Doing something a bit different this bi-week. Rather than go into all the games I've played recently, I want to focus in on one that I think is particularly interesting. I'll be focusing on three things throughout this piece: what the game is, what it tries to be, and where it succeeds/fails.
This is a stream of consciousness kind of thing so it may ramble even more than I usually do. I'm not editing much beyond spelling/formatting. Much like how the game itself warns you when you open it, you have been warned! OoooOOOooooh.
Horrified is a 2019 release designed by the geniuses over at Prospero Hall and published by Ravensburger. As you can probably tell from the cover above, it's damn pretty.
I happen to be a bit of a PH fan. Obviously I haven't played every single one of their releases as they have many, but I've at least liked all of their games that I've tried thus far. In particular, I did a video review of How to Rob a Bank when it came out and it blew me away with how sharp it was. I still own and play it now, two massive shelf culls later. Their mastery of licensed properties stands out, with games like Villainous and recently Jaws pulling a general reaction of "wow this is so much better than I thought it would be" from the board game audience. At this point you think people would expect it from Prospero Hall. Go figure.
So now we have Horrified, which is a coop game utilizing the Universal Monsters license. And they mean that in a broad sense - there's 6 (really 7) of them in the box. The village you're going to be running around in is just rife with the things. This comes through in the mechanisms as well: the difficulty scaling in this game is simply how many of them you're going to tussle with. 2 = easy, 3 = medium, 4 = hard.
Let's focus in on that real quick, because that's super weird. The designers went for a high level approach with Horrified's monsters. Rather than give you 6 different ways to play, they created one base game with what are essentially monster-themed minigames that you need to complete in order to win. This is a huge setting miss for me. Each of these creatures is a storied formidable thing with tons of lore, even just with Universal's canon alone. A game like Fury of Dracula illustrates how much you can do with the "thwart the monster" premise. Packing 6 in and reducing them all to variations of "deliver the items to do the thing" feels like missed potential. I'm not one to offer "fixes" to designs as I am not a designer, but it would have been interesting to see each monster be the sole antagonist of any given playthrough and see them a bit more fleshed out rather than this more broad strokes take.
The actual gameplay of Horrified operates off of a simple yet solid core of pick up and deliver. Take your actions, acquire chits with colors and numbers, get them to the corresponding places on the board, and do all of this without getting slapped by the menagerie of monstrosities wandering around the village. Pick up and deliver is a mechanism that very much needs to be justified or it can feel very dry, but it works exceedingly well here. Of course you need to collect items depicting various monster weaknesses and use them all over the place, that's how these movies work. Dracula, for example, has you using red items (weapons, gardening tools, blunt objects) to smash his coffins and then yellow items (like garlic, crosses, stakes) to take him out on the board. By contrast the Wolfman has you getting very specific blue items (scientific stuff) to synthesize a cure and then use just a bit of force (red items) alongside said cure to neutralize him. The items and the use thereof IS the game, and it works from all angles.
All of this culminates in a straightforward, thematically grounded pick up and deliver coop with some monsters in it. And importantly, despite the broad applications of its ruleset it's quite light. When you consider Ravensburger's distribution and where you can buy the game right now, I'd say the execution is right on Target (tm). What it doesn't do, because it never tries to, is invoke horror or tension. The monsters are never more than nuisances and the arc of the game is less an arc and more a gradual drop. As monsters are defeated the game becomes easier rather than harder, meaning the game is at its hardest from turn 1 and gradually eases up over time. It's really odd; I've never seen another coop with this kind of pacing and I'm not sure I really like it. Tension is a huge part of both good coop games and good horror - see Camp Grizzly for a game that executes on both perfectly. The most tension Horrified provides is during monster rolls, where you hope to see a whiff on the dice so you don't have to spend your extra items just yet.
I'm not quite done picking at some of the weird choices in Horrified's design yet. Let's touch on the difficulty scaling again, specifically from a gameplay perspective. 2 monsters is autopilot levels of easy. 3 monsters can go either way. 4 monsters is a crapshoot that depends way more on how the event deck is stacked. I actually like how the event deck functions on the whole, but when the majority of the incredibly impactful events trigger you're flying by the seat of your pants with much less control than you otherwise would. Compounding this is the difficulty of the monsters themselves. After all of our games the easy - hard rating goes like this:
Dracula - Creature - Invisible Man - Mummy - Wolfman - Frank & the Bride
I'll explain. Dracula is dirt simple. Smash coffins, smash Dracula. Done. The Creature is pretty easy to optimize and his events are fairly low impact. Invisible Man needs the corresponding items to come out and that can sometimes be slow, but that's about it. Mummy's puzzle is easier than it appears and just requires dumping of yellow. Wolfman is a harder version of Invisible Man who is even more draw dependent and lands hits more easily. Frank & the Bride are two monsters that activate just as often as everyone else, have amazing events, require two different colors to be used on their spaces which leaves you vulnerable, and can raise the terror meter just by existing.
Generally speaking I prefer my coops hard. The problem Horrified runs into is that its scaling forces you to be selective as to which monsters you choose. I don't know if it's possible to win a 4 monster game VS golems without knowing the exact order of the event deck. 5 monsters wandering around auto-killing every villager and triggering events constantly is absolutely nuts. I don't mind the monsters having different difficulty ratings, but it limits the permutations when one of them is disproportionately tough and scaling works the way it does.
I've thrown a lot of criticism at Horrified thus far, I realize. And yet despite my gripes and issues I actually rather like it! It's smooth playing, lovely on the table, doesn't outstay its welcome, and offers a good range of variability. PH absolutely nailed what they were trying to do by creating a thematically appealing coop at family weight that stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries on mass market shelves. It'll get picked up by that audience, become a Halloween staple for many, and likely remain well regarded going forward. And I think that's deserved. I'd happily play it over many other coops; this is better than base Pandemic for sure. But it just doesn't quite make it past "like" for me as I play it more and the cracks become more and more visible. Layer in its lack of tension and I don't see it sticking around on my shelf for too long when we could be playing Camp Grizzly for a spoopy fix.
But hey, at least it lets you bully Dracula. He deserves it, the nerd.
Where I put miscellaneous board game writings. Opinions and strong takes abound!
17 Aug 2019
- [+] Dice rolls
03 Aug 2019
Gen Con? More like Gen-I-Con-not bring myself to care about anything that's going on there.
Seriously, who even goes to Gen Con? The real cool kids are on BGG reading cool blogs that update on cool schedules. That's me validating your life choices, readers. I see you.STUFF I WROTE RECENTLY
Got a couple of these! Did a glowing review for Chimera and a non-review for Architects of the West Kingdom that's more about my frustration with recent euros. Give 'em a look if you're interested.
Starting off with a winner. I can open with the opinion if I want to, it's my blog!
I don't have a ton to add to this from my last entry outside of emphasizing that it holds up, and holds up well. I generally enjoy games where tactical concession is a focus, either by giving your opponents positive things or choosing when to withdraw, and AL&S leans into the latter. The closest thing to a "crack" that's come up is the Land 1 card (reinforce I think?) being really, really powerful. Effectively getting a 7 card hand is a huge advantage in a game that otherwise never allows you to. I wouldn't call it broken, it's not THAT huge, but I'm always happy to see it in my hand and vice virsa.
Play this one if you get a chance, and if you're really into 2p games seek it out. I'm truly impressed with it.
After the success story that was AL&S I wanted to play Perry's other published board game. I've actually played Time Barons a few times before on the original pnp/Game Crafter edition, so I was familiar. I remembered liking it but feeling that it was a bit short on variety. This has double the cards, so surely it's better? Eh, kinda.
The first deck is the same, barring any tweaks from first edition to second that I'm not aware of. It's fun, but it can run a bit dry after a few plays. The second introduces tucking cards under sites in order to power them up, as well as structural damage that won't kill the other guy's followers but generally hits sites harder. Tucking cards in particular is a cool addition and yet it still feels like there's something missing. The follower mechanisms are so cool but I'm left wanting to do something more with them than just herding them around all the time. I guess it's thematic, but it's not particularly satisfying. Each turn feels like I'm just short of doing "the cool thing". I crave combos in my conflict card games.
Don't get me wrong, though. I think Time Barons is a pretty good game. I haven't played the 3 or 4 modes yet and I generally enjoy team games so this isn't a final verdict by any stretch. Just some initial impressions. There's a lot more game in this box so I'm willing to give it more chances.
Not a ton to say here! Got a 2p game of scientists VS aliens. Held my own with the former, but eventually got eaten by the latter. Scientists are tough to play well, y'all.
This one's going to be sticking around for a while. Every single play of this produces memorable moments as Goldbergian upgrade combos start popping off everywhere. A weird game to be sure, but you all know that I'm about that. More like this please.
