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Dynamics Over Mechanics: My TotalCon Recap

Mat Thomsen
United States
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From gallery of Madcapmartini

Leaving for TotalCon, I left this for my wife instead of a note. Clearly, it's the monkey's turn.
Another TotalCon in the books. And, as is true every year after this convention, I come away with a slightly different perspective, and with a spotlight shining on the aspects of the gaming hobby I enjoy most and why.

Lately, teaching has become more of an obstacle than ever before. I enjoy teaching games and I'm quite good at it, but when I'm with friends I only see once a year, or in a social, interactive gaming situation, quieting the group and making them listen to me talk is not why we are there. As a result, nearly all of the games I played this year were shorter, lighter, dynamic and interactive.

More and more, the longer, more complex games are reserved for quiet nights at my house, with one or two other players. That way, the learning impacts the fewest possible players and the playing takes less time. I've also reached the point where I see no reason to play the many popular, multi-player solitare games with more than two. Games like Wingspan, Feast for Odin, Castles of Burgundy (most of Feld and Rosenberg actually), Taverns of Tiefenthal and London offer little reason to stretch the playtime past what is reasonable just to add players. So, my answer to the question, "Do you like Wingspan?" is, "If it's 45 mintues I do." Our first five-player game took 2.5 hours, which was terrible.

So clearly, time has become a more valuable resource for me. I've already determined that my preferences at the table (conventions specifically) have more to do with social dynamics than with the new hotness, learning new games or playing three-hour effeciency puzzles. And that path has taken me here:

"Oh. So it's like Monopoly."

Board Game: Derby Day
Saying that playing board games is about the people and not the games is not saying anything new. But I'm amazed how quickly we "serious" gamers lose sight of it.

Every year at TotalCon, we start our Pub Games event with Derby Day. This game has been around since the 20s. My copy is from the 50s. We were making such a ruckus with this game, that a well-known industry guy came over to investigate.

"What is this?"
"Derby Day! Here. Roll a die and pick your horse."
"But what do you do."
"You roll a die to pick your horse."
"Yeah but-"
"Just roll!"

Once his horse was chosen, we rolled three dice, moving each horse (numbered 1-6) along the six numbered tracks, until we had a winner.

"Oh, so it's like Monopoly."

My heart sank. Clearly this was as bad a comparison as he could manage, and I thought to myself,

"You came over here because of how much fun we were having!!"

Then I thought, "If you mean it's like Monopoly becuase it's incredibly fun, and generates loads of social dynamics, trash talk, excitement and wonderful nostalgic, sentimental feelings, then yes! It's like Monopoly.

So, what are our goals when we sit down to the table? They are many and they are varied, I understand that. I've already mentioned mine, here and all over this blog, but most can agree we choose board games because of the unique social aspect (I love you too solo gamers, but we are the excepetion). So it doesn't seem that controversial to acknowledge that, when a group of players is hooting and hollering with joy and enthusiasm for a game, in that moment, on that night at least, many of us have reached our goal.

Isn't that why we play? I understand that your goal may be different, but I'm guessing joy and enthusiasm for games and gaming are in there somewhere, whatever form they take for you.

"It isn't a game, it's an activity."

The kind of excitement and dynamics in Derby Day are the extreme, but I do believe that there are moments in nearly all types of gaming where these dynamics exist. I'm sure hardcore wargamers have had moments at the table when a combat die roll changed the course of history, causing outbursts of groans and cheers at the same time. In Cribbage, revealing the cut card has caused similar reactions. Rolling five of a kind in Yahtzee has created some wonderfully memorable moments for my wife and I. The "stand up die roll" has been used to describe these moments in many games. So, my question is, if these moments are the ones we remember and talk about, why are games that generate them (more than many others in some cases) considered "bad" games?

"It isn't a game, it's an activity." I've heard this said about games like Concept, The Mind, Chutes and Ladders, and many classic roll-and-move games. This criticism could easily be said about Derby Day. After all, there are no decisions in Derby Day -- just roll the dice and see which horse wins. Well, first off, Concept (like Derby Day) has generated some of the most memorable moments I've had gaming with my family. Second, why is that bad? Is our goal NOT to participate in activities? Even if they are fun?

At our pub games event, we played two roll-and-move games. Derby Day was one. The other was Midnight Party.

Hugo does not F*** around!

From gallery of Madcapmartini
This game has become our traditional closer at this event. It plays eight players, which is key. Unfortunately, we are victims of our own success because we had 16 players at this event that has 12 seats. Looks like I need to find a second copy of the classic version of this one.

This game, like Derby Day, sucks people in. They immediately become invested in every roll. And soon, each time the die result shows Hugo, genuine fear sets in as he emerges from the basement to steal your soul and torture it for the rest of time. Or he just wants to play with you, there's some confusion in the rules. Of course, I've turned Hugo into the gimp from Pulp Fiction, who . . . has other ideas.

Whatever your take on Hugo and his motivations, the point is, it's really hard to resist how well the "chase" is handled in this game. It's ridiculously simple, but it's also really easy to get caught up in it. To me, this is an example of dynamics over mechanics. No game I've ever played has generated the kind of fun, laughter, and pure silliness that this one has.

Does that make it my favorite game? Not by a long shot! In fact, I'd be hard pressed to play this game more than twice in a year. Which is why I'm on a quest to find more like it!

My Knizia Card Game Gauntlet Event
Board Game: Circus Flohcati
Board Game: Zero Down
Board Game: Medici: The Card Game
Board Game: Wildlife Safari
Board Game: L.L.A.M.A.
Board Game: Money!

I was very nervous as we grew closer to starting this event. I convinced myself it was a stupid idea and that no one would want to do it. The idea was to play six Knizia card games in four hours. I was also anxious that the games would not be fun, and that determining an overall winner would be awkward and inappropriate. Two things happened as we assembled that both relieved some of my stress and created more at the same time. The good news is that I had two or three excited gamers hoping to get a seat at the table, the bad news is that we had some confusion about who indeed held tickets for the event and who didn't, and it was not as easily resolved as I would have liked. The result of this confusion was that I lost a player, and ran the event with four instead of the intended five players.

A bit shaken, I decided it would be fun to roll a die to pick our game. I had eight from which to choose, so I put out six at a time. The first roll did not go may way . . .

Circus Flohcati (13 all-time) - As I struggled through teaching this, I remembered why I got rid of my copy. Not only is it too confusing for what it is, it's just not that fun. It felt like an hour before we were able to actually start playing. Between the two main scoring rules, the three action cards and the "grand parade" or whatever it's called, this was quite a bumpy start. Lucky for me, my friend Mal was there to remind me we were all there together, playing games and all was okay. About halfway through this one, we found our groove.

Zero Down (14 all-time) - This game is always so much better than I remember. It's really good! The tension while you build your hand and push your luck, hoping someone drops a card you need is just great, and really simple. This feels like a traditional card game in all the best ways, and it has just the right amount of fun, tension, and dynamic interaction. What I noticed right away, was how similar the scoring was to that of Circus Flohcati. When I realized this, it immediately felt like the event I had imagined. It felt curated for fans of Knizia, and I relaxed.

Wildlife Safari (7 all-time) - This game is near perfect. Seriously! Before you get to its beautiful simplicity, it has plastic toy animals!! The cards are wonderfully sturdy, with nice illustrations of the corresponding creatures, and among all this sweetness, is a game that is nasty as hell! This is one of those rare games that makes me want all of the different versions, because there are some super-cool ones. I love this game!

Medici: The Card Game (35 all-time) - I did not intend to include this game in this event. I thought it was a bit too involved to sit alongside games like Zero Down and Botswana. But I forgot my copy of Poison in the car, so this one got promoted. As I began to explain it, I realized that this game fit nicely in this event and played smoothly, and did not give the players any difficulty (I had great players!). In fact, I'm pretty sure each game had at least one fan at the table who immediately searched for it online to make a purchase!

L.L.A.M.A. (25 all-time) - Since I prefer this game with four, I promoted it into the rotation. I orginally did not intend to include it. Well, as has been the case since the beginning with this game, it was a hit! The players loved it and had a great time with it. And, since they already applied the same scoring system in two prior games, this was a breeze to get up and running.

Money! (3 all-time) - This one is tough to fully explain before playing. It seems, no matter how specific and thorough I am about how this game scores, players always have an "a-ha" moment once the round is over and experience scoring for themselves. This was probably not a great choice to close the event, but we did okay.

Overall, I was really pleased with this event. The table was receptive, relaxed and seemed to enjoy themselves. I would like to run it, or something similar again. Small, quick, easy card games always seem to be popular, even if we play them for four hours straight! Congrats to Beth, our winner, who got to pick among the three prizes first. That's right, everyone got a prize, I think Dr. K would approve.

Let's chat about the other games I played!

75 Games Played over five days
Board Game: Swedish Roulette

Board Game: PUSH

Board Game: Polterfass

Board Game: PARKS

Board Game: Metropolys

Board Game: Medium

Board Game: London (Second Edition)

Board Game: Little Town

Board Game: Las Vegas

Board Game: Hanamikoji

Board Game: Fuji Flush

Board Game: Frankenstein

Board Game: Cock & Bull

Board Game: Santiago

Board Game: Medici

Board Game: The Dwarf King

Board Game: Curios

Board Game: Campy Creatures

Board Game: Belratti

Board Game: Airlines Europe

Board Game: Universal Rule

Board Game: Timeline: Music & Cinema

Board Game: Tiefe Taschen

Board Game: Stockpile

Board Game: Ponzi Scheme

Board Game: Modern Art

Board Game: Just One

Board Game: Escape from the Hidden Castle

Board Game: Derby Day

Board Game: Coup

Board Game: Auf Teufel komm raus

Board Game: The Taverns of Tiefenthal

Board Game: Love Letter

Board Game: A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King

Board Game: Arboretum

Board Game: 6 nimmt!

Board Game: Stock hold'em
Swedish Roulette x5 (7 all-time) - Another "activity" that delivered loads of great moments. Spin the top and watch it shoot the five little balls into numbered slots. The red ball generates a negative score for its number, so hope it doesn't go in the- Dammit!! It went in the 100-point slot!!

PUSH x2 (33 all-time) - Just the right balance of pushing your luck and take that. So much trash talk here!

