The Tyranny of Small Decisions

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I'm Blooging

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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There’s a point where you realise that you keep making the same, seemingly-stupid mistake in typing a web site address.

“booardgamegeek. boaordgamegeek. Hey… wait a minute… didn’t that happen yesterday too? And the day before. Am I losing the fundamental ability to type here, or does it mean…”

Alas, after 3 years of pounding this nonsense out to you day after day, it would appear that my poor, much-abused laptop keyboard has developed a fault. Well… more specifically… the “O” key now has a tendency to double-register. In a somewhat annoying doesn’t-do-it-every-time sort of way, and sometimes … if I’m typing particularly quickly … I can even manage to get another letter in before the second “o” appears.

The sudden need for continual correction of my typing is… as you would expect… a right pain in the arse.

From gallery of MrShep


Alas, popping the keycap off (definitely not POOPING the keycap off!!) has revealed nothing obviously mechanically wrong or gummed-up beneath. It’s a butterfly keyboard … a super-thin keyboard mechanism which was once hailed as being a revolutionary breakthrough in keyboard design … right up until the point where it was discovered that it wasn’t, actually, a particularly revolutionary breakthrough in keyboard design, because it has an appallingly high failure rate, and they don’t make them like this any more. On the bright side… that stupidly-high failure rate means that apple will replace/repair them for free. On the downside … I’ll have to schlep over to an apple store, and likely be without the laptop for at least 24 hours. Given the fact that UK shops are opening for the first time in months from tomorrow (or “toomorrow” as my poor, broken computer has just helpfully interjected), and will likely be crazy-busy …and the fact that I haven’t had my nanobots injected for quite long enough to give me baseline plague immunity yet … I’ll probably just struggle on with the dodgy keyboard for a bit longer. So please forgive any extraneous vowels which slip through over the next week or two.

“Customer Service” has, however, been a bit of a reoccurring theme for me this week, with not one, but TWO replacement game parts turning up in the post.

You might recall that a couple of weeks ago I bemoaned the mangled envelope that my Button Shy board game of the month package arrived in. Well… that very same day (coincidence, I’m sure) I got a despatch note from Button Shy for a replacement, which has now arrived. I’m glad I made a fuss; the enclosed 9-card mini game — The Forest Watch — (which was missing from my original package) is way more interesting that I expected.

From gallery of MrShep


At first glance (lots of fantasy-trope-anthropomorphised cats and mice with visible hitpoint tracks) you’d be forgiven for assuming that this is going to be a typical dice-chucking push-your-luck fantasy skirmish affair. But — mechanically — it’s actually a very clever, open information, zero-randomness solo logic puzzle. Each turn you move one of your little mousy heroes into the semi-circle of feline protagonists, and then resolve a bunch of card interactions based on that little half-clock-dial of icons and numbers depicted at the top of each card. It’s an interesting puzzler. Not one that I’d come back to again and again … but definitely worth a few plays. The game started its journey as an entry to a BGG 9-card print and play contest here on BGG, and the 1-page card sheet is still available to download, if you have nothing better to do this afternoon

And secondly… my Kingdom Death Spidicules saga came to a close! You might recall me mentioning that my Spidicules expansion came with a missing sprue (I had too many spider legs, and not enough survivor parts). Well, despite the fact that there was an 18 month gap between me buying this expansion, and actually noticing that something was missing from the box, KDM’s support operation sprang into action and sent out replacement parts.

By DHL express.

I’ve got no idea how expensive DHL express is vs regular air-mail … but, the replacement package was on my doorstep — New York to deepest darkest Northumberland — within a couple of days. Wow!

From gallery of MrShep


At which point I would have been shouting the praises of KDM support from the rooftops … except… they sent me the wrong part. More spider legs! I mean, it wasn’t my fault that they shipped the wrong bit — I was very clear in my explanation of what was missing — but it did feel a little bit awkward, after the excellent response to the first replacement request, to go back again and ask for more.

it’s probably karma that the second replacement part (not sent through DHL express this time… but you can kind of forgive them for that) got caught up in some covid-related shipping issue and took nearly a month to get through the US postal system. However, last weeek (weeek? … you know what? I think my “e” key might be playing up now too!!) the package finally made it through. And it turns out that they simply shipped me a full silk armour kit this time, rather than the specific sprue that was missing (RRP: $40). I’ll definitely not complain about that. So… yeah … awesome customer service there. Good stuff!