I TOLD you all I'd get this played. I am a man of my word.
The first thing that surprised me about QE is that it's deceptively tricky to teach. Not because it's rules-heavy, but because it's so unconventional and it's littered with little things like remembering to reveal the zeroes, whole numbers only, scratch off points for the first zero of each round, etc. Once you get a feel for it though, hoo boy does it soar.
Bidding in this is as wild as I'd hoped. Our group started bidding in the 100s. By the end of it we were throwing 10s of thousands at tiles that looked just okay, to say nothing of the really desirable stuff. It ramped up fairly steadily as the table slowly figured out how much money were were all throwing around. I made some ballsy moves early that inflated things pretty severely, but pumped the brakes and let someone else go over the cliff so I could snag the win. This definitely delivers on being a game of financial chicken. Like Ponzi Scheme, but easier and less directly brutal.
My concerns with QE are less with the design and more of play groups. As a meta starts being defined I have a feeling games could become pretty rote. It'll take a player who's willing to gamble pretty hard to shake everyone out of their comfort zones, and that's really risky if everyone else just goes "nah". I've also heard that there's a particular bidding method that breaks the game wide open, but with 5 players it seems unlikely that that'll come into play. And even if that's the case, getting to that point still means you're playing several games of QE and that's fun. So in a nutshell, I'm not convinced this will be particularly replayable but the plays it's got are going to be a blast.
We broke this out with 7 players! By all accounts it shouldn't have worked, and yet it did! This game rocks. And it's another Game Crafter alumni! Hooray for unintentional themes in blog writing.
I've only played this count once so this is a bit of a preemptive statement, but 7p TCID felt like we were playing the game "right". Calling people's ranks for their turns, decisions by committee, tasks being juggled over multiple turns as we switched from specialist to specialist, getting shellacked by events until we figured out how to preempt them despite flying blind - it all just worked. I set the game to novice because 5/7 players were new and I didn't want it to run long, and we managed to win pretty comfortably. It was a good bit easier than 4p, and significantly easier than 2p. J of 3 Minute Board Games fame tells me that 7p is his preferred way to solo, and now I see why. I may go out of my way to test that soonish.
I'm happy to have a "normal" coop that I actually like. Going to make it a lot easier to play with my competition-averse friends.
I've talked so much about Cursed Court in various places that I'm basically out of words for it, but it's been a while since I've last played so I wanted to mention it. Still the best game that came out in 2018. I wasn't sure at the time, but I sure am now. It may be overproduced and kind of bizarre at first blush, but it's one of the best damn card games to come out in ages. You really have to try this out if you get the chance, it's criminally underrated.
Cult of the new? Bush league. Amateur hour. We play games that don't even EXIST.
So Mystery Wizard went on GMT's P500 list most-of-a-year ago and it's still hovering around 300/500. This is a damn crime. I could attribute its lack of traction to GMT being a weird publisher for it, its acquired taste art style, or its wonkiness in almost every regard, but I'm just going to go with most people having bad taste in games. Got this played a few times recently, and it was so much fun that I actually assembled a pnp for it just so I can take it places. I did WORK for this one, y'all. If that's not an endorsement I don't know what is.
I'm going to invoke a bunch of other games in order to give some context. It's got wizards killing each other, like Wiz-War. It's got massive character asymmetry, like Cosmic Encounter. It's got aggressive capture the flag, like Zimby Mojo. It's got questing for goodies that you'll use to brutalize your friends, like...I actually don't know. And it's got a big central deck of cards that'll mess up everyone's plans like all of the games I mentioned above. If none of these hit home for you, look elsewhere. And also we're probably not going to be friends on account of the aforementioned bad taste in games.
Mystery Wizard is your technicolor-dressed ska punk best friend after a couple adderall. It doesn't just offer you a good time, it demands that you have fun and will do everything in its power to make that a reality. It's a hot mess but it's unapologetically itself, its eccentricities only making it more likable. You won’t want to hang out with it every weekend - who’s got that much energy anymore? - but when you do you know it’s gonna be worth it. Play this game. It’ll make you smile.
The classic, and one I seem to be inordinately lucky/good at. We played it once and called the game 3/4 through when it became clear that I had about double the cash of second place and all the right stocks. Oops. Everyone still came away happy though, and wanted to play it again. Hopefully soon!
The 3M version of this game is so damn classy looking. I know the gargantuan Avalon Hill edition is the most desired one by many (and it was actually what I learned Acquire on so believe me when I tell you it makes a good impression), but there's something about the 3M that just tickles my brainmeats. All the bits fit perfectly with no wasted space, the rules fit on the lid, it looks nice on the shelf, just *mwah*. Beautiful.
In my eternal quest to try indie stuff that makes big promises I snagged a copy of this beast. Gotta say: first impressions were not great. We played at 2 which is pretty clearly not its best count, but why oh why is it so dry?
RotN feels like it's suffering from an identity crisis. It's focused on resource management and securing specific combinations to build your engine, but everything's centered on chucking dice with really iffy success rates. I played a bone squad that could hit roughly 50% of its rolls, and that was absurdly high compared to other options. The dungeon deck is just kind of a mess. Normally I love random stuff like this, but it's so out of place in a game that prioritizes nigh-perfect information and optimization everywhere else. Starting the game is tough as some players will roll into better resources than others, or luck into an easy dungeon that'll jump start them, or pull lots of matching spells/items to coast, while others won't. It feels divided against itself, and that's compounded by it having really weak thematic integration. For all of the game's marketing and bluster you never really FEEL like you're doing anything particularly evil. Just collecting body parts out in a field, making a ghost, delving into dungeons, etc. Sure taking cities and taxing them is there and you can enter academia, but where are my particularly nasty choices? How do I subjugate my foes and turn them into my minions? The answer is you don't, and that just feels like a missed opportunity. You're all just playing as asshole tax collectors who happen to have a posse of bone dragons.
As I said it's clear that we didn't play this optimally. After our game we flipped the board and immediately went "ooooh, this looks way better". The low player count side is pretty weirdly divided - spaces are spread oddly, and one half of the board just has better resource generation than the other. Plus a head to head race feels a lot more zero sum than a multiplayer one would be. I'm happy to give this game more chances, but I'm worried it won't improve enough to be worth keeping.THE LAST BIT
Wew lad I'm tired. Been busy lately, despite all the games being packed into what spare time I had. Glad I had plenty to write about but I wouldn't mind things slowing down a smidge. I didn't even mention the obligatory games of Tichu, Chimera, and Cabo!
Thanks for reading, everybody. And remember: you're perfectly within your right to judge people who go to Gen Con just to go shopping. You can get those games at a 20% discount or better if you wait, like, a week. Point and laugh at their haul pics. It's cathartic.
- [+] Dice rolls
01 Aug 2019
This is not quite a review. It's something else. You've been warned.
Architects of the West Kingdom is a boring game. It's not good enough to be fun, it's not bad enough to be funny, and it's not innovative enough to be memorable. It commits the greatest sin a game can: irredeemable mediocrity. So instead of doing a traditional review where I break down mechanisms and where it fails, I'm going to use it as a springboard to talk about the modern euro and why I keep bouncing off them.
AotWK is a nakedly athematic game. It's a box of mechanisms that admittedly mesh together rather well: worker placement, resource management, and an interesting action stacking/worker arresting angle that allows players to police each other. What it doesn't try to do is use these towards a greater purpose: the mechanisms are the purpose. The game wants you to operate your machine for the duration of its playtime, count up your points, and be satisfied with that. It offers nothing else. Victory isn't a reward, it's a conclusion to 4 people operating their point machines as someone just barely edges ahead because every game is kept artificially close. The lack of theming means this has no justification unless architecture is a far more boring career path than I've been led to believe.
Theme, however, isn't everything. I enjoy abstract games. Quite a bit, in fact. One of the upcoming Gen Con releases I'm most interested in is Shobu, which looks like someone made a game out of random bits from a home and garden store. But crucially these games tend to be very rules-light. Clear board states, short rules explanations, short play times, high interaction, and direct conflict. Modern euros offer none of these. They're bloated, complex beasts laden in iconography that run an hour long minimum, and often double that. To AotWK's credit it does come in right at the hour mark but so little changes during the course of a game that it hardly matters. There's no arc, no tension, no memorable moments. Just an optimization exercise with nice production while you occasionally inconvenience each other.
