that is primarily about area control. It's strength is that it takes familiar euro mechanics but integrates them in a new way. What's more, it adds a somewhat unusual (for a euro) fantasy theme.

The basic concept of this game for 2-5 players is that you're competing against other players in an effort to use a workforce of elves, dwarves and gnomes to build the city of Belfort. You’ll need to organize your work force, gather resources, stake out building sites within the city confines – all while your competitors are doing everything they can to ensure that they succeed and you fail in your efforts to build this new and beautiful city. But the buildings you create will give you small bonuses, and can you use these to your advantage?

Belfort is a highly polished product in every respect: artwork, components, theme, mechanics, humour, rules. Everything shows evidence of careful play-testing and balance, and it's clear that this game has been a labour of love that has benefited from the hard work of designers, developers, play-testers, publisher, and artist. It sure is no ordinary worker placement game, and is set to make quite a splash over the next year. There is the potential for some downtime and a longer game with the full complement of five players (especially AP types), but aside from that this game gets pretty much everything right. Very impressive game!

Want to know more? See my full review: mb Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: O Gnomeo, Gnomeo...Wherefore Art Thou O Gnomeo?


Troyes



My review of Troyes was posted just before the end of 2010, but it belongs in this list because the last days of December were less than a year ago, and it only hit the US market in the first half of 2011 courtesy of ZMan Games. Troyes made a big splash when it debuted at Essen 2010, coming in second beyond 7 Wonders in the final standings of the Fairplay list, and was arguably the darling of gamers at the show, its success surprising many who had never heard of it previously. Many consider it to be one of the best gamer's games to emerge from 2010, and if not the best then in the top three.

The game is set in the years 1200-1600, as players use the military, religious, and civil influence of their families to seek to be the most prestigious in Troyes. And yes, that includes building a cathedral! If that sounds like Pillars of the Earth, you're right, but there's a big difference: this has dice! But don't let that intimidate you, because while it may use dice, Troyes does so in a very unique way, to make it a true strategy game of the highest quality. The basic concept of the game is that the citizens (meeples) of the players are placed in three buildings to provide a workforce to build up the city of Troyes. This workforce is represented by dice, which are used to perform various activities (e.g activities by labourers, building the cathedral, countering negative events, or recruiting new citizens).

The combination of great artwork, along with smooth and deep gameplay that features some innovative mechanics is a formula ripe for success. If you consider yourself a fan of medium-heavy eurogames and don't have this already, be sure to take a look at it!

Want to know more? See my full review: mb A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Arguably the best gamers' game of 2010


Fürstenfeld



Fürstenfeld first appeared at Essen 2010, and to use designer Friedemann Friese's own words, "This is a deck-building game but in a different kind of way." I call it "deck-unbuilding", because you start with a deck of 28 cards and slowly thin it as you buy and build various building cards from your deck onto your farm.

The brewery theme isn't the deepest, but I like it because it's somewhat non-conformist. Players manage a farm which supplies ingredients (spring water, barley, and hops) to local breweries, which in turn will earn players the finances to better develop their landholdings and eventually build a palace. The aim is to generate enough income to buy and build the six Palace cards (akin to the Province VPs in Dominion) from your deck, and the first player to do so wins the game. But in addition to the requirement of careful hand management and deck management, the real appeal for me was the interactive and clever market system that drives the financial aspect of the game - prices for goods vary depending on supply and demand.

It's not a heavy economic game by any means, but for something that plays in 45-60 minutes, it offers a considerable dose of fun and yet enough strategic and tactical decision making to be rewarding. Particularly with the advanced game (which is how Friese designed the game to be played), there are more decisions and more control than meets the eye. I think the game has suffered somewhat of a bad rap from people dismissing it too quickly as depending on luck-of-the-draw after only playing the introductory and beginner form of the game - which was intended only as a temporary stepping stone to the `real' game. Give it a fair chance and play the full game, and like me you could well conclude that this is a medium weight game that has a lot to offer, even if it's not the same kind of heavy-weight as others on this list.

Want to know more? See my full review: mb A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Friedemann Friese unhinges Dominion-style deck-building by adding beer


Join the discussion: What is the best new strategy game that you learned in the past year? And if you have played any of above mentioned games, what did you think of them?

Read the whole series: My 2011 in Review: A look back at some new games
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Thu Dec 8, 2011 4:30 pm
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My 2011 in Review: Word Games

Ender Wiggins
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This is the second installment of a series of articles, in which I take a look back at some of the new games I've played and explored in the past year. Today's category: Word Games.