From gallery of MrShep
Lovingly wrapped in Kingdom Death tissue paper!


Oh… the pink dice? A purchase which arrived the same day, in a separate box, shipped in the same consignment by pure co-incidence. Which reminds me… I still owe you a post on my KDM dice-collecting obsession, don’t I?

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Today 12:13 pm
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Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Hmmm… I seem to have missed a few days, haven’t I? It’s been a busy week. And I while some people resort to extreme measures like having a new child in order to take some time away from doing a daily blog (congrats Alex!), I’m not nearly organised enough to plan my time off 9 months ahead

Anyway… what do I need to catch up on? Hmmm… Obsession! Let’s start there

From gallery of MrShep


We had our 5th play last weekend … and we finally took the leap to playing with the Upstairs Downstairs expansion. And yes … just like the comments below my previous Obsession posts have stated… this massively improves the game. Aside from the luck mitigation, it seems like you have a far higher proportion of “big play” turns with the Upstairs Downstairs servants in the mix, and the change brought about by a hire action being added to the passing phase makes everything flow that little bit better. Good changes.

It does feel like a bit of a “Patch” release though. Especially if you consider the expansion elements which were back-ported into the second edition of the base game. And as such, some of the modifications feel a little bit inelegant … perhaps most exemplified by the fact that the “Useful Man” worker has 5 different, not-entirely-intuitive uses, which have you repeatedly reaching for the player aid card just to remember the swiss-army-knife array of functional tweaks and bodges that he gives you access to.

From gallery of MrShep


But, inelegant as some of the Upstairs Downstairs alterations might be… they do seem to result in a far better game.

In fact, the way that objective cards are now handled (get dealt 5 at the start of the game, discard one in round 4, draw 2 new ones in round 6, then discard one in rounds 8, 12 and 16, leaving you with 3 cards which you’re evaluated against at the end of the game) looks appallingly over-complicated and tortuous when described like that… but in practice, this flow of cards gives you a really pleasing level of control over your final scoring conditions. It’s a massive improvement on the “get dealt some objectives at the start of a game, and then pick which ones you want to pursue before you’ve got any idea how the rest of the game will unfold…” way of doing things.

So… yeah. Things are now a little bit messy in places … but the game is definitely improved, despite this messiness. To an extent where I’d say Upstairs Downstairs is pretty much an essential addition. And I think, when I teach this to my heavy-euro-loving friends, I’m going to have to throw them straight in at the deep end with the full-on version.

But I have mixed feelings about this whole business. On the one hand … yeah, I own both halves of the package, and I’ve got a pretty decent and very-uniquely-themed game now. But on the other hand … this is yet another example of a problem endemic to crowdfunded games (particularly first-timer-indie-developer-crowd-funded-games), and my inner grumpy-old-gamer feels the need to whinge about it. The designer clearly took the game as far as he could (I’m not, for one moment, doubting the fact that there was a whole load of internal testing and revision to get it to its current state) …got a pot of money to produce it from the kickstarter fairies, and then put it out into the world, without that extra layer of scrutiny + 3rd-party development that the “old” way of making games involves. And in doing so… missed a bunch of ways that the base game could’ve been that-little-bit-better from the outset. Quite a few of the 2nd edition tweaks seem to have been sourced from the fan community … and there’s some very smart, extremely solid mechanical solutions within those tweaks, from folks who very clearly know their stuff. But they’re retro-fits … and, by nature, retrofits tend to be inelegant. You can’t help but think how brilliant / more-fully-baked the base game might have been if that same level of developer input had happened prior to the initial release.