It's been said that what sets euro games apart is decisions. Impactful choices sending you down paths that eventually fork into more decisions, occasionally blocking each other's way and forcing a different route, until the arbitrary game end condition is met and you found out who took the best path. Architects has these, sure. But decisions don't belong to soulless euros. Plenty of other games can offer them, and offer them well. Micro-decisions from turn to turn may be equally impactful but are so individually insignificant so that no turn delivers excitement. Games like this inflict a state of malaise as everyone settles in to stare at the board and poke some wooden bits, slowly advancing towards finally completing a building for roughly the same number of points as their neighbor's building. I've realized that I don't care how important a decision is if it's spread out over 10 turns. Boring important decisions are still boring.
So there's no theme. There's no notable interaction. There's no climactic moments. Why should I play this more? The answer is I shouldn't, so I won't. No more derivative, dull as dishwater conversion puzzles for me. I've given these games enough chances. Give me an unfair, imbalanced, high downtime, brutal game that lets me enjoy the company of the people around the table over these any day.
- [+] Dice rolls
20 Jul 2019
Hey all! Sorry for the delay on this one. Had a lot of life stuff to take care of before this went up, and I wanted to put some more thoughts to paper before publishing. The choice was either publish a pretty thin post or delay a bit, and I chose the latter. Hopefully it was worth it!DELAYED GRATIFICATION STARTS NOWSTUFF I'VE WRITTEN LATELY
So! Done a few proper reviews recently. I'm posting them on There Will Be Games as well as here because I don't want to force anyone to have to go off site to check my stuff out. One was for Samurai, the other for Tiny Towns. The former seems to have gone over pretty well, the latter not so much. Check 'em out if you're interested!
Reviews are difficult for me as of late. I don't do long-form so well anymore, and I feel like I repeat myself a lot. Forcing myself to write these was...interesting. Not sure I liked it, but I'll give it a few more tries at least.THE CAPTAIN IS DEAD
I've gone on record saying that coops are not typically my thing. Pandemic and its offshoots bounce off me like rubber. Solving an optimization puzzle is only entertaining as long as the puzzle lasts, and most of these games don't have enough tricks to stick around for me. Generally speaking I prefer thematic coops like Arkham Horror, or recently Camp Grizzly. TCiD, however, surprised me.
Make no mistake, this is a "put out the fires" coop. But unlike the rest of its ilk you don't win by simply doing that. Contributing to the win condition of repairing the jump drive does literally nothing to help with everything breaking around you, and it's expensive. This forces some actual tough decisions! I know, different from most coops!
What Captain has that other games of its ilk lack is variety. 18 characters with unique stats and abilities, huge event deck, and a whole bunch of interactivity with other players as you trade stuff around and contribute to each other's efforts. It's not that it does anything particularly new, it just does the formula very, very well. I'm not sure how long it'll stick around for us but for now we're nowhere near done with it. Also the theme helps, even if it is a smidge thin.RAVNICA INQUISITION
So it's...it's like The Resistance, right? But it's not. It's not that.
It's got MAGIC.
Look, there's not a lot to say about this one. Instead of going on multiple missions you have exactly 5 opportunities to be elected to take an action that may or may not give you information, then the game's over and one of the teams wins. So little information gets doled out that it's entirely possible you can go into the final vote knowing literally nothing. This is compounded by the fact that each player represents two of MTG's five colors, and can only be elected to take the actions that match one of said assigned colors. It's kind of a mess.
It's hard to complain a lot about a silly 15 minute social deduction game, but when a game like Don't Mess With Cthulhu/Time Bomb exists I just don't know why you'd go for this. Maybe it needs a full table; we only played the low end. I dunno. Unless you're a huge MTG fan I wouldn't seek it out.BETRAYAL LEGACY
Finally got another game of this in! It sure was another game of BL!
I'm not even going to do a spoiler post for this one. Nothing super notable happened here beyond being instructed by the scenario rulebook to yell at the traitor in real life, which we took full advantage of. It was a total shutout for us non-traitors because Betrayal does that sometimes.
It seems like the game has slowed down on introducing cool new hooks, which is unsurprising but still a bit disappointing. Was it fun? Oh sure. Just not as impressive as previous plays. Still very much looking forward to eventually finishing this out.AIR, LAND & SEA
Game weight is a weird stat in that it isn't really a stat. It's entirely subjective depending on what other games people have played. Plenty of heavy games have very little in the way of impactful decisions, despite having a laundry list of mechanisms. My favorite games tend to go the other way: simple rules, hard choices. And hoo BOY does Air Land & Sea deliver on that.
AL&S offers as many difficult impactful decisions in 15-20 minutes as many modern heavy games do in two hours. Every single card play is excruciating in the best way, and that's not even counting weighing whether or not you should concede to minimalize losses or not. That's what this game is really about: posturing, and daring your opponent to call you out on it. And it's brilliant.
When Dan Thurot reviewed this recently he made a couple boxing metaphors. I think that's apt because AL&S punches so far above its weight class it's ridiculous. As I've said elsewhere it's the Little Mac of board games, knocking out much more intimidating games left and right and only getting better as I play it more. Do yourself a favor and track this one down. It's unassuming, but it packs a highly recommended wallop.MISKATONIC UNIVERSITY: THE RESTRICTED COLLECTION
Oooooh secret Knizia? FORBIDDEN Knizia?
Maybe not so secret actually. I don't pay enough attention to Kickstarter to know this was being made, it just kind of arrived on a local store's shelf and caught my eye for reasons I'll expand on later. Chaosium definitely did the production on this one to the nines - if the box had an insert to keep the cards straight it would be one of the best looking small games I've seen in a while.
The game itself, on the other hand, hasn't impressed me so far. It's kind of like a more complex Circus Flohcati with player powers instead of events in the deck. But they're not even asymmetric or particularly interesting. Instead they're what keeps the game from just being a pure luckfest. It still is one, which is fine, but having to teach everyone 7 icons before playing a game this light and lucky is not great.
Yeah, I guess I'm just not feeling this one. It's a shame because everything about it appeals to me right up until the actual game starts. Then it just becomes a very meh Knizia that doesn't really leverage his usual strengths. I saw a video where Chaosium folks said they got the design and folded the theme in from there, which is pretty standard industry practice, but man does it feel transparent here. Shame really.QE
You know how I said I don't do Kickstarter? This was one of the rare exceptions. The pitch for QE was so bizarre and new to me that I pledged for it just to see if it worked. And you know what? I don't know. Because I haven't played it yet.
Had a chance to play it right after I got it, but timing didn't work out. Brought it to a few other places, no dice. Had it on the shelf when we had people over, played other stuff isntead. Took it to work, some of our usual players were out of state for two weeks. It's like fate itself is stopping me from printing all of the money, and frankly I'm not down with fate's bullshit right about now.
I will play this. Mark my words. I NEED to know if it works, because if it does I'm going to be introducing it to people for the foreseeable future.CALL OF CTHULHU
NOT A BOARD GAME?! HERESY!
After a long recent conversation about cosmic horror and how bad of a job board games do at portraying it (in summary: board games are good at pulp cthulhu but can't horror their way out of a kallax), I decided to get back into the game that's given me some of my favorite RPG memories way back when. Core book? Check. Pulp book? Check. Assorted modules to dig through? M-m-m-multicheck. I've missed CoC so much and just reading it again has been a tremendous amount of fun. The changes are all over the place (no d12s?!) but that's fine. I'm just excited to have this in my life again.
I play a lot of RPGs, but I barely ever run them so it's taking me some effort to get this going and find players. This led to me seriously jonesing for some cosmic shenanigans in the meantime. Tried the aforementioned Miskatonic game, but it didn't grab me. Played some Elder Sign on the app, that was pretty good. Tried out Lovecraft's Untold Stories on Steam. That thing is pulp as hell but seems solid so far? Haven't played enough to say for sure.
I want more GOOD cosmic horror games to tide me over until I get to run CoC. Recommendations are welcome. Not Cthulhu Wars. It's a fine game, but I'm not looking to rent the necessary storage unit to keep it in.THE LAST BIT
Summer sucks, y'all. It's so hot. All the time. Sucks the energy right out of your energy gland.
Thanks for reading! More in a couple weeks.
- [+] Dice rolls
06 Jul 2019
Card games. It's card games. Keep your mind out of the gutter.
Doing something a bit different for this blog post. I wanted to talk about the games that are currently in rotation with my work group. I find that we tend towards card games, be they traditional or otherwise. There are exceptions to this, but generally speaking the exceptions flit in and out of rotation as our interest in replaying them wanes. With one exception these are games we've been playing so often that I've been ignoring them on recent entries of Games of the Moment so as to not spam them over and over again.DEAL IN
That exception I mentioned? This is it. A relatively recent Knizia, the most recent addition to our stack, and one that seems to have been ignored by the board gaming audience at large for some reason. It's a shame, because this is basically Taj Mahal: The Card Game.
