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2021 Summer Board Game Smorgasbord Spectacular

Oliver Kiley
United States
Ann Arbor
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It has been entirely too long since talking about board games! While the pandemic has affected us all in ways great and small, I’m fortunate that I have a family that enjoys games and that the small circle of households that we have been “podded up with” likewise delight in pushing cardboard around. So, the past many months have provided ample opportunities for playing games both old and new.

Here we go!


Let's do this!

Board Game: The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine

9 - The Crew (100+ plays/hands) (2019)
So our family is "podded" with another family, with whom all of our kids collectively have been in the same educational arrangement for the past year. This has therefore meant that they’ve been one of our main social outlets for in-person gaming, and we all have taken to the Crew. A couple of weeks back we finally finished all 50 missions!

The Crew is an awesome game. I’ve had a life-long appreciation for Euchre (also a trick-taking game), and the combination of trick-taking, non-coordinating cooperation (i.e. no alpha player syndrome), and escalating challenges has been thrilling. We felt a tinge of guilt in that we stretched the rules of communication on occasion - but we’re resolved to atone for our wayward ways by going all the way through again. At least until the next crew game arrives!

From gallery of Mezmorki

9 - Wingspan (400+ plays) (2019)
Any game that I’ve played at least 300, or maybe even 400 times, has got to have some amount of staying power. Over the past two years, I’ve probably averaged a game a day with my wife.

2-player Wingspan is BY FAR my preferred way to play the game, to the point that playing with more than 2 doesn't really hold much appeal. With 2-players everything is far more cutthroat. If I don’t take a high value bird from the open row, my opponent likely will, prompting all sorts of risk/reward conundrums. Ditto for grabbing needed resources in the bird feeder. The goals are all zero-sum area-control battles and we’re watching each other’s moves like a hawk (pun obviously intended). With more players, all of this nuance dissolves into mush.

We play with both expansions (Oceania + European) with the following adjustments:

Use three “old” dice and three “new” dice - which creates less turn over in the bird feeder (since there are 6 dice instead of 5) and caps the flow of nectar to three per roll, which keeps the resource management aspect of the game tighter.
Nectar can never be taken as a “wild” resource for abilities that give any resource type.
Changed the Crow’s and similar birds abilities (convert eggs into food) to require taking dice from the bird feeder (instead of the supply) and further limiting it to taking no nectar.

Hundreds of plays later, I feel like Wingspan has settled into being a “lifestyle” game for me and my wife - something we can flap onto the table without even having to ask as a way to unwind at the end of the day. We’ve got playing this down to a science and can knock out a game in less than 25 minutes!

Board Game: Agricola

6 - Agricola (~10 plays) (2007)
I’ve had Agricola on my shelf for ages (it is on permanent loan to us by someone not really realizing the heft of what they bought and telling us to “figure it out.”), but only managed a couple of plays many, many years ago.I remember not liking it that much, and it has probably jaded my view of worker placement games. In anycase, our family found ourselves in a cabin in the woods last fall, and on a whim I brought it along.

We played it about a dozen times as a 2-player affair, which I realize probably isn’t the ideal arrangement for the game. But my wife and I both came to the realization that the game just isn’t that dramatic or interesting to us. It does feel like, at least for the 2-player game, that it could run another turn or two in length, as you often never quite get to see your farm reach its zenith of operation (hence disappointment). We played around with some 2-player variant boards and other house-rules, but something about the arc of the game just feels “off.” The gameplay is too anticlimactic and clinical for our tastes.

Why oh why did I buy $30 dollars of fancier tokens? It looks nice - but if I’m going to play a tableau-building engine game, I’d rather play wingspan by a wide margin.

Board Game: Irish Gauge

8.5 - Irish Gauge (~5 plays) (2014)
I don’t think I spoke to this game previously, other than a mention of it during my descent into weird game land. I had always wanted to try more of a stock/investment/railroad type of game, and so I picked this one up (a cube rail game specifically). I’ve had a chance to play it a number of times now and I’m quite pleased with the purchase.

As far as train games go, I suspect this one is on the simpler end of things - after all the rules occupy only a single double-sided sheet of paper (how cool is that?). But there is quite a bit of depth and interaction laced throughout each element of the game. Players will buy shares of the different railroad companies, which pay out dividends (with a bit of unpredictability) when that action is triggered. So there’s a healthy dose of bidding for shares in the game. Then there is the spatial puzzle of laying track and figuring out how/where to make your own connections or limit an opponent’s connections.

It’s a lovely game I like the whole package quite a bit. Seems to have the core bones of what constitutes an economic train game, keeping the action focused on the interactive elements. Now of course I’m eyeing other games in the line, like the soon be released Iberian Gauge which will add individual budgets / money accounts for each of the train companies to be used in expanding their network. Next thing you know, I’ll be a full fledged 18xx gamer!

Board Game: Condottiere

6 - Condottiere (~3 plays) (1995)
Finally managed to play this a few times with more than 2-players (it isn’t really meant to be a 2-player game), and it certainly works better. I’m not sure how much I really like the game though. There are some odd edges in the gameplay and lines of play that feel counter intuitive. I’m sure it’s a case where seemingly obvious moves have a viable counter-player that becomes apparent with more experience, but I don’t know if there is the enthusiasm to get it back to the table enough to make those realizations.

Board Game: Joraku

8 - Joraku (~5 plays) (2015)
As an alternative to Condottiere, I present to you Jokau. This a similar combination of area control and card play (specifically trick-taking), that I’ve enjoyed considerably more. The trick-taking takes a little bit of a backseat in terms of its depth, but the interplay between the cards played for trick purposes versus area-control purposes is where the real action is. It’s a fairly streamlined and clean game, but the decision space feels suitably crunchy and nuanced, such that players regularly pull out some unexpected lines of play, shifting the tempo in an enjoyable way.

Board Game: Claim 2

8 - Claim 2 (~15 plays) (2018)
I bought Claim 2 on a whim, as I enjoy the artists work and, well, more trick-taking! Claim is in the elusive category of “interesting 2-player trick-taking games,” and it lives up to that claim (pun intended) rather well.

The basic gist is that there are two phases of play, with each phase playing through half the deck. Each trick there is a face-up card in the middle and the winner of the trick will claim that card, to be used in their hand in the second phase, and the loser of the tricks gets a random card. There is some juicy risk/reward decisions to make about whether you want the the card in the middle (hence trying to win the trick) or hedging your bets that the random card might be better (hence trying to lose the trick).

In the second phase, you’re trying to win a majority of the cards in each faction (there are five), and so the decisions and strategies of what cards you claim in phase 1 directly feed into how well you can score in phase 2. It’s pretty clever! Add in some special abilities tied to each of the suits, and it’s a delightful design.

Board Game: Morels

7 - Morels (~10 plays) (2012)
This one has been floating on the radar for a long time. I figure this has a good chance of being a hit with my wife, as well, she likes hunting for morels? Plus it’s a two player card game. Reading through the rules it sounds interesting and promising so I picked it up.

Had a chance to play a bunch over the past week with both my wife and daughters. It’s a clever game and there is some genuine subtlety to the timing of how/when to play cards and managing your hand. That said, the game also feels a bit mechanistic and rote in its play - and I’m not sure (yet) how much depth there really is. I suspect it’s one of those games, like say Lost Cities, where it appears quite simple but the more you play it against the same partner, the more a localized “meta” for play emerges and slowly evolves/changes over time. Which is a good thing! Hoping to keep playing this more.

Board Game: Homeworlds

8? - Homeworlds (3 plays) (2001)
I’ve been extremely late to the Loony Pyramids / Icehouse Pyramids party. Mostly because I’ve never seen them for sale locally and never bothered to order them. But a series of small box pyramid games were released and I grabbed a copy of Homeworlds after hearing about it.

I’ve played a few solo games and one proper 2-player game (with my Chess-loving daughter). This is a really, really, really, interesting abstract, being highly player driven with some very clever layers of depth (which I’m only just beginning to get a handle on).

Essentially, you play on a board-less space, where upright pyramids are “star systems” with the curious rule that they are only connected to other star systems that are a different size. Pyramids laying flat and pointing away from you are your space ships. Allowable moves (actions) are tied to the color of the star and/or your controlled space ships. The goal is to eventually chart your way to the opposing player's homeworld and destroy it (in one of three subtle manners).

It’s a great example of an emergent and highly-player driven game. The typology of the star field is built dynamically by the players over the course of the game, and the latitude in what actions you can perform creates a ton of room for clever play, counter-maneuvers, and more. Really hoping to dig into this more!

Board Game: Calico

7 - Calico (~30 plays) (2020)
So private pattern building games, or “fiefdom” games (as fellow blogger Martin calls ‘em) or tableau-tile-drafting games are all the rage it seems these days. I bought Calico for my wife (birthday!) who has quite a liking for the feline species and also puzzle building. I knew it would be a hit for her (surprise, it was!).

For my part, I’ll grant that it’s a gorgeou game (as these increasingly tend to be). The spatial puzzle dimension of the game is fun. The principal gameplay hook really seems to be a game of risk management, essentially how long are you willing to wait for optimum pieces to appear to make a more perfect arrangement, versus cutting your losess. There is some interesting balance between trying to complete more frequent “easy” patterns versus making fewer but “harder” patterns that are worth more. How long you can hold, how you can set yourself up for “delay” placements that keep options open is interesting.

The biggest downside is that it isn’t terribly interactive - and when interactions do happen they can be absolutely brutal. If you’re waiting most of the game for certain pieces, and it just so happens to be drawn and then the player going before you snatches it up on a whim (maybe they don’t even need it!) then it makes for bad feels. If the same had some more interesting tile management / tile drafting system bolted onto it, I think it could’ve been a stronger game. I enjoy it for what it is nonetheless.

Board Game: Azul: Summer Pavilion

7 - Azul: Summer Pavilion (~15 plays) (2019)
I played this once after it came out, and my wife took liking to it. Lo and behold, some other family members got her this game for her birthday (another birthday “fiefdom” game!), and we’ve had a chance to play a dozen or so times at this point.

Having only played the original Azul once (the inverse of Martin G’s experience) but this a number of times, I’ve come to a slightly different conclusion. I find the readability of each other’s board states to be really easy - as even at a glance I can tell if someone is trying to complete a star or not (awarding some of the bigger bonuses). Going for the all 1’s, 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, bonus aren’t too hard to tell either.

I also like that there are two levels of drafting going on in the two modes - the core drafting from the pile pools in the middle of course, but then the timing of drafting tiles from the scoreboard when earning bonus tiles. There are some interesting timing moments relative to opponent’s plays in the second phase (where you actually place tiles), and whether you need to pounce early on getting a much needed bonus tiles or you try to defer in the hopes that the tiles in the middle cycle to something you need more.

As with Calico, it’s not really the type of game that excites me - but it’s well done and is a rather pleasing game to just play and relax as a way to come down off the work day.

Board Game: Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne

8 - Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne (5 plays) (2016)
So I missed the boat for Cosmic Encounter by a good 30-years I reckon. I’ve had countless people say “Oliver - thou shalt play the game Cosmic Encounter” - but alas it never quite happened.

Fast forward. One night, between hands of The Crew with our pod-family, we were discuss a mutual appreciation for Game of Thrones, and they asked about GoT themed games. It was all the excuse I needed to make a purchase of the Iron Throne (along with its expansion). I’ve played it 4 or 5 times now - and I gather there are some differences between it and Cosmic Encounter, but the basic structure is similar.

Long story short, as a game of negotiation and bluffing and backstabbing - it’s pretty great. We’ve been playing with 4-players and it’s worked well enough, although I suspect it gets considerably more interesting with 5 or 6 players, which we haven’t managed yet. But soon!

This game does, incidentally and unfortunately, highlight my anguish over product design. Setting aside the bulky (but cool) crown power tokens, I can fit the entire base game plus the expansion into the expansion box, which is about a quarter of the volume of the main game box. It’s frustrating. The expansion box is the size thing you could toss into a small bag or purse and lug to the bar or wherever. The box doesn’t need to be this big. Thinking of sourcing some other small tokens to use in place of the big crowns when I’m on the go.

Board Game: CATAN

8 - Catan (4 recent plays) (1995)
It has been forever since playing Catan - I admit. Our pod-family is a Catan fan (not a ravenous one, but they quite like the game), and so I’ve had chance to play it a number of times in the past couple of months. Playing it again is a nice reminder of what an excellent this is. I know it’s hip to rip on Catan - but I don’t think it’s justified. It remains an old school euro (ahem German Family game) through and through - which means lots of meaningful interaction and decision making delivered on a relatively simply structure. Catan manages to create a lot of great interactions, twists of fate, surprise moves, consternation and damnating, with relatively little mechanical overhead to gum up the gears. It’s a solid game and continues to stand out for reason.

Board Game: Circle the Wagons

7 - Circle the Wagons (5 plays) (2017)
Button shy Games have a pretty cool gig, selling their tiny wallet games. Some friends were putting in order for a few more, and having heard good things about Circle the Wagons I piggybacked on their order. Managed to play this half a dozen times too. I really like it! The game manages to create a ton of tough risk-reward decisions and some tricky decision spaces with a only a handful of components. There is a surprising amount of interaction too, as you’re constantly needing to consider what cards you might stick your opponent with (and vice versa). Snappy, cutthroat little game.