My award for Best Word Game goes to Montage. It's been around for a while, but has just appeared in a great new edition after being nearly impossible to find for years, and is a fantastic partnership game for four players. From the same designer comes a terrific two player game, What's My Word? which would be a worthy winner as well. In passing I mention a great new word game that I learned last year, the relatively new Prolix, where the main concept is to come up with words that use some of the point-scoring consonants on the game board, but you are not restricted to using those letters only (link to review). Of the word games you learned this year, what was your favourite?

Montage



Montage is a holy grail among word games, fetching ridiculous prices on eBay and elsewhere until this reprint. Strictly for four players, it sees players work in partnerships, playing tiles with colours corresponding to letters, and giving crossword style clues with the aim of having their partner try to guess the chosen word before the opposing partnership. Clever, tense, fun, and an all round solid game.

Want to know more? See my full review: mb Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A holy grail among word games gets a welcome reprint


What's My Word?



if you are among those who enjoy logic or deduction games, and don't mind playing around with words, you'll likely find a very satisfying game in this box. There's good reason that What's My Word? was deemed worthy of a reprint after first appearing almost 40 years ago! Gryphon Games have done well to release the game not just with a simple score pad, but in an attractive folder that makes for a very pleasing and classy looking package. Some great scoring elements have been added to the traditional Mastermind mechanic, to turn this into a deductive word game that really works well. A very good two player game, if you're the target market. Recommended.

Want to know more? See my full review: mb A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A classy and clever Mastermind-style deduction game with words


BuyWord



BuyWord is a word game from master designer Sid Sackson, yet it struggled to get published due to a very crowded field largely dominated by games like Scrabble and Boggle. When it finally appeared in 2004, a couple of years after Sackson's death, it went on to win Games Magazine Game of the Year award in 2005, and many consider it a "modern classic in the making". Its 2011 release in a deluxe edition should be welcome news.

Let's be honest that the genre of word games isn't everybody's cup of tea. But this one is different, because it introduces a simple economy to the game. The letter tiles in the game have dots on them, and the amount of dots in a collection of tiles will determine its buying and selling price. Players first must buy tiles, and then try to sell them at a profit ideally by making large words with lots of dots.

The economic element that Sackson has incorporated presents an interesting twist on the traditional point-scoring model associated with most word games, and works really well. It avoids some of the pitfalls associated with Scrabble, which can reward players for knowledge of obscure short words. The game is also very accessible for non-gamers, and has a very broad appeal. It also works outstandingly as a solitaire challenge. In BuyWord, Sid Sackson has produced a word game that deserves to be a modern classic among word games.

Want to know more? See my full review: mb Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Eat your heart out Cult-of-the-New! A deceased master designer brings us a living modern classic


Make Five



Make Five is an interesting word game that's largely flown under the radar despite being from a more mainstream publisher. Letter tiles are drawn, to determine letters that all players place simultaneously in their own 5x5 grid, trying to create point scoring words. It's the kind of game that could be enjoyed by fans of Scrabble and other word games. The public domain game Word Squares which inspired Make Five is worth trying at zero cost if this kind of game sounds like it might be of interest to you.

Want to know more? See my full review: mb Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: A fun word game that happens when you combine Scrabble with elements of Bingo


Join the discussion: What is the best new word game that you learned in the past year? And if you have played any of above mentioned games, what did you think of them?

Read the whole series: My 2011 in Review: A look back at some new games
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Thu Dec 8, 2011 12:57 am
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My 2011 in Review: Two Player Games

Ender Wiggins
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This is the first installment of a series of articles, in which I take a look back at some of the new games I've played and explored in the past year. First up: Two Player Games.

My Best Two Player Game award goes to Famiglia, but there were many other solid and fun games in this category, notably Mirror, Mirror and The Kingdoms of Crusaders. An honorable mention also goes to Jaipur, a 2010 Spiel des Jahres Recommended title which played for the first time this year and also loved. Also worth noting is the excellent What's My Word?, a two-player game that will appear in another installment under "Word Games". Of the two-player games you learned this year, what was your favourite?

Famiglia



Famiglia is a clever little two-player card game from Friedemann Friese that was first released at Essen 2010. It flew under the radar for quite some time and only in the last half a year is it finally getting some of the interest and attention it deserves. It's different - and that's immediately obvious by looking at the box, which is amusingly and cleverly designed to look just like a cigar box. I was initially sceptical about the game, and the mafia theme and artwork didn't help matters. But if you can overlook the fact that cards with tattooed mobsters might not be ideal candidates for a family-friendly game, there's a remarkable little hand management game to discover here. It has deck-building and set collection elements, offers fresh mechanics, and comes in an attractive package.

The cards feature four families, and players try to recruit more powerful and higher point scoring cards using a type of pyramid scheme: the usual way this works is that you need two cards of the same value and colour, in order to get the card of the next highest value in that colour (e.g. you'd need two yellow 2s in order to take a yellow 3 from the Street). The basic concept of the game may seem rather simple, and it would indeed be boring if that's all that the game offered - but what really makes this game shine is that three of the four families have special abilities which allow you to exchange cards, reduce their value, or act as wild cards.