Each round in KT is a game of chicken for prizes dealt from a separate deck. Play is simultaneous. Each player either plays a card of a suit, or plays their tomato to withdraw and draw more cards for future hands. Once you commit to a suit that's the only suit you may play and prizes may only be taken once half of all the players have withdrawn, so high value prizes can often lead to large strings of cards being played. Prizes are claimed in order of the highest numeric total on the remaining players' runs of cards, but those players (barring exceptions) don't get to draw.
Because it's Knizia, scoring is twisty. Score cards have any combination of 3 symbols on them: tomatoes (card draws), trophies (VPs), and knives. The player or players with the lowest total of knives are immediately eliminated from scoring before trophies even get totaled. It's kind of like High Society, only instead of it punishing greed it punishes hubris. You thought you could get away with just yanking the best prizes? You fool! That's tomato on your face. It's a bizarre little game and so far a very good one. I'd like to try it at its higher player counts - this thing goes up to 10! If this can rival 6 nimmt at its high end it'll likely find a permanent home on my shelf.CABO
I featured this on the blog for the first time recently but I've basically been playing this for years. Y'know, because it's 4 card golf with some extra rules. Cabo is a straight up better version and it's been a huge hit for us.
Out of all the games on this list Cabo is the one that makes us shout the most. The memory element becomes second nature almost immediately, and yet despite this there are still dramatic rounds and grand reveals when you find out what everyone was up to and why they kept swapping that one card back and forth. We've had so many amazing moments with this game, including players hitting 100 points dead on to reset their scores. The handful of changes from vanilla Golf are all good and I highly recommend trying them out with a standard deck. If you enjoy it, treat yourself to this fancy version. It's very cute, but there's a lot more here than you may initially assume.
I've said in the past that Startups is my favorite boxed card game. This is still true. A few of the games on this list are a barely modified pack of cards. I love them plenty, but they're more of a ruleset than a unique game. Startups, by contrast, has a funky distribution and need for some special components. Combine that with the standard phenomenal production from Oink and you've got a game that deserves to be a staple for just about anyone.
This is our answer to "what do we want to play" in most cases. If there's any doubt or deliberation, Startups comes out and everyone is happy. I've probably played this close to 100 times at this point, albeit with various groups, and I'm not remotely tired of it. Every player count is uniquely entertaining, every player brings their own quirks and playstyle to the table, and every game has a wonderful arc that builds to a climactic reveal that always manages to surprise someone. Rare is the game that delivers on its best experience every play but Startups is that good. I don't like to say any game is a must-have because frankly that's not true, but this is about as close to that as I can imagine.
Oh BOY, here we go.
I love team games. I don't know how to play Bridge. Tichu is my bridge. I'm happy with this.
We're a pretty chatty group. I'm aware of the passing conventions but we don't really follow those. The hard line rule is you never discuss what's in your hand, what you intend to play, combinations, etc. Beyond that there's plenty of verbal or otherwise attempts at signalling, and it's great. We joke that if we ever went to a tournament or the like we'd be shown the door in a matter of minutes and that's probably more true than we know.
Tichu might just be the meanest game on this list. Yanking all the tricks from the last player, shutting out the other team for 200 points, hamstringing a Tichu for negative points, it's all there and it's all wonderfully brutal. The highest of highs and the most crushing of lows with the knowledge that next hand you could reverse it all is what has made Tichu so persistently popular. And it's deserved.
All the other games I've listed here are games. Chimera is more. Chimera is a ritual. Shuffle, cut, flip, burn, deal, and it begins.
When we have 3 players we play Chimera. That is the rule. It's our group's most played game by a solid margin as a result and that's likely not going to change. We actually ended up playing Tichu as a result of how good this game is as opposed to the other way around. Tichu is great, but I think I like this even better.
Playing Chimera feels like you're performing some kind of high flying card-based trapeze act. Each player is largely in it for themselves and as a result it behooves them to make big, flashy plays when it often wouldn't in Tichu. Want to drop sequential triplets with attached pairs? Go for it, there's no partner to hold you down! No one can stop you! Except, you know, yourself, because you left yourself with a handful of crappy singles and now the Chimera is probably going to go out first. Hubris claims another victim.
I think that nails why I give the edge to Chimera over Tichu. Because you're in control of your own destiny more of the time the aforementioned high moments are even higher. Winning a 40 bid with a pile of treasure as the Chimera feels incredible. But crucially, the lows are far less low. When you win a bid in Chimera you get double, but losses only penalize for the bid's value. As such everyone is actively encouraged to do "the cool thing" at all times. Sure, you may fall, but think of how high you could soar!
I also just adore the look of this game (Z-man ed). I know it's a standard pack, but it's gorgeous. The art on the creatures and heroes is tattoo-worthy. The card stock is lovely. Our deck is worn from all the shuffling but shows no sign of marking. It's a well loved thing, and one that we aren't going to be retiring. I called it a ritual up top and I meant it. Chimera carries the elegance of a classic like Mahjong as well as all of its depth, and does it all effortlessly. What a game.THE LAST BIT
So! These are our current games. Of course we've enjoyed plenty of others: No Thanks, Senators, and Voodoo Prince immediately come to mind, but we've played so very many. It's difficult to write about the same game bi-week after bi-week, so thanks for indulging me and reading my joyful ravings on these games that we really really like.
Not a ton else to say, really! See you again in 14.
- [+] Dice rolls
22 Jun 2019
I finally got a chance to try this classic! It was fine!
Yeah, this ended up not leaving the biggest impression on me. I liked it fine, largely due to the theme, but the gameplay loop of pickup and deliver just doesn't do a ton for me when there's so little else. We played the classic ruleset but just for laughs got a rundown of what FFG did to this game afterwards. It looks like a complete mess, to the point where it has me asking why you wouldn't just play Xia. I tend to ask that a lot though.
That said I had a really good time playing this. We laughed the entire time and there were several memorable moments, but it was more due to us than the game if that makes sense. Would I play it again? Sure, if asked. But I'm not going to track it down or anything.
I have an interesting history with Lost Cities. By the time I got around to playing it for the first time it had already built a reputation as a great Knizia. I played it, and I disagreed. After Samurai, T&E, Ra, etc, I couldn't see why this one stuck around so prominently.
I should have known better. I should have trusted the doctor. Always trust the doctor.
Lost Cities hasn't just revealed itself to us over time, it's a game we've grown into. I've played it with several folks but it's mostly just me and my wife, and we know each other's gambits and tendencies so well that it's like playing the world's weirdest 2p poker variant. It's great every time we play it and I'm glad we gave it enough chances to get to that point.
Take apart a Circus Flohcati deck, add some chips, and viola! LAMA. I wanted to give this a shot for one reason: it's the only spiel game that I hadn't already tried that I care about. Because Knizia.
LAMA definitely favors the higher player counts. At 2 and 3 the number climb is too predictable. Play becomes a bit more automatic than most Knizia games. It's certainly better than many games, but there are other Knizia cards & numbers games I'd jump for first for those numbers. At 4+, though? Hoo boy LAMA is solid. Speculating on the pace, taking more cards in order to wager that you'll be able to go out, choosing when to fold because you've pulled multiples and watching other people get stuck on that number, very good. It's the most traditional Spiel pick I've seen in a while, because it's a VERY good fit for families that don't buy/play a ton of games. If it sees broad printing I have a feeling it'll be another solid success for Knizia.
Cards and numbers strike again, this time with that weird bean art that we've all come around on. I wanted to introduce Bohnanza to my work group. It fits into our time slot well, we like card games, we like collusion and negotiation! It should be perfect!
Noooot so much. We played it a few times and it went over fine, but it just didn't seem to do much for us. When we have 3 we only ever want to play Chimera because Chimera is amazing, and when we have 4 there are other games that play in less time and give us better decisions. Startups, Cabo (we'll get to that), some others. I can't describe exactly why we bounced off of it, but bounce we did.
Still like Bohnanza quite a bit, especially at the higher counts. I think it's Uwe's best game and there's a pretty big gulf between it and second place. Just not a fit for this group. These things happen!
So. Champions of Hara. Been playing it lately. It confuses me. As a result my thoughts are disorganized.
It says it's an adventure game, but I don't think it follows a single genre convention. The default game mode is just 2-4 players romping around the map for about an hour killing monsters and each other to fill some meters, then returning home before anyone else. The core is a rather clever hand management mechanism where cards played from the hand rotate and become an"on-board" version with a similar but different effect, for use on a future turn. It makes turns really snappy, but there's still plenty of choices in where you go and how you get there. So far so great! What's weird is how it pulls a reverse-Zimby Mojo, because the game winning character makes one of two wishes that backfires somehow. This triggers a scenario in the back of the rulebook that's usually a co-op against a big corrupted baddie. That's the true ending because you play it back to back with the competitive game. There are also solo scenarios, though so far I haven't been impressed with those.