Board Game: Disney Villainous

7 - Villainous (1 play) (2018)
Part of the Holiday Game Haul was Disney’s Villainous game. By younger daughter had been asking for it for years - but I suspect the interest was mostly driven by the theme rather than the gameplay (damn you Disney!). I’ve only managed to get to the table and perk their interest one time - and we had a good four player game. I think this is a solid and interesting game, with some decent lines of interaction. I really need more players to form much of an opinion of it though. Hopefully we’ll get it back to the table soon.

Board Game: 5-Minute Mystery

6 - 5-Minute Mystery (5 plays) (2020)
I’m a big fan of 5-Minute Dungeon, the real-time cooperative dungeon crawler. 5-Minute dungeon is fast, frantic, gets everyone involved in both playing cards and managing the ergonomics of the play in a way that keeps it fun.

5-Minute Mystery looked to provide a similar experience, albeit as a more deduction-oriented experience. Unfortunately, I feel like the setup here silo’s players into different roles instead of keeping everyone focused on the same thing. Fiddling with the clue tumbler is a full-time job for one player, leaving the others to search the scene cards for clues. Unfortunately, the need to look closely at the clue cards means you’ll be hard pressed to get more than 2 people hovering over the card and able to see it. Functionally, I feel like this cap the game about 3 players, otherwise you have players sort of floating around the margins of the experience. You can rotate the roles around after each clue board, but I feel like you shouldn’t have to. It’s okay - but I’d rather still just play 5-minute dungeon.

8 - Warhammer 40,000 (~15 recent plays)
The 40K saga continues. I’ve managed to clock in about 15 games over Tabletop Simulator during the past 6 months - which is more 40K than I’ve played in the past 15 years! We continue to use and refine the ProHammer rule set I developed, and it’s really been going super well. I continue to read general horror stories about the current state of live 40K (9th edition), and I continue to thank my stars that I’m able to play a classic version of the game.

I’ll spare you all from further details unless you ask


Here we get to the part where I talk about all the purchase that I’ve made of games that have yet to hit the table. These are all part of the magical shelf of opportunity! Here we go!

Board Game: Pax Pamir: Second Edition

Pax Pamir (2nd Edition) (2019)
I’ve had a small stack of gift cards for my FLGS piling up and decided to jump on Pax Pamir after a recent re-stocking. I’ve enjoyed Pax Renaissance quite a bit in my few plays, but that game is an absolute bear rules wise - there is just a lot of subtly to wrap your head around. So I’m hoping (and all indications suggest accordingly) that Pax Pamir will be a bit more accessible and open up the interactive elements without having to wade through too much complexity first. Looking forward to getting my first play in soon.

Board Game: Control

Control (2016)
I know nothing about this game. I saw it flash by on Amazon and I said… why not. Why indeed. I don’t know why I have this game.

Board Game: The Fox in the Forest Duet

Fox in Forest Duet (2020)
I really enjoyed the original Fox in Forest game, which is a rare 2-player trick-taking game. The newer version (Duet) is a cooperative version. Hoping to get it to the table soon.

Board Game: Tussie Mussie

Tussie Mussie (2019)
My wife played this and liked it - and so I tossed this into the Button Shy Game order. I haven’t had a chance to play yet. Looks cool upon reading the rules.

Board Game: The Quest for El Dorado

Quest for El Dorado (2017)
Last, bu certainly not least, is this Knizia design. I picked this up on whim before the holidays last year, and tucked it away for safe keeping until I wrapped it. Of course, I then forgot that I even had it come Christmas and so it didn’t make the present rounds. I still have it tucked away there, waiting for it’s moment in the spotlight. Not sure when that will be. Maybe I should just wrap it and gift it to myself and a surprise… for myself.


Before closing out today, I wanted to share another thought, which I’ve touch on before. But I want to reiterate my deep appreciation for smaller box games in general, and in particular those that pack a big meaty experience into a small package. I caught an On Board Games episode about “Big Gameplay, Little Space,” which of course set me off to thinking more about this topic. So a few aspects to share:

First - I wish all games, even bigger ones, took the approach of trying to minimize box size. I strongly dislike buying “air” in a box. And I dislike picking up a box and thinking “this just doesn’t weight enough.” Games need to be in a box sized such that the game has the right “density” if you will. This has nothing to do with the gameplay weight/depth/complexity mind you. This aspect is really just about making the product as a package as efficient as possible. This helps for storage, lugging stuff to game nights, and not scaring people off with the box size.

A few games, of various sizes, that seem to do this well are worth mentioning. Tiny Epic Games? So much packed into each of these. I like the games purely from a product design standpoint. Pax Renaissance - This game will give any big huge full blown game a run for its money (heck it IS a full blown game), and it fits in a box about the size of 6 decks of cards. Innovation? Why do you need a giant sprawling coffin-sized box for your civilization game when this tiny game will make your brain buuuurn? Raiders of the North Sea - I’ll cheat a bit here, but I can fit the base game and both expansions into the base game box with some creative packing. It’s smaller than the unusual 12”x12” square box (like 9x9?) - and it’s DENSE. Ironically, you can buy a special edition box, which is enormous, to fit all the stuff that fits in the normal box anyway. Bigger isn’t always better folks.

Second - I like having smaller box games purely from a portability and efficiency standpoint. I’ve limited my game collection, more or less, to a handful of shelves on our bookcase and other cabinets, and I’m not looking to expand. Smaller games take up less space on the shelf and when I’m contemplating a game purchase I find myself asking, is this “big box game” really worth the space of 2-4 smaller games? Often I don’t think it is. Also, I’m regularly lugging a small bag of games with me on family trips, outings, jaunts to an outdoor restaurant, etc., and small games mean I can easily carry half a dozen with me in a small unobtrusive bag and have some options of games to play with the kids while we wait for food and the like.

Last - I’m impressed with games that achieve efficiency in product design because it often indicates some level of efficiency in the design itself. As a designer, I know all too well how easy (and tempting) it is to “add more” to a game design, or “fixing” a game by throwing additional layers of mechanisms and componentry at it. But more often than not, I think that’s the wrong approach. This does bias my view of larger box games, as I’m almost immediately asking myself, “what’s in this box that doesn’t need to be in here”. This is probably a flawed way of approaching things, but it’s a filter I’ve come to rely on.


Well, that does it for this round. Some upcoming topics articles I’ve been stewing over for future posts include the following:

(1) Underplayed Games / Wall of Shame
(2) Aspects and Approaches to Board Game Criticism
(3) Design Journal - Works in Progress

Hopefully I can manage a more regular pace to writing over the coming weeks and months. Looking forward to the conversation!
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Wed Jun 23, 2021 5:47 pm
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When reality is politicized, everything is political

Oliver Kiley
United States
Ann Arbor
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Microbadge: The multiverse!  Fan of theoretical physics I don't understandMicrobadge: Hyperion fan - The Shrike is My Hero!Microbadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGGMicrobadge: HumanistMicrobadge: Ask The Next Question
I’m sitting here trying to come to terms with what happened last night in our nation’s capital. To come to terms with something that, on one hand is horrific and shocking, but on the other hand was, unsurprisingly inevitable. Hindsight isn’t required - many people, myself included, assumed something was coming. And I am so disheartened that my fears came true.

I’m sitting here listening to my wife teach her highschool class over zoom - and having to kick off each of her classes with yet another political, “but don’t talk about politics,” crisis conversation. They have been far too many such conversations that I’ve heard over the past year. This shouldn’t be the state of affairs in our county - yet here we are.

The simple truth is that when the fabric of reality has been politicized, it makes everything political. It’s unreasonable, perhaps impossible, to expect teachers, or employees, or family members, or hobby enthusiasts to try and discuss current events without being political.

I don’t relish making political posts - now my third in this past year alone. But I do feel an obligation as a citizen of this county, as someone who believes in democracy and that we all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to speak out in the communities I am a part of.

Perhaps this darkest chapter in our country’s history was, in a cruel way, a necessary part of coming to terms with the reality of America.

These past four years have exposed much of the true nature of this country. Put simply, we have problems, and big ones. And the sooner we can all own up to those and acknowledge the parts we play, tacitly or incidentally, the sooner we can begin the work of correcting them.

It’s mind-boggling to think what the last four years have brought.

The past four years have brought us the Women’s Movement and #MeToo. For far too long in our society women have suffered abuse and unequal treatment at home, in work places, and at schools. For far too long the reality of the extent and pervasiveness of misogyny and abuse was swept under the rug, reality distorted to keep people silent, and to keep so many other people in the dark. But no longer will it be tolerated.

The past four years have brought us multiple investigations into collusion with foreign powers at the highest levels of our government. A President campaigning on draining the swamp saw instead numerous of his closest affiliates charged with a range of crimes. Crimes that he then pardoned them for. Pardons that come, implicity, with admission of guilt. The fragility of our democracy and the norms that hold it together have been laid bare. We can no longer be blind to these weaknesses. We must hold those who would seek to undermine our democracy accountable if there is to be justice.

The past four years have brought us the Black Lives Matter movement, underscoring the deep seated racism that has been boiling under the lid for generations. Many people, in naivety, assumed we were past this chapter. But unequal treatment of people of color by our laws, by law enforcement agencies, by institutions of government, and by individual people is now sitting in the open for all to see. It must be addressed if we are to move forward as a country. We can no longer pretend it isn’t happening. The truth is that it has been happening since before this county even was a country. But no longer can it be tolerated by anyone claiming to be a patriot.

The past four years have been punctuated by a humanitarian crisis of incalculable cruelty, borne out on our soil. Our xenophobia has put thousands of people into internment camps. It has seen innocent children permanently separated from their parents - a policy of deliberate cruelty. How soon the architects of these cruel practices forget that they themselves, or their parents or their grandparents were once immigrants as well. We must treat others how we wish to be treated. To seek empathy and understanding.

The past four years have witnessed a sustained attack on the truth, on scientific knowledge, and on expertise. Whether it is handling COVID-19, addressing Global Climate Change, peeling back environmental protections, providing affordable healthcare, or supporting the long-term health of our economy - expertise and knowledge, and indeed the very truth, has been routinely dismissed and spun as political opinion. We can no longer tolerate attacks on the truth.

The past four years have resoundingly shattered the illusion that America is exceptional.

We are not exceptional.

Our wealth gap, between the rich and poor, continues to widen. Our life expectancy is declining. Our public infrastructure is literally crumbling. Our security is weakening. Our reputation in the world has collapsed. Our educational system is failing our children. Our moral standing has been exposed as a lie.

And so, in ways both cruel and uncomfortable, this ugliness coming to light in our country may be necessary. By coming to the light, we hold up a mirror to ourselves and bear witness to what we are. Admission is the first step to recovery.

We have much work to do in turning this ship around. This work must begin with a commitment to the truth and building a shared understanding of reality. Not everyone will be on board the boat, for that is clear enough now. But we must continue to pursue and confront the truth, and to not be afraid of engaging in political conversations. When the reality around us is open for debate, politics are impossible to ignore. And we will never move forward without first building a common truth and purpose.

What happened last night in our nation's capital is a consequence of reality being politicized and twisted. The unraveling of truth is both terrifying and dangerous - but we cannot let it rule us. We must all find ways in which we can advance our quest for the truth and to live up to the values we share as a Americans and as human beings on this planet.
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Thu Jan 7, 2021 5:33 pm
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2020 Big Game Theory Video Game Recommendations

Oliver Kiley
United States
Ann Arbor
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Microbadge: The multiverse!  Fan of theoretical physics I don't understandMicrobadge: Hyperion fan - The Shrike is My Hero!Microbadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGGMicrobadge: HumanistMicrobadge: Ask The Next Question
Being the giant game geek that I am, holidays inevitably end up with friends and family asking me for recommendations. Not that I mind, as I am always looking for an excuse to talk games! But, I’m often left a bit flat-footed when it comes to making recommendations. Perhaps I don’t step back and reflect on what the standouts have been over the years. Or perhaps too much time is spent thinking about games from the perspective of critique and analysis, as opposed to “what should I buy?”.

So this thread will perhaps be the start of a new yearly tradition of rounding up games that I’ve played, whether new-to-the-year or just older classics worth mentioning. This first endeavor is going to focus on video games, primarily because the Steam sale is ending on January 5th and if anyone needs guidance on where to spend their holiday bucks, this might be useful.

Without any further fanfare, let’s just jump into things!

2020 Big Game Theory Video Game Recommendations

Tactical & Rougelike Games

From gallery of Mezmorki

Invisible Inc (2015)
Steam/ PC ($5.60, 78% off, for bundle with DLC)

Games that successfully deliver multi-layered, intertwined gameplay are rare. Invisible Inc is one of those successes. I should say that my patience for games focused on turn-based tactical combat (which this game does) is “normally” pretty limited, largely because so many of them employ nearly the same mechanics which result in nearly the same dry, unit activation order, optimization exercises. Invisible Inc brilliantly avoids this trap by forcing players to carefully balance stealth vs. combat attacks and moves in the physical space vs. the virtual space, all while under the auspice of ticking security timer that applies pressure and forces you into sub-optimal situations. Plenty of tough choices throughout the game, making it one of the most deeply enjoyable tactical games I’ve ever played.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Into the Breach (2018)
Steam/PC: ($7.49)

A clever, vaguely “chess-like” tactical game where you deploy 3 units onto a gridded battlefield and attempt to accomplish various mission objectives while keeping the enemy forces in check. Clever unit abilities combine in all sorts of ways. Each mission becomes its own intoxicating puzzle. I’m not normally one for puzzle-solving, but here the variability and consequential decisions always keeps me on my toes. From the developers behind Faster Than Light (FTL).