Polterfass x2 (13 all-time) - This one is rising in the ranks the more I play it. We had some amazing fails and successes both with this one over the weekend. Including, every number barrel standing. Great fun.

PARKS (3 all-time) - quick-playing and beautiful. A bit mechanical, but this is still an easy recommendation based on a nice small box packed with a solid game, incredible production and gorgeous art.

Metropolys x2 (3 all-time) - Really glad to have managed to get this back to the table. It's really good! I love a classic, simple, 60-min Euro. Just solid fun.

Medium x4 (10 all-time) - This has quickly become my new favorite party game which weirdly, is best with three or four players. We had some amazing hits, misses, and circular answers with this one.

London (Second Edition) (16 all-time) - I'm a big fan of this game. I usually prefer it with two, but we were all pretty fast players, so this did not drag. The satisfaction from building and running your "city" in this game does not feel like others to me. I will eventually have to come to terms with Race for the Galaxy, because I feel like it would deliver a similar feel in a much shorter playtime. I just never got over that initial hump that is so prevalent among new players.

Little Town (7 all-time) - I was curious to see the new version of Little Town Builders since I really like that game. I wanted to see how it was improved since I needed to print flimsy, English paste ups for the objective tiles. I was surprised that this version was not much of an improvement on the orginal at all. The buildings don't have names on them, and the art is pretty run-of-the-mill. All said, I prefer the Japanese first edition. I had a great time playing this with Chad regardless of the version. Nice to see you again Chad!

Las Vegas x2 (45 all-time) - It's been awhile since this one has hit the table. Always glad. It's a favorite.

Hanamikoji x2 (45 all-time) - Great game to play while waiting for the rest of the players to show up. I think it's time to toss my first copy though. It's pretty beat.

Fuji Flush x8 (61 all-time) - I've reached a point with this game that I can't imagine getting together to play games and not play this a couple of times at least.

Frankenstein x2 (3 all-time) - I managed two plays of this game and really enjoyed it. It's light and breezy, with evocative art and a fun theme. Also, we were all convinced the others were much closer to completing their monsters than they actually were, generating a surprising amount of tension. Happy with this one so far.

Cock & Bull x2 (22 all-time) - Classic pub fun. Keith had a rare victory from moving his peg the distance!

Santiago (14 all-time) - This was a great play of a great game! We had five players, and we were all reasonably cooperative. The way the tiles fell prevented us all from benefitting from that round's water placement, so bribes increased with our desperation. The final scores were very close, the top four were only six points apart!

Medici (79 all-time) - I needed a good game of Medici to rekindle my love for it. This was that game. I had had a few bad games in a row prior to this one, losing by a million points due to getting no traction from the lots of goods. This game was different however. Not only did I manage to grab a few rainbow lots for cheap, I was able to score boat and goods points in each round. That's not always the case. I managed a pretty close second and my former enthusiasm for this game seems to have returned. I tried to play it a couple of times after this, but it didn't work out. Soon I hope!

The Dwarf King NEW! - Mal broke this out since we had time after his Airlines Europe event. It was fun, but in a crowded market of trick-takers, this one needed more to stand out. Didn't matter though, always happy to sit and play with the likes of Mal and that first group on Thursday. A lovely, relaxed way to get to know some new players.

Curios x3 (7 all-time) - For a 15-minute game, this one is really rising in the ranks. It's like Hanamikoji, but for up to four. The decisions aren't quite as deep, but there is just enough unknown information to consistently provide an exciting finish. And the production is beautiful.

Campy Creatures (6 all-time) - This was part of my "Creature Double Feature" event (with Frankenstein, mentioned above). This was a pretty nasty play. There seemed to be more occassions to "attack" opponents than usual, and Andy bore the brunt of it and still won big with his collection of Assistants. This is one of those games that is greater than the sum of its parts. I really like it. Keymaster Games is on a roll. I hope they keep it going.

Belratti x3 (19 all-time) - Pure, simple, wonderful. The poster child for games that get out of the way and let the players play. One of the best in my collection.

Airlines Europe (8 all-time) - I was so glad to play this again! It was one of the first games I owned, and it sat, unplayed on my shelf for years until I finally sold it. Well, now it's back on my wishlist. I really like lighter stock games, and this one is just the right complexity and playtime. Tough decisions, just cutthroat enough - this one sits in just the right groove for me. Hoping to play it again soon. Thanks Mal!

Universal Rule NEW! - It seems to have become a TotalCon tradition that I find Chip and play one of his new games. It turns out, this one has been around for a bit, but I hadn't played it. I played the solo version and Chip kindly walked me through several turns. It's good! I highly recommend it for the solo players out there looking for something new. Chip is one of the first people I met as I got more into the hobby seven or eight years ago. It's always nice to spend some time at the table with him.

Timeline: Music & Cinema x2 (5 all-time) - This was an easy choice for our large pub games crowd. I drew "Star Wars" as my final card, so the table knew they had to win before it got to me.

Tiefe Taschen x2 (13 all-time) - One of the more raucous games of the con. At pub night, several folks lost their voice pleading with the other players to either vote for or against the current president (It was like the yang to current politics' ying, because it was fun and light-hearted and not the worst thing ever). We should have seen the finish coming because the quietest player at the table - the one who pleaded least and stayed below the fray - won big. Great fun.

Stockpile (28 all-time) - Another great play of this one, this time, on the chaos board! Since we had all played this one before, we decided to try the board where the companies are unbalanced. It was as crazy as we expected, but in a good way. Scores were very close, until the last flip of the last round, where Andy's company got the +4. That was it for us, but a great finish nonetheless.

Ponzi Scheme (14 all-time) - This makes for such a great double feature with Stockpile! We had the same group for both games and had a blast with this one! The final turn, I was offered a stock with one dollar to spare! The four remaining players scored 6-6-6-11. I was one of the sixes. Great fun.

Modern Art (22 all-time) - Epic does not begin to describe this game. We played the Korean version and liberally used the gavel for effect. Each player was out for themselves, and none of us could count on anything. We even had Andy comically storm out of the room at one point! Dale was our wildcard and after making 98K on a double auction, was throwing money around like nobody's business. He was drunk with power! And spent like it. Ben won a close one! Amazing game!

Just One x2 (12 all-time) - Two plays with two fun groups. And yes I misspelled Kyshyyyk, but seriously! - what the hell else could it be?!

Coup x2 (5 all-time) - Man! Cockroach Poker is just so much better. The group was fun, but this game is not.

Auf Teufel komm raus (17 all-time) - Another hit from pub night. Another game where I hear, "It's just all luck." And yet, it provides more dynamic excitement than most. This would be one of the last games standing if I was forced to get rid of my collection one game at a time.

The Taverns of Tiefenthal NEW! - Not bad. A bit all over the place -- lots of mechanics tossed in. We did play with all the modules, so that was part of it. I didn't mind this game, but I immediately thought I wouldn't play it with more than two. I just don't want to wait around while you do a million little combos. I love the production, and would gladly try this again, but it won't be joining my collection anytime soon.

Love Letter x2 (39 all-time) - Keith ran a 16-player Love Letter tournament, so I made sure I played a warm-up heat. The new player at our table, Tyler, went on to win the whole thing. Way to represent Tyler! This game is great on so many levels, who knew how good it would be in a tournament setting! Thanks Keith!

A Game of Thrones: Hand of the King (4 all-time) - My first game after a late start on Saturday (Friday night had its revenge Saturday morning). Similar to Curios, this game packs a lot into 15-20 minutes. Except here, deduction isn't the boiled-down mechanic, it's pure backstabbing! Which is so surprising in so short a game, and really good.

Arboretum (22 all-time) - I was surprised I had not yet introduced this one to Andy, who loves card games. As I expected, he crushed me, but this is always painful, agonizing fun.

6 nimmt! (6 all-time) - This was really good. I had not played in ages, and I always forget how fun this can be. We had six, which was great and made it that much more difficult to predict. Glad this one hit the table.

Stock hold'em (10 all-time) - This was the second TotalCon Sunday in a row we managed to play this. It's the only game I managed since I had a Boy Scouts event to attend. We had a good time with this one. I had a very good game, but Connor had a great one when he made a fortune on the two random cards from the start of the round on the last company of the last round. Ouch! Playing the Stock Market IS a gamble!

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Special thanks to:
Keith McRell
United States
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for all the driving, Chick-fil-a, and nonsense.

This was my 9th TotalCon and it remains the best convention for playing board games. That's the focus, and as a result, the quality of the games, and more importanly, the gamers, remains very high. With no hotness to chase, and no vendor hall to race to, TotalCon remains a relaxed gathering of dedicated and fun players. Thanks to all who organized and coordinated, and to all who shared a table with me.

See you next year!
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Wed Feb 26, 2020 4:46 pm
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Trending: Least-Favorite Games

Mat Thomsen
United States
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Microbadge: I love PBSMicrobadge: Fan of the card game Red7Microbadge: Rummikub fanMicrobadge: Czech Games Editions "Goblins, Inc." Contest participantMicrobadge: Guildhall fan
I enjoy reading negative comments about games. I think it's valid to describe why a game did not deliver what you expected it to. We play games to have fun, and if we don't have fun playing a game, it's worth discussing.

The annual "worst of the year" list is always a source of great venting and negativity, but (mostly) in good spirits. This year's list (and Samo's 40th birthday) spawned a torrent of users' least favorite game lists.

Here's the thing: anyone who reads this blog knows I tend to avoid learning new games until they have been properly vetted. This took years of wasting tons of time and money playing and buying games that are the former hotness and current mediocrity.

As a result of staying my mouse, buying less, and maintaining my goal of avoiding the cult-of-the-new treadmill, I don't really play games I don't like. It's rare I will agree to play a game that ends up being a miserable experience. That said, there are still a few, but my expereince with them does not really warrant a list since my time with them at the table was brief.

Splendor sucks though.
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Thu Jan 30, 2020 8:30 pm
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The Practice of Picking the Perfect Game

Mat Thomsen
United States
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Microbadge: I love PBSMicrobadge: Fan of the card game Red7Microbadge: Rummikub fanMicrobadge: Czech Games Editions "Goblins, Inc." Contest participantMicrobadge: Guildhall fan
After this weekend, I'm reminded of something one of my martial arts instructors used to say:

"Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect."