The game is mechanically very solid and straightforward to play, but I don't get it yet. It's so alien to anything I know structurally. You play a weird skirmish game that's pretty fun, then switch gears to a co-op scenario with widely varied rules for the finale? I mentioned Zimby Mojo earlier which does the reverse, but it works in ZM because you know what's going to happen as soon as everyone kills the king. Here it can be any of the character scenarios, and there's two options depending on who wins, and the scenarios could have all sorts of win conditions, and most confusingly your meters RESET immediately after the first half. You're functionally back at level 1. It just feels tacked on, and I feel like the game is better played if you just pick a scenario if you want a co-op or just play the competitive game and end it there.
I appreciate Greenbrier's commitment to weird designs. Grimslingers was similarly wonky. This is a lot smoother but I'm still not quite there yet with Hara. I will give it more chances though.
Neuroshima Hex is probably my favorite game that I'll never own. Not because it's costly, but because the app completely replaces and enhances it in every imaginable way. The way it plays with asymmetry, positioning, and chaos is so uniquely fantastic. Or so I thought, because turns out Oracz did it again with Theseus and I didn't know until recently. It's just as brilliant, possibly more so in certain ways.
I won't bury the lede. The improvement Theseus makes over NH is how it handles its decision space. You have 3 pieces. They can move = to the number of units in their spot. That's it. NH is an incredible game, but it's a tactical game with a tremendous number of options and positional factors to take into account. As a result it takes time to play well until everyone involved is intimately familiar with every faction in play. It's a big part of why I play Steel Police almost exclusively; I know them. I net people, I shoot people. Easy.
I've played this game 6 times over the last week or so and am completely taken with it. Every faction feels wildly different to the point where I still don't have a favorite, though admittedly I haven't played them all myself yet. I've seen them all do absolutely crazy things. And yet, it's so much more teachable than NH that I can put it in front of folks I normally wouldn't with no hesitation. Just pick a piece, fire the effects, drop a card. It's simple until it isn't, but the arc of the game is absolutely perfect for getting you to that point.
A lot of people have said Theseus is exclusively a 2p game. I've played most of my games at 3 but I've tried them all and they're all uniquely great. 2p is actually strategic, with baits and gambits paying off or blowing up in your face. 3p deathmatch is a tactical free for all where you try to strengthen yourself quickly and capitalize. 4p teams (haven't played 4p deathmatch) is all kinds of bonkers as you set each other up and try to set off crazy card chains that would otherwise be impossible. My point is that all of these are a blast, they're just different.
I'm so happy with this game and am happy to own it. The fact that it didn't see NH levels of success and only got 2 expansions is a travesty. Oracz is a genius.
I am not new to Innovation. Not even close. I've played it more times than I could even begin to count. But importantly, all of those games have just been with the base deck. That's all I own. I've been hesitant to to try the expansions because I enjoy it so much as-is and I find most expansions don't add enough to justify their inclusion. Turns out I was right to hesitate.
After our usual game of vanilla Inno we opted to try Echos. After sussing out the awkward rules and figuring out when you're forced to draw echos, how projects work, and what order to resolve the multiple triggers they can lead to in, we managed to get through a 2p game with it. It wasn't worth the effort.
It's not that the cards in Echos are bad. They're fun! The problem is the score modifiers and additional echo effects do nothing but make the game longer and heap on admin for no increase in entertainment. The simple "take two actions, pass turn" framework that allows Inno's crazy Chudyk cards to shine is hampered at every moment by the added stuff in Echos. Every time you meld a card you have to pause to consider if it's time to drop a project, then recount your bonus points because you probably covered something. Every time you fire a dogma you have to remember to read off all the extra lines in order first. There are twice as many special dominations for a total of 10, and that's way too many achievements to keep track of. Sure you could do it eventually, but I don't WANT to.
I still adore Innovation. It's a fantastic card game that I'm always happy to play and I don't think I'll ever be done with it. But I'm not going to play Echos again, and I don't have any interest in exploring any more of the expansions if they work similarly. If they had just added more cards and had you leave some in the box each game that'd be wonderful, but instead it added a heap of rules for no tangible benefit. A shame.
Classic card games have been boxed and sold plenty of times. Hell, parlor games like Liar's Dice get a ton of names and releases year after year. So when I found out about Cabo and how it was just a riff on 4 card golf I dismissed it. "I already like Golf," I thought, "I'll just play that". I'm happy to say that I was wrong.
Cabo (2nd ed, because the ruleset is actually different) is still essentially a standard deck of cards. Numbers 0-13, 4 copies of every number except for 0 and 13, which are only 2x each. Like Golf you're dealt 4 cards, get to peek at 2, and start playing a rummy sort of game where you draw from either pile and swap cards around until someone feels confident enough to knock. Lowest score wins!
It's from here that Cabo throws a couple of twists into the mix. High cards (7-12) have special powers if you discard them. These allow you to peek at your own cards, spy on other people's, and swap yours with an opponent's. This adds interactivity that traditional Golf generally lacked. If you suspect you're holding duplicate cards you can try to shed them at the same time, but you have to keep an extra card if you're wrong. The scoring is great - calling Cabo (knocking) allows you to score 0 points if you're the lowest during the reveal, but adds 10 if you messed up. And card revealed, including discards you choose to take, stays revealed, meaning you make yourself a target if you snag low discards that people shed by accident. There's a shoot the moon in the form of the kamikaze, where if you manage to get exactly a pair of 12s and a pair of 13s you score 0 and everyone else eats 50. In a game that ends when someone hits 100 points that's crippling. Then, as one more garnish that's borderline impossible to aim for but still lovely, if a player lands EXACTLY on 100 points without going over they get to drop their score back to 50 once per game.
It's precisely these changes that take Cabo from a good game to a great one, to the point where I'm comfortable recommending it. The tension it creates around the table is palpable. It's contemplative while still being quick, but it escalates over the course of each turn and always ends in a crescendo of shouting and surprise as cards are revealed. It's just a joy to play. I'd compare it to listening to a cover of one of your favorite songs. You have doubts as it starts, but then they break into the chorus in a familiar, yet unique way that makes you appreciate it even more. Sometimes a cover is so good it replaces the original. Cabo is that good of a cover. It's the Hendrix version of All Along The Watchtower in card game form.THE LAST BIT
As I was writing this I was trying to think about how to integrate the "usual" games that get played so often that they're tough for me to write about. I mentioned a couple at various points in the blog. As I start doing more non-GotM posts here I may address them. A "staple games" list of sorts.
Got some big video games coming out lately. The new Samurai Shodown is dropping in just a few days and I'm frothing at the mouth to lance people with Kyoshiro again. Board games may take a backseat. I don't think I've mentioned this here; I come from years of playing fighting games competitively and casually. SamSho is one of my favorites, but there hasn't been a new one in ages. This is gonna be a blast.
Thanks for reading, everyone! See you in 14.
- [+] Dice rolls
08 Jun 2019
Last bi-week I mentioned that my normal GotM post got gobbled up by BGG for some reason. That's still true. I lost a bunch of writing, mostly about a set of Rikki Tahta games we played after being so enamored with Senators. We played (and are still playing) Coup, as well as The Chameleon/Gooseberry (which is better than Spyfall but still wants a larger group than we had). All of these games are great because La Mame is great.
I also played Ticket to Ride: NY a few times. While I like it quite a bit, I think playing TTR digitally has all but ruined the physical versions for me. I can get a full-on round of TTR in under 10 minutes via the app. I prefer that. We also played a ton of hands of Chimera but at this point that isn't even news. We have 3 people, we play Chimera. Simple.
The rest of these are games I played over the last 4-ish weeks that I can still formulate some quality words for. Let's talk about 'em. If you make it all the way through I'll even give all of y'all a game! Really! That's not a joke!SUPER SERIOUS GAMES TALK GO
I treated myself to an indie game for my birthday. I wanted something real fucking niche, and boy did I get it. And it's GREAT.
Camp Grizzly isn't for everyone. It's not particularly innovative in its mechanisms, it's extremely luck based (and can swing either way, which is weird), and the theme most definitely isn't broadly appealing. That said, the theme is why you're playing the thing in the first place and I have never seen another board game nail its setting and theme so perfectly. I'm several games in and this thing is still telling great stories, like a cursed VHS tape that keeps finding new ways to kill its actors each time you rewind.
Every single design decision in CG is in direct service of its theme. Otis is trackable, but can strike at any time anywhere. Fooling around does nothing but court danger. The cabin deck giveth and the cabin deck taketh away in equal-ish measure. Sometimes the game tells the story of a horrible murderer in a bear mask slaughtering every defenseless person he sees. Other times it's the story of a bumbling idiot who can't find the pointy end of his gardening implements getting his ass whooped repeatedly by teenagers who are better armed than he is. Either way everyone has a great time.