From gallery of Mezmorki

Crying Suns (2019)
Steam/PC: ($14.99, 40% off), iOS/Android ($8.99)

Mechanically, Crying Suns, which is a bit of a FTL derivative, tasks you with guiding your customizable space-jumping battleship across multiple sectors of space in order to solve an inter-galactic mystery, all the while staying one step ahead of hostile pursuers. What drew me in was the narrative and atmosphere. I’m not easily grabbed by video game plot lines, especially in this genre, but this one struck a chord. The aesthetic of the game quite engrossing as well. Gameplay is appropriately challenging and diverse.

Strategy / 4X Games

From gallery of Mezmorki

Interstellar Space Genesis (2019)
Steam/PC ($14.99, 50% off)

Games attempting to capture the feeling of Master of Orion 1 & 2 come and go like leaves in the wind, and nearly all of them are forgotten in time. ISG is the rare exception, drawing inspiration from MoO1/MoO2 where it matters most (in the scale, pacing, and tough decision making laced throughout the game) and innovating where there is room for improvement (exploration, UI, leaders, strategic resources). All in all, ISG is an exceptionally well designed game and, despite a few rough edges in the graphics, is one of the best playing and strategic 4X games around.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Northgard (2018)
Steam/PC ($11.99, 60% off)
A wonderful mashup of real-time strategy (RTS) and 4X/civilization, Northgard has you managing a nordic clan as you seek fame, glory, and the blessings of the gods. If you’re in the mood for a shorter 4X-like game, there is none better. Despite the clan management scale of the game, it nevertheless captures the strategic civilization-like decision making better than most full 4X games. The victory system is finely honed, the UI flawless, and the decisions routinely tense and interesting.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Age of Wonders 3 (2014)
Steam/PC ($24, 65% off for collection bundle with all DLC)

Age of Wonders 3 is my favorite 4X game of all-time. No other 4X game delivers on the promise of deep strategic positioning and maneuvering as well as well as AoW3. This strategic layer is married to the best tactical combat system found in any 4X game. The variability in the game, due to different combinations of fantasy races, hero classes, and magic specializations is exceptional. Couple this with an awesome victory system that avoids the usual 4X late-game fumble and you have a winner. Age of Wonders: Planetfall is the newer game in the series, using a science-fantasy theme. It is also a solid game - but I think AoW3 provides the better overall experience at the end of the day. Make sure to get the bundle with the two DLC's - it adds tremendously to the game.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Total War: Warhammer I & II (2016 & 2017)
Steam/PC ($14.99 for #1, $20.39 for #2, 75% and 66% off)

The Warhammer Fantasy themed Total War games out grand-strategy most other grand strategy games, without even necessarily trying to do so. The scale of the game is huge, and both games can be combined to create an absolutely enormous world to fight across. There are a staggering number of different factions and leaders to choose from, most of which have a unique way of playing and asymmetric victory conditions. While I’m not a huge fan of the tactical battles (although the are awesome to watch!), the strategic layer alone is surprisingly engrossing. Expensive to buy into everything - but awesome to behold.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Battle for Polytopia (2020 for PC)
Steam/PC ($9.75, 35% off), iOS/Android
Self-described micro 4X polytopia boils the 4X concept down to about the barest essentials. The result is a game that remains surprisingly deep and challenging, despite it’s pint-sized scale and quick playtime. If you’re looking for a game you can play in 15 minutes that scratches the 4X itch, look no further.

Boardgame Related

From gallery of Mezmorki

Tabletop Simulator
Steam/PC ($9.99, 50% off)
When it comes to digital platforms for playing board games, TTS provides by far the largest library of games on offer (seriously, there are 1000’s of games available). The controls and UI takes some getting used to, and the system does NOT enforce game rules like other platforms. It is quite literally the virtual parallel to playing a physical game, complete with physics and everything. Once you get used to it, it’s a nearly limitless platform. Playing with friends while simultaneously in a video call (e.g. Discord) is the closest way to replicate playing a physical game.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Race for the Galaxy (2015)
Steam/PC ($4.89, 30% off), iOS/Android ($6.99)
The Achilles heel of many a digital boardgame adaptation is that most AI’s just can’t put up much of a challenge. Enter Race for the Galaxy. The official game uses “Keldon’s AI”, which was developed in a standalone game application that predates the official app. Long story short, the RFTG app puts up a tremendous challenge and serves up a great UI on top it. It goes without saying that RFTG is also an amazing and classic boardgame, and having such a solid digital version does the game justice.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Root (2020)
Steam/PC ($10.49, 50% off), iOS/Android ($9.99)

Root has been one of my favorite board games in recent years, and the recently launched digital version of the game is really quite delightful. The artwork is translated into the digital realm in a great way. I’m not sure how easy it would be to learn the game from just the digital version - there are built in tutorials but they don’t really explain the underlying game concepts that well - but that aside this is a solid entry. As with most digital boardgames (Race for the Galaxy, above, being a big exception) the AI is a bit of a pushover. It’s available on Steam and mobile platforms.

RPGs / Action RPGs

From gallery of Mezmorki

Star Traders: Frontiers (2018)
Steam/PC ($7.49, 50% off), iOS/Android ($3.99!!!!)

This is an unassuming but deeply engaging game. Essentially, it’s a starship captain simulator, where you assume the role of captain (surprise, surprise) as you manage your ship and crew. You’ll explore a galaxy littered with different star systems and inhabited by different factions - much like the imperial houses of Dune. There is some solid writing in the quests, an absolute avalanche of content, and plenty of tough and interesting challenges to overcome. Excellent sandbox universe to immerse yourself in.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Children of Morta (2019)
Steam/PC ($10.99, 50% off)

Wins the award for the most amazing pixel art ever in a game. But in terms of gameplay, Children of Morta is an action RPG (think Diabo-series) crossed with a roguelike. It’s a pretty twitch heavy game and get’s pretty challenging at times, but it’s a lovely experience. The narration and pixel art is worth the price of admission. This is a great game to play on the big screen with a couple of controllers. It supports shared-screen coop so it's a fun game to play cooperative in person.

FPS Co-ops

All of the games below fall within a pretty similar gameplay space, which is essentially first person shooter games structured as a 4-player cooperative multiplayer affair. If you've played and liked Left 4 Dead, these games are in the same spirit.

My wife quite enjoys playing this style of game (as do I) and these all have stood the test of time IMHO. YMMV of course, but I’m regularly playing all of these on a rotation of sorts. It’s worth noting that all of these games are best played with friends and using voice chat. During the pandemic, these have been a lifeline for us to keep in touch with friends and have activities to share together.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Vermintide 2 (2018)
Steam/PC ($7.49, 75% off)

Set in the Warhammer fantasy universe right during the “End Times” (i.e. before the Old World gets destroyed by Chaos). This game has an incredible atmosphere, great characters with amazing voice acting, and without a doubt the best melee combat I’ve ever seen in an FPS game. When the tide of rats, chaos cultists, and beastmen roll into view, the combat is tense, frantic, and fully engrossing. It’s one of those games that is high skill and consequently sucks you into a zen or flow state of total concentration.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Deep Rock Galactic (2020)
Steam/PC ($20.99, 30% off)

Dwarves, space dwarves, space asteroid mining dwarves (obviously), beer-guzzling space asterius mining dwarves while fighting off hordes of bugs. And of course silly hats. That about sums it up. This is a really enjoyable game with a fun, jovia, tongue-in-cheek atmosphere. Missions take place inside completely destructible environments as you and your fellow dwarves dig for rare resources and then scramble to get back out of the mine before the drop leaves you all behind. Good family fun.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Dying Light (Enhanced Edition) (2015)
Steam/PC ($17.99, 70% off)

I recently stumbled on this one, and I’m pleasantly surprised. This is a 4-player FPS coop crossed with an open world-style game (which are typically only ever single-player). Of course, it’s a zombie apocalypse open world, so you and your best buddies can have a field day scavenging the ruined city for supplies and resources. The signature feature is the incredible parkour system, allowing you near limitless freedom to climb and scramble your way through the world. The combat is a bit silly at times, but overall it’s a well done game.


There you have it! I’m going to try and get the board-game version out as soon as I am able.

How about you? Any video games that have really stood out to you over the past year? Love you hear from you all. Best wishes in 2021.
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Mon Dec 28, 2020 5:25 pm
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The Looming Disaster of Current School Re-Opening Plans and Finding Better Ways Forward

Oliver Kiley
United States
Ann Arbor
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Microbadge: The multiverse!  Fan of theoretical physics I don't understandMicrobadge: Hyperion fan - The Shrike is My Hero!Microbadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGGMicrobadge: HumanistMicrobadge: Ask The Next Question
I need to get this off my chest. Last month Michigan announced it’s approach for re-opening public schools amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan, which I’ll get into in a moment, doesn’t even pass the sniff test as an effective approach to either instruction or safety. And it’s all going to fall apart the second an outbreak occurs anyway, putting the school building or district into a paralyzing rhythm of successive opening and closing. The plan does little to actually minimize the potential vectors and points of contact.

In short, the plan is tantamount to burying our heads in the sand and hoping the storm will blow over. My spouse is a high school teacher and I have two kids in elementary school. I’m terrified.

Moreover, the plan fails to seize the moment and opportunity to at least try something different. To at least try to build an approach that addresses equity while maximizing protections for people. To at least try alternate curriculums and different modes of instruction in concert with a different structure to schooling, when it’s apparent the old model will likely be inoperable anyway. The plan doesn’t try anything inventive.

So, this article will lay out three thing. #1 - What Michigan’s “plan” currently is. #2 - Why Michigan’s plan, and others like it being adopted across the country is horrendously flawed, and #3 - What we should do instead. I’m not an expert on these matters, but I’m trying to think through this all in a practical and pragmatic way based on public knowledge of how the virus spreads and what we can do to stay safe.

#1 - Michigan’s "Plan"

Here’s an article from the Detroit Free Press that provides an overview of the school reopening plan.

(1) Staff and teachers would have to wear face masks at all times.

(2) All students would have to wear face masks in hallways and common areas and on buses.

(3) Every student would have to use hand sanitizer before getting on the bus.

(4) Students in grade 6 through 12 would have to wear face masks at all times; younger students wouldn't have to wear face masks in classrooms.

(5) It would be recommended that desks be placed 6 feet apart and students and teachers social distance, even in the classroom.

(6) Schools would have to work with local health departments on screening protocols.

(7) No indoor assemblies with students from more than one classroom would be allowed.

(8) It would be recommended that most meals be served in the classroom or outdoors. It would be recommended that meal times would be staggered to allow social distancing in the cafeteria if it was being used.

(9) Athletics would have to follow the MHSAA guidance and rules. Spectators would be allowed if they are wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing.

Pretty incredible plan really. I’m glad that it’s taken FOUR MONTHS to come with this. Sarcasm intended.

Individual school districts are tasked with developing their own specifics within the above guidelines. My school district hasn’t put forth anything to date, with school starting in less than two months its pretty worrying. How can families, let alone teachers, prepare for anything with such a void in what lies ahead? But those concerns aside, the above plan... it’s a terrible plan in my opinion.

#2 - Here is why the plan is flawed and what it fails to acknowledge

It fails to acknowledge that schools - most notably 6-12, would presumably still have conventional class schedules with hall changes and teachers instructing multiple classes per day. My wife, as most other middle or high school teachers do, sees 150+ students a day. Nothing in this plan is geared to minimize the number of contact points. It’s basically business as usual with face masks, and maybe not even that. It’s ridiculous.

It fails to acknowledge that face masks are most effective when EVERYONE is wearing one at all times indoors or in crowded public spaces. If the past months have shown anything, it’s that an awful lot of people refuse to wear masks. If only having some people wearing masks is all we get, it’s a pointless gesture as the health of teachers and students is not really protected at all.. It also fails to acknowledge that wearing masks and trying to talk to a large audience is a challenge. It also fails to acknowledge that most school buildings in this state are OLD and have terrible ventilation and HVAC systems, which diminishes the effectiveness of both masks and physical distancing while indoors anyways.

It fails to acknowledge that “large groups of students” is most routinely experienced in schools not during assemblies (which are easy to avoid) but during passing times. My old high school, which is mere blocks away from me, had 12-foot wide hallways that were a CRUSH of students squeezing through shoulder-to-shoulder each class change. It’s a nice gesture to not have assemblies or large gatherings, but it’s a moot point if your entire school population is crammed into a hallway 6-7 times a day. Circulation plans are only going to go so far. You’re still going to have hundreds of students brushing past each other, sharing different rooms, and getting exposed.

It fails to acknowledge that classrooms are routinely over capacity. My wife has 30-36 kids in her science classroom. She planned out how to accommodate 6-foot physical distancing and her room could accommodate eight kids. EIGHT! Let’s be realistic here: this plan can’t accommodate physical distancing in any way. It is in direct contrast to CDC and global guidance.

It fails to acknowledge that sports are an unnecessary luxury during a global pandemic. Yes, staying active and healthy is important for everyone. And alternative sport programs could be deployed based on personal fitness approaches that don’t bring athletes and spectators into close contact. That sports are even being entertained is laughable.