It can take a few plays to click, but when it does, you may find yourself playing multiple sessions in row! The theme and artwork won't please everyone, but those who aren't put off by this will find something that rivals some of the best of the Kosmos two-player series, and it's continued to get regular play here over the last year. Famiglia is certainly one of the best new two player card games I've played in a while. And yes, Aldie and Derk's names really are featured as characters in the game!

Want to know more? See my full review: mb A Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Friedemann Friese's deck-building pyramid scheme (featuring Aldie & Derk)


Mirror, Mirror



Considering that this 2011 game originated with the designer being given a bunch of small round mirrors, a bag of wooden balls, a paint tray, and the challenge of a year to turn those into a game, Jacob Davenport has done an outstanding job of creating an enjoyable two-player game.

The objective of Mirror, Mirror is to move pieces (some of the moves are like chess) on the board, and try to capture your opponent's piece that is carrying a red letter - somewhat similar to the idea of capturing the "Flag" in Stratego. The characters all have `letters' on the reverse side, so they're hidden from view, and only one is red. But you can move your pieces - which have these awesome mirrors on them - into a position behind enemy lines so that you can spy on his pieces and see what colour letters they are carrying.

It's best described as playing a speedy and fun Stratego but with mirrors. Some of the mechanics certainly are more reminiscent of Stratego than Chess, but it's on a smaller playing field, and in much quicker game time. Add in a small element of deduction, a dash of tactics with regard to moving and positioning your pieces, a light-hearted and fun theme, colourful and quality components, and that's Mirror, Mirror! While being an abstract game at its core, it doesn't feel at all like an abstract, and is very fun to play and deduce. It also plays very quickly (15-20 minutes), so it doesn't get bogged down with analysis paralysis. Altogether these elements make Mirror Mirror stand out head and shoulders above your average chess-like abstract as a very clever and a novel two-player game worthy of attention.

Want to know more? See my full review: mb Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Imagine playing Stratego with mirrors!


The Kingdoms of Crusaders



Straight from Moscow comes The Kingdoms of Crusaders, a cute little two-player game that's highly reminiscent of Battle Line, but with less card-counting and arguably simpler and quicker. It became available in an English edition for the first time at Essen 2011.

Players place cards competing for five territories, with best of five winning. Each territory will have players placing a total of four cards, much like Battle Line, but the winner is determined by combinations of symbols, the winner being the player who can get the most four-of-a-kinds and/or three-of-a-kinds.

There's a good dollop of luck, but who cares given that you can play it in 10 minutes flat. The crusade style artwork from 19th century artist Gustav Dore is a nice touch, even if the theme is pasted on. A very worthwhile little filler from our Russian gaming friends!

Want to know more? See my full review: mb Ender's Comprehensive Pictorial Overview: Hey, it's a great Russian take on Battle Line & Lost Cities (sort of)


Jaipur



Even though I didn't get around to reviewing it personally, Jaipur deserves inclusion as one of the very best two player games I learned in the past year. Not only was it in the 2010 Spiel des Jahres Recommended list, but it picked up several awards, including the 2010 International Gamers Award in the Two-Player category, and it's proved to be a very popular little game among gamers ever since.

The box contains a deck of cards and scoring tokens. The game has players function as traders in the city of Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan in India. You're going to be buying and exchanging cards from the market, trying to collect sets of goods such as leather, spice, cloth, silver, gold, diamonds, which you'll then trade in for points. There are also camel cards, which allow you to trade multiple cards at once, and this mechanic is part of the genius of the game.

Altogether it just comes together in a way that is tense and rhythmic, to make up a package that rivals some of the best lighter two-player card games out there. While luck-of-the-draw certainly plays a significant role, there's enough room for decisions and it plays quickly enough to make it addictive. The nice components also enhance its case as a superlative choice for casual gaming with a spouse or friend.

Want to know more? See a full review: mb Diamond in the Rough - A Dice Hate Me Review of Jaipur


Castaways of Deadmans Bay



Castaways of Deadmans Bay is a very fun and super quick bluffing game, where the game-play is virtually reduced to rock-paper-scissors style bluffing in its purist form.

As pirates in this two player game, you engage in a battle of wits with your opponents: will you choose Insult, Strike, or Charge? Players simultaneously choose and reveal cards, and the winning player will be able to trigger various actions on his opponent, such as pushing him backwards (Charge), lose crew (Insult), or lose life (Strike). The impact increases in the closing stages, so the tension ramps up as the game progresses.

You win by sending your opponent off the plank, stealing all his crew, or reducing his health to zero. It's a very simple mechanism, but works very well, and really does justice to the pirate theme. A fine new 2011 release from a new designer.