What's nice about having been in this hobby as long as I have, and having played so many different games, is that I've become quite good at picking the right games based on the group. The games I played this past weekend were the perfect choice given the players around the table. When we choose the right game for the group, playing games is way more fun. When we choose the right games, everyone is included and relaxed, which opens the door for some terrific gaming moments. This was especially true given this weekend's group: my non-gaming, recently-turned 18-year-old son, one of his friends, Owen, my occasional, casual-gaming 20-year-old daughter, my wife (who cherishes her quiet time to knit), and my youngest son, who may find social interaction a bit more challenging than most (more on his gaming success HERE).

This is a tough crowd. It's not often my teens want to hang out with dad, never mind doing it with a friend, and my wife will ALWAYS choose to knit over playing a game, but a birthday ski weekend away had all of our spirits pretty high, and frankly, there wasn't much else to do after dinner (kudos to the teens for breaking from their screens for awhile, and thanks to my wife for putting down her needles, a big ask I know).

There are a few games that I bring on every family trip. These are games that have proven successful with all five of us, my youngest (almost 16) being the toughest customer. These include Concept, Word on the Street, and Rummikub, a favorite of my wife's and middle son in particular. More recently, I introduced them to Just One, which has risen in the ranks, even though they are the worst cheaters ever at that game! (more on that in a minute)

So, as I packed games for this trip, I considered the fact that Owen and David would be more available and willing to play than the other three.

We were away from Friday night to Monday morning, with both boys skiing all of Sat. and Sun. But the trails closed at 4, so they were back early. The first thing they did once they were settled, and while I prepared my son's favorite dinners, was play Rummy, which I found to be an interesting, and excellent choice. I looked on with envy from the kitchen.

So stupid. So fun.

When it came time to play Friday night, the three older teens were up for playing. Normally, they don't like to learn a lot of new games, but I convinced them, and we had an amazing run of games:

Fuji Flush - Once players feel the satisfaction of clearing all other players' cards, it's much harder to get them to partner up later. I love this game, and the kids and I had a great time with it. Played three games in a row.

The Mind - this one did not go quite as well as I would have thought. My kids had played before, but Owen was new to it, so finding our rhythm took some time. We did make it to level six over three games, so I'll consider that a success, though this did not have the same, enthusiastic recpetion as Fuji Flush.

Love Letter - Every time I play this I'm reminded how damn good it is. It provides so much interaction that players naturally embrace, causing them to provide reasons why the Princess prefers them over the other players. So stupid. So fun. My daughter arbitrarily made the Countess her personal nemesis! Don't ask me.

PUSH - my son, who loves push-your-luck games, decided he hated this very early on after several turns did not go his way. And while he stewed over his falling out with the PYL Gods, we took sadistic pleasure in making his life even harder with as many die rolls as we could send him. So, maybe not the right choice for this crew, which was surprising.

L.L.A.M.A. - This was exactly the right game for this table. We flew through these games and cursed Owen for going out multiple hands in a row. It's a great feeling when the needle finds the groove and you get rockin' good tunes.

My family is the worst at this game!

Saturday night was when I planned on getting all six of us around the table. It was a delicate matter. I had to time it right. Ultimately, I managed to assemble the full compliment of players, but there was a new, unanticipated obstacle: my wife got really sick with a cold. Just the kind of energy dampening factor I was hoping to avoid. Especially since I planned to drop a new game in her lap -- very risky indeed.

Just One - my family is the worst at this game! Which, in a way, makes them the best, because this was pure nonsense. They were drawing pictures, rebuses, sentences -- it was ridiculous! At one point my wife drew and ear to indicate, "sounds like". I mean . . . who does that? So, in acting completely against the spirit of this game, my family has made it one of the most memorable I'll ever play. Frickin' amazing!

TEAM3 - I knew this was a risk before my wife's cold reared its ugly head. But, I was correct in assuming the boys would like it. Well, the boys loved it and the girls . . . let's say . . . didn't. I'm not drawing any sexist conclusions about how boys like to build things, or the type of thinkers girls are, but, reactions were divided along party lines. In fact, David and Owen continued to play whle I sorted cards for the next game. They were determined to complete one of the highest difficulty builds, even though there was just two of them. Without knowing anything about this game (none of us had played before), it turned out, the three of us, David, Owen and I, were are naturally good at various roles, and we crushed the other team. Not sure I'll get the girls to play this again, but it's a darn good time with the right crew, this, was a hit with our team, a miss with the other.

Medium - TEAM3 proved too much for my wife and my youngest was done as well so, we were back down to four, and I broke out Medium. I won't do better here than I did in my 2019 recap:

You want me to like a party game? Strip away nearly all of the rules and do this. This is great for the same reaason Just One is great, though I like this one more, you can teach it in 60 seconds and play it for an hour. Lots of opportunity for trash talk and dynamic group nonsense that I love.

This was the perfect game for this situation. We had been learning and playing some high-energy stuff with six players, and the night was winding down. There was now four of us and I didn't need to be explaining rules or getting bogged down in setup. Playing this right after TEAM3 was eye-opening. Esp. where my daughter is concerned. Where that game did not capture her interest or play to her strength, this one did in every way. She loved this the most, and man did we have fun with it. And similarly, Owen, who was a natural at TEAM3, really struggled with this. The one answer we never let him live down was, "Going over a waterfall in a barrel!" In case you didn't realize, answers in this game are ideally one word. It did what playing games should do: connect players who would otherwise remain disconnected.

Personal and social interaction are the benefit of playing games. Picking the right ones results in stronger, more frequent, and higher-quality connections.

Now go play . . . and have fun!

(I did manage a game of Rummy with the boys on Sunday!)
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Fri Jan 24, 2020 4:09 pm
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My 2019 Recap - Part Two

Mat Thomsen
United States
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From gallery of Madcapmartini
Welcome to the second half of my 2019 recap. I wanted to share my experiences at some pretty special gaming events, and talk a bit about my gaming goals for 2020. So . . . off we go!

This is like gaming without a net!

Event Highlights:
Clearly, I've been away for awhile. So I'd like to share my thoughts on some excellent gaming events from this past autumn, and of course, the Slashing Through Cinema Ocotober horror movie viewing challenge that takes place here on BGG with a few dedicated genre fans.


Totalcon Summer Sizzler - September 9th
This one-day con is for those of us TotalCon folk who need our six-month fix with other TC crew. Always a fun day jam-packed with great games and great people. The recap:
Wingspan (5 all-time)
Tiefe Taschen (11 all-time)
Space Base (2 all-time)

Notable! Senators (2 all-time) - This was my first play of this one and I'm convinced this will just get better with more plays. As of right now, it's a strange, fascinating, frustrating mess that I can't wait to play more. My first impression from my play log: What a mess of a game!! Yikes! It's amazing and ridiculous and stupid and maybe even great fun. The rules are not complicated, but I did find myself confirming them constantly, cuz they were brutal!! I ran out of money instantly, and lost my only set of cards, and the fourth war card came out after only eight rounds or so!! Just nuts! Need to read up to make sure we didn't miss anything, but this is like gaming without a net!

PUSH (29 all-time)
Parade (44 all-time)

Notable! On Tour (1 all-time) - more R&W nonsense. The incredible production and fun theme almost hide a mediocre puzzle. From my play log: A r&w with an amazing production!! I looked at the player boards and noticed the four different genres of music and was amazed. Sadly, that was the only time it mattered. The boards are otherwise identical, and have no bearing on game play. Disappointing. This is much like Rolling America. If it incorportaed the theme even a little, this would have been worth the playtime and brainpower used to solve the puzzle. It did not do anything to convert me to a r&w fan, but putting my route together at the end was surprising and satisfying.

Nusfjord (29 all-time)
L.L.A.M.A. (18 all-time)
Fleet (46 all-time)
Crypt (7 all-time)
Coldwater Crown (8 all-time)

From gallery of Madcapmartini

The Champions' Plaque
The Annual Thomsen Family Cribbage Tournament - September 21st
So, folks are complaining because every winner so far has been a Thomsen! Well, incredibly, only one of those years, were both finalists Thomsens, so, we must be doing something right! We had the perfect 16 players this year (only five of us were Thomsens!), so there were no awkward "play-in" rounds. After random table assignments, we were off!

My first match was a rematch of last year's final!! Talk about pressure. This year, Shawn handled me easily and I got bumped early. We also had a skunk in the first round! It was the match right next to mine and it happened to John G, and I can't think of a better guy for it! John is one of the busiest trash-talkers on the day, so . . . there you go John. Enjoy never hearing the end of that one.

My daughter Clare went on the run of her life, picking off some stiff competition in some very tough matches. First-timer Michelle made a name for herself by getting into the final her rookie year. Tension was high and we all held our breath as we watched the final play out. Clare took it in the end and completed our first Champions' plaque with Thomsen perfection. My son David still remains the only repeat winner.

From gallery of Madcapmartini

the bracket

From gallery of Madcapmartini

the action

From gallery of Madcapmartini

Clare celebrates her win!

From gallery of Madcapmartini

The Cribbage Cup!

From gallery of Madcapmartini
Reunity Game Day - September 28th
Unity Games was an institution when I began to explore the hobby more deeply back in 2012. It was a game group based in northern MA that held an annual, one-day convention that was very well attended and that folks loved. I never made it to one before Unity dissolved a couple of years later. Well, 2019 brought an end to Unity's hibernation when a couple of folks took it upon themselves to reignite the flame of Unity Games and held the first "Reunity" game day. This was held about 30 minutes north of my house, and I was really happy to be able to attend. There were more than a few familiar faces, but better than that, I met lots of new and relatively local gamers. It was a triumphant return for a terrific event!

Here is my Reunity recap. I elaborated on the "notable" games in my comments in part one of this entry:
World's Fair 1893 (14 all-time)
Unmatched: Battle of Legends, Volume One (5 all-time)
Texas Showdown (1 all-time)

Notable! Stockpile (27 all-time) - I love this game, and when I realized the designers of Penny Press were at the next table, I was thrilled that Matt joined us for this one. I'm a big fan of Penny Press and was excited to share one of my favorites with one of its designers.