It fails to acknowledge that, given all of the above, school closings are an inevitability. And the oscillation between in-person versus on-line learning runs counter to establishing any sort of consistency in instruction method and places tremendous burden on teachers to cobble together meaningful instruction in the 11th hour. No one benefits from this. And it still doesn’t address the lingering concerns about access to necessary technology in the first place for less privileged people.

It fails to acknowledge social inequities in our society and in finding ways to be more thoughtful, nuanced, and deliberate about an approach that leverages the means of those with privilege to make space and a safer environment for those without. Particularly for the most vulnerable people or those with high-risk family members. As with so much of our policy at large, disadvantaged communities will be hit harder by this “plan” than more fortunate ones.

All of the above underscores the incredible crumbling failure of our system. Of our physical school buildings and administrative and funding systems. Of our leadership. It underscores that our education system, especially under national calls for “getting the country back to work” is viewed as a child care service for a lot of people. The approach above isn’t about effective instruction. And it isn’t even about keeping kids and teachers safe.

This plan is about pushing kids back into school buildings so people can “get back to work.” Except of course, that it doesn’t even do that well, because in all likelihood schools will be shut down periodically anyway putting everyone back to where we were in March 2020 when this all started. It’s a farce. It’s total chaos. And we’re deluding ourselves if we think otherwise.

#3 A different way forward: A equity-based reopening strategy

I’ve done a modest amount of unqualified brainstorming about how school reopening and instruction could be addressed. A lot of it comes down to logistics. I’ll get into the specifics of my ideas in a moment, but it is first important to establish clear goals for the program:

(A) Minimize exposure and points of contact for students and teachers to keep as many people healthy and safe as possible;

(B) Be proactive about deploying curriculum and instruction that will actually be effective across a broad range of learning conditions;

(C) Integrate equity considerations head-on, recognizing that different people have different needs, means, risks, and privileges.

Let’s talk about the specific components that I envision, and which can be used in tandem to meet these goals.

COMPONENT #1: Re-Tool Instruction Methods and Pedagogy
First of all, let’s just acknowledge that the traditional delivery of instruction, especially for grades 6-12, is just not going to work in a consistent and reliable way in the face of successive closures and reopenings.

Rather than trying to do multiple half-measures, we should go all in on virtual instruction paired with more project based and/or self-directed study plans. Building instruction consistently around one set of methods will provide a backbone to delivering instruction that works regardless of whether students and teachers are meeting in person or remotely. It’s one set of instructions, it’s predictable for people, it can be relied on as circumstances change.

Along with this, there needs to be a retooling and adjustment to the curriculum itself for next year. Given that students, staff, and teachers can be knocked out of commission should they get sick with COVID-19, curriculum should be simplified and streamlined with a focus on team-teaching so that multiple teachers can pool their energies and co-teach a smaller selection of courses. This builds in redundancy among the teachers and makes the instructional delivery more resilient.

Furthermore, there is a lot of pedagogical evidence that more project-based and self-directed learning can be more effective for building good critical thinking skills anyway - so why not tap best practice at the same time? The co-teaching aspect is also important in order to free up teacher time for teachers to reach out to students individually who need more support one-on-one. Something that is also in traditional approaches.

COMPONENT #2: Enable remote learning for all students
This moment is an opportunity to address massive social inequality around access to the internet and technology. The reality is that while many people have a home computer and internet access, a large number of people do not. Federal, state, and local resources need to be directed towards equipping all students WHO NEED IT with IT technology to learn remotely.

I say “WHO NEED IT” above because the reality is that many students have access to their own computers or laptops and a good internet connection. This is time to recognize as a community and as a nation that many people are privileged to have access to such systems, but others do not have that access. Given limited public resources, these funds must be directed first towards providing capability for the least advantaged people. This strategy is really a no brainer.

COMPONENT #3: Individualized Participation Plan
There are a number of facets of this strategy, but this is the crux of my entire strategy. Basically it boils down to this: Recognize that different families have different levels of risk and concern with sending their kids back to school AND that different families have different means and capabilities for keeping their kids home versus needing to send them to school. We need to come to grips with this reality and take advantage of the flexibility it affords.

Moreover, we can’t lose sight of the fact that some students have high-risk family members that could easily die from COVID-19 if they are exposed. A good plan needs to provide flexibility for accommodating these families. Doing otherwise is grossly irresponsible at best.

The intent of this strategy is thus: to maximize the number of students who are able learn and participate remotely at all times, and thus minimize the number of students that actually need to be in a school building on a regular basis.

If the prior strategies are implemented (virtual / remote learning and internet enabling all students), then it doesn’t matter if you are learning from home or learning from the school building. Students will be attending all of their classes virtually anyway (more on that in moment) and receiving the same instruction. The difference is giving flexibility for where students are learning from to keep people safe.

How does this work in practical terms? The objective would be to get at least 50% (ideally more and as much as possible) of school students set up to learn from home full time.

Step 1. Identify all the students that can learn from home. This might be older high school students that can stay home on their own (sorry helicopter parents - but it’s time to entrust responsibility on your kids), families where another family member, parent, or guardian can stay at home or work from home in order to keep an eye on their kids, or where families can arrange for a in-home care person/sitters/au pair/grandparents, etc.. The last point can be an opportunity to hire people struggling with under- or unemployment, and would make a great federal stimulus program if paired with child care and educational-related degrees.

To maximize this, we need a national (or at least State and local) call to implore families to do what they can to keep their kids safe at home and able to learn. It will take some arm twisting on some people, but again state or federal stimulus programs can help. Free internet and a computer could be a good enticement.

Step 2. Restructure the school environment for safety for the students that must be in the building. The focus is minimizing points of exposure and contact. As such, all students attending in-person would be organized and housed within a single “home room.” More specifically, home rooms would be organized and structured not based on class or grade, but based on bussing. Kids that must attend in-person and must-ride the bus, would all be grouped into a cohort and share the same bus and room, and thus minimize exposure.

This could potentially mean that middle school and high school students are co-mingled. But you know what? There is good pedagogical evidence and benefit for mixed-age interaction as well. More best practice opportunity.

Inside the home room, students would be individually attending their classes virtually - and thus getting the same instruction as kids that are staying home. Ideally, rooms would be at less than 50% capacity. Other spaces in school buildings should be converted to “home rooms” (gyms, cafeterias, etc.) as well to diffuse the number of students per room. Some modicum of physical distancing could be achieved, which coupled with mask wearing for everyone can minimize risk.

Each home room would then be assigned a single teacher and/or home room monitor (again another employment opportunity) for the year that would monitor the room and provide some IT support for students. In-building teachers at the middle and high-school level would have the added challenge of needing to juggle their own virtual instruction during portions of the day.

For elementary schools, the situation is a bit simpler since the primary teacher would be the full-time instructor for their class, and could provide instruction simultaneously to in-school students and those "remoting" in from home. Elementary classes should again be re-structured around busing to the extent possible to minimize degrees of contact.

Potentially, home rooms could have a secondary person assigned (with a greater level of PPE) that could watch the room when the primary home room teacher has to step out or leave the room. These secondaries would ideally be pulled from teaching staff that teach non-core curriculum (art teachers, music teachers, etc.). This would maintain employment and also be an opportunity to share that “special” with the home room kids in order to break up what will be a difficult time confined to a single room.

Students that need lunches would have room delivery. There would be no passing time in the buildings since students attend all classes virtually from their home room anyway Bathrooms would require routine clearing throughout the day with strict mask wearing and sanitizing. Full-time cleaners / monitors could be another short-term employment opportunity. Kids arriving by bus would get in line with kids walking or being dropped off that they share a home room with, and would enter/exit the building in an organized manner. Everyone in the room would (all ages!) would have 1-2 recess breaks to get outside for relaxing, exercise, etc. Physical Ed could be accommodated a few times a week in this manner.

Putting it all together

The above strategies, working in tandem, make sense to me and follow the general guidance from CDC. Minimizing points of contact is the #1 thing. The above approach would mean teachers aren’t seeing 100’s of students a day, which not only puts the teacher at risk but also all of those students. Instead, they’d maybe only see 10-15 and that would be it.

If a home room gets a confirmed case of COVID-19, potentially only that one home room would shift to being at home (instead of the entire school building). But even sending just the home room back may not even be necessary if home rooms are sufficiently isolated from each other. If so, this would be a great benefit in terms of predictability and supporting people going back to work and maintaining continuity of learning at the same time.

While the above plan is onerous and challenging - it is also an opportunity to test out and experiment with different pedagogies and best practices, while keeping everyone as healthy and safe as possible.

But as with most of the grim reality we all struggle to wade through right now - the barriers to implementing a better plan are political. It’s hard to get people on board with something like I’ve proposed when large swaths of the nation refuse to wear a mask, let alone acknowledge the severity and impact of the virus. It’s hard to get people to come together and work on a common cause, and perhaps even give up a little of their privilege, when our leadership is hell bent on pitching those with more privilege against those with less.

I don’t know what’s going to ultimately happen with my local school district. But I worry about the safety of my wife and my kids. To be frank, going back to school with the current “plan” is quite literally the least safe and highest risk environment I can imagine. In what other sectors of society do you have 1000’s of people packed into crowded rooms, many of which are kids without the proper equipment or discipline to wear masks, sitting in buildings with outdated HVAC, and all talking to each other? It’s a perfect storm.

The pain and the frustration I feel is that there are clearly better ways of handling this. And I’m sure people far more informed and knowledgeable than me have even better ideas. But a better solution is going to take leadership and a willingness to pull the many strings of society together and towards a common goal. And that’s one thing that is sorely lacking right now.
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Thu Jul 9, 2020 5:53 pm
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Warning, Chaotic Thought Storms Ahead: Wingspan, Awards, and Preference Reflections

Oliver Kiley
United States
Ann Arbor
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Microbadge: The multiverse!  Fan of theoretical physics I don't understandMicrobadge: Hyperion fan - The Shrike is My Hero!Microbadge: My Favorite Contribution to BGGMicrobadge: HumanistMicrobadge: Ask The Next Question
From gallery of Mezmorki

This post is going to be a bit of an outpouring of thoughts, stream of consciousness style.

This fall will mark 10-years that I’ve been part of the BGG community. But of course my gaming life - both video and tabletop - has gone on much longer than that (since the mid 80’s when I was a young lad). More significantly, this fall will mark 9 years since I started this blog. It’s remarkable because this has been one of the few constants in my “hobby” life. Games come and go, gaming groups come and go, … but this blog is always here. Even if I take long lapses in posting, I know that it’s quickly available when inspiration strikes!

My time on BGG has marked an era of sorts for me and my gaming however. Both the depth of conversation here with many of you all, the collectively hemming and hawing we all do over the games and ratings … and all of it … adds a certain formality to engaging in the hobby. The conversations have helped crystalize my own thinking more, and much of the critical analysis that I’ve seen has in turn inspired my own writings, my gaming preferences, and - more tangibly - my game design work.

Golden Geeks and Wingspans

I’ve been thinking more about my gaming preferences recently - in no small part due to the golden geek winners and the fury of conversation about the award process and how the awards do (or perhaps don’t) intersect with the trove of other data and information generated by BGG each and every day. While I don’t put much personal stock in the value of the Golden Geeks (they are a popularity contest which is decidedly anti-geek, right?), they and other awards nonetheless hold a mirror up to the community and let us reflect.

So reflect I shall! First of all, let’s talk about Wingspan. Wingspan is NOT my usual style of game. It’s a tableau engine-builder, with pretty minimal and indirect interaction. I like games in shared-spaces focused on spatial intersections with a high degree of contentious interaction and table-talking. But… my wife had a chance to play Wingspan with a co-worker and was super enthused about the game. What choice did I have? With xmas around the corner it seemed to be my destiny.

I’ve played probably 200 games of Wingspan since December 2019, almost all of it 2-player with my wife. While not my type of game, I’ve come to greatly appreciate the design and gameplay. Obviously it’s wonderful from an aesthetic standpoint - and I love that the theme is about something tangible and real world related (and not related to wars or political conflicts). One could use the game as a means of building their bird knowledge based on image recognition along. It’s great in that respect.

I don’t have a chance to play many games 100+ times, let alone 200+. What’s remarkable is that with a competent opponent almost any game can display a surprising amount of depth - especially when played in 2-player, head-to-head games. Wingpan has become more interesting as time goes on and our experience.grows. And perhaps most significantly, playing it in 2-player mode means that what minimal level of interaction there is, on the surface, becomes significantly magnified when playing hard to win.

There ARE mind games to play and calculated risks to make based on reading your opponent. Seeing a valuable set of resources in the bird feeder or cards in the display, and weighing whether to take them now versus first optimizing your board actions - at the risk of your opponent taking the goods instead! - is frequently a tough call that requires reading into your opponent. Likewise, with only 2-players, the fight over the end of round bonuses can be exacting, pitting players against each other in a tense race. Weave in card powers that leech off your opponent’s actions and’s not really so different from Race for the Galaxy now is it? Which is, of course, another engine and tableau building game with indirect interaction whose depth profoundly opens up the more you play.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Wingspan’s weakest link lies in playing with more than 2-players. Each additional player either multiplies the game length or erodes the value of interaction and paying attention to your opponent by a comparable amount. This is a game that shines when played in 30-40 minutes. This is easy to achieve with 2-players but nearly impossible with more.