Want to know more? See my full review: mb Like En Garde but for pirates: a 13 year old girl reviews a new two-player bluffing game (with pictures!)


Join the discussion: What is the best new two-player game that you learned in the past year? And if you have played any of above mentioned games, what did you think of them?

Read the whole series: My 2011 in Review: A look back at some new games
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Wed Dec 7, 2011 3:45 pm
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My 2011 in Review: A look back at some new games

Ender Wiggins
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I managed to play and review almost 50 different new games in the last 12 months, not including familiar games I've learned in previous years and which made it back to the table. I figured that this would be a good time to reflect back on the games that I've had a chance to look at over the past year, especially those that I was able to explore in more depth by means of a review.

I've arranged them into different categories as follows:

Strategy Games
Family Games
Two Player Games
Card Games
Word Games
Party Games
Dexterity Games
Children's Games
Themeless Games
Unique Games
Old Favourites

Look for the first installment to appear here within the next day! (and consider subscribing to the blog if you wish to be notified of additions)
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Wed Dec 7, 2011 5:01 am
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100 Session Reports: A retrospective and highlights

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A full six and a half years after posting my very first session report to BGG, I've reached a new milestone: mb 100 Session Reports! Report #100 had to be something special to mark the occasion, so I chose a memorable session of Arkham Horror played with my good friend the Masked Man - a game which for us personally marked the end of an era. Here it is:

mb The Masked Man's very last game. Goodbye my friend. [my *100th* session report!]

You can find the complete list of all my session reports here: Ender's session reports [Most Popular] [Most Recent]

This retrospective is simply a self-indulgent look back at the last six and a half years of writing the occasional session report, to reflect on what worked and what didn't, and to highlight some of my personal favourites. My session reports fall into six main categories, which I've listed below along with a selection of some of the most popular in each:

1. Pictorial illustrations of game-play

A total of 14 session reports fall into this category, and these proved to consistently be the most popular. These include my most thumbed session report of all, which is of the game Innovation. I'm also pleased with how my illustration of the gameplay of Richard III: The Wars of the Roses turned out, particularly since exploring a block-wargame was something new for me. I suppose what accounts for the success of these reports is that they help show people how a game worked, so they can visually see the game in practice. Some highlights and some of my own personal favourites:

142 thumbsup Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: A sample turn of Carl Chudyk's innovative new civilization-themed card game
103 thumbsup Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: A sample game of 2 de Mayo
102 thumbsup Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: A sample turn as a weakened King Henry VI fights desperately to save London!
76 thumbsup Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: Let's learn how to play Haggis!
60 thumbsup Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: Some sample plays from an innovative two-player trick-taking game

2. Creative reports of game-play

I really enjoy creative writing. Sometimes the muse just flows, and I get into the groove and the words just appear readily. Even so, in most cases a good session report receives the benefit of much editing and tinkering before it is finally published. Session reports are especially rewarding when they convey a sense of story, and some of my favourites attempt to recreate the drama and tension of real-game experiences. I'd like to think that I have some sense of humor, and that this also contributes to making these fun to read. Some highlights and some of my own personal favourites:

95 thumbsup A pictorial report of my first ever block war game: a man and his 13 year-old son take a thrilling ride back to medieval England
71 thumbsup The perils of serving Haggis for a date-night on Valentine's Day: an eyewitness report
50 thumbsup New World Records: Celebrating the 2008 Olympics with Knizia's Decathlon
37 thumbsup Rewriting History: the intense and hilarious drama of my best ever game that I didn't even play
37 thumbsup Sherlock Holmes and the Dastardly Case of the Dead Druggist: a dramatic pictorial report

3. Pictorial reports of game-play

A picture can tell a thousand words. In some instances my retelling of the story relied heavily on the pictures, so that the visual images constituted the majority of the report. These are some of the picture-heavy reports that seem to have been enjoyed over the years.

111 thumbsup A pictorial report of our first game: the adventures of a man and two children, in their valiant quest to defend the king's city
100 thumbsup Extreme Scrabble: Taking Scrabble to where it's never been taken before!
67 thumbsup A giant sized version proves a big hit with seniors at an outdoor garden party (with pictures!)
44 thumbsup Introducing three children to the city of Belfort (a report with pictures)
35 thumbsup A Tale of One Family and Three House Fires (a pictorial report of three games with the Family rules)

4. Gaming with the Masked Man

The last three categories of session reports all recount various gaming adventures with three good gamer friends of mine. The first of these is the infamous Masked Man, and no less than about 30 session reports regale some of our adventures together. Please don't be too intimidated by the pictures - you may find that the stories of these games have more charm and humour than you'd expect!