Notable! The Quacks of Quedlinburg x2 (10 all-time)
Pioneers (1 all-time)
Modern Art (21 all-time)
Just One (8 all-time)
Discoveries: The Journals of Lewis and Clark (21 all-time)
Notable! Air, Land & Sea (1 all-time)

From gallery of CasualJohn
Every October here on BGG, the Slashing Through Cinema guild holds its annual horror movie viewing challenge. It was another great year with a couple dozen users watching, recommending, and commenting on a horror movie a day for the entire month! (We allow cheating zombie) Feel free to check out the full report HERE.

The highlights for me were seeing three of the greatest movies released in the five-year period from '79 to '84 on the big screen: Poltergeist, Ghostbusters and Alien. I also attended a three-hour Halloween-themed Saturday Morning Cartoon Marathon in Cambridge, with an all-you-can-eat cereal buffet!! Happy Halloween indeed!


Extra Life!! November 2nd
From gallery of Madcapmartini

Ben reached his fundraising goal and shaved his head!
This was my third year attending Ben and Jenn's 25-hour Extra-Life fundraising event. Again, I made it 23.5 hours!! What a day! (and night!)

The gaming highlights for me were playing (and losing) Horrified three times in a row, teaching Modern Art to two new players who refused to believe the rules as I taught them:
"But how do I know what it's worth?"
"You don't. The next player might have a better idea based on what you do."
"Yeah, but, that's dumb."
"Yep. It's also why this game is great!"

An epic, seven-player game of Auf Teufel did its job of generating howls of glee and disappointment simultaneously and Monster Crunch! The Breakfast Battle Game was a way more interesting game once delirium set in!

From gallery of Madcapmartini

An endgame toss in frustration resulted in Frank and his Bride celebrating their win!!
From gallery of Madcapmartini

From gallery of Madcapmartini

Spirits are still high!

From gallery of Madcapmartini

Aaaaaaaaand . . . . the end is near.

The recap:
Tapestry (3 all-time)
Strike (22 all-time)
The Speicherstadt (12 all-time)
Skull (10 all-time)
The Quacks of Quedlinburg (10 all-time)
PUSH (29 all-time)
Okey Dokey x2 (7 all-time)
No Thanks! x4 (37 all-time)

Notable! Monster Crunch! The Breakfast Battle Game From my play log: I guess the 35-min nap I took helped, because Jenn was sleeping on the table, Ben's baldness was talking to him, and Keith lost the ability to do basic math. I crushed at this. Last game of the night/day. I left at 4:30, after the Daylight Savings time change. (4 all-time)

Modern Art (21 all-time)
L.L.A.M.A. (18 all-time)
Karate Tomate (7 all-time)
Just One x2 (8 all-time)
Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King (14 all-time)
Horrified x3 (8 all-time)
The Game of 49 (11 all-time)
Escape from the Hidden Castle (7 all-time)
Cockroach Poker (23 all-time)
Belratti (15 all-time)
Auf Teufel komm raus (16 all-time)


PAX Unplugged
I have never been to a BIG gaming convention. I went to PAX East for a couple of hours a couple of times, but I don't count that since I'm not a video game guy and since board games are not really a focus of that con. Since I'm not a cult-of-the-new guy, 90 percent of this con was not really aimed at me. In fact, as a fan of the WBC, I found this convention completely opposite that one -- A bunch of quiet old-folks playing games vs. a throng of loud young folks buying them. And, before you jump to correct me, I know there are many aspects of each con to consider, but, generally, that is where I landed, and am perfectly comfortable going back to one and avoiding the other. That said, there were some highlights:

Fuji Flush - this game has become an all-time classic! It's just great in every way. Here's how much my PAX crew loved it:
From gallery of Madcapmartini

That's us, playing Fuji Flush standing up in line to get in!! Man did we have fun with this! Later, we played it on the floor while we waited to enter the learn-to-play Parks event with Bebo.

Speaking of standing in line, I think 75 percent of our time at PAX Unplugged was spent walking and waiting. Just not how I enjoy this hobby. We also had pretty bad experiences with the scheduled gaming events. We played in the Downforce tournament and Friday Night Frenzy. And neither went particularly smoothly. We also tried to get seats at the Star Wars RPG, and that sold out instantly, but no one told us while we waited in line for an hour.

We did make our way to the hotness demo area and manage two incredibly fun games of The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine. As I mentioned in Part One, this game is worthy of all the buzz. It's really fun, and that's from someone who isn't a huge fan of co-ops or trick-takers.

Notable! PARKS - this was a great discovery! I knew about this game, thought the art was gorgeous, but didn't look at it any closer. When I realized this game was published by Keymaster Games, the folks who published Campy Creatures, I took notice. Campy Creatures is light, breezy, and a bit chaotic. It's a short game that takes advantage of a fun theme, incorporates appropriately fun mechanics and has beautiful art. Parks removes the chaos and adds some pretty meaty resource management/recipe-filling/action-selection mechanics while keeping the short playtime and dazzlilng art. It's fantastic. When I saw the Keymaster crew at the same restaurant that night, I had to give them a shout out. Keep up the great work gang!

Gaming Goals for 2020
Here is a list of games in my collection I most want to get played this year:

Time of Crisis
Bruges: The City on the Zwin
Monsters Menace America
Penny Press
Arkham Horror: TCG

Other than getting specific titles to the table this year, I'm also planning an auction to seriously trim the fat of my collection. The list is around 40 games right now, and I expect that to go up. TotalCon in coming up in Feb. so I've already planned my events for that, including a Knizia Card Game Gauntlet and a Monster Mash Double Feature with Campy Creatures and Frankenstein, a very light and fun set collection game with a great theme and incredible art as well.

In addition to TotalCon, my main, home convention, I'm hoping to get back to the WBC after missing it last year. It really does capture all of my favorite aspects of gaming . Within the hobby, it's very much a gathering of my tribe.

Another goal for this year is to expand my list of local gamers. Reunity connected me with folks who are not prohibitively far and might very well be up for playing at the house next time I host. The more I play, the more I realize how important the right group is. It just makes playing more fun. I've always hated the feeling of twisiting players' arms to play what you want, and likewise, I hate feeling twisted. It's a major obstacle for me and one I'm always happy to avoid.

There is nothing on my wishlist I'm burning to acquire, so, other than The Crew, I don't have any highly-anticipated games in 2020. I'm sure there will be some eventually, but it's so nice to not feel the pressure to track new releases and be among the first to play/own them. On a related topic, I only have three or four outstanding Kickstarter projects, and I expect to continue to back fewer and fewer projects this coming year.

I also hope to write for this blog more regularly, but more important to me than frequency is quality. I want to post thoughtful content that explores the deeper aspects of why we play, and why we choose the games we do. If I feel strongly about a specific title, I'm happy to share my thoughts about it, but since I don't really chase new titles, I don't expect there will be a lot of that.

As always, I appreciate feedback and comments. Generating discussion is why I keep this blog and I appreciate the community this blog has found for me. I hope everyone has an excellent year in gaming in 2020.

Thanks for reading!

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Sat Jan 11, 2020 6:55 pm
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I'm Back to Look Back on 2019 - Part One

Mat Thomsen
United States
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From gallery of Madcapmartini

My BGG hibernation
I've taken a break from blogging about games -- from BGG at large for the most part. Frankly, I haven't been that anxious to share my thoughts about my board gaming experiences here. It feels like BGG is a skipping record, with a flood of new users requesting recommendations for "good two-player games" or "Scythe or Tapestry?". There seems to be more and more content covering topics about which I care less and less. But I'm gradually getting better at ignoring a lot of that noise and honing in on the content and contributors I appreciate and respect, and, wouldn't you know it, I still have some strong feelings about particular games and gaming attitudes.


Some time away from social media is quite freeing. It has helped me focus on which aspects of the hobby I enjoy most, which ones I enjoy sharing and discussing, and which topics I find rewarding to write about. It has also improved the quality of my time at the game table -- More quality games with more quality gamers. I have not written for this blog since the beginning of September. So, I'm back now with some thoughts on the future, reflections on the past, and some long overdue gaming reports.

More quality games with more quality gamers.

2019 In Review:
I logged 733 plays of 198 unique games in 2019. Those numbers reflect success toward my overall goal of playing fewer new-to-me games while playing games I like multiple times. I'm always glad to discover a new game I like, but I dislike "chasing" new games in hopes of getting lucky. I'm much happier to wait until the game is out for awhile, and several geekbuddies have weighed in on it. Here are a few notable titles I was introduced to in 2019:

A Feast for Odin: The Norwegians - A superb expansion to one of my favorite games. I've taken a break from playing solo games, but this one remains a very satisfying solo experience both with the expansion and without. I think the specialized sheds are a great addition, and making it so players can't really ignore animals is mostly a good thing. That said, I still enjoy playing the base game for its more open-ended strategic paths.

Belratti - This would probably be my game of the year. This takes the incredibly fun "what-were-you-thinking?!" moments from games like Codenames, Dixit and Concept, and turns them up a notch. This game provides streamlined gameplay, allowing players to learn it quickly. It inccorporates a very fun theme, and plays up to seven players seamlessly. And it comes in a tiny box!! I do hope another deck of cards comes out for this game, because after nearly 20 plays, we are seeing some patterns developing.

PUSH - Push-your-luck hilarity by the bucket! Fast-paced and swear-inducing, the other scout moms and dads and I have had a great time with this one. Things can go very bad very fast, and a lucky roll can provide memorable moments. This is a perfect family game for gatherings of non-gaming family.

Aquaducts - A very fast and fun solo game with a small deck of cards and a die. I made my copy from the print-and-play file. Satisfying and challenging with scaling difficulty. Highly recommend!

Strike - A game that should not be as fun as it is and yet, with each play, boisterous howls of laughter ensue. So simple, so fun, another game to play alongside PUSH for its simplicity and super-wide accessibility.

Time of Crisis - I still haven't found three players who like this as much as I do and who are willing to play it as much as I would. Tragically underplayed, I think this game is brilliant. I have not tried the expansion yet which does introduce a way to replace players with a bot system. Looks like this will be part of my new years gaming resolution.

Throne and the Grail - I tend to dislike it when players use the phrases "????? killer" or "This game fired that game." But this game certainly has a lot of killing and firing potential. An excellent 2p only game that puts agonizing decisions to its players. In four rounds of five-card hands, each player either adds a single good or bad card to the ever-growing offer or takes the last five cards offered, knowing the rest of their hand will still be played, either for the other player this round, or the next round, because you only get to take once per round! It's glorious frustration at its agonizing best!