All this is to say that it’s no surprise to me that Wingspan is as successful as it has been. It fires on a number of cylinders. It has a unique aesthetic hook, an approachable theme (especially for people tired of the usual thematic tropes), and the gameplay deepens the more you play it.

Now, when it comes to the BGG Golden Geek awards, the debacle of Wingspan winning half of the categories - even seemingly contradictory ones - highlights two things: #1: The Golden Geeks are fundamentally a popularity contents, and #2: as far as organizing a popularity contest goes BGG fairled to uphold its namesake and inject some much needed geekiness into the process. It underscores how little care and value BGG admins seem to place on the trove of data and information in their very own database and in turn their resistance to using (and over time improving) the quality of that data for the community’s benefit.

This recent post looked back at 2017 game releases and used the BGG database to automatically determine the best games across a number of categories that can easily be drilled down using the data. Good or bad, the old sub-domain categories still exist and BGG users can vote on them - and there is an objective number of votes that determine what categories a game falls in. If a game is listed for multiple domains, looking at the numbers usually shows a clear lean towards one of the categories. Combine the domains with the weight ranges and other descriptors and we could auto generate a great set of nominees to then vote on.

But like the fading effort to rework the BGG database that was generating buzz last year, BGG admin seems thoroughly disinterested in making substantive improvements to the database and/or utilizing it in more inventive ways. For us data geeks, there are so many potential ways to use the data - and why not use the data generated itself to tell the story of BGG’s rising stars over the course of the year. Maybe, just maybe, we don’t even “need” an awards process - because we’ve all been involved in the “voting process” all year long through logging plays and rating games. This would be not only a more effective approach, but also a more genuine one that respects the contributions everyone makes to this site every day.

Preferences & The Pinwheel of Joy

All this talk of gaming preferences has me returning back frequently to something I’ve grown fond of using as a lens for evaluating games, understanding my preferences, and even as a design aid. Below (and BEHOLD!) is the Pinwheel of Joy. The basic idea of this was derived from the vastly more complicated looking Genomic Framework for game analysis, which was a magnum ops of sorts in my theorizing over games. The Pinwheel of Joy is a simplification of that framework, but captures the same basic idea. Players, rules, theme, and components come together to determine narrative, challenge, simulation, and immersion - which are the cornerstones of the total experience.

From gallery of Mezmorki

When I find myself asking the most basic of gaming questions - is game X fun? - the pinwheel of joy becomes a reference point. I can zero in to try and understand whether the pleasure I’m getting (or not getting) is based on whether the game delivers a deep challenge, or a compelling narrative, or gripping immersion, or provides a coherent simulation. This approach works in both directions if you will. I can use the pinwheel to understand what I hope to feel and experience from a given game, and then use it to evaluate the game and determine whether my expectations are satisfied or not. Thus, it lets me be more honest and effective in my critique.

The topic of preferences came to light in the follow up to my article about boardgames being better strategy games. While BGG showed general agreement with the gist of the article, on the other side of the fence (i.e. from the 4X video game perspective) the reactions were more varied with many in hearty disagreement. A few particular insightful replies remarked that for most 4X game players - as is likely the case for most videogame players overall - the importance of “challenge” in my pinwheel is likely lower than it is for most boardgamers.

People play video games oftentimes to “be entertained” in a more passive sense, even when playing heavier strategy games (like 4X games). In this case, the immersion and aesthetic experience, feeling like you are part of a narrative, etc, are more important than providing a hard challenge with tough consequential choices. Some games do the latter well, but most don’t place that as the first priority. Hence, this may explain why we see lackluster AI’s despite their being the capability for much stronger ones. The added challenge stronger AI’s would add to the game isn’t really demanded - and in fact may undermine the chill, relaxing tone the game is aiming for in the first place!

All of this resulted in an interesting set of observations about the differences between boardgamer attitudes and 4X gamer attitudes - and in turn might explain why developers are designing 4X videogames they way they are. Unfortunately for me, as someone who places challenge as the number one priority in what I desire from a 4X game, my experiences with most 4X games are lackluster - they just don’t end in a satisfying way like other proper “strategy games” do. But I’ve lamented and argued about this enough before so will spare you all from another rehashing.

It's BGG "Charts" ... not a best game list

On the continued topic of preferences, I wanted to share a thought I had about the BGG ratings. I’ve found it far better to view them not as a listing of the “best” games (with respect to BGG users), but rather as a slow-moving version of music charts (e.g. billboard top 40 and others). As such, they are a reflection of what is popular, liked, and/or highly rated “right now.”

The above point is something I’ve been trying to share and push, especially when talking to new players. It’s easy, I imagine, when starting out on the hobby to look at the rankings and think “these are the best to worst games” and not stop to ask the question about what your actual preferences are. The BGG ratings trend towards heavier and/or bigger games, and BGG overall tends more towards euro-y games, which may or may not align well with the average budding gamer wandering into the BGG ecosystem.


In winding down, I want to go back to where this post started. Despite my grievances about BGG (and most of these are in the form of missed opportunities rather than acute “problems”), at the end of the day this is a pretty amazing community filled with wonderful and insightful people. The relationships I’ve built here have lasted, and if there is one place on the internet that feels like “home” - it’s here. Thank you all for listening. More to come!
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Mon Jun 1, 2020 2:16 pm
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Springtime Status Report: Games, Behaviors, and Pandemics

Oliver Kiley
United States
Ann Arbor
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From gallery of Mezmorki

First of all, if you are reading this, I hope that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. These are crazy times for a number of reasons, and many people are struggling mightily to thrive under the current global situation. It’s hard to talk about gaming and other non-essential items during such times.

But then again, talk of gaming or pleasurable pursuits is a spark of positivity and a shared passion that many of us can connect around and find joy within. So perhaps it’s okay. For my own part, I’m fortunate that both my wife and I are able to continue our employment in relative security - staying home and staying safe. Staying sane is another matter!

Changing Normals

Nevertheless, I wanted to share that professionally I work in the design and planning field, specifically around street design, transportation infrastructure, and mobility planning. We continue to work (remotely!) with municipalities across the country, and it’s been insightful to see the range of challenges that people, communities, leaders, businesses, and others are grappling with right now, as well as the creative inventive ideas they have in mind to respond.

Regardless of your personal experience, the pandemic is a massive disruptor, and behavior patterns have already changed significantly across the country. There won’t be a “return to normal” for a very long time, and the new normal that emerges may very well look significantly different from what it looked like prior to the pandemic.

Through all of this, I try to find silver linings in these changing behaviors.

My family always embarked on evening walks through the neighborhood, and we’d at most pass one or two other people. Now, my neighborhood is abuzz with activity. There are more people walking with their kids, biking, and hanging out in front yards than I have ever seen. I went to a large nature preserve the other weekend. In prior visits we’d maybe see four or five other cars. Last weekend there were about 90 cars in the parking lot with tons of people out enjoying nature (and for the most part maintaining a respectable physical distance).

The frantic pace of life has slowed down, with the torrent of afterschool activities and obligations that once kept us busy screeching to a halt. We, like so many others I observe, are finding more time to spend outdoors and reconnecting with nature and immediate families. People are rediscovering creative pursuits in the interest of keeping themselves busy. These are silver linings and shifts in behavior that I hope becomes a part of whatever “normal” comes next.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Remote Boardgaming

Another silver lining that hits closer to this blog relates, of course, to gaming. At the heart of it is the realization that I can (and have) connected to my long-time friends (who are also my main gaming buddies) more frequently now than I have in many years. Granted, we aren’t meeting in person, but we’ve embraced technologies as a way to connect. And we’re seeing each other’s faces, even if through a screen, more frequently and casually than ever. Whether it’s having a virtual happy hour after the work day, or opening up Discord to have an open video connection to each other while playing a video game, we are, in a strange way, connecting even more.

When it comes to boardgames, the past few years have posed a challenge for my circle of friends. As more life responsibilities pile up, finding the time to meet up and play games gets harder and harder. But in seeking out the need for connection, and in using technology more nimbly, we’ve realized that we are all closer and more easily connected than we thought.

This week we all got our copies of Tabletop Simulator dusted off and tried it out for the first time, despite having it tucked away in our Steam libraries for years. Why weren’t we using this earlier?! We’ve played about 15 games of The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine (which I also bought in meat-space), knocked out a game of Blue Lagoon, and dabbled around with a handful of other games we’ve been wanting to play more of: Root, The Expanse, Study in Emerald. All in just a week. Heck, we even launched the Cosmic Frog mod and marveled at that game as the evening wound down.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Granted, Tabletop Simulator (TTS) is a little clunky and rough looking (the UI is pretty ugly I have to admit), but it does work surprisingly well provided the specific virtual game mod is put together throughtfully. For those on the fence or curious, TTS is definitely worth a try as a way to get your boardgaming fix - but perhaps more importantly as a venue for connecting to other people in your life through games. You’ll want to make sure that you use Steam’s built-in voice-communication (or another platform of your choice to share voice and video) while playing. Overall, it’s been a blast and we’re looking to use TTS much more.

At home, we’ve been carving out more time for gaming as a whole family or one-on-one. I dragged HeroQuest off the shelf and started up a campaign with my two daughters (ages six and nine). They are having a good time with it. I’ve played probably 30 games of Wingspan over the last month with my wife (she’s an ornithology fan and teaches ecology and other sciences). We have quite a healthy rivalry going on. Plenty of other games have been put through the ringer as well.

PnP and Game Design

I’ve also found myself with more time to devote to game design projects once again. In a fortuitous twist, needing to work (and teach our kids) from home prompted us to finally buy a printer. Of course I found an affordable color laser printer right as the pandemic was striking. It’s been awesome for working on game prototypes and also printing out PnP materials (I mean, printing out school assignments and work reports!). I continue to work on Emissary, and now that I’m familiar with Tabletop Simulator, I plan to make an Emissary mod to facilitate more player-to-player testing with my group.

I’ve also reccussicated a number of other game design projects. I had been working on a cooperative story-telling adventure game that I’m quite excited about, but was struggling to find time to work on. I’ve made good progress over the past month and have even solicited my children’s help in idea generation and artwork! It’s quite charming. Nothing is quite playable yet but I do want to write up a post talking about it more soon. I think it’s has some legs.

I also dug out my prototype stuff for a Chronicles of Amber-themed card game I was working on, which is in a playable state. It’s a fairly simple game using an expanded deck of traditional rank and suit cards, but has some fun and clever ideas. I’m excited to try and whip that into better shape, and it’s also a candidate for a TTS mod so I can move into the testing phase more easily. Right now, the prototype is playable using the Badger Deck, which is an awesome designer resource unto itself.

From gallery of Mezmorki

On the print-and-play front, I've put the new printer through its paces and build a rather nice (if I do say so myself) prototype copy of Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile. I've played two games solo so far, and am also looking to dive into on TTS with my buddies. It's a rather fascinating (if still heavily evolving) design. I'll have to talk more extensively on that in the future too.

Road Ahead

That’s it for now! I have a growing pile of articles to write-up - reflections on games, recommendation lists, game designs, and more. Hopefully I can work in a schedule of more frequent posting. Writing is therapeutic for me. Hopefully reading this drivel is therapeutic for you! If nothing else, it’s way to stay connected to a community of fellow human beings.

We’re all in it together.
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Wed Apr 22, 2020 9:15 pm
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The Curious Case of 4X Games, Efficiency Engines, and Missing Strategic Gambits

Oliver Kiley
United States
Ann Arbor
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I've long been a fan of the 4X genre, while also being frequently critical of it and its many floundering conventions. Despite the renaissance and watershed of renewed interest in the genre, there is a worrying lack of design advancement in my estimation. A recent reddit post and ensuing discussion on r/4xgaming encapsulated nearly all my frustrations with the 4X videogame genre in a single question:
Do you know of any [4X] games that will let you fight back after being beaten down, or have the AI be able to come back after you start to gain an advantage over them?
This seems like such an obvious question to ask, and yet it’s one that apparently few, if any, 4X developers have seriously raised, let alone crafted gameplay mechanisms to answer. What’s fascinating about this question is that, while seemingly simple, it nevertheless strikes at two critical points: (#1) the core of what 4X games are; and (#2) the perennial frustrations players have with unsatisfying late game gameplay.

From gallery of Mezmorki

(#1) 4X games are efficiency engine games

What struck me in reading the comments relative to point #1 is that I think my waning interest in traditional 4X games is tied to the realization that these are largely in the same gameplay genre as efficiency engine styled euro games (of which I’m not usually a fan), despite the overt combat-heavy nature of the genre. This quote, in response to the question above, hits it perfectly:
I don't think it is generally possible in 4X [games]. The genre is about ramping up production. Once you have a production advantage over someone, they're gonna die.
A production advantage. The early stages of 4X games are always about exploring, and that exploration is always about finding the best opportunities to grow your short and long-term production. Production itself fuels everything else in your empire: development of cities/planets, construction of military units, building research facilities. Heck, most 4X games provide tools or technologies that let you convert production directly into other outputs (research, culture, political influence, etc.). It a fairly standard feature.