I do feel a little bit guilty about writing this… I know that Dan really engages with his player community, will almost certainly be reading these words, and that Obsession has been a very clear labour of love for him. And, to his credit … this title was way more complete than 95% of the nonsense kicked out by the kickstarter sausage machine, and he HAS gone back and polished things… raising the game up to a level where it’s way more satisfying for a heavier/more serious gamer to play. Which is awesome.

But yeah. There is much about the way that games come into existence these days which disappoints me. And this bypassing of the old publisher/developer gatekeeping step is one of them.

Anyway let me be clear: despite this whinging … Obsession is a good game, we really like playing it, and it’s definitely staying in our collection.

…and it’s not like post-release-patches-bundled-with-an-expansion ever did the likes of Jamey Stegmaier any harm, did it?

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Fri Apr 2, 2021 12:07 pm
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A few small boxes sneak in...

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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A few new game things have arrived this week; that copy of Kingdomino that I mentioned a couple of days ago … along with some reduced-price copies of 5211 and Piepmatz. The latter two caught my eye whilst browsing the “biggest price reductions” listings at boardgameprices.co.uk on an otherwise-dull Sunday afternoon. They were both on sale at Chaos Cards; initially I was drawn in by the promise of 5211 for less than a fiver … but since they also had Piepmatz for close-to-half-the-regular-RRP, I thought I might spring for a copy of that too. Learning new card games — I have discovered over the years — is usually a far easier sell to Mrs Shep than learning new board games

From gallery of MrShep


I played Owain’s copy of Piepmatz a few years ago … and mostly remembered it to be a bit of a quirky set collection game, with gorgeously-illustrated cards. Not something that I felt a desperate urge to rush out and buy my own copy of… but… a decent game, all the same. Circumstances are different now. The best games to own are always the games that’ll actually get played. My main gaming partner right now (in fact, my only face-to-face gaming partner right now) is Mrs Shep… and this seemed like something which would really appeal to her. Plus… it fills a (small-but-perfectly-formed) gap in my Lookout Games collection.

Sure enough… a mere glimpse of the box (“oh! that looks nice… is it new?”) was enough to lure Mrs Shep into an initial game on Wednesday night. And then she demanded a follow-up game the next night “just to cement the rules”… So it seems to have made a good first impression with her

From gallery of MrShep


For my own part… I’m still not sure. Design-wise, Piepmatz is cute. “Cute” in the sense that the card flow — the way that the birds jostle for position at the feeders, the way that the column of nut cards falls as each one is taken — really does feel like an interpretation of the bustle and activity you see around a real-life bird feeder. But the thing I’m still struggling with — after a few plays now — is seeing the causes, and effects, and the levers that I need to pull to get a particular bird-of-interest out of the draw pile, through my hand, into the bird feeder queue, and then back into my scoring pile. Maybe that’ll come clearer with a few more games … (or maybe I should accept that it’s more about tactics than strategy) … but, so far, it has kind of lacked that “everything-suddenly-clicks-into-place” moment that you normally get, just a few hands into learning a good card game.

From gallery of MrShep


Our first experience of 5211, on the other hand, had those “oh! I see. OH! that IS clever!!” interactions in spades.

There is no attempt at theming here… just cards, with colours, irrelevant abstract artwork, and numbers. The name of the game — which seems a bit odd until the reason behind it clicks — actually encapsulates the rules: you have a 5 card hand, you take a turn where you play 2 cards, then a turn where you play 1 card, another turn where you play 1 card …and then you score the round. I won’t go into the fine details of scoring here … it’s a bit quirky, but nothing too difficult to grasp after a couple of turns … and with lots of scope for you to sabotage your opponent’s plans with suitable counter-play if you successfully anticipate what they’re trying to achieve before the round comes to a close.

Players select — and then reveal — their cards simultaneously … so it’s got that appealing, rapid-fire 6 Nimmt! vibe to it; that thing where you think you know how the round is going to play out, and you’ve convinced yourself that you’ve got points in the bag this time… only to see the cards flipped and realise that your plans have been torpedoed by that ONE POSSIBILITY THAT YOU DIDN’T SEE COMING.