Horrified - I'm a HUGE fan of the Universal monsters and a SMALL fan of co-ops. Ultimately, the monster goodness won out and I gave this game a shot. Mechanically, it's super-streamlined and very straightforward, which is also its biggest strength. Because the fun in this game is hoping the monsters don't smash your face, not calculating optimum use of your actions. There are seven monsters that each require different conditions to defeat, and in each game, during setup, you choose two (easy), three (standard) or four (difficult) either at random or to add a second degree of difficulty. We've had great fun with this one and found it pretty challenging. I would recommend this as an entry-level, family-friendly co-op with a very fun theme and nice production.

The Quacks of Quedlinburg - I was surprised how much I liked this. I tend to like deckbuilders, but was not thrilled with the two bag builders I had tried before this. Now, it would be foolish to say, "I don't like bag builders." But I did have some apprehension about this one, which is probably why it took me a year to play it! Well, that was a mistake. This is great fun. This is one of those light and breezy games that puts you under its spell based on top-notch art and production design, and solid mechanics. Replacing the always-valuable "draw" rule from deckbuilders with a classic PYL "bust" rule was brilliant, and it's what sets this game apart. Just great.

Unmatched - I love everything about what Restoration Games has been doing the past few years. Even though I haven't loved all of their games, there is something to be said for revisiting, reimplementing, and even rebuilding from scratch classic board games from decades past. I knew nothing of this game's source material, but when I saw a quick-playing, 2p combat game with Bigfoot and Bruce Lee, I was instatnly sold. The minis are the best I've seen (not a minis guy), and the art design is lovely. Everything about this production makes for a game that's easy and fast to learn and play. We need more like it!

Air, Land & Sea - I only managed one play of this and have not been able to acquire a copy yet, but I had a great time with this mini, 15-min. area-control card game. There have now been a few of these (the 13 Days series, Tesla vs. Edison Duel among others), and I think I like this one the most so far. Looking forward to trying it again.

Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein - I will say this right off the bat, the subject and immersivenes of this theme has bought this game a lot of leeway with me. It has problems I know. It's too long, and repetitive, and I don't care. The fact that the players need to build different body parts, made from different, horrifying components, that, in the 2nd half of the game, we then have to animate by rolling dice? It's so perfectly thematic I can't stand it!! And the R-rated artwork?! C'mon!! Just incredible! And even when the events simply shut down a space on the board, the fact that it's becuase students are rioting based on rumors of questionnable practices by University staff (you!!), is just such fun. One of the most thematic experiences I've had at a game table. And because it's a theme I love and have not experienced before, my forgiveness level is very high for this one. I love it!

Medium - You want me to like a party game? Strip away nearly all of the rules and do this. This is great for the same reaason Just One is great, though I like this one more, you can teach it in 60 seconds and play it for an hour. Lots of opportunity for trash talk and dynamic group nonsense that I love vs. the very different dynamic of something like Codenames, Mysterium or One Night Ultimate Werewolf, where I feel like I'm in trouble if I do the wrong thing.

The Crew - 2019 finished with a HUGE bang when I played this at PAX Unplugged. It's as good as everyone is saying, and, as I said, I'm not a huge fan of co-ops. Well, I'm also not a huge fan of trick-taking, but I'm getting there slowly. This game is great fun. I can't wait to play it more.

Thanks Geekbuddies!!

And here are my least favorite games I played in 2019 (I must be doing something right if this list is only two games long. Thanks Geekbuddies!!):

Brikks - ickks. Can we be done with R&Ws now? Let's go back to microgames.

Welcome To . . . - Everything a roll (flip)-and-write should not be: long, counterintuitive, boring, unattractive, and work. Man I hated this!

Games I feel I should mention:
Board Game: Wingspan
Wingspan - Good not great. Way too much fuss over this one. It's a gorgeous production that does not elevate the game play. It's a bit clunky and clumsy and does not really hold up to its peers in a very crowded sub-genre of engine-builders. I bought, played and traded my copy of Kashgar: Merchants of the Silk Road, which felt very similar, but was more streamlined and just better overall, and still not worth keeping.

Board Game: Tapestry
Tapestry - Don't care about the nice buildings. As with Wingspan, attractive components don't elevate gameplay. Here however, I enjoyed the super-dry, super-solitary, gameplay. Not sure the different starting powers are all equally interesting. This one is a smorgasbord of mechanics that I generally like even if not particularly complementary, so, sure I'll eat it.

Board Game: Museum
Museum - This appeared to be an interesting set-collection game. I bought it. I played it. It was okay. But when a game is out for only a year before apparent rules issues force a second edition, you lost me. You clearly released an uncooked version of the game, and it cost me money. Don't tell me v1.01 is perfectly fun, because if it was, they would not feel compelled to release v2 right away. Not interested in exploring this game any further.

In the second part of this entry, I will recap the important gaming events from the second half of 2019 - with photos!! Stay tuned!

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Fri Jan 10, 2020 3:24 pm
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My Kniztory

Mat Thomsen
United States
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It's time for me to acknowledge the good Dr.

Board Game Designer: Reiner Knizia

What's up doc? Nice to see you.

Since I began logging games in 2012, I've played 39 different games by Reiner Knizia, with 349 total plays. I own 30 of his games, including three versions of Medici, my favorite. Many of them are long overdue to the table, and unfortunately, four of them have never been played: Tower of Babel, Fruit Spy (I have the Dead Man's Treasure version), Money!, and Stephenson's Rocket.


I also think it's worth noting that his game Ingenious is by far my most-played game, but I play it digitally vs. the AI.

From gallery of Madcapmartini

(Confession: I have no memory of playing It's Mine!. Even after reading my notes from this specific play!! Disturbing.)

In my relatively recent Top 30, three of his games made the cut: Medici, Modern Art, and Ra: The Dice Game. The longer I'm part of this hobby, and the more games I play, the more I'm inclined to think more of Knizia's games will make their way onto a list of my all-time favorites. His games consisntently stand the test of time and often improve the more you play them. Not to mention the fact that he's still designing excellent games such as The Quest for El Dorado, L.L.A.M.A., Sakura, and the oddball Karate Tomate, which has Kniziaphiles somewhat divided so far.

My top ten Knizia games (I feel like this changes daily):
1. Medici
2. Modern Art
3. Medici: The Card Game
4. Ra: The Dice Game
5. The Quest for El Dorado
6. Wildlife Safari
7. Winner's Circle
8. Ingenious
10. Excape

Clearly, I prefer his lighter fare. So I feel obligated to weigh in on the . . .

Painfully glaring omissions:
Ra: Please don't yell at me. I know and acknowledge that this is a masterpiece. It's just not one I speak. I've had a former WBC Ra champion give me lessons in this game and I still have no feel for its timing. It kills me. I wish I did. It's a great game that remains inaccessible to me.

Tigris & Euphrates: To be fair, I've only played this once and we didn't fully understand all of the rules, so my impression is not a reliable one. But the fact that I've had no interest in revisiting this one says to me that compared to my struggles with Ra, this game's nuanced timing strategy, spatial puzzle and abstract nature are not for me. I have guilt about it so go easy! This and Race for the Galaxy are two games I wish most I liked, but somehow, all of the most reliable sources in the world telling me so has not made it so. Again, I acknowledge its greatness.

Amun-Re: A game at which I need another crack. I might love it, or it may exist in the same realm as Ra. I don't own it, and it does not seem to hit the table anywhere else ever. Keeping my eyes open for a chance to play this one again.

Taj Mahal: I've had mixed results with this game. I've had fun with it, and I've been frustrated by it. I no longer own it and, like Amun Re, it doesn't see the light of day in any of my game groups. There are aspects of it I quite enjoy, so, my verdict is still out on this one I think.

Games I don't like:
High Society: I bought and sold this game three times because I was so convinced I liked it. After playing it twice not so long ago, I let go of that feeling of obligation to like all things Knizian, and sold it again, for good this time. I know I'm supposed to be, but I'm not a fan.

Battle Line: Another game I acknowledge is very good, but with games like Hanamikoji and Throne and the Grail out there for two players, I find this one boring in comparison.

Blue Lagoon: Just too much scoring going on in this game. It broke my brain, and not in a good way. The line between satisfying tough decisions and frustrating ones is a fine one, and this was pure frustration for me.

Games I want to mention for other reasons:
Through the Desert: I have only played the digital version of this one. I understand its appeal, but this is quite nearly a black and white spatial abstract game, and, in that category, I like Yinsh better.

Lost Cities: I loved Lost Cities . . . until I didn't. One day after playing, it dawned on me that I did not find the game fun anymore. I have great respect for the design and I love the art direction, but I had my fill and would prefer other games instead.

Samurai: This game is tragically underplayed. I think it's awesome. It's one of my more shamefully neglected titles, and I hope that confessing it here provides me with the proper motivation to change that. This one is just great.

Shoot Out: I rec'd this game free with my purchase of the "Going Cardboard" dvd. I think it was at PAX East 2012. I'm very fond of this game for reasons that have nothing to do with how it plays and everything to do with how and why I got it. I was three months on BGG -- three months of total submersion into the hobby. Everything was new and exciting. This entire world had just opened up to me and that documentary made a great guide. The free Knizia game was just the cherry on top. Fitting that all these years later, I have developed an affinity for really small games.

I've talked about Pickomino and Kingdoms elsewhere in this blog and on BGG, but both are games quite like and regret selling. I have thoughts on loads more of his games but I'm not sure how much my readers care about how I feel about En Garde.

Games I most want to play:
Other than the ones in my collection that I've never played, and the ones in my collection that have gathered dust since they were last played, here are a few of RK's games I'd like to try.

Blue Moon City: I played this once and think I kind of liked it. I would like to try this one again. I have not followed the comments regarding the recent reprint, so I'd be curious to know if fans' opinions changed at all.

Dream Factory: I've heard great things about this game and I love the theme. I'm not sure why I have not played it yet. Possibly the RK game I'd like to try most.

Ivanhoe: This hit my radar when I noticed there was a tournament at the WBC. I've heard there is not much to it, and even the folks who played it at the WBC admitted it was a "nothing else was happening" kind of event. I'm curious about this one nonetheless, since I clearly enjoy Knizia's lighter fare.