A lot of people conflate setting and theme. Theme is more than a coat of paint; it's what the game is about and what it invokes. So when I say that Camp Grizzly, despite not being the best game, is a master class in thematic integration and does its setting just as much justice? That's significant. I love this thing, and if you like the genre you will too.
Got to play this with 3 new players. It took a bit longer than it's supposed to as a result, but hot damn is this a great team game. The ebb and flow of the team fights while coordinating with your teammate just nails the best parts of MOBAs.
In this particular game I took the bard and archer while my teammate had the minotaur and Runika from BattleCON. The latter in particular was an absolute workhorse, lighting someone up almost every turn while staying just outside of their effective range. We eventually overtook the other team through attrition, tricky positional combos, and Runika blowing herself up to great effect. Afterwards we downed their mid tower and called the game because they weren't going to be able to stop us from whomping their bit next turn.
I won't rehash my review here, but this game really is a gem. Highly recommend checking it out if you haven't. Even if you don't care about MOBAs, it's just a damn good skirmish game.
We're all slaves to the hotness sometimes.
I'm on record saying that I don't think roll and writes are very good. My favorite is probably Qwinto because it's short and sweet. Beyond that they've all gotten stale for me pretty fast as I don't typically care for non-interactive games. Once you solve the puzzle, what else is there?
Tiny Towns attempts to rectify this replayability problem by randomizing the puzzle each time. There are 8 buildables in each game of Tiny Towns including your monument, 7 of which are randomized. That's a lot of variability! On top of that, instead of simply interacting with a die or card flip you get to call resources for the table each turn and watch everyone squirm under the weight of 5 glass cubes. For a bit more interactivity, some of the buildings ask you to mind your neighbors and outperform them in specific ways for extra points or goodies. Despite all of these possibilities playing the game is still dirt simple. Get a resource, place the resource, maybe build something, repeat. That framework is why this game has been seeing so much attention. You can introduce it to anyone and not only will they understand it, they'll actively participate. That mobile game feel is very intentional.
Unfortunately it's also where my problems with Tiny Towns start to crop up. Tracking the 7-8 scoring conditions each game is kind of a lot for a game this light, doubly so if you can't read the cards from where you're at. This wouldn't be a problem if you could reasonably keep a running tally or the game scored for you, but alas, analog games. Ideally you'd like to go in with a plan once you set the cards up, but the game demands tactical play so you have to adapt. If a couple players decide to lean into building cottages you'd better abandon that church plan and get subdividing, because you're not going to get what you need otherwise. It's a game that demands homogeneity or death in some cases. This is partially remedied by playing with the resource deck instead, but then the game loses one of its most distinctive features in the resource calling. It's a quandary and I'm still not sure how I feel about it 5 games in.
That said I still want to play it more. Make no mistake, Tiny Towns is certainly not a bad game. It's got that "let's play again" factor that short games need, and we still haven't played with the cavern variant to see if it lets dissenting players not get left in the dust. If it works I think Tiny Towns will stick around for us, at least for a while.
When a new publisher pops up I like to give them a look. This game's been printed by a little company called Bicycle. Maybe you've heard of 'em.
We're about 10 games into SGP now. If I were to sum up our experiences with it, it's Mario Kart Double Dash meets Smash Up meets Mille Bornes. That description is as unhelpful as it is correct. You draw distance cards, throw things at other players or help yourself, and pass turn. What makes this work better than many games of its ilk is that your cards are a shufflebuilt combo of two drivers' half decks, meaning you can combine their specialties and have unique abilities from other players each game.
The problem that you'll eventually run into is that these characters are not balanced. I normally wouldn't mind this so much as you snake draft them during setup and can target players freely, but some characters are just crazy good. One in particular, Noodle the Cat, can use any other character's ability (copycat, I get it you cheeky bastard) AND has some of the most powerful cards in the game. Out of all our games only 1 (possibly 2, my memory is hazy) hasn't ended in the Noodle player taking the cup. This is the tier list we've landed on, for the curious:
It's entirely possible that we're doing something wrong, but this has caused us to cool on Shuffle Grand Prix a bit faster than I'd hoped. It's a shame because if this wasn't the case I'd feel very comfortable recommending it. It's very well produced, the card effects are wonderfully varied, and the art is fantastic (unique on every card!), but if it really is this slanted I don't know if it'll hold broad appeal. That said I'm willing to be convinced otherwise because I really do like what Newton has made here. I'll report back if anything changes.
I traveled to visit family recently. Not a lot of games happened, but one particularly important one did: Masterpiece. A Parker Brothers game that originally came out in the 70s. We played the 90s reprint after finding a copy in the basement, which apparently had some rules changes.
Masterpiece is about auctions, bluffing, and sort of roll and move. Every turn starts with a D6 roll to scoot around the board and trigger some kind of event. You're not trying to "get" anywhere on the board, it's just a means of randomizing what action/auction is going on. Many of the spaces involve acquiring gorgeous postcard-sized prints of classic paintings either by auctions (which are in real time and feature the painting on a little plastic easel) direct purchase, or if you're lucky a gift in the form of an "inheritance". Whenever you get a painting you also draw a secret value card and throw it under the painting. 1-10 million per card, with a slight chance of drawing a forgery that means the painting is garbage no matter how many value cards it has.
This is where the game goes from an auction activity to a terrifyingly sharp bluffing game, because the rest of the spaces fuel this engine. Spaces often offer your choice of liquid assets or additional value cards to add to whichever painting you wish. The latter is far more likely to return more money, and at the end of the game you total your cash and painting values so you very much want that, but it also means you could draw a forgery that will ruin one of your pieces. The twist is you can pile as many cards on a painting as you want, including on paintings that are already fake. When private auctions roll around and your opponents get to pick one of your paintings to auction off (paying you the money, of course), do they aim for your painting with 3 cards? That could be worth a game-shattering amount of money, but if it's trash...
Other spaces let you sell paintings to the bank for their value in cash for reinvestment purposes, or sell for a decent set value so you can shed your low/fake paintings, and a handful of other things, but you get the idea. Masterpiece is glorious. It's not a perfect game by any kind of modern standard, but it's just riotously good fun. Everyone I've introduced it to so far as approached its giant flat box with skepticism but been won over within a couple turns. I've added a gavel that I happen to own, which is passed around to every auctioneer for maximum action power. I recommend doing the same.
It's been a while since I've played a game that really made me feel something. You know that tingly feeling in your brain that sticks around after a particularly great game? The one where you can't forget it and want to play it again because it's just that much fun? I don't get that a lot these days. Masterpiece brought that, and brought it in spades. I'm so glad to have this thing now and recommend seeking it this edition if possible. It's a winner.
Every year or so my Ameritrash roots demand satisfaction. Not just die rolls or card draws, no, that's a mere watering. The roots crave fertilizer; they need a full goddamn ADVENTURE.
I don't have the best track record with adventure games or dungeon crawls. Most of them kind of suck. I usually enjoy them at first, but inevitably the cracks start to show and grow into full on game-ruining problems. For example I enjoyed almost -ALMOST- everything about Fallout for our first few games. But between not being able to fight other players, having no guarantee of getting weapons ever, and the win conditions being borderline arbitrary, the rest of the game being solid just didn't matter after a while. The only adventure-y game that's ever truly transcended this for us is Xia, and Xia's definitely not for everyone.
Anyway. This time it's Champions of Hara. It came strongly recommended, and after one play I can sort of, if not entirely, see why. It's pretty, short, and has a really great hand management mechanism that you have to wrestle with in order to get anything done. What that first play didn't do was invoke any sense of adventure. It felt like I was playing the world's shortest RPG with all the story lopped off. Some character progression happened, there were some interesting fights, and then it was over. Neat, but not at all what I expected.
That said it is visually and mechanically very interesting. I'll be playing it more. There's a lot to explore in that box. I'm hoping against hope that the foundation is solid. I'd love to love an adventure game. I hope this gets there.S.M.I.T.H. - THE WILL SMITH RPG
Here's that gift I mentioned! After coming up with this concept as a joke I put this together in about a day's time. It's completely untested and I think that's fine. It's an RPG where everyone plays as an alternate timeline's Will Smith and you solve Time Crimes. You can download it for zero dollars here: https://vysetron.itch.io/smithTHE LAST BIT
Been a good couple weeks, I think. Some really solid games. I seriously think Masterpiece is going on the forever shelf. It's just a wonderful time.
Thanks for reading! 25 of these things, lordy. See y'all in another bi-week.
- [+] Dice rolls
25 May 2019
Welp. I guess this was bound to happen eventually.