Like many euro-style board games that fall into the “efficiency engine” style of game (i.e. most worker placement, resource conversion, tableau-building style games), 4X games are about building a production engine in the most efficient way possible. Once you have a stronger and more efficient engine than your competitors, it’s easy to “snowball” your way to victory. Or more aptly, to “steamroll” your way to victory, as once you conquer one enemy, with their assets under your control you are even more powerful with an even greater production advantage over the remaining players.

To compound the problem, victory conditions are almost always a function of production outputs. Whether it’s an economic victory threshold, or research target, or outright conquest, in all of these cases having more production ties directly into making more progress towards victory. 4X games handle these even worse than euro board games, the latter of which usually provides some decision inflection point where you go from building the engine to instead generating victory points. 4X games usually don’t even provide that.

(#2) The late-game problem

All of this ties into point #2, which is that by the mid-game you usually know if you have a significant production advantage over your competitors, and if so, victory is inevitable.

The reddit post’s question drew a comparison to Magic the Gathering as a brilliant counter example. In Magic the goal is to drain your opponent's life total from 20 to 0. However, being lower in life isn’t a clear indication that you are in a worse position, and players with much lower life than their opponent can routinely stitch together a combination of clever strategic or tactical plays to defeat their opponent. In fact, many decks and playstyles hinge on this exact reversal or “back and forth.”

Sadly, I’m pressed to think of any 4X games where the above “reversals” or clever strategic strategic gambits are a core and frequently experienced part of the gameplay. If it were, I think it would dramatically reshape the late game experience. No longer would having a production engine advantage mean your position was secure and victory inevitable. If you’re opponent was positioning themselves to unleash the civilization equivalent to a Drain Life spell on your empire, turning your strength to their advantage, imagine the surprise and excitement that would result? Is such a thing possible?

What's even worse, is that the one layer of interaction in 4X games, military combat, is often poorly executed with minimal depth or interest at the strategic scale. Tactical level combat, if included at all, is most often determined before the fight based on what each side brings to the table. 4X video games struggle mightily compared to many area control or dudes on a map style board games, where aspects of strategic position and maneuver frequently offer up opportunities for tactical rebounds, reversals, or other strategic gambits.

The Solution lies with a different formula

Building a 4X game that encourages such reversals and back and forth gameplay would require a totally different approach to the victory structure of 4X games (i.e. decoupling victory from the production engine mechanics). Perhaps, it requires restructuring the very nature of 4X games in their entirety. That said, a few avenues of design innovation come to mind.

First, 4X games are usually designed as if they are competitive Player vs. Player (PvP) games, with empires starting out on roughly equal footing and progressing competitively from there. Of course, in practice, most 4X games are played in a single-player manner and the AI usually just can’t keep up or provide a challenge for experienced players. Imagine designing a “competitive” first person shooter game (i.e. deathmatch or team-style game), except you could only ever play against AI Bots that played by the same rules as the human. It would be a miserable failure.

Perhaps, 4X games should try focusing instead on Player vs. Enemy/Environment (PvE) with victory conditions and goals related to overcoming PvE obstacles (like in AI War or Thea: The Awakening). You can still have other players/empires you are competing against (or cooperating with), but the pressure for having a top-notch AI that competes directly with the player is off. Instead, design energy can put into creating global hostility/opposition/enemies that function asymmetrically and can be stacked with whatever bonuses or gameplay advantages to make overcoming it an interesting challenge for players.

Second, and related to the above, is that victory conditions should be decoupled as much as possible from the production engine. The most straightforward way of doing this is by requiring production to be diverted away from things that also benefit the engine itself and instead towards victory steps/goals exclusively. Investment in the victory goals should confer no advantages back to the production engine. It should be decoupled from it. There is ample room for quests or event chains, with no reward other than progress towards victory, to provide a vehicle for this. An ancillary benefit is that such an approach would allow the game’s lore and narrative to be tied to novel victory conditions, instead of relying on the same old victory tropes.

Third, there needs to be more avenues for significant interaction in 4X games. 4X games are primarily one-dimensional games, which is the relationship between board/map position and production. Better map position confers greater production advantages, whether through controlling juicier locations or amassing a larger territory. While 4X games often have systems for foreign trade, or diplomatic exchange, or espionage - these are, almost without exception, playing around the margin of or in direct service to the production gameplay dimension.

As an example of the second and third point using an unorthodox approach, consider King of Dragon Pass, a narrative-heavy strategy game. The brilliance of this game is that there are tons of interactions with rival clans. Often these interactions aren’t about getting production related benefits, but instead learning bits of lore or gaining political support that feeds into the rituals your clan needs to perform in order to become the titular King of Dragon Pass. It’s brilliant, and unites the lore and victory conditions expertly. I’ve yet to see a proper 4X game tackle anything remotely close to this.

More broadly, I think 4X games could make non-combat related interactions far more transformative in their possible impacts and rely on different foundations than the production engine economy. For example, plenty of 4X games have espionage and/or espionage focused empires, and yet rarely is it more than an annoyance to deal with (and is often uninspiring and repetitive to utilize yourself). But what if, like in the Magic the Gathering example, while lagging in your board position (i.e. “low health”) you were secretly building up a clandestine operation that would snatch away a huge chunk of your opponent’s empire or turn their own citizens against them in a highly impactful way. There is tremendous opportunity here, but it’s rarely realized.


Lately, I’ve really scaled back by my interest in 4X games, to the point that any traditional 4X game is a non-starter for me right now. In the same way that I maintain a general distancing from efficiency engine euro games, I think 4X games have slid into the same category. When I try out a new game and am met with the with the same exploration imperative coupled with the same production-derived victory conditions, I’m just not particularly interested. The game might have amazing lore and visuals (ala Endless Space 2), but if it’s not connected to victory in a novel way that fundamentally changes the structure of the game, it’s still the same old snowball/steamroller experience leading to an anti-climactic ending.

I’m at a loss for why more developers aren’t challenging the 4X formula and trying to do something different. So many other genres of strategy games, whether physical board games, tactical RPGs, tactical roguelikes, wargames, and more are fertile grounds for innovation with plenty of creative and inspiring designs. Yet 4X seems stuck in the same rut it has been since the dawn of Civilization (pun fully intended). Cheers.
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Mon Jan 20, 2020 4:41 pm
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A nearly-random perusal of Essen's "GeekBuzz" and what caught my fancy

Oliver Kiley
United States
Ann Arbor
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So I was reading the news and stumbled upon a Geek Buzz List related to Essen (which recently ended). Wanting (of course) to stay on top of what all the cool kids are doing, I took it upon myself to breeze through the top 50 or so the most buzzy of the titles to see what stood out to me, given my proclivities.

Really, this was a thinly veiled experiment in confirmation bias.

Here's what I did. For each title, starting at the top of the list, I opened up the BGG game page and spent roughly 10-seconds skimming the summary description. From there, I took a flip through the images (another 30-45 seconds). If the game seemed remotely of interest, I then checked to see if any of my vast, well-gamed, and profoundly insightful geek buddies had anything more to say on the game in question.

To get a few of my biases out of the way, I found myself disregarding, almost immediately, games that did some or all of the following: self described as an engine builder, references resource conversion, calls itself a eurogame, has more table space devoted to personal play areas/mats than a central/shared space, uninspiring visuals. Am I biased? Yes, I am. But frankly there are so many freaking games out there already (and even more frankly I have more than enough on my shelf as it is) that it takes a lot to make a game capture my interest without a more reliable geek buddy recommendation.

So then, what stood out? I have a list of only six games out of the top 60 or so. Order based on their "buzz-level" and not my ranking.

Last Bastion (#15)

A re-implementation of Ghost Stories, which I never played and know little about other than it's cooperative. Anyway, the artwork stood out, and cooperative nature and overall complexity is something that might be fun with my kids and nephews. It's an Antoine Bauza design, for what that's worth (neutral on that). Could be a fun one to try out. (No U.S. release yet?)

Board Game: Last Bastion

Board Game: Last Bastion

Fast Sloths (#20)

Friedemann Friese is a designer I think I enjoy more in concept than in practice. I do like Friday. I tried for 3-years to foist the Fabled Fruit on my friend and family and no one wanted to take a bite, so I traded it away. That said, I enjoy racing games of this sort, and the interplay between cards and crafting and spatial movement in a shared board-space sounds pretty cool. Would totally be a game I'd want to try with the kids. Limited appeal beyond that. My kids like sloths. So there's that. (No U.S. release yet?)

Board Game: Fast Sloths

Board Game: Fast Sloths

Ishtar: Gardens of Babylon (#24)

Bruno Cathala is a reliable designer for me. Jamaica, Cyclades, Kingdomino, Mission: Red Planet, Game of Thrones: Hand of the King are all personal favorites. Ishtar looks vaguely engine-buildy but it appears to all be happening on a shared board space? The component's look awesome and I really like IELLO's production. Always seems to look great and come in at a reasonable price. (Released in U.S, ~$45)

Board Game: Ishtar: Gardens of Babylon

Board Game: Ishtar: Gardens of Babylon

MegaCity: Oceania (#35)

What is this game? Has some sort of crazy hybrid turn-based / real-time system with dexterity and area majority and tile placement? And it looks cool? Is this like the hobby gamer's version of competitive Jenga? Do I want it? (Released in U.S, ~$50)

Board Game: MegaCity: Oceania

Board Game: MegaCity: Oceania

Fuji Koro (#41)

This game feels like a total mess, but specifically the kind of weird total mess with bunch of quirks and "flaws" that I'm willing to forgive in favor of it's imperfect, beautiful charm and ambition. Of course, none of this might really be the case, but this one has the potential to the sort of beautiful mess I'm looking for. Game a competitive or cooperative adventure game of trying to explore and plunder and subsequently escape this moltan-ous cave/landscape filled with dragons and random monks. Looks cool as hell, in the way that only a big beautiful mess of a game can. (Not released in U.S.?)

Board Game: Fuji Koro

Board Game: Fuji Koro

On the Origin of Species (#43)

Last, but not least (cause these aren't in any sort of order), is this fine looking game. Dawrin is awesome. And this game looks awesome. I can't glean much from the information at hand, but it's one of those games that looks to present the player with some a binary choice on their turn, but which cascades into deep and interesting decisions. Remains to be seen how it shakes out in practice. (Released, pre-order? Expensive? ~$70)

Board Game: On the Origin of Species

Board Game: On the Origin of Species


So that's my completely incomplete and nearly-random blitz through the Essen GeekBuzz list and what managed to percolate through my highly judgmental filters. Given my interests, what did I miss? How about you? What are you most looking forward to (if anything?). The phones are open. Cheers.
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Fri Nov 1, 2019 8:49 pm
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Smorgasbord: Summer '19 Report

Oliver Kiley
United States
Ann Arbor
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From gallery of Mezmorki

Times seems to fly these days.

Here we are, 6-months later, since the last report on my boardgame activities. My last post was about my game collection woes - and perhaps tipped off by a recent thread, I figured this was good timing to circle back on what I’ve been playing of late and how “the collection” is faring.

First of all, I did a little reorganization of my BGG inventory, and if you click HERE you’ll get a list of ~110 games that I “own” and consider principally part of my collection. I realized one little fatal flaw with my usage of the “has parts” tag to denote games that my household owns but that I don’t consider “mine” - which is that I started getting peppered with requests for game parts! Whups!

Now, I simply take all my owned games and then use the “want to play” flag for those games that I could conceivably desire to play sooner or later (rather than never). This gets us to 110 games and excludes from the list all the assorted kids games (2x copies of Candy land, etc.), games I want to sell/trade away, and other games that would require a “family discussion” were I to try and purge them from the shelf. It’s a reasonably-sized feeling list - and while there are few in there still listed for trade, unloading them is a low priority.


But enough of that! You want to hear about all the games I’ve been playing over the past few months. I’ll start with a listing and then dive into specific titles in more detail below. Here we go!

* Sekigahara (x3)
* Root (x3)
* Aerion (6+)
* Sylvion (2x)
* Blue Lagoon (~10x)
* Broom Service! (~10x)
* Hand of the King (~12x)
* Ginkgopolis (1x)
* The Game (12x)
* Heroes of Terrinoth (~10x)
* Keyforge! (40+)
* Kingdomino - Age of Giants (~12x)
* Lord of the Rings (3x partial games)
* Raiders of the North Sea (1x)
* Small World (3x)
* Shadows Amsterdam (1x)
* Yellow & Yangzee (2x)
* Wizards Wanted (6x)

From gallery of Mezmorki

Sekigahara (x3)
Last update, I had recently acquired but not yet played Sekigahara. Since then I’ve played it three times and this title has made quite the impression. It’s my first foray into block wargames (and I should mention I’ve only dabbled with wargames overall). My friend and I have been embarking on “Sake and Seki” sessions, when where we split a bottle of warm Sake and replay the famous reunification wars in 1,600 Japan.

It’s not a terribly complicated game - but there are a lot of subtitles to the rules that are easy to miss (or maybe that was the Sake?). We had some fatal rule fumbles in the first two games (realized afterwards), but we’re getting the hang of it now. The interplay between force movement and cards is really tremendous and creates a fascinating decision space and tons of tension and uncertainty about how the battles will pay out. Really enjoying this one more and more with each play.

Root (3x)
Root continues to captivate my friend group as well as the younger generation of kids and nephews - who are surprisingly adept at internalizing all of the rules and quirks in the game. I understand people’s criticism about the need for “player-driven balancing” (aka table talk and negotiation). But for me, this player-to-player interaction and brinkmanship is exactly what makes certain games (e.g. Root) so fun and engaging for me (and explains my general dislike for lower interaction engine-builders).