Microbadge: Ingenious fanMicrobadge: Ingenious fanMicrobadge: Ingenious fanMicrobadge: Ingenious fanMicrobadge: Ingenious fanMicrobadge: Ingenious fan

The fact that my second-most-played designer is one I only kind of like, Uwe Rosenberg, and is not even close in play number or titles with 165 plays of 15 games, should make it clear that nothing could be finer than a game by dear Reiner. Thanks doc! And keep up the great work!

P.S. - Please make a Bruce Leek and Jackie Yam expansion for Karate Tomate!!

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Fri Sep 6, 2019 5:28 pm
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August Recap

Mat Thomsen
United States
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Since I've been logging my plays, August has always been a quiet month when it comes to games played. Only 29 plays this year. And even with so few plays, I still played EIGHT new games, which frankly, was too many since only a couple of them stood out. Let's have a look:

Board Game: Symphony No.9

Board Game: Noria

Board Game: Star Wars: Outer Rim

Board Game: DC Deck-Building Game: Rebirth

Board Game: Pergamon

Board Game: Near and Far

Board Game: Horrified

Board Game: Shadows: Amsterdam

Symphony No.9 NEW! - This one tied with Horrified for the best of the bunch. This felt like a classic Euro: streamlined play, 60-min. playtime, good player interaction, and an interesting, though completely pasted-on, theme. The closed auctions ("concerts") are this game's greatest strength. Players are incentivized to hit certain ranges based on which color cubes (composers) they managed buy in the prior phase . Some great double-think here, but the concerts really just provide income for you to buy more cubes later, which ultimately provide game-end points. Solid game. Recommend.

Noria NEW! - Noria's action selection and resource management was really interesting, its scoring mechanism was not. In other words, we did a bunch of cool stuff to earn the resources to simply race on four tracks. You can sabotage the tracks, which was also kind of fun, but you need to be on all four, so you can qualify for the other two tracks (!!) so it hurts you as well. Some neat stuff here with a painfully boring resolution.

Star Wars: Outer Rim NEW! - My brother was on this hype train so we played this when we got together. I didn't hate it. I'm not a big fan of Fantasy Flight's particular brand of games. Blocks of text on lots of cards just wears me down and I lose interest quickly. There were aspects of this I enjoyed. I focused on collecting bounties. That was fun, until I realized all of my efforts revealing location tokens did the other players a pretty big favor. But that was okay, it made sense thematically. And, as I said, I had fun with this one . . . for the first hour. Man, I would have loved this if it didn't go on for two.

DC Deck-Building Game: Rebirth x2 NEW! - Speaking of games outstaying their welcome. I always enjoyed the DCDB game. It was simple, straighforward, and a fun way to spend 30 min with casual players. But it gets really boring at minute 31. We were 90 minutes into our scenario when we had to shut it down when the store closed, and not even close to finishing it!! Saved by the bell as it were, but I actually liked some of the additions in this new version. Movement and assist cards specifically. But there was just way too much fat to cut through. Too many lost turns to useless hands of cards. Frustrating. The Quest for El Dorado has really put other, entry-level deck-building games on notice.

Pergamon NEW! - It felt good to knock one of my "never-playeds" off that list. I've owned this forever and I finally got it to the table. And it was quite good! As with Symphony No. 9, this captured that classic, streamlined Euro feel that I like so much. Easy to get into without bogging down in the rulebook, and over in an hour. Lots to like here with some gritty decisions. I really liked this one.

Near and Far NEW! - I liked this better than Above and Below. But I feel the same way here that I do about Scythe and Charterstone, that the ho-hum mechanics are not helped by the beautiful production and/or the novelty of its storytelling aspect. This is not a bad game. It was the right playtime and clearly it was nice to look at. I have not tried the scenarios, which is likely the better way to play this one. But, as with Charterstone, I did not like it enough to play it ten times. Too many better games.

Horrified NEW! - This was the surprise of the month. I may be a total hypocrite because the production in this game DID camouflage some pretty standard mechanics (look for imminent blog post on this topic). I should note that the Universal Monsters have been a love of mine since childhood, so, lots of leeway was built into this one before I even opened the box. But aside from that, the streamlined rules of this game really let us "play" with it. We were able to talk trash as the monsters stomped around and smashed us in the face. We were able to get this up and running so quickly, that we were able to immerse ourselves more deeply in the game. I'm not a big fan of co-ops, but this quick-hitter made for some very fun moments.

Shadows: Amsterdam NEW! - This did not work for me. A real-time Dixit/Codenames mashup with art I struggled to see clearly made for a painfully unfun experience. The best part of this type of game is the "What were you thinking?!" discussions after a failed clue. The timed nature of this one removes that for the most part. You cand discuss once it's over, but by then, much is forgotten and/or difficult to retrace. Big miss here.
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Tue Sep 3, 2019 2:07 pm
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2019: The Year of The Monster

Mat Thomsen
United States
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Microbadge: I love PBSMicrobadge: Fan of the card game Red7Microbadge: Rummikub fanMicrobadge: Czech Games Editions "Goblins, Inc." Contest participantMicrobadge: Guildhall fan
Frank's having one heck of a year!!
Have you noticed? There has been a surge in games featuring Frankenstein's monster. And "frankly", I couldn't be happier about it.

So, why all these Frankenstein games all of a sudden? I don't really have an answer. I have heard that Universal is notoriously stingy with granting the monster's rights to commercial users (here is an article from 2011 if you're interested in finding out more about it: How Universal Re-Copyrighted Frankenstein’s Monster). Perhaps that has changed. I just wanted to shine a light on it because we're coming up on my favorite time of year and my favorite event on BGG:

Slashing Through Cinema's Annual Horror Movie Viewing Challenge!

It's fun to have a subgroup of gamers with whom to share a completely separate interest. We have a great time chatting about horror movies and several of us preach the greatness of the classic Universal crew every year. Frank's monster is a personal favorite. #2 right behind Creetch.

1. Microbadge: Universal monsters fan - Creature from the Black Lagoon
2. Microbadge: Universal monsters fan - Frankenstein

But let's talk about the games.
(I'm including last year's Monster Crunch here as well because Frankenberry is my favorite. Microbadge: Cold Cereal fan)

Board Game: Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein

Board Game: Frankenstein

Board Game: Horrified

Board Game: Campy Creatures: Expansion I

Board Game: Monster Crunch! The Breakfast Battle Game

Board Game: Dr. Frankenstein: Rise of the Monster

Abomination: The Heir of Frankenstein: I preordered this game ages ago, and I'm still waiting for it . . . and it's killing me! The buzz has been quite positive so far -- the main complaint being its length. But, from what I've seen, it appears similar to Trickerion, which is also long, but has an immersive theme and lots of depth. Two things that I prefer in my longer games. I also respect how grim and grizzly this game is. It's not often we get an R-rated board game, and this one is about as close as we get. Violence and gore abound! Which, from where I'm sitting, is how a Frankenstein story should be told. I'm very excited for this game.

Frankenstein - It wasn't until a fellow slasher posted about this in our guild that this game hit my radar. I don't know much about it. I know it's a reimplementation of It's Alive! and/or Candle Quest. I know it's a 30-minute auction game, which are my two favorite characteristics in a board game. And I know the art is awesome, so lots to like here before actually playing it. I backed it on KS and hope it's one of the few hits I've backed. The campaign has gone relatively smoothly so I'm quite hopeful for this one. It's due in Nov. which is a shame only because I would have loved to add it to this October's game rotation.

Horrified - I'm not big on co-ops, but I could not resist this one. A mass-market game with minis of the entire classic Universal lineup??!! My head exploded!! I've watched Tom's and Rodney's videos and it seems this game is one I will like. I just bought it (at Target of all places!!), so I'm hoping to get it played as soon as this weekend (8-24). Along with the theme and production, the variability is also a strong point, with each creature providing different objectives. I hope the game play delivers with this one, because it has a lot going for it.

Campy Creatures: Expansion I - I didn't acutally own this game until this year's expansion was released. They didn't only add the expansion, but added a few improvements to the base game, and boy, did they do a great job with this one! The art in this game perfectly captures the spirit of its 50s pulp source material. It's the best game art I've seen in awhile. The game plays smoothly and is also great fun. I enjoy it when games make the players the monsters instead of the humans, even in games like Zombie Dice and Martian Dice. It works in this game as well with cute themaitc ties like scoring negative points for the "mortals" who are skilled at hunting monsters. I highly recommend this game for fans of monsters and/or light card games. It's very good.

Monster Crunch! The Breakfast Battle Game - I love everything about this game. The arrival of monster cereal in stores always marked the start of the Halloween season as a kid. I loved these cereals, and back in the day, BooBerry was particularly coveted. Today, the formulas have changed too many times to even recognize them in your bowl, but their spirit remains in tact. When I heard about this game, I knew I'd have to own it. For me, the game play is secondary here. The production is so loyal to the look of the actual cereal and corresponding boxes, that my son did not realize it was a game when I gave it to him as a present (to be fair, I'm famous for giving cereal as presents). The game looks great, and feels great. Sturdy carboard bowl boards and milk tokens with a smooth satin finish provide a lovley tactile experience. This game offers the kind of nostalgic childhood experience that everyone thinks Stranger Things does, but really doesn't. This feels like someone who was there back in the day had a hand in its production vs. someone's interpretation of "back in the day". Sorry. I got a bit lofty there, but I take my cereal seriously.

Dr. Frankenstein: Rise of the Monster - I confess, I did not know about this game until I did a search in preparation for this blog, but that seems as good a way to discover interesting games as any. So, a shout out to this Frankenstein print-and-play and to 2019. I hope next year is Creetch's year!!