We’ve only had one session so far… which isn’t nearly enough experience of the game to decide how much of this is down to luck vs skill -- so please take this as a strictly-first-impressions piece … but discussing the game afterwards, we both had the impression that there was something clever going on with 5211, and that it felt like a “proper” card game. It’s one that I can imagine getting played a fair bit … and I’m very curious to see how it scales; I can already sense that the 2-player experience is maybe a little bit more blocky / prone to zero-point rounds than the game might be at higher counts … it’ll be interesting to see how that changes.

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Sun Mar 28, 2021 11:23 am
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The Cake Day Conspiracy

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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From gallery of MrShep


Mrs Shep’s very excellent home-baked carrot cake, clotted cream jam scones, and a trifle too. It’s entirely possible that I now might not make it to my 52nd birthday with the cholesterol payload of this rather splendid birthday tea squidging around my arteries. But my word, it was good

And, as promised, the birthday celebrations also involved an inaugural play of this beauty:

From gallery of MrShep


I’ll do a proper write-up when I’ve had a bit more time to cogitate over the experience … but the short first-impressions summary is: a neat, low-interaction euro, which maybe has a couple of mechanical rough edges … but has plenty to like, and an absolutely top-rank application of theme. Mrs Shep is keen to play more, and it tilts a shade heavier and longer than most games that she would suggest for a gaming session, so that’s a definite plus. So, yeah, sound acquisition, this one.

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Curiously, Obsession came back to haunt me in a very unexpected way later in the day. Our entertainment choice for the evening was a live stream put on by “The Stand” comedy club … and when the stream was over -- as I navigated my way out of the YouTube app on our smart TV -- THIS screen popped up:

From gallery of MrShep
"The Stand Comedy Club viewers also watch..."

Wait… the people who watch this comedy show ALSO watch THESE particular videos… all about Obsession? Seriously?? And — even more uexpectedly — scrolling the recommendations right a couple of screens also showed a video for… Alubari!

Now, much as I’d love to believe my amazing powers as a social influencer (I mentioned The Stand, Obsession AND Alubari in yesterday’s post), it seems a bit weird that these things are now popping up as connected topics on my TV.

Perhaps the youtube/google machine is actually being a little bit devious here, and presenting entirely-fabricated social proof, just to keep me watching?

(Or maybe it’s the nanobots….)

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Sun Mar 7, 2021 12:27 pm
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February Kickstarter Frenzy (part 1)

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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What is it about February? Kickstarter seems to have gone NUTS this month.

It seems like a whole bunch of designer/publishers have adopted a “Hmmm, nobody will be spending money straight after Christmas, so let’s hold this off until February” mindset. And even from the position of somebody who tends to only back kickstarters for known quantities (i.e. new versions of games that I’m already familiar with, or by designers-of-interest with an established track record), there seems to be an exceptional amount of attractive things vying for the attention of my wallet this month.

I guess I should count myself lucky that I’m not one of those people who charge headlong into pretty much any board-gaming-kickstarter-with-an-even-vaguely-appealing-premise, leaving naught but a trail of scattered banknotes in my wake. Because in an era where recreational shopping is one of the few leisure activities still available to us, there must be an awful lot of things pranging the FOMO compulsive acquisition tendencies of the such-afflicted this month.

But, that said, yes, there are quite a few things on Kickstarter that have already turned my head this February. Tinners’ Trail closed a day or two ago … and, despite my mockery (and the fact that I already own a perfectly-playable earlier edition) I pledged pretty early on that one. There’s significant appeal to the player count being pushed away from the awkwardly-strict 3-or-4 players of the original to a 1-to-5 range, and the two expansions (Arsenic and Emigration) pretty much sealed the deal for me … despite that awful 11th-hour meeple screenprinting thing being inflicted upon us as a special kickstarter-exclusive treat.

And, over the course of coming days, I’ll probably be talking about some of the other things that have caught my eye …because we all know that BGG readers really love blog posts with the word “Kickstarter” in the title

Starting with…

CliniC Deluxe Edition 2nd & 3rd Extensions, by Alban Viard Games.