I’ve kickstarted the second expansion for Root (due later this year), and looking to dive into that when it lands. I feel like I’m just barely getting a handle on the first expansion factions. So much to dig into in this game.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Aerion (3x)
I recently picked up Aerion, which is the 6th game in the Oniverse series. I adore this series, not just for the artwork but for the great solo and co-op gameplay. Onirim has long been a favorite of mine.

In any case, I “think” Aerion might take the cake for my favorite solo game and possibly favorite Oniverse game as well. Aerion tasks you with building a series of airships by managing a flow of cards that emanate from six stacks, which you draft from using dice in a yahtzee-like die rolling fashion. There are clever means of cards affecting dice in turn affecting card draws, that is a delightful puzzle to sort out. But it has enough randomness to force you to adapt and keep on your toes.

As with other games in the series, the box comes with half a dozen “expansions” to layer more onto the game. So far, I’ve found that expansion #1 (flagship) and #6 (with the hellkite) to be a nice balance of maintaining focus on core gameplay while adding just enough other tensions to open up the decision space more. Love this one.

Sylvion (2x)
I also went back to Sylvion briefly, as it had been a while since I played it last. Not too much to report. I like the theme and basic structure of this one, but depending on your card draft and hands drawn, the experience oscillates wildly between overly easy to downright impossible. In some ways, it feels like it plays itself and I’m not sure there is enough player agency in the mix.

Board Game: Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon (~10x)
I picked this up a few weeks back on vacation, after eyeballing it a whole bunch over the past few months. I’m so glad I picked this one up - and even more excited that I’ve got it to the table a few times a week! It’s been a hit with everyone: kids, friends that aren't “gamers”, my wife, other people’s kids, gamer friends. It’s quite easy to teach - although for many people it’s one of those games where you just need to play a round and see how the scoring works for it all to click. It’s awesome watching people’s eyes light up when they start to see how it all connects.

It’s also one of those games - true to many of Knizia’s designs - where the depth continues to open up the more you play. There is a ton of nuance in where you place huts, both to make it easier to get onto islands in the second round but also to potentially block your opponents from islands and/or resources. The first round is interesting for it’s Go-like feeling of having this big decision space where you are pre-positioning and scattering your influence in hopes of linking it all together later in the round. Just amazing.

Broom Service (~10x)
My 5-year old - somehow - has processed this game to a freaky level. She’s memorized what all the cards do and has a crazy ability to program out her turns. Anyway - I still enjoy this game and it hits the table pretty often.

From gallery of Mezmorki

Hand of the King (12+)
I’ve had this game for a while, and on a lark brought it out to a family restaurant. I broke it out while waiting for food and the kids took to it immediately. Maybe it’s the artwork (very cool), or that it’s a way for them to “get in” on the Games of Thrones mystique (no - they have not watched the show!). I like this game for its simplicity. It does a great job getting the kids to “think ahead” about making moves that benefit themselves but tempered against not giving their opponent an even better follow-up move. Fun, quick game.

Ginkgopolis (1x)
I dug this one back out with my friend group as we were discussing various game design topics and I mentioned this as an example of a “clockwork” design where there are these different systems that feed into each other. Tile placement and board control connects to card play and drafting, which connects to tableau building, which connects to scoring and back to the board, etc.

That said - my fondness for the game plummeted after playing it again. I was reminded of how utterly fiddly this game is. Passing and managing cards, making sure to check the tableau, placing reminders on new tiles so you remember to sort through the decks to add the cards to the other deck when it gets reshuffled. Juggling tiles and resources and score tokens behind your player screen. I think this is a game I appreciate more from a conceptual and aesthetic standpoint that I do from actually playing it.

The Game (~12x)
This has a similarity to “The Mind” (I’m not up to speed on the origins of these respective titles), as a game where you take turns trying to play cards in numerical order across four lines. It’s okay. Doesn’t do a lot for me and if I’m going to play a non-coordinative co-op I’d much rather play Hanabi.

Heroes of Terrinoth (6x)
I was on the quest for a nice cooperative dungeon crawler game. I’d been eyeballing Warhammer Quest (Card Game) for a long time, and this reimplementation of it seemed worth trying. I really like the mechanics and basic structure of this game. However, it feels overly procedural and doesn’t flow all that well. I also think it misses the appeal of dungeon crawlers with respect to character advancement. “Leveling up” your skills during the game is nice, but no substitute for acquiring skills and gear that persist between games and builds more attachment to your character (like say Hero Quest or Mice & Mystics). The kiss of death on this is that the setup time is agonizing. You have to organize all the stacks of enemy and item cards and rebuild a deck for each mission. It’s ridiculously irritating.

Keyforge (40+)
Oh boy. I’ve really fallen for this game (as you might have noticed from my last blog article). I started with two decks at the start of this summer, and now I have… maybe 18? Anyway - a bunch of buddies have got into it as well, so we all have a fun time playing. It scratches the Magic the Gathering itch without relying on the time consuming card collection and deck construction cycle. It’s great having a fixed deck that you can spend time learning more and getting better at playing, instead of endlessly fiddling with your deck lists. I really enjoy the structure and pace of the gameplay too - very dynamic.

Kingdomino - Age of Giants (~12x)
I’ve enjoyed Kingdomino since it came out, and my 5-year old in particular really enjoys it too. I picked up Age of Giants expansion for her birthday and it’s gone over well. It adds a pretty light layer onto the gameplay along with a fun thematic element. ‘Nuff said.

Board Game: The Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings (3x partial games)
This is a case where I owned the game once upon a time, sold it off unplayed, and then re-bought it second hand. Mostly, my kids were interesting Lord of the Rings after we watched bits and pieces of the first movie, and started looking at Lord of the Rings games…. and here we are.

In any event - this game is an oddity in the history of gaming. It was an early cooperative design and one that was structured around a finely crafted set of events following (loosely) the narrative of the books. Parts of the game feel very outdated (I’m playing the original version BTW) from a clarity and graphic/iconography standpoint. It makes the game a little hard to manage (and the kids struggle to follow the phasing and turn structure). I feel like this game could do with a redesign. But even as is, we’ve been having a fun time working through it in stages.

Raiders of the North Sea (2x)
Snuck in a couple of plays of this, one with the gamer group and one with my 8-year old. Not too much to say that I haven’t before. As far as worker placement games go, this is one I find palatable. Reasonably interactive, competing for shared space (reminds me of Caylus in way), quick turns, amazing art.

Small World (3x)
I stumbled back into Small World and have been playing a bunch with my 8-year old. Years ago I played a ton of 2-player Small World, which I vastly prefer over 3+ players, so it’s nice to go back to that. This is a solid and streamlined design. I am on the hunt for the Realms expansion (that lets you build randomized maps) as my only complaint is that the board geometry is fixed and leads to similar gameflows from game to game.

Shadows Amsterdam (1x)
Finally managed to get this to the table at a family gathering, where we played with a nice mix of kids and adults. It’s a really cool concept, and has structural similarities to Code Names (two teams each with a clue giver and multiple guessers). The design is a little fiddly feeling for what it is, and it can be an awful lot to visually parse at times. Need to play it more with some different groups to see how it goes over.

Wizards Wanted (6x)
Ths kids and I have been playing this one quite a bit. Who knew that Mattel was in the business of designing movement programming and resource management, set collection games? The theme here is wacky (kids love it), and the gameplay is a little fiddly at times for what essentially amounts to racing around the board and collecting cards. But there is some enjoyment to be had in puzzling out the optimal moves to get you to where you want to be ahead of your opponents. Amazing components for a $20 game!

From gallery of Mezmorki

Yellow & Yangtze (3x)
Played more games of Y&Y, and deeper opinions are starting to form. Despite being so similar to Tigris & Euhprates at the structural and overall goal level - the differences in these games are really stark in terms of the flow of play. The more I play, the more different these feel.

In general, I like Y&Y for the hex-based system and (most) of the tile actons - like discarding two blue farmers for a catastrophe, or two traders to move a pagoda. The off-board leader abilities are also a nice touch and can add a good wrinkle to the gameplay. However, what I miss from T&E is (1) treasures on the starting tiles as a driver for play (and more interaction) in the early game; (2) the greater stability of monuments creating more geography on the game board and a less volatile landmark to fight over; (3) the system for resolving fights.

The streamlining the fights in Y&Y, while seemingly simpler from a rules standpoint, at times create odd counter-intuitive situations. For example, when a player has leaders in two different kingdoms, despite “winning” one side of their fight, their own leaders in the losing side might nevertheless be displaced. It’s a little strange and disincentives the co-mingling of leaders and kingdoms that is such a cornerstone of Tigris & Euphrates.

I’d love to have a game that blended both games and did so in a more 2-player friendly manner perhaps. Maybe it’s time to restart design work on Rhine & Rhone?


I set a soft goal (resolution?) to try and get my remaining unplayed games played this year. There aren’t too many on the unplayed list:

From gallery of Mezmorki

* Acquire (low interest - I have a copy for vintage purposes mostly)

* Brutal Kingdom - I bought this on a whim and didn’t really do my homework. Given the player count and style I’m not likely to get this to the table ever. Feels really overwrought for what it is.

* Condottiere - Also bought on a whim. I’m hoping to get this to table. Feels like a great, tight blending of incremental trick-taking and area scoring.

* Domaine - Bought this at a garage sale year. This is great seeming abstract-ish game, based on my solo-play and learning the rules. Feels like it occupies a similarish design space as T&E/Y&Y, as a complex spatial abstract with a layer of theming on top.

* Fabled Fruit - I bought this as a drafting/deck-ish building game (mostly) for the kids, hoping the theme would be of interest to them. But every time I pull it out and suggest we give it a try it gets the vacant stare of disapproval. Might need to go on the purge pile...

* Mission: Red Planet - Benn sitting on the shelf for a while now, sadly. I love Bruno Cathala and Bruno Faidutti games and this one looks like a great combination of elements. I just need to push this one a little to get it to the table.

* Monad - Odd little Sid Jackson relic. No intention or great urge to get it to the table. Mostly have as a collection item.

* Pocket Mars - Purchased as part of homework on other Mars-related games. Seems like a cool, quick playing design. But somehow doesn’t seem all that exciting, so it might be a tougher sell getting it to the table.

* Tea Dragon Society Card Game - Another one the kids don’t seem too interested in playing. I think they’ll like it if I can catch them in the right mood. The game is designed to be played “open hand” which should make it pretty easy to teach. I love the theme and artwork.

* Via Nebula - Picked this up in a math trade, after eyeballing it for a long time. This is kinda-sorta a super streamlined train game but presented via (no pun intended?) a completely different theme. The kids love the artwork and the piggy-meeples. Hoping to play this soon.

* Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow - Not likely to play this anytime soon. Grabbed it for $1 at a garage sale. I think I’d also chose to play Mascarade (different game style I know), over something like this. Could be good to hold onto for the right moment though. Maybe a fun campfire activity with the whole family?

Beyond the unplayed stuff, there are plenty of games I want to get back to the table. A Study in Emerald is #1 on that list. I only played it once (and loved it), so need to bring it back with more people. I’d like to get some games of Tigris & Euphrates in again soon for comparative purposes, and I’d also like to revisit Glen More, which I haven't played in quite some time. Oh, and Inca Empire (aka Catan on steroids). And so many more..

So many games, so little time. Cheers until next time!
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Thu Jul 18, 2019 4:38 pm
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Self-Deception & My Game Collection

Oliver Kiley
United States
Ann Arbor
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File this post under first world problems. Or privileged peoples’ problems if you want.

After all, how silly is it to cry “woe is me, for I have too many board games on my shelf and it’s causing me psychological grief!” I suppose one small consolation is that at least I can use the opportunity to impart games to people that can put them to use (i.e. play them). But we’ll get to that..

How did this start?

Recently I looked at my BGG “owned game” tally, and was rather surprised to see that it said 179 games. How did that happen? What made it worse is that I know that isn’t even all of the games sitting in my house. There are dozens more kids game procured from garage sales or bargain bins that I never owned up to in my BGG collection.

Now, 179 games may not sound like a lot to many BGG users, but for many others it’s surely a ridiculous number. For me it feels like entirely too much. In an ideal scenario I’d have maybe 10 or 20 games that were the ones I really, truly loved. Okay, maybe 25 or 30 and. And surely not any more than 50. 75 would be right out. But 179? Downright lunacy.

It bothers me to see that number and to know that a great many of those games are sitting on the shelf and haven’t been played in years. Thankfully only a few linger entirely unplayed, as I am pretty good about getting everything to the table at least once. But still, I don’t “feel” like someone that wants to own 179 games.

And thus begins the self-deception....

First of all, are all of these 179 games really “my games”? The answer is no. Quite a few, when it comes down to it, are games that aren’t really “mine.” They are games that if it were only up to me, and I didn’t have anyone else consider (you know, like my children) then the games would be donated to the nearest store ASAP. But I can’t go throwing out my 4-year olds copy of Candyland, or my wife’s copy of Sorry! that she’s had since she was a kid. I’m not a monster.

So I asked myself this: if it were purely up to me, would I get rid of this game immediately? Games that met this criteria I removed from my owned list and shuffled over to the “Has Parts” list. While I was at it, I moved all my miniature game stuff over to that category as well. The six editions of Warhammer 40k, stacks of Battletech books, various CCG leftovers, etc. are categorically a different animal than the “board games” on my shelf, so they’ve been banished from the list. 38 down. 141 to go.