Board Game: Horrified

(photo by Benwax123)

(Check out this great list for a more complete listing of games featuring our favorite squarehead: Frankengames )
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Fri Aug 23, 2019 2:07 pm
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July Recap

Mat Thomsen
United States
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Microbadge: I love PBSMicrobadge: Fan of the card game Red7Microbadge: Rummikub fanMicrobadge: Czech Games Editions "Goblins, Inc." Contest participantMicrobadge: Guildhall fan
Board Game: Yahtzee
Board Game: L.L.A.M.A.
Board Game: Just One
Board Game: Belratti
Board Game: Shakespeare
Board Game: Cribbage
Board Game: Campy Creatures
Board Game: Magic: The Gathering
Board Game: PUSH
Board Game: Potato Man
Board Game: Pechvogel
Board Game: Karate Tomate
Board Game: Heul doch! Mau Mau
Board Game: Gier
Board Game: For Sale
Board Game: Wiz-War (eighth edition)
Board Game: Valeria: Card Kingdoms
Board Game: Ticket to Ride
Board Game: Oceanos
Board Game: Farkle
Board Game: Terra Mystica
Board Game: Dice Town
Board Game: Celestia
Board Game: Wildlife Safari
Board Game: Tyler Sigman's Crows
Board Game: Quicksilver
Board Game: Mint Tin Mini Skulduggery
Board Game: Photosynthesis
Board Game: Dungeon Petz
Board Game: Counterfeiters
Board Game: Nauticus
Board Game: Gizmos
Board Game: A Feast for Odin: The Norwegians
Board Game: BattleLore (Second Edition)

63 Games Played
10 New to Me

Here are my first impressions of the new games, and some thoughts about others that hit the table last month:

Yahtzee x2 (46 all-time)

LAMA x8 (15 all-time) - This game continues to deliver fast-paced fun. Just last night, I introduced this to a friend who prefers heavy games and will only play this type of game in very small doses and, at the end of our first game, he immediately requested a second play. It's just great. He also suggested a possible strategy to hoard cards and wait for the other players to fold, but, we soon realized, once the other players notice, we joined the drawing party and it usually blew up in our faces. Very fun to play around with this game in such ways.

Just One x2 NEW! - Very fun, but it lacks the next-level hilarity of Belratti. Also, you can't play this with three, or even four seems too few to me.

Belratti x2 (14 all-time)

Shakespeare x2 (9 all-time) - This one's been away for awhile and two plays within two weeks have proven it to be a solid and reliable Euro game. It's improving with age. (I won't compare it to the works of Shakespeare, don't worry )

Cribbage x3 (212 all-time)

Campy Creatures x4 NEW! - Very happy with this one. Lots of variety and gorgeous art. This is exactly the right weight and game play experience for that 45-minute category.

Magic: The Gathering x2 (16 all-time)

PUSH x5 (23 all-time) - Continues to bring the fun in a big way.

Potato Man NEW! - Finally! I've owned this forever!! Really enjoyed it as a non-trick-taker myself. Played with four, which seems the best (and only?) number to have for this one. Our seasoned trick-taking friend stomped us, but I felt like I had a bit more control than I usually do with trick-takers. Let's be clear, I'm awful at them is why. Happy to play this more!

Pechvogel NEW! - Too fiddly. Needs streamlining. For something this "beer-and-pretzels" we spent way too much time in the rulebook.

Karate Tomate (6 all-time)

Heul doch! Mau Mau (2 all-time)

Gier x3 (5 all-time) - Continuing to explore this and the three above-listed games after THIS extensive writeup. Can't wait for Hats to join the group!

For Sale (17 all-time)

Wiz-War (eighth edition) x2 - As with Battlelore (see below) Fantasy Flight has locked some good fun behind some terrible rule books. This one is not as bad as some, but it took us many rounds of rules-wrestling to realize how simple and straighforward this game is. If they would just admit that "light and casual" is okay!

Valeria: Card Kingdoms (6 all-time) - Still the best Machi Koro I've played.

Ticket to Ride x2 (18 all-time)

Oceanos x2 (15 all-time) - This is turning into an underrated gem. This is how I want WizWar to play out, because secretly, it is all these things: Lovely to look at, simple to teach, streamlined, and loads of fun to play.

Farkle (19 all-time) - I love this game. Makes a great Yahtzee alternative. Use poker chips to score and you have something to fiddle with between sips of beer.

Terra Mystica (40 all-time) - Great to play this one after a long absence.

Dice Town (8 all-time) - Great to get this back to the table after a long absence.

Celestia x2 NEW! - My expectations did not match the game play. I thought this was more like Gravwell or Sakura. Once recalibrated, I think I really like this.

Wildlife Safari (4 all-time) - The more I play this, the more I realize how excellent it is. So simple. So quick. So nasty! Great fun.

Tyler Sigman's Crows NEW! - Overstayed its welcome a bit, but a great game for Halloween, and a fun puzzle.

Quicksilver (5 all-time)

Mint Tin Mini Skulduggery NEW! - Just rolling dice, which is okay. Fun for the pub. Lovely skulls.

Photosynthesis NEW! - Absolutely gorgeous production! And a solid game to play alongside Azul, Patchwork, and other recent pretty abstracts.

Dungeon Petz (6 all-time) - Wow! Getting this back to the table after many years was eye-opening. It's a great game! But it takes its toll on you! I was just drained afterwards. This does not feel like any other game I've played. The assigning and resolving of needs cards is an incredibly fun, frustrating, and fascinating puzzle. If this game wasn't so taxing I'd play it way more often.

Counterfeiters x2 (3 all-time) - Finally got this one back to the table after playing it at TotalCon for the first time. This is really good! Cutthroat, fast, and fun. And I LOVE the production and art design. It was a brilliant move to offer two types of paper money in this game. So thematic!

Nauticus (17 all-time) - We had an all-time game of this with two of us scoring our highest scores ever! I had 75 points from boats alone. Benji ONLY had boats, and while I don't remember his score, he must have had at least 20 completed masts!

Gizmos x2 NEW! - I did not really find my rhythm with this one, but it was a very fun, attractive, and almost too-quick engine builder.

A Feast for Odin: The Norwegians (15 all-time) - I had a great 2p game with a score of 140.

BattleLore (Second Edition) NEW! - Another very messy learning experience from Fanstasy Flight. The fun is in there, but you really need to mine the f*#$%#g rule books for it!!


Another great month of gaming in the books. On to August! Thanks for reading!

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Thu Aug 1, 2019 4:54 pm
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The Rainbow Connection - A Wave of Colorful Card Games

Mat Thomsen
United States
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Microbadge: I love PBSMicrobadge: Fan of the card game Red7Microbadge: Rummikub fanMicrobadge: Czech Games Editions "Goblins, Inc." Contest participantMicrobadge: Guildhall fan
From gallery of Madcapmartini
In recognition of Pride Month, I'd like to dedicate this entry to all of the LGBTQ members of our community here on BGG and at our game tables. Wishing you fairness and respect in all of your interactions within this hobby we all love.

Microbadge: Rainbow Microbadge: Rainbow Microbadge: Rainbow

So, this thing is happening. It's probably been happening since I've been a member of the BGG community, but in the past three months or so, a bright spotlight has shined on it, and my attention has become somewhat locked.

I can't get enough of these really light card games!!

It began with a quiet wink, when I bought Zero Down for five dollars to receive free shipping (probably the only time this was worth it by the way). Zero Down, like the rest of the games I'm discussing here, feels like a game we already know.

Which brings me to UNO. Many of these games can be compared to Uno, the granddaddy of "colors and numbers" card games. I feel compelled to defend Uno, except, I'm not a fan of it at all. It's hard for me to admit that because I have defended Yahtzee, Rummikub, Monopoly, and other mass-market games to the point where it sometimes has become a crusade. But UNO was never a game I found particularly fun, even as a kid. But, the comparison exists for these games for a couple of reasons. First, the "Crazy Eights" mechanic of playing the same suit or number, and second, all of these decks contain brightly-colored cards and numbered suits.

I wanted to limit this discussion to these eight games specifically, knowing there are probably hundreds that qualify. To me, they all feel very similar in weight, playtime, and presentation. But mostly because of timing. It's werid how these games hit my radar at the same time, but from different places. Okey Dokey for example, was brought to my attention by the solo-playing clan here on BGG. LAMA of course, was not only nominated for the SDJ, but it's designed by Reiner Knizia, who is a favorite. Greed (or GIER) was a blind purchase I chose when I ordered LAMA from I saw it available, watched Zee's review, and grabbed a copy. For these and other reasons, all of these games seem to have hit my eyeballs as a group, and now I will forever associate them with each other.

Less focus on teaching, more focus on playing.

I'm always looking for fast-playing, interactive games I can teach quickly. I love it when I get the right group of five or six players and can get a game like these up and running quickly -- less focus on teaching, more focus on playing, loads of player interaction and ultimately, trash talk.

Which brings me to the first game I'd like to talk about. . . .

From gallery of Madcapmartini

Never has such a colorful game generated such a colorful tapestry of curse words! When this game clicks for the right group of players, it becomes a very nasty, and ridiculously fun scene. I first saw this game on Game Night, here on BGG. After watching this video, I knew this game was for me.

You see, the main player is building piles of points for themselves, and potentially, other players. But there are cards that make you roll the die and risk losing points you've previously earned. These piles are built by flipping over cards from the top of the deck, so it's all about pushing your luck, trying to build the best pile for you, and the worst for your opponents. There is nothing better than flipping a five and a six (the highest values), placing them in the same pile, then flipping a die-roll card. That card can be used to create a new pile, the main player may then stop and distribute the piles, selecting first of course. The problem is, you have a limit of three piles, and you bust when you can't place a card in a pile because repeats of numbers and/or colors are not allowed. Busting means you don't get a pile at all, and must roll the die! Meanwhile, your opponents pick over your piles like vultures!

This game has quickly become one of my go-to games and is the most-played of this bunch so far. Several folks have mentioned UNO after playing this game. Mostly to say, "It's almost like UNO, but different." There is a "switch" card, that plays like UNO's "reverse", but it only switches turn order when awarding piles, not taking turns. It can also be said that this game feels like UNO because, like all of the games featured here, it is so easy to grasp and play, and games end up moving at a brisk pace. Also, the retro-rainbow art feels like it's from the same era as the UNO many of us grew up with back in the day.

Heul doch! Mau Mau
From gallery of Madcapmartini

We go from my most-played of these games to my least. I was hoping to get more plays of this game logged, but it didn't work out that way. This game is the most like UNO mechanically. Players play cards that match either the color or number of the top card of their discard piles. The twist here is that each player has their own discard pile. Each card you play there will give you points at the end of the game, but you many ONLY play there if the card you play cannot be played on either of your neighbors' discard piles. I need to play this one more before I decide, but this one felt the most random and luck-based. There are choices you can make in hopes to mitigate which cards you are able to play, but, with only four cards in your hand, those choices felt very limited. Eric Martin does a great job explaining the appeal of this game in his video review HERE.