From gallery of MrShep


The removal of gatekeepers from the board game publishing process has, I think, been one of the greatest downsides of the crowdfunding revolution. I mean… the way things used to be done might have put a bit of a stranglehold on creativity, and restricted the breadth of games brought to sale… but one thing’s for sure: when a publisher was involved who was staking vast amounts of their own capital — sometimes even the roof over their head — on bringing a game to market, they took every possible precaution to ensure that those games were well-developed, playable, fine-tuned and de-risked to the nth degree.

Crowdfunding has changed that a lot. Usually for the worse. But occasionally… very occasionally… in a good way.

I wonder if Alban Viard would be producing expansions like this one if crowdfunding hadn’t been a thing? On paper, it’s madness. CliniC Deluxe is already a game with upwards of 20 expansion modules -- including kickstarter stretch goals, the first extension, the Covid-19 module, and the confusingly-already-released 4th extension … and it’s a heavy, time-consuming game … I doubt most gamers have even come close to exploring the interactions between all of those existing modules. The new expansions bring the total somewhere north of 40 different thematic add-ons (and inevitably-brain-breaking levels of complexity when you start to mix and match them all!).

Surely… under the old way of doing things… somebody would’ve tapped Viard on the shoulder a little while ago and said… “Look, Alban mate… I know you really like this game and everything… but… maybe it’s time to just… stop? There’s enough of it now?”

And yet… I totally want this. Even if Clinic has now gone far beyond being a game system that I will ever fully play and explore — it’s almost like its become a piece of art, by a game-design auteur. Do you want a hospital simulation so complex that you even have to micro-manage the removal of dog poo from the therapy dog kennels? Which now inflicts nicotine cravings on your doctors and patients so you need to worry about installing cigarette machines and the logistics of smoking breaks? Or which includes a mechanism allowing the ghosts of recently-deceased patients to come back and haunt the wards (with 24 ghost meeples included in the box)? … A resulting portfolio of available expansion modules which is now so vast and complicated that there’s a stand-alone $15 book being written to help you figure out which bits to play and in which order?

Seriously. Nothing that I wrote in that last paragraph was even a joke.

I’m definitely all-in on this

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Sat Feb 6, 2021 2:53 pm
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Euphoriaphobiacopia

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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I’m always a little bit let down when a significant focus of an expansion turns out to be a change to player count. “Adds the components for a 5th player!”. Bleagh.

OK… I can see how that might appeal to folks who regularly play with a rock-solid group of 5… and maybe there are instances of games where the designer’s intended player limit was squished by a publisher who wanted to dial back on the number of components in the box. But I tend to think — perhaps wrongly — that the initial release of a game has a player count dictated by a long, well-thought-out design and development process …and that later adjustments to this figure tend to either be lazily implemented, or awkwardly implemented. Often both. And rarely work out as well as they should.

A bit odd then, to find myself acquiring an expansion specifically due to the effect that it has on the player count of a game. (And perhaps even odder that it’s an expansion for a game that’s been sitting on my “things that I might dump into a bring and buy sale” list for a couple of years).

Ignorance is Bliss - an Expansion for Euphoria.

Board Game: Euphoria: Ignorance Is Bliss



OK… maybe I was a tiny bit misleading in that intro. Yes, this expansion changes the player count … but the direction is downward, rather than upward. Ignorance is Bliss is an expansion which introduces a solo option for the base game. And that, truth be told, is pretty much what drew me in. (OK… one of two things that drew me in… we’ll get to the second one in a moment). Euphoria is a game that has been sitting on my shelf for quite a few years now, but which has been woefully underplayed. For reasons that I’m not entirely sure of, quite a few of my regular gaming group are a bit Stonemaier-averse. They take a lot of coaxing to play anything from the Jamey Stegmaier stable (even the likes of Scythe and Wingspan*!). And one of the group played Euphoria with some other folks at the Newcastle club quite soon after its initial release, had a really bad experience, declared it broken, and has refused to play it ever since. This hasn’t helped the case for getting my copy to the table. But I still had a hankering to explore it a little bit more, before moving it on … and a solo option / current gaming conditions kind of seemed attractive from that sense.