Next up, I got in touch with a local high school that was starting a board game club and wanted games to get their library started. Without further ado I posted a list of all the games on my “for trade” list that wasn’t a high value item (I don’t have many of those anyway). They said they’d take one modest stack (and were quite humble about it). So I did the charitable thing and gave them “two” modest stacks of games instead. 13 more down. 128 games left.

Next up I have 8 games on my trade list. Most of which I’d be fine just snapping my fingers and having them go away. I have copy of “Hegemonic” for trade, but really I have nearly a dozen copies sitting my basement. I like to donate or drop copies of this game off at places I visit (that are receptive to it of course). Ignoring Hegemonic, that’s nevertheless 7 games that I’d part with readily. I moved these to “For Trade” and removed from the owned category. Down to 121.

Last up are expansions. These are included as owned “board games” but also tallied separately under the expansions section. I have 13 of those at the moment. I’m pretty religious about stuffing expansions into base game boxes, and they are sort of a package deal at that point. So that’s 13 more down, bringing us to XXX games. We seem to be getting into more reasonable territory here.

So that leaves me with 108 games. Much better than 179, but still above where I’d like to be.

To Prune or not Prune the Collection?

108 games is still far more than I can reasonably expect to play in any sort of regular manner. There are games I’ve played just once, years ago, languishing on the shelf. And so I have to be honest with myself about answering this question: why do I still have these games? The answer is… nuanced.

There are some games that I own, simply because I enjoy the fact that I own it, if nothing else than for its aesthetic, sentimental, and/or collection value (not necessarily monetary value mind you). If I had all the time in world, I would surely find time to play these games too - but baring that, I get some value out of simply having them.

Inca Empire for example is game that I really liked the one time I played it. It’s also a jaw droppingly beautiful game (IMHO). Even if I won’t play again for years - or maybe never - I still like it on the shelf. Fantasitqa is a game I bought because (a) I love the cover painting by Caspar David Friedrich and (b) I bought it at BGG con during the launch of Hegemonic. So it has some sentiment attached to it.

As I discussed in a previous post of this nature, at this point in the self-deception I find it useful to consider groupings of related or similar games and ask myself: if given the choice between playing A or B (assuming A & B are relatively in terms of style of game, length of play, etc.), is there one I’d always rather play? If so, I should boot the other one out of the collection.

What follows is a list of the 25-games I most want to keep with an eye towards covering my bases in terms of style of game, playtime, likely audiences, and so on. So this ultimately reflects a broad range of games, from those I enjoy playing with my kids to big meaty games that will take a whole afternoon or evening to play. In addition to these top 25, I’ve also flagged about 30 runner ups that I’d strongly like keep to round out the collection. The rest? If they vanished one day I probably wouldn’t bother trying to replace them.

In no particular order...

Asymmetric / COIN-series like

Board Game: Root

#1: Root

DESCRIPTION: This is an amazing game in a lot of interesting ways, and a fascinating case study on the current market and trends in the design of boardgames. While I'm likely never going to dig into really heavy wargames, this one scratches at the edges of GMT's COIN series games. Asymmetric player factions, plays 2-6 players, has solo/cooperative modes. Feels both sandboxy and tightly designed. Wonderful.

Block Wargames

#?: Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan

I've only played this one once, which was awesome (and just happened recently). I'll see how repeat plays go, but I may need to chisel out a space in the collection for this.

2-Player Light Battle/War Game

Board Game: Iron Curtain

#2: Iron Curtain

DESCRIPTION: Basically a 20-minute version of Twilight Struggle that captures the essence of the ops vs. event card play, area majority on the world map, and variable scoring timing that is at the core of the original game. I'm really impressed with how satisfying this game is for being in such a small package. Only complaint is that the box is too big!

Empire Games / Dudes of a Map / Wuero Hybrids

Board Game: Antike

#3: Antike

DESCRIPTION: Fabulous rondal game of ancient civilizations. Has just enough historical notes to make it feel like a proper civilization game but in a reasonable playtime. A few house rules even out the timing of the end game when more players are involved to keep things from overstaying their welcome. A very clean and classic feeling game.

Board Game: Cyclades

#4: Cyclades

DESCRIPTION: A true hybrid / wuero-style game that combines dudes on a map style area control with a clever bidding system. Awesome pacing.

Board Game: Runewars

#5: Runewars

DESCRIPTION: Super impressed by the times I've played this game. A poster child for Ameritrash-style games from FFG.

Runner Ups:
* Civilization

Adventure Games

To be frank - I don't have one of these that sits in the top 25. I am on the look out for an interesting adventure game, and there certainly are tons of them on the market, but none I've played have really grabbed me.

Runner ups:

* HeroQuest - bad boy from the late 80's
* Key to the Kingdom - my daughter loves this hideous throwback. Nostalgia in effect
* Tiny Epic Quest - Zelda inspired compact adventure game. Pretty slick.

I guess I'm still on the hunt for the right kind of adventure game. I do have some ideas sketched out for one that I'd like to make. More to come on that front - one day.

Beer & Pretzels

This is a category where I own a bunch of games but frankly don't have much interest in playing them. Too much chaos and not enough interesting choices. And these can be frustrating for the kids. Doesn't really have an audience anymore.

* King of Tokyo
* Illuminati (this game still has a special place in my heart though!)
* Plague & Pestilence

Lightweight / Quick Games

Board Game: 5-Minute Dungeon

#6: 5-Minute Dungeon

DESCRIPTION: This is a real-time cooperative card-based dungeon crawler. And it's a blast with almost anyone. Fun times.

Runner ups:
* Rhino Hero
* Pit

Board Game: Sushi Go!

#7: Sushi Go!

DESCRIPTION: About all you need to in card drafting game.

Runner ups:
* Sea of Clouds

Board Game: Kingdomino

#8: Kingdomino

DESCRIPTION: Awesome little puzzle building game. Love this one.

Runner ups:
* Fairy Tile

Role Selection / Set Collection (Family Game)

Board Game: Broom Service

#8: Broom Service

DESCRIPTION: This has become one of my favorite family games. There is a tremendous amount of variability within the game and the various optional/advanced rules that can be tacked onto it. Great deduction and double-think angle.

Runner ups:
* Witches Brew
* Mission: Red Planet (unplayed)

Tile-Laying (Family Game)

Board Game: Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers

#10: Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers

DESCRIPTION: A favorite game for me and my wife. Builds on the classic game with enough twists to keep the gameplay fresh and tense after 100's of plays. Great, great game.

* Explorers of the North Sea - tile laying crossed with pick-up and deliver and a simple action point system. Pretty fun game, just not exceptional.

Board Game: Taluva

#11: Taluva

DESCRIPTION: A masterful game of multi-level tile laying. Plays quick but has tense gameplay from the opening moments to the end. Really excellent design.

Runner ups:
* Hive

Press Your Luck / Dice Rolling

I also don't own a great game in this category. But maybe that's okay - but I'm sure I'm missing some classics in here.

Runner Ups:
* Roll through the Ages
* Loot

Cooperative & Solo Games

Board Game: Onirim (Second Edition)

#12: Onirim (Second Edition)

DESCRIPTION: I like this game *a lot*. Plays well solo or with 2. 7 Expansions in the game box provides all kinds of ways to add variability and different challenges to the core game. Amazing artwork.

* Sylvion - part of the Oniverse (with Onirum)
* Castellion - also in the series

Board Game: The Grizzled

#13: The Grizzled

DESCRIPTION: Both thought-provoking and challenging gameplay. Brilliant execution and handling of the subject matter. Strikes a nice balance between coordinative and non-coordinative play.

Runner ups:
* Hanabi
* Pandemic Cthulhu
* Lost Expedition

Social Deduction / Bluffing

Board Game: Mascarade

#14: Mascarade

DESCRIPTION: Off all the love letter, coup, citadels style games - this remains my favorite. The game can be a real mind-bender with just 2-3 players but also scales up to being a whole roomful of people activity if you want it to be.

Runner ups:
* Citadels
* Coup

Complex Card Games (Eurogame)

Board Game: Innovation

#15: Innovation

DESCRIPTION: Fantastic small box game with big brain-burning gameplay. So much variability and interesting card combinations make this is a solid classic in my book.

Board Game: Race for the Galaxy

#16: Race for the Galaxy

DESCRIPTION: Race for Galaxy is an excellent, excellent game. It really does require that everyone have a firm grasp on the mechanics and the pool of cards in order to make smart decisions. For that reason, I have a hard time getting to the table. Thank god for the digital implementation with a pretty decent AI.

Runner ups:
* Villages of Valeria
* Pocket Mars (unplayed)

Deck-Building / Bidding / Other Stuff

Board Game: A Study in Emerald

#17: A Study in Emerald

DESCRIPTION: A Study in Emerald (first edition) is the kind of game I'm increasingly being drawn to. It's not perfect and clean and clear. It's convoluted and messy in many ways. And yet it's such a deeply interesting game. The deck building combined with area control and bidding and hidden roles and all of it makes the game almost more impressive as a story generator than as a game. But it's a damn fine game too.

Runner ups:
* Hit Z Road
* Fantastiqa
* Serica: Plains of Dust
* Star Realms

Map-Centric Euros(Area Control & Tile Placement)

Board Game: Yellow & Yangtze

#18: Yellow & Yangtze

DESCRIPTION: Could it be that I'm placing this above Tigris & Euphrates. Whatever the reason, it's made it to the table more than T&E and I like hexes more than squares. But seriously - Y&Y is a more approachable if more forgiving game, and yet has a nuance and character all of its own. I think I like it more. Maybe it's not the deeper of the two games, but it's deep enough and balances it well against other aspects.

Runner ups:
* Tigris & Euphrates
* Samurai
* Domaine (haven't played this yet!)
* Acquire

Board Game: Eight-Minute Empire: Legends

#19: Eight-Minute Empire: Legends

DESCRIPTION: I really like this game for its compactness, quick playtime, and high degree of interactivity. I adore Ryan's artwork as well. Kinda like a miniaturized version of El Grande without quite as much brain burn.

Runner ups:
* Small World (really like this one still, awesome 2-player game)
* Condottiere (unplayed)

Engine Building / Clockwork Games

Clockwork games are my term for games - and generally eurogames - that combine a bunch of a different mechanics together into some big engine building thing. My tolerance is generally pretty low for this sort of thing.

Board Game: Raiders of the North Sea

#20: Raiders of the North Sea

DESCRIPTION: I really, really like this game. It reminds me bit of Caylus in that it's a worker placement game that focuses on the jockeying for spaces on a shared board. Awesome theming and artwork seal the deal.

Runner ups:
* Stone Age: I play this one as math practice with my kids!

Board Game: Glen More

#21: Glen More

DESCRIPTION: Probably the most solitaire-like tableau building game I have. Nice and small package with a clever tile selection system that nicely balances jumping ahead for a juicy reward against taking more actions. The tile placement puzzles are fun to work out.

Runner ups:
* Ginkopolis: Gosh I really like this game too. Has more shared board space in the area control game, but there are so many mechanics in thi one that it can feel a little incoherent. But I so like it.

Board Game: Inca Empire

#22: Inca Empire

DESCRIPTION: Another game I need to play more. It's like the next step on the Catan rung, with a combination of network building and shared assets. Absolutely gorgeous looking game too. Really need to get it to the table more.

Rank & Suit Style Games

Board Game: Decktet

#23: Decktet

DESCRIPTION: Amazing. 6-suited, dual suited deck oozing in mystique. So many amazing games can be played with it.

Runner ups:
* Lost Cities
* Rook
* Wizard
* Pixie Deck
* Badger Deck
* Traditional Cards

Board Game: The Fox in the Forest

#24: The Fox in the Forest

DESCRIPTION: Excellent 2-player trick taking game.

Runner ups:
* Odin's Ravens

Board Game: Arboretum

#25: Arboretum

DESCRIPTION: A lovely, lovely game. It can be a serious brain burner for sure. Reminds me a bit of golf but with more nuance and depth in the scoring and card arrangements.

Runner ups:
* Red 7
* Lords of Scotland
* Monad

Traditional Abstracts

All excellent stuff - but I prefer slightly less abstract games.

Runner ups:
* Bakcgammon
* Cribbage
* Go
* Othello

Well there you have it. If I had to pair things down to just 25 games, this would be it. To recap:

* Carcassone: Hunters & Gatherers (2002)
* Taluva (2006)
* Antike (2006)
* Race for the Galaxy (2007)
* Decktet (2008)
* Cyclades (2009)
* Glen More (2010)
* Inca Empire (2010)
* Innovation (2010)
* Rune Wars (2013)
* Study in Emerald (2013)
* Eight Minute Empire: Legends (2013)
* Mascarade (2013)
* Sushi Go (2014)
* Onirim (2014)
* Broom Service (2015)
* Raiders of the North Sea (2015)
* The Grizzled (2015)
* Arboretum (2015)
* Kingdomino (2016)
* 5-Minute Dungeon (2017)
* Iron Curtain (2017)
* Fox in the Forest (2017)
* Yellow & Yangtze (2018)
* Root (2018)

Now... How about you?
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Tue Dec 18, 2018 4:12 am
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