44 thumbsup The Masked Man goes homeless and hungry after drafting his beloved Cube (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #25, Week 10)
37 thumbsup The Masked Man helps usher in a new error* in the anals* of human history (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #14, Week 5)
31 thumbsup The Masked Man fiddles while Rome burns (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #11, Week 3)
20 thumbsup The Masked Man meets the world's ugliest San Juan themed tablecloth (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #21, Week 8)
18 thumbsup The Masked Man & an invisible friend revisit the world's worst tablecloth (The 100 in 25 Challenge: #22, Week 8)

5. Gaming with my buddy Scurvodsky

I was fortunate enough to spend an entire week on holidays with my friend Scurvodsky and his family, and we got in a lot of games during this time together. Here are some highlights of the 10 session reports that resulted:

24 thumbsup In which Ender plays his first ever game of Tigris & Euphrates
22 thumbsup Will 1960 fade into obscurity in 2012?
20 thumbsup The tension that is Agricola - but do I like it or not?
19 thumbsup Ender revolts against the game: Why should I play for 3 hours and not even finish Turn 1? (with pictures)
16 thumbsup Family fun with one of the very best euro/wargame hybrids (includes a Mare Nostrum review)

6. Gaming with the random gamer at the cottage next door

Finally, I also spent a week on holidays with another friend, and this also generated about 15 session reports. These were among my very first session reports, so they were briefer for the most part - but the games they record were certainly no less interesting!

14 thumbsup The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #1 Lifeboats
11 thumbsup The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #3 Vikings
4 thumbsup The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #4 Pandemic
5 thumbsup The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #6 Age of Empires III
4 thumbsup The Random Gamer at the Cottage Next Door: Game #8 Attribute

The future?

In closing I mention that Mozart78 has been doing a herculean job in going through every single session report on BGG and awarding what he calls the "Excellence in Session Report Writing Awards." I've been fortunate enough to have my session reports chosen a few times, and you'll find a list of the winning sessions here:

mb Excellence in Session Report Writing Awards winners

Will I write another 100 reports over the next six and a half years? I have no idea. But one thing I do know: reading over some of these reports reminds me of the wonderful experiences games can generate and the lasting memories they can create. For me, session reports help me preserve something of an experience that is precious to me. And that, really, is what gaming is about for all of us isn't it?


Join the discussion: Do you ever write session reports for games that you have played? Why or why not? What do you think is the value of session reports on BGG?
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Tue Dec 6, 2011 9:13 am
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New Card Games from Cambridge Games Factory

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Heard of Glory to Rome? Of course you have. Its publisher Cambridge Games Factory? Probably. They've been getting significant press here on BGG recently, mainly in connection with concerns about a French publisher marketing a game as an edition of Glory to Rome when it apparently doesn't have the rights to do so.

Glory to Rome is certainly the game that has made Cambridge Games Factory's name in the gaming industry, so it doesn't surprise me to see the publisher acting to protect their interests. It's an outstanding card game, one of my own personal favourites, and worthy of high praise.

Want to know more? See my full review on Glory to Rome: mb Is this the game that Race for the Galaxy wanted to be?

But there is a whole lot more to Cambridge Games Factory than just Glory to Rome. The distinctive and unassuming plastic clam-shell case that housed Glory to Rome and subsequently became a Cambridge signature item, has given birth to several other products. In fact, in 2011 they have released several other card games in this packaging. So which new games are they, and what are they like? Let's find out, and help give this company some positive press for some of its up and coming games.


Barons (2011)

Barons is arguably the hottest new product from Cambridge, and easily my favourite of these new titles. I wouldn't quite call it a "new" Glory to Rome - even though it's from the same publisher, and also part of their "Extreme Strategy" lineup. While it's more card-game goodness from the same company that brought us Glory to Rome, it's slightly lighter in complexity and style. The mechanics are quite different from both games, but cards still have multiple uses, and when played as buildings they will give you ongoing abilities and benefits.

The basic concept is that players are building up their personal barony by playing lands (which allow you to draw new cards by taxation) and buildings (which have special abilities), and there's interaction with other baronies by using knights. Cards are used as lands/buildings/actions/knights, but are also used as `money' (by discarding) in order to `pay' for the cards that are put into play.

There are four different coloured decks that are shared by the players, and each deck has unique cards with its own feel. There are certainly different strategies to explore, by building around certain cards or colours. It also has the advantage of scaling well as a two-player game, and plays quite quickly - so you can play a couple of games back-to-back.

I've played Barons well over a dozen times so far, and am very impressed and itching to play more often. Bear in mind: 1. don't expect it to be like Glory to Rome (it's lighter, and different); 2. don't judge it too quickly after just one or two plays (there's more strategy and tactics going on than meets the eye!). With those provisos, I can recommend this one very highly as a great light-medium weight strategy card game, that has the potential to please both gamers and non-gamers alike!