Reason 2: It’s a thinly-veiled, post-release patch which apparently makes the game a lot better. (If memory serves me right… that effectively makes this version 3 of the game? — I’m pretty sure that some rebalancing shenanigans went on in a post-release reprint??).

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So… what’s changed?

The “mining” tracks get stickers, showing different starting positions for different player counts — bringing some much-needed scaling to the pace of the game at lower player counts…

From gallery of MrShep


The blind-drawing of artefact cards has been removed, and replaced with a tried-and-tested euro-favourite mechanism: “conveyor-belt-with-progessively-decreasing-prices”…

From gallery of MrShep


The rule which gave players repeat worker-placements for rolling duplicate numbers has been massively nerfed (you now have to pay morale points whenever you use this ability … so you’re not getting a completely random, non-penalised boost any more), players who end up connected to a minority faction at the start of the game get resources to compensate (theoretically countering imbalanced activity on allegiance tracks), and you’re now allowed to place a star onto an already-constructed market space via the market itself, instead of needing to use the corresponding artefact market action (which — thinking about it — was the main criticism of the guy that I mentioned earlier who declared the original game broken… maybe he was on to something after all?).

Those are some pretty significant non-component-based rule changes, right there.

Plus… the expansion completely replaces all the recruit cards and building tiles of the base game with completely new ones. You could — very fairly — say that those aren’t specifically a game fix, and it’s common for expansions to provide bulk-switchable alternatives to base game content. But … I have a sneaking suspicion that the cards and tiles that come in the expansion are going to have significantly more robust interactions than those that came with the original game.

So… yeah… this seems an awful lot like a box full of fixes to me

Also in the box…

Some RIDICULOUSLY big resource tokens, each representing 5 smaller items (though probably taking up more wood than those 5 individual items did!)… so that you don’t have to use the resource multiplier tracks from the base game:

From gallery of MrShep
How d'ya like THEM Oranges?


…plus some individual player mats with designated places to put all your stuff (Because… well… everybody loves a player mat, right?) … and Automa cards to power the aforementioned solo mode. All of which I would’ve had in my final photo, except that it came out spectacularly blurry, so there is no final photo. Sorry about that!

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So how does it play solo?

Pretty well, actually. The solo opponent (or rather, opponents … you play against two simulated players at once) is a bit of a re-tooling of the automa system used in Gaia Projecta solo system that I’ve played with before and was rather impressed by. The exact actions that’ll be taken by the automated players each turn is determined by jigsawing two cards together … one of which is held over from the previous turn, and one of which you’ll carry forward to the next turn … meaning that you always have partial visibility of what that automa(s) will do next — which faction they may be about the interact with, and what spaces might be about to get blocked — but you’ll never know for sure until the adjoining card is revealed. It’s a neat approach, and sort of simulates the way that you would read a human opponents intentions to determine which actions you should prioritise yourself.

Of course, the automa doesn’t really follow the same rules as the human player does, doesn’t need to spend resources, can build in places that you can’t, and does all the usual automa nonsense … but the way it interacts with the board (and places stars) DOES provide you — the human player — with a far more interesting solo challenge than a simple “play X rounds and try to beat Y points” challenge … and gives you a way to play Euphoria if all your board gaming chums are a bit Euphoriaphobic

I had fun with this; it took a little while to get into the groove with the automa algorithm, but once it all finally clicked (with much flipping between rule books — it’s a long time since I’ve played ANY Euphoria, never mind solo Euphoria!) the game progressed very smoothly. The changes/fixes introduced by the expansion seem to improve the core game quite significantly — especially the artefacts market — though I fear that the game still has a couple of weaknesses that euro-purists will call out; the fact that the market tiles are hidden-until-built (making constructiion a tactical rather than strategic decision) is perhaps the greatest of these. And some aspects of the game perhaps seem a little bit dated already; dice placement, which was an exciting, emerging mechanism when this game first came out, has now been done in far more interesting ways. But it’s still got a couple of interesting tricks up its sleeve, and is thematically interesting. For a light worker placement game which playable in about an hour… it’s not bad. I’ll maybe not move it on just yet