I do love the art and theme in this one. Apparently, the name translates to something like, "Don't be a cry baby." The cutesy onion art is great and the publishers went as far as including a "handkerchief" to wipe your tears!!! Looking forward to trying this one again and hopfully finding its rhythm.

From gallery of Madcapmartini

Speaking of finding a game's rhythm! I've now played this game five times and have only managed to "go out" twice!!

Okay, let's rewind for a sec. LAMA has been nominated for the SDJ. Something that has put it on many gamers' radars. Its designer also got it loads of attention. Given my love for this type of card game and this designer, I got a copy ASAP.

In LAMA, players are trying to play all the cards in their hands. Any cards left in your hand at the end of a round will count as negative points. "Going out" means you get to shed some of the negative points you've previously earned in the form of chips. But there are only six values of cards, and you can only play the same value or one higher. Llama cards allow you to reset a six back to a one. Seems simple enough, but I am awful at this game! And as much as I'd like to blame the draw, luck, randomness etc., THE SAME PLAYER HAS WON EVERY GAME WE'VE PLAYED!! I don't understand it! You either have the cards to play or you don't. What's happening?!

Clearly, there is more to explore here. It's these levels of hidden depth that make these games so appealing. On the surface, they appear to be random and luck-based, but the more you play, the more the subtle nuances are discovered. Which to me is a great achievement in game design. Piling on rules and making a three-hour game seems easier by comparison (not easy mind you, just easier).

LAMA is the rainbowiest of these rainbow games! It's just pleasant to look at. The fact that each color also features a different knitted wool pattern was a total bonus for my knitter wife. I do feel like I need to play this one more because, while it's fun, it hasn't come close to the uproarious interactivity that PUSH brings to the table, but it's a lovely game I'm glad I own and one I clearly need to practice.

Okey Dokey
From gallery of Madcapmartini

I've only played Okey Dokey's solo variant. A friend who has played it quite a bit says the co-op version is much better because it's more difficult. In fact, my only complaint about this game is that I've only lost once.

In Okey Dokey, like all of these games, there are colored cards that vary in value, but here, there are sets of numbers in each color. Which makes now a good time to discuss the structure of the decks in these games. In some of them, all of the same number cards are also the same color. All sixes are red for example, and the color has little or no bearing on game play, they are just suits. And in others, like Okey Dokey, the different numbers come in each different color. Which is how UNO's deck is configured so, another easy comparison. Though here, Hanabi is the most common comparison since players must play same-colored cards in sequence. But instead of piles, players in Okey Dokey are trying to complete a 5x10 grid of cards with each row increasing in value from 1-8. However, you can only play cards in one column at a time and each row can only contain cards of one color, and each column must contain a "zero" card, which resets the value for the next card played in that row. It's quite the juggle, but the game gives you just enough of a cushion with those zero cards since they also let you discard and draw new cards.

The game also includes "equals" cards that provide a lifeline, and can be added or removed to the starting deck to decrease or increase difficulty respectively. They also win the "card that looks most like a pride flag" award (see photo). That said, I love everything about the art design of this game. Its quirky theme of animals putting on a concert is beautifully imagined. The colors are bright and the graphic design is clean and practical. I'm glad my friend spoke up about the co-op version because I really want to give it a try, where I would otherwise just play it solo, which I find a bit too easy.

If a game is more fun to say than to play, we have a problem.

Karate Tomate
From gallery of Madcapmartini

Here is where things get downright goofy. With a name like Karate Tomate, this game better be fun, that's all I'm saying. Because if a game is more fun to say than to play, we have a problem.

This game hit my radar when I read one of the many blog posts by fans of Knizia, who strive to play as many of his titles as possible. This is a deeeeeeep cut from where I'm sitting. Even as a fan, I had not heard anything about this one, until, as I said, someone played it and described it in a blog post. They mentioned that the "auctions" in this game are like the ones in the much more famous Taj Mahal. Well, I like that game okay, but it's not one of my favorites by this designer. But then I read that it plays up to ten players, plays quickly, casually, and allows for loads of interaction with a <30-min. playtime. Based on this new information, I could not ignore this game.

In Karate Tomate, players play cards from their hands to try to win one of a set of trophy cards. These trophy cards provide points, additional card draws and kitchen knives. "Kitchen knives?!" you ask? Why of course! These are karate-fighting vegetables, did you think no one would get hurt? But more on the knives later. The cards in players' hands come in five suits (colors) in values 1-5. Once they play a suit, they must only play that suit. If they cannot, or don't want to continue, they play their one tomato card, which withdraws them from the round, but lets them draw new cards and fight another day. Once enough players have withdrawn from the round that there are enough trophy cards for everyone left, the trophy cards on offer are claimed based on the highest total played. Ties are broken by the value on your single tomato card. Tied players then exchange their tomato cards.

There is a lot to consider amidst the madness of this game. How good are the trophy cards? How good is my hand? Will one card be enough this round (since players may play their tomato and withdraw right away, you may end up with a trophy card right away)? The final consideration, and one that makes this game incredibly fun, is, "Should I end the game?" Once a player has collected 12 points, they have the option to call for the end of the game. The catch is, the player with the fewest knives cannot win (a bit of High Society flavoring in this vegetable stew). In the few games I've played of this, it has already happened once that the player calling the end of the game had the fewest knives. It was beautiful.

This one is the least UNO-like of this batch of games. None of the mechanics are used and the suits only matter to you and don't affect other players given the giant deck everyone is drawing from (meaning, if we both play carrots, it will not impact probability enough to change your decisions). The goofy art in this game perfectly compliments the silly theme and equally goofy game play. The colors and graphic design are attractive and functional, and the large deck of square trophy cards are easily read from across the table. This one is perfect for the pub and to play with a rowdy, beer-drinking group. I only whish this game featured Bruce Leek and Jackie Yam!!

Fuji Flush
From gallery of Madcapmartini

With Fuji Flush, we are getting away from the more typical deck structure of the other games I've discussed. As a result, the UNO comparisons are not as common with this game. But, the beautiful colors in this game demand its inclusion in any discussion of rainbow-tinted games.

The deck in Fuji Flush is comprised of cards numbered 2-20. The smaller the number, the higher its frequency in the deck. There is only one copy of each card 16-20, while there are 16 "2's" in the deck! Players are trying to "flush" all of their cards, but that only happens if the card you play is still in front of you at the start of your next turn. You can play any card from your hand, but playing one that is higher than any preivous player causes them to discard and draw a replacement. The twist that makes this game as great as it is however, is when you play the SAME card as the player just before you. Your two cards are now added together and will cause any lower values on the table to be discarded. A thrid copy of the same value played in a row will continue to grow, creating temporary alliances that constantly shift. It's great fun.

I've talked loads about this game in other entries and it's one of my favorite card games. It works best with four to six players and is a staple come pub night. Excellent game.

Zero Down
From gallery of Madcapmartini

This is the oldest (1998) game I'm featuring in this entry. Zero Down plays like a traditional card game. But it's not UNO this time! This one feels more like Rummy. On your turn, you draw a card then discard a card. That's it! But instead of drawing new cards from the deck, there is an offer of face-up cards that players use to build the lowest-scoring hand possible before one of them "knocks", ending the round. It's very simple and feels like a game we already know how to play. The cards are valued 1-8 and come in seven colors. These numbers and colors come into play when scoring your hand. Players can score a "zero hand" by getting five of a kind, and five of a color. But, with a constant, nine-card hand, one card has to pull double-duty and affect both sets. It's tough to do since no new cards are introduced after the initial deal. Since this game was also designed by RK, it has some similarites to another game in this group LAMA. Like in that game, you want the fewest points when the round ends. This game also scores your hand the same way, counting each number in your hand only once. So a hand of three ones, three twos, and three threes, will only score six (1+2+3).

This might be the quietest and calmest game of the bunch. It feels like a game for older players, one you could easily play with your traditional card-playing relatives. It offers a flexible play count and quick playtime. I'm a big fan of card games that feel like traditional ones. They tend to be more accessible to non-hobby gamers and this one definitely fits that bill. Not the prettiest game of the bunch, but still, lots to like here.

From gallery of Madcapmartini

The last game I want to discuss may end up being my favorite, but, as with Heul Doch, I need to play this more to confirm my impression. I was very surprised how quickly certain strategic decisions became clear in this game, but were still tough ones! I really enjoyed the strategic and social dynamics in this game. Let's look at how it plays a bit.

The goal is to have six of a kind played in your tableau of cards. The cards are valued 1-7, and again like LAMA, the colors are just suits and match each value, so all of the sevens are pink for example. You start your turn by adding a card to your tableau from your hand. Then, you choose an opponent to steal from. You may choose to stop at any time, but if you pull a pair, you bust and keep nothing. If you don't bust, you may choose to keep what you've stolen at any time. If you pull that player's burglar card (each player has one), you can steal one of the cards from their tableau. If you steal a card with a speical action from an opponent's hand, it triggers. There are only three and they are all very simple to execute. The last thing you do is choose whether or not to refill your hand with cards. This is a fascinating choice because it costs you cards from your tableau to do it and also puts loads of loot in your hand for the other players! As I said, it's a really fun dynamic and often a tough choice.

Lots of stuff starts happening as this game evolves. If a player gets close to winning, you are pressed to keep stealing from their hand, risking a bust, just so you can pull their burglar card and steal one of the cards from their potentially winning collection. You don't want to get down to two cards because that's an easy steal for your opponent, but a special action might let them look at your new hand, making it much easier for them to steal from you. There is a lot going on in this one and it's still really simple to teach and play. Really happy with this one. I hope it holds up because I really liked my first play.

The art is very simple and attractive. Fingerprints are used as the recurring theme to compliemnt the burglar cards and it looks and works great. The colors are really bright, and the three special actions are easy to see and interpret. Excited to see if this one gets my groups' ire up the way PUSH does. So great.

From gallery of Madcapmartini
From gallery of Madcapmartini
From gallery of Madcapmartini

As I said above, I know there are hundreds of card games that feature sets of colored numbers, but this group feels like they all hatched from the same nest. I'm having a great time with them and I love what they look like on the table. Especially the ones that feature messy discard piles! Give them a play and bring a rainbow to your table!

Microbadge: Rainbow Microbadge: Rainbow Microbadge: Rainbow

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Tue Jun 18, 2019 10:42 pm
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