Want to know more? See my full review on Barons: mb Introducing Glory to Rome's younger brother - and easily one of the best strategy card games of 2011!


North Pole (2011)

In North Pole, players are penguins from the South Pole. While on vacation, these penguins decide to amuse themselves with a race from Base Camp to the North Pole, with the first to make it there and back being the winner.

The game uses cards for two purposes - first of all to denote the landscape on which the game is played, but also for a set collection mechanic which determines penguin movement. The basic flow of play is that players take turns to play cards from their hand in order to move, and then at the end of their turn they draw two new cards. Different kinds of movement include Waddle, Snow Shoe, Sled, and Dog Sled, which are distinguished by different combinations of cards and their relationship to the location card your penguin is moving to. You can also use Blizzards to cause havoc on your opponents' plans, or Repair the Ice to fix holes in the ice.

North Pole features charming artwork and solid gameplay that will especially amuse children. Yet there are enough decisions about which cards to collect and play that the adults can enjoy it too. As such, it's ideally suited as a family game that is more than just a matter of luck-of-the-draw, and the race theme really helps add appeal.

Want to know more? See my full review on North Pole: mb Of course the family loves it - you get to race penguins!


Hot Potato (2011)

Hot Potato is a very light card game that's fun for families and children.

The theme is exactly as one might expect: you're passing "hot potato" cards around the table. If you are passed a "hot potato", you'll need Action cards to pass it left or right, because as everyone knows, if you're caught holding the hot potato you suffer a "burn"! You can also add Seasonings which increase the burns and do other crazy stuff. Some expansion cards are also included which add new twists.

It's a simple concept, and the theme translates very well to the gameplay. Overall this is a fantastic kid-friendly theme that's very original, plays quickly and easily, and works well!

Want to know more? See my full review on Hot Potato: mb Hey quick, pass it on, it's another hot card game from Cambridge Games Factory!


Disclaimer: Cambridge Games Factory played no part whatsoever in the writing of this blog article. They did not request this article, did not edit it, did not approve it, and in fact had absolutely no advance knowledge that it would even exist. One of the objectives of this blog is to group together good games that I've reviewed and can recommend, briefly introduce them, and so put them on the radar of folks who might not be familiar with them. As such, CGF did not establish any contract with me to write this article, nor have I broken any contract with them by writing it. But I sure do like some of their games!


Join the discussion: Have you tried any of Cambridge Games Factory's games other than Glory to Rome? If so, what did you think? Of the above titles, which sounds the most appealing to you, and why?
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Thu Jul 28, 2011 11:48 am
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Deceptive Merchandising: Amusing Lessons From Promotional Pictures Of Games (Part 2)

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Back in February I posted an article on this blog about the humour in some of the promotional pictures put out by game publishers.

With that still fresh in my mind, it was with great interest that I recently read about The Table of Catan, a custom made and officially licensed table for Settlers of Catan, available at www.tableofcatan.com. After all, who wouldn't want to own a piece of exquisite craftsmanship like this, with the official Settlers of Catan brand? Well... maybe not every gamer, but you have to admit that the custom table actually looks rather impressive!



But now what I found rather amusing were the accompanying promotional pictures on the website. They raise all kinds of existential and pressing questions about the game, and about the game group pictured there! Questions that deserved to be asked and answered by the BGG community!

Exhibit A: Game Board



Questions like:

● Why is a four player game being played on the larger 5-6 player board?

● Why did the green player place her starting settlement alongside the desert and a 3, when there were so many better options?

Exhibit B: Game Group (Part 1)

But wait, we're not done yet:



At least now we've got five players in the game. But there are some odd things going on:

● Why is the lady wearing green sitting in front of the card bank instead of in front of her own colour?

● Why is the lady with the dice about to roll right on some settlements and roads, and cause chaos on the board? And are the other players laughing because they think that doing this is some kind of sick joke?

● Where are all the men gamers? Or is this a ladies night?

And perhaps most important of all:

● WHO LET THE LITTLE KID WITH THE DRINK THAT CLOSE TO THE BRAND NEW TABLE???!!!

● And what's with the sausage rolls on the game table, and so close to the board?

Exhibit C: Game Group (Part 2)

But we're still not finished. Because it gets better:



Order is restored, because dad has arrived! Notice that the game state has not changed at all since the previous picture! Yep, it's exactly the same game. But what has changed is the presence of dad, and the absence of all the food and drinks. Which raises all kinds of new questions:

● What happened to the cans of coke that two players were enjoying in the previous picture? Evidently dad has enforced his "no food or drink at the game table" rule. Did they get to finish their drink?