I had this bi-week's GotM post ready to go up on schedule. It had 4 short reviews and a couple impressions in it. Just needed to add the images this morning...and it's gone. All of it. I don't know if BGG had some kind of rollback or what, but every single thing I wrote is gone. Going forward I'll be writing and saving all of my work externally and only loading it in for formatting. BGG has eaten some of my blogs and reviews in the past, but this extent is unprecedented. Oof. Big oof.
I'm not going to be able to get all of that re-done to my satisfaction this morning but I want to do something on schedule, so let's do a a state of the blog update! Yeah! This'll totally be fun for people who aren't me. This is going to be a way more stream of consciousness piece than usual and I'm not editing it. No time. You've been warned!REPOSITORY RETROSPECTIVE
The Ramble Repository has existed since late 2016 but I only started updating it consistently about a year ago. I'll be honest, I didn't expect too many folks to be into what I'm doing here. It's pretty self-indulgent. I started doing Games of the Moment purely as a way to force myself to write on a schedule. I like writing and want to get better at it, but until this I'd never been good at doing more than one piece every few months. The initial plan was just to talk about upcoming things that had my interest every two weeks, but as I've gotten increasingly tired of the churn and burn of the modern board game market I've leaned into longer form stuff than the flash impressions I was initially doing. Actually, I don't know if I've ever defined how I evaluate games on here. Let me do that now.
My goal when reviewing a game, be it a long form "proper" review or a short one here, is to answer three questions:What were the designer's goals for this game?
Did the designer succeed at the above?
Is the result actually enjoyable?
As you'd probably guess, this occasionally leaves me in a weird spot. Sometimes a game nails what it's trying to do but I don't like the end result. Sometimes I enjoy a game for the "wrong" reasons. Sometimes the designer completely whiffs on their goals and yet the end result is entertaining. My point in breaking down games like this to keep set reasonable expectations for each game. I find a lot of reviewers nowadays are really bad at evaluating games on their own merits, or fairly comparing them to other games in their "class" instead of just assigning a rating based on how the game stacks up against their personal favorites. A small box card game almost never aims for the same targets as a gigantic box of minis, and that's OK! What matters is that it succeeds what it was built to do. There's no such thing as an "objective" review but I do my best to provide a fair one.
The fact that folks on here are receptive to my rambles is surprising, but certainly not unwelcome. I appreciate seeing a lot of the same faces around here bi-week after bi-week. Thank you so much for giving me some of your time, and I hope I continue to be useful.SO WHAT NOW?
I've got some ideas. I've been contemplating alternating Games of the Moment with actual articles. Open letters, industry pieces, lists, things that aren't just game reviews. The blog would still update on schedule and there would still be the occasional extra post, the content would just be a bit more varied.
I'm also increasingly interested in game critique over a traditional review. To be frank, reviews can sometimes feel kind of useless in the current board game ecosystem. I wrote about that a little while ago on the other blog. By contrast, detailed critique is increasingly rare and I wouldn't mind trying my hand at it more. It can come off harsh and as a result probably won't be that popular, but I ain't doing this for internet points.
The above is directly at odds with my next point: review copies. I've gotten a few as a result of this place and other sites I've written for (There Will Be Games, SuperNerdLand). I've also lost a contact over a negative review, so that was an experience. Review copies are a blessing and a curse. On the one hand I love working with a prompt like that because it inspires creativity. On the other I feel weird about requesting them. I don't have impostor syndrome or anything like that, but as my interests are increasingly in the indie side I recognize that there's an inherent risk in sending a game to someone like me as opposed to a paid previewer. That risk is way more significant for an indie publisher, who typically work with smaller profit margins and could very possibly get torpedoed by an early negative review. I prefer to source indie games myself when possible, but that's not always going to be an option available to me and working with publishers more would allow me to cover a broader range of games, as well as highlight cool indie stuff that otherwise wouldn't get attention. I got to review Mars Open, Zimby Mojo, and Battle for Biternia because those publishers believed in their games and took a chance on me. Those are some of the best games I've reviewed and I had a lot of fun writing about them (the ZM review in particular might be the best review I've ever done). I'd love to BE the indie board game reviewer. I just need to find the right way to go about that.
The most difficult thing I've been considering is hosting this blog off of BGG. I'm increasingly annoyed with how BGG works, or more accurately how it doesn't. I mean shit, it ate today's schdeuled post! Whole! But I don't want to leave the folks who use this site as a one stop shop. You choose to read my blog here and I want to respect that. If I actually go through with it my plan would be to mirror everything on both sites. BGG blog for the regulars, personal site for my own dark purposes, same content, read it wherever you like. It won't happen any time soon, if ever, but it's been on my mind lately.
Beyond that I just want to keep doing what I'm doing. Board games are fun to write about. I hope I make them fun to read about too.THE LAST BIT
I said this briefly earlier, but it bears repeating. Thank you for reading my blog. It's encouraging to see people say they like my style, or that they love the games I hate, or just discussion in general. If I never got comments I probably would have stopped doing this before the year mark, but I'm still here and happy to be. Here's to another year of rambling. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
- [+] Dice rolls
10 May 2019
I've had a lot going on this...quad-week? Yeah, I guess I did do the Knizia list two weeks ago. That feels like ages now. Time flies when you're moving house.
I've actually managed to play a fair few games despite being this busy, mostly with the work group. Magical Athlete, Chimera, Startups, and Desktop HEBOCON Battle Kit all hit the table at some point. I've written about those a lot lately so I'm going to respect your time and move on, but they've all been excellent. DHBK hasn't been a winner with everyone I've introduced it to but I still quite like it, and the other 3 have been smash hits as always. That's why we keep going back, after all. As far as other notable games go...IT BEGINS
My review of this is up at TWBG: https://therewillbe.games/articles-boardgame-reviews/6646-ba... Hasn't been crossposted here yet, but will be soon.
I enjoyed this one immensely. It's the most fun I've had with a 2019 release thus far. BGG says it was 2018 but it hit wide availability this year, so I'm counting it. A truly fantastic tribute to the best elements of MOBAs.
For a less effective tribute with a lot of chrome, look no further than this.
I played this with a friend for research purposes, as I hadn't played any other cardboard MOBAs until Biternia and wanted to compare with at least one other. He was also really jonesing to get it played so I was happy to oblige.
It was...fine? It was fine. Just fine. I chucked a lot of dice, a bunch of things died, I spent 1/4 of my time maneuvering my ship's crew with no real decisions being made, you get the idea. Despite claiming MOBA influence it really doesn't come through. Instead you have a nice looking, goofy, feather-light pirate skirmish game.
I bag on CMON a lot, maybe more than I should. But I would have been really annoyed if I paid the asking price for the rules that are in this box. I'm not joking when I say that it's one of the lightest skirmish games I've played. I've never tried the original edition but folks I trust have said it was a huge slog. If this game was long I'm not sure I would have even called it fine. At least the minis are cool-ish.UNEXPLODED COW
A Cheapass staple. Not my favorite CAG joint (which is Fish Cook for the record), but it came up in conversation recently and got a few plays as a result. I think I actually like it more than I remembered.
I've always found the pseudo-roulette wheel that players build over the course of this game really interesting. I've still never seen anything else quite like it. Triggering cards in other people's tableaus is a spicy twist on what is otherwise be a really simple game. That's a mechanism I'd like to see explored further somewhere else, though I'm not sure how to implement it.
It's honestly difficult to criticize Unexploded Cow because I think it succeeded at what it was designed to do. It's a money-fueled luckfest with a bunch of take-that cards. That's all it was ever meant to be. Can I think of games that do its individual parts better aside from the roulette wheel? Yes. Several. That doesn't mean that UC is bad, it just means it's aged a bit awkwardly.
DUN-GEON-QUEST! *CLAP CLAP CLAP*
DUN-GEON-QUEST! *CLAP CLAP CLAP*
I was sent this by some internet pals so I could finally experience it. Since it matters, we've been playing the 3rd edition (not revised) with the combat die variant to speed that along. I read the rules for FFG's combat cards and they look like an absolute mess so I was glad to leave them in the box.
Over the 3 games of Dungeonquest we played we had exactly one person get to the dragon, get loot, and get out. Moreover, it was my wife in her literal first game. Lindel danced his happy elven ass in a diagonal line across the entire board, robbed the dragon, teleported out of a rotating room that would have otherwise killed him, and escaped without a single scratch on him. It was an absolute blowout, and so she founded the HUT - Hall of Unroasted Thieves. It's a sharpie list in the box lid and only successful (living) dragon-robbers are allowed to sign it. So far it has one signature. If there aren't any more in the future it certainly won't be for want of trying. DQ is good times and we'll certainly play it plenty more.