● What happened to the little girl and her mother? Did they get evicted from the game and the house because of the kid breaking the `no drinks' rule?

● Where is the fifth player? What happened to the lady rolling the dice in the previous picture - did she get sent home as well? And did she take the dice with her?

● Why did the ladies wearing blue and brown get to change places mid-game? In my world that's called cheating!

● Why are the other players all looking at and smiling at dad? Are they sharing a secret joke at his expense?

Inquiring minds want to know!


Join the discussion: What other pressing questions deserve to be asked when you see these pictures? And can you come to any grossly unjustified and thoroughly speculative conclusions in an attempt to answer any of these questions? Let speculation run rife!
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Tue May 24, 2011 4:07 pm
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Photo Caption Contests and Personal Milestones

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"What a BRAIN BURNER!"
- asutbone
A New Photo Caption Contest

I've run several BGG Photo Caption Contests over the years. There have been some excellent entries and winners, and over 150GG of prizes have been awarded. Here are some of the winning entries that I've especially enjoyed from previous contests:


"Hmmmmm, so THIS is where my college fund is going. - Kodos


"The third day of a convention often takes its toll on the mind. In this shot, a sleep-deprived gamer checks his camel for line of sight." - cbs42

Want to see previous contests and all the winning entries? See the complete list here:
mb BGG Photo Caption Contest series

Now the BGG Photo Caption Contest returns, and for this edition, I have again picked a number of pictures that are themed around gamers and their antics. Please join in the fun, and share some of your humor, or just enjoy the wit of your fellow gamers! There are some GeekGold prizes to be had!

Want to join in? Find the current contest here:
mb BGG Photo Caption Contest #5: Gamer Antics



A New Personal Milestone

So why another contest? Well I figured the timing was right, since last week (Friday, May 13, 2011) I reached two significant milestones with respect to my BGG contributions on the same day: 100,000 thumbs, and 10,000 images! Yes, I'll be the first to admit that it's ridiculous - but there you have it!

I decided that running another photo caption contest would be another way of thanking the BGG community at this time. BGG is a place where we can meet and exchange ideas and information about a hobby that we mutually enjoy. In many respects what makes it such an enjoyable place to frequent are these reciprocal connections and exchanges of material, and the willingness of gamers around the world to share their contributions with fellow enthusiasts. It's really the cumulative contributions of a multitude of diverse users that helps make this site the incredibly useful global resource that it is!

To humour myself, I compiled a retrospective of some of my own contributions over the years:

mb Ender's Greatest Hits: Celebrating 100,000 thumbs and a platinum meeple mb

mb Crossing the 10,000 Images Milestone: Some of my favourite pictures



Thanks to everyone who has ever given a `thumb' of encouragement to any of my contributions over the years. And I'm grateful to everyone here for making BGG what it is!
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Tue May 17, 2011 12:56 am
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The BGG Picture Museum Project: Great Game Photos

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It's no secret that I love photos. While I like contributing pictures myself, what I especially enjoy is admiring the stellar work of others - and there are some superb photographers on BGG! Unfortunately, some of the fantastic pictures on BGG disappear into obscurity and vanish from the public eye shortly after they are submitted, especially if they are for relatively unknown games. For this reason, since 2008 I've been engaged in a personal and completely unofficial project to create a BGG Picture Museum, highlighting some of the great images here on BGG, and showcasing some of the wonderful aspects of gaming.

Here are links to the ten Photo Albums that make up the series so far, along with some sample pictures from each album to whet your appetite. The most recent one (Old Photos of Vintage Gaming) was just posted today.

mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #1: Playing Games in Strange Places



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #2: Playing Games With Unusual Opponents



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #3: Playing Games on Super-Sized Boards



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #4: Playing Games in Different Cultures



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #5: The Unbridled Emotions of Children



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #6: Games Masquerading as Food



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #7: Playing Games at the Beach



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #8: Playing Games with Seniors



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #9: Lest We Forget (Remembrance Day / Veterans Day edition)



mb BGG Picture Museum Photo Album #10: Old Photos of Vintage Gaming (just posted today!)



To all of the BGG users who submitted the great pictures featured in these photo albums: I salute you! Keep up the fantastic contributions! Many of the photo albums also have public additions enabled, so you are also welcome to add any great pictures that you think deserve to belong to these photo albums.

Want to be notified when a new Photo Album comes out? Subscribe to this list:
mb The BGG Picture Museum Photo Album series


Join the discussion: What are some things that you appreciate about the pictures here on BGG? Do you have any ideas for "themes" that I could use for future photo albums?
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Thu May 12, 2011 3:55 pm
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A Tenth Anniversary Edition of Puerto Rico for 2011/2012

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A Decade of Dominance

Puerto Rico has enjoyed a long reign of dominance for several years at the top of the BGG rankings. And even though it tussled with Agricola for the number one spot for some time, and has since been passed by the current #1 Twilight Struggle, it still enjoys a strong following, and can rightly be considered a quintessential and highly influential euro that offers much enjoyment and replayability for modern gamers.

Yet there is one respect in which Puerto Rico is showing its age. After all, it's been around since 2002 (a pre-publication version was at Essen 2001), so it first appeared almost a decade ago! For the most part it has stood the test of time, and its gameplay holds up well even when measured by the standards of the latest and newest crops of games - many of which are indebted to it and influenced by it. But if there is an aspect that could be improved, it's that the components could do with a visual makeover, particularly the building tiles. The plain text-only purple buildings are starting to look somewhat vintage and austere, and are just not up to snuff when compared with the artistic production values witnessed in the components of most newer euro games today.

A Tenth Anniversary Edition

Last week I posted an article making a case for the game to appear in an upgraded edition, at the very least with illustrated buildings. Several enterprising BGGers have already put a lot of work adapting some of Franz Vohwinkel's beautiful building artwork from San Juan, and porting it back to the Puerto Rico building tiles that inspired San Juan in the first place. These illustrated building tiles make for a more enjoyable experience, and help prevent Puerto Rico from showing signs of its age, by putting it more on par with the kind of components seen in most newer games. As such, it helps this classic retain some of its appeal for a new generation of gamers who might be coming across it for the first time, and adds an extra layer of things to appreciate for long-time players of the game like myself.

Since most of us lack the technical expertise to produce our own print-and-play copy of these improved components, what the majority of gamers would likely prefer to see is a commercial edition that features this higher standard of artwork, which we can buy straight off the shelf in our local game store. In other words, what we really want is for the publisher to step up to the plate and do this for us.

Given that 2012 marks the tenth anniversary of Puerto Rico, it seems that this would be an ideal time to put out an upgraded edition of the game. Puerto Rico is a fantastic game, and its enduring appeal is fast from fading, so if any game deserves this kind of makeover, Puerto Rico is the one. The gameplay is strong enough to compete with the best of today's games, and it can expect to enjoy continued success on the strength of its established reputation, if only it's supported by components that match the quality and visual appeal of the newer games emerging off the press. An upgraded edition of the game - at the very least featuring illustrated building tiles - would be very well received by longtime fans of the game, and perhaps convince them to retire their well-worn copy in favour of a more visually appealing game. Furthermore, it could go a long way to making the game more endearing to people playing it for the first time. The tenth anniversary in 2012 would be the perfect time to make this happen.

The Publishers Respond

Perhaps it's a coincidence, but oddly enough the very next day after I posted my article, an interview appeared with Alea's product manager Stefan Brück which included the following:

"At Essen we are planning a `pimped' anniversary edition of our most successful game, Puerto Rico, which was presented for the first time 10 years ago in Essen (and had never seen before success)." NB: That's loosely translated via Google, the original German reads: "Zu Essen planen wir eine – aufwändige; neudeutsch würde man wohl sagen:”gepimpte” – Jubiläumsausgabe zu unserem größten Erfolgsspiel, Puerto Rico, das vor 10 Jahren in Essen erstmalig (und mit nie mehr dagewesenem Erfolg) präsentiert wurde."

The very same day saw this post from Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games, in response to some of the calls on BGG for an upgraded anniversary edition:

"I too like the idea of a special 10yr anniversary edition. If we do one, it will certainly have upgraded graphics and components. I suspect it will be a limited edition and not replace the "standard" PR. I also expect it will be much more expensive than the regular PR. Also, we will not make the upgraded components available separately. As soon as I have information on whether and what we will offer, I will make an announcement. Thanks
Jay"


At the very least, I'd hope that such an edition includes illustrated building tiles, as well as some other extras like the additional building tiles from the expansion and the Alea Treasure Chest, the two player variant, and some other rule variants and tweaks (e.g. the Factory - University price swap). I'm pleased to see publishers taking up the challenge, and although there are various approaches they can take, the fact that they are giving this serious consideration sounds promising.

Want to learn more? See my full article: mb A Pictorial Overview: An edition of Puerto Rico with illustrated buildings - isn't it about time?


Join the discussion: What advice would you give to a publisher considering making a tenth anniversary edition of Puerto Rico, and what would you like to see it include? Would you rather see an updated version of the game replace the current edition of Puerto Rico with some slight upgrades (e.g. illustrated buildings, expansion tiles, and the two player variant)? Or would you rather see a limited edition over-the-top super-deluxe version (e.g. wooden ships, trading house)? If a tenth anniversary edition of the game does appear, what would you hope to see included? Let's make some noise - perhaps the publishers will listen to our suggestions!
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Wed May 11, 2011 10:00 am
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