Bit of a mixed bag in this box.
Let's get the obvious out of the way first; Godsforge is gorgeous. One of the prettiest board games I've ever seen, no hyperbole. I adore the art style in this. The only way it could be improved is if there were more of it. That's actually my issue with this entire game, but I'll get to that.
The game itself is another take on the wizard fight genre, this time with a focus on multiplayer. It's actually best at 3 or 4 as that opens up some choices in how cards resolve, as well as allowing the clever end game ramp-up to happen. You always attack the player on your left but there are effects that allow you to target anyone and/or everyone. Once a player is dead the survivors start taking an additional chunk of damage every round, so there's a ticking clock as players scramble to just not die. It's a lot more entertaining than having the game just end at 2p.
Where Godsforge starts to lose me is in how repetitive it gets from game to game. We're 5 plays in so far and I don't see much variability in the proceedings. Roll your dice, pick the card you'd most like to play, play it with minimal issue because the game gives you an incredible amount of roll mitigation to the point that you may as well not be rolling dice at all, reveal and swing. Repeat until someone wins. It's plenty functional but the rampup and excitement that this genre normally brings is conspicuously absent.
I don't hate Godsforge, far from it. But it very much feels like a game for the modern market. There isn't much game to explore here. Instead it's a very good looking casual game that you can pull out every few months or so to kill half an hour. The card variety is weak, but if you don't play often that doesn't matter all that much. It makes an excellent first impression and for some folks that's the only impression they'll get from it. Unfortunately it just left me wanting. Shame, it really is amazing looking.
I am a huge La Mame games fan. I've easily played over 100 games of Coup and I've made a point of at least trying everything the Tahta family puts out. While they aren't all hits for me their focus on high interaction and replayability often produces the kind of games I look for. Not only is Senators no exception, it's shaping up to be one of their best.
My favorite thing about Senators is how much it hates its players. The auctions are varied and often high stakes. The event deck relentlessly kicks the shit out of everyone. The extortion action lets you abuse the whole table at the same time but can easily backfire if you're not careful. The game doesn't just lack guard rails, it replaced them all with razor wire and broken glass. You can absolutely spend yourself into a hole and spend the second half of the game desperately trying to claw your way out. Crucially though you CAN clutch a game out with good timing, and even if you didn't manage to it's over in 30 minutes. Coming in last in a board game almost never kills anyone. You'll be fine.
I feel like Senators is probably a Marmite game. There's no way it's going to appeal to most people. Its old school sensibilities with regard to balance, bizarre cocktail of mechanisms, and unbridled meanness are going to turn a lot of people off. I, on the other hand, can't wait to play this more. So many of my favorite things all packed into one super dense, yet perfectly streamlined box. It's so far up my street that it's set up a gyro cart on the corner. Highly recommend giving this one a shot, just don't be surprised when it gutpunches you and takes your wallet.THE LAST BIT
Folks, we have fun here. We play a lot of lighter fare. Between my work group and not having a ton of time in my day to day, my chances to play the heavy BGG darlings are few and far between.
But tomorrow. Tomorrow I'm doing something different. Tomorrow I'm boldly going where I've never gone before.
You'd best believe I'm gonna tell y'all about this one in two weeks. Thanks for reading.
- [+] Dice rolls
27 Apr 2019
I've noticed a lot of people doing Knizia lists. Why not join in?
I will not be publishing a Games of the Moment this bi-week. I played almost entirely the same games as the previous two weeks, and while I do have insights on them after more plays I'd rather roll these into one larger post. So instead let's talk about my favorite games from my favorite designer! Once I get past the top 5 it's kind of nebulous and I enjoy them all about the same, so let's make this a shorter list.
Of note, I haven't played some of his bigger recent titles yet. I have a feeling I'd love El Dorado and Blue Lagoon looks fun, but I've played neither. I also KNOW I'd enjoy Yellow and Yangtze, but alas.WE'RE COUNTING DOWN
Let's begin with one of Knizia's more unconventional designs: a 2 player only, head to head dueling, deck constructing, first-person language using, auction game.
Yep. Auction game. People don't list Blue Moon when they talk about the loads of great auction games Knizia's name is on but it totally is one. You're bidding resources you can never get back and upping your bid (or in some cases re-placing your bid, damn Flits) to win a yank or two of the tug-o-war rope. 4 yanks in a row and you win. Many people who I've spoken to about Blue Moon have always thought of it as just a dueling game, which it is, but I've found approaching it with an auction mindset helps me play better.
The game itself is uniquely fantastic. I love how easy it is to get sucked into sunk costs here. Picking your battles is hard when your cards feel as strong as these do, to the point where it's hard to remember that your opponent is likely equally strong. Every faction feels unique, both among the other factions and when compared to other faction'd card games. Many Blue Moon players have their favorites as a result, and I am no exception. Pillar 4 lyfe.
Is it sacrilege to have this at anything other than number 1? Yes. Yes it is. I'm doing it anyway.
T&E is a game that I absolutely love, but hoo boy do I not love teaching it. Nor do I get the chance to very often. It isn't that the rules are complex or all that hard to explain, though this is definitely one of Knizia's heavier offerings. It's the fact that T&E is basically impossible to play well on your first game. Or your second. Probably your third too. Maybe more. Look, it takes a while.
Getting good at T&E is something you have to want to do. I want to and try to because it's a phenomenal design with incredible depth of strategy, but it can be difficult to find 1-3 other people who don't mind bouncing off a game for a bit to work towards that eventual breakthrough. In today's modern landscape games are being designed with their cool bits immediately apparent in order to make that critical first impression. T&E doesn't care about first impressions. New players don't just lose to experienced ones here, they faceplant so hard they leave a crater. Often it isn't even the other players' fault, it's just incredibly easy to hamstring yourself and not be able to recover. That said it's also one of the most aggressive games I've ever played. That aggression is yet another reason why it has less broad appeal in current year, but that only makes me love it more.
T&E doesn't give a damn what you think of it or what other games you've played. They aren't T&E. They don't matter here. In the grim darkness of the fertile crescent, there is only war.3. High Society
It's this high because it deserves to be. Not only is this a great game, it's a great game that's got something to say.
Knizia games tend to be built around a simple framework with a scoring twist, and High Society is the twistiest. Bid too aggressively or spend just a smidge too much and you're ostracized. May as well just toss your winnings into your gilded dustbin, because none of them matter now. Stop being poor. Harrumph harrumph.
High Society is one of those "filler" games that transcends its often demeaning category. I don't think I've ever sat at a table to play High Society and only played it once. It demands more attempts. Another shot at ascending to the highest echelon of the social elites. Maybe, just maybe, your lovely mansion won't catch fire this time.
I highly recommend reading Charlie Theel's incredible writeup about this game's use of theme. He does it more justice than I can. The photos are all of the more recent Osprey reprint, which I have't played with, but hoo boy is it pretty.
An unconventional auction game from the master of auction games.
Figuring out what tiles are "worth" in Ra is almost impossible and I love it for that. The bidding tiles are a brilliant alternative to moving money around. It's not just a closed economy, it's a closed economy where you can't even control who's going to receive your bids. The once around auction is extremely tense as a result, and there's no push your luck mechanism I like more than greedily yanking tile after tile from the bag as the table chants "Ra! Ra! Ra!".
The experience of playing Ra is what elevates it from good to great. I love auction games, especially Knizia's. I'll spoil number 1 by saying it's not Modern Art, though I adore that game. Most auction games have an emotional arc as well as a gameplay one, but few reach the heights that Ra consistently does. At no point have I ever told anyone to chant. It just happens. There's just something about the wooden totem, the clack of tiles being placed on the board, and risking it all one Ra tile from death that gets people invested every time. What a game.1. Samurai
My favorite area control game and one of my BGG 10s.
For me, Samurai is a perfect board game. Short rules, incredibly deep play, great aesthetics, and somehow it does all of this perfectly at all its player counts? Knizia is a wizard. I don't understand how he does it but by god did he do it here.
I consider Samurai a richly thematic game. You aren't commanding a squad or an army, you're the highest ranking military official in your faction. You make the high level decisions that shape the course of not just battles, but entire wars. Your attacks, feints, and maneuvers are on a scale that can be felt across the entire map. You can win the favor of the farmers with a single order, but will that give your opponents an opportunity to dominate the religious caste? Is it worth it? Hope you win the tiebreaker, general.
Most people would put T&E in this spot, and T&E is a phenomenal design, but Samurai remains my favorite for its simplicity and sheer depth. If I were to spend my time mastering one game this would be a serious contender. I could play it forever and never get bored.
Thanks for reading! See you all in another bi-week, likely with the usual post then.
- [+] Dice rolls