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Thu Jan 21, 2021 7:10 am
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Gone in 48 hours…

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Bit of an odd weekend, that one. In any normal year, we’re almost certainly away from home on this particular weekend. The proximity of the date to Plough Monday usually means there’s some sort of morris-inspired customs and traditions madness going on that Mrs Shep wants to go and see. And if that’s not an excuse to be away from home … then the 17th January also happens to be Mrs Shep’s birthday — which she often wrangles into an excuse for weekend away for a birthday treat.

Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival, 10 years ago.
(you can tell this is an old one; I hadn’t upgraded to a widescreen camera!)

Of course, this year, the dreaded covid put a nix on all that kind of nonsense … and we ended up having a relatively quiet weekend at home. As we couldn’t visit any Plough Monday celebrations, on Saturday I thought I’d bring a little bit of the celebrations to us …by cooking a traditional Nolfolk Plough Pudding! It’s pretty much a suet pudding, made from all the cheapest bits of pig with a bit of sage and onion, and then steamed for 3 to 4 hours. Best served with mashed potato and gravy.

From gallery of MrShep


I was pleased with how this turned out; it tasted glorious… though I fear, like most peasant food, its calorific load is aimed at folks who spend long days toiling in the fields, and it's likely to be a bit of a lard-based-heart-attack-waiting-to-happen for the rest of us. So I maybe won’t be rushing to make another one too soon.

I suppose I could turn this into a tenuous-theme-of-the-day post: best board game with a plough in it? But we all know that Agricola would win that one hands down. So it's hardly worth asking really, is it?

(or best game featuring a pudding?)

In other weekend news: we managed to play a couple of games on Mrs Shep's birthday (her choices, of course!) … starting with Azul.

From gallery of MrShep

It's quite a while since this one has hit the table … and possibly years since I played it head-to-head with 2 players! I’m normally very good at Azul (even if I do say so myself…) but Mrs Shep beat me hollow. That 2p version is way sharper than I remember it being!

...and a debut run (or three) for Skulls of Sedlec’s Castle Guards expansion. Though I think that the initial verdict is that we’re not so keen on this one as we are on the Executioners expansion.

From gallery of MrShep
I avoided using guards completely in this round -- and won!


The guards certainly mix things up a bit… but once you introduce guards to the game, the role of royal cards changes quite significantly, and (as with any expansion to the base deck) you no longer play through the entire deck in a 2 player game. With the executioners expansion, this deck dilution didn’t seem to have a massively detrimental effect — the interplay between all the roles still seemed pretty solid, even if the card distribution became less predictable… but with the guards/royals/peasants dynamic introduced by the new expansion, it feels like success with those particular cards is a little bit more dependent on the luck of the draw now.

Still… it’s always nice to have all the extras for a game that you like, isn’t it?

From gallery of MrShep
Happy Birthday Mrs Shep!


Anyway, there was games, and there was cake. Plus a covid-compliant takeaway meal from the restaurant around the corner (I have eaten FAR too much this weekend!) and — shortly after I finish writing this blog (it’s 8pm on Sunday evening as I type) — there will also be popcorn, beer, and a streamed movie. Not a bad day in, all things considered

(Oh, and I also managed to get THIS into near-working order on Saturday night. So quite a productive weekend, all told...)

From gallery of MrShep


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Mon Jan 18, 2021 7:10 am
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Uwe Christmas

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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Christmas night… and with a successful covid-respecting Christmas-dinner-for-two (quite literally) under my belt, the obligatory-afternoon-visit-to-the-relatives which was replaced with a obligatory-afternoon-skype-chat-with-the-relatives, completed, and a bit of a drive around nearby villages to look at the christmas lights (because Mrs Shep fancied getting out of the house to do something festive) done, we settled down to another great Christmas night tradition: board games!

Beginning with a surprise gift for Mrs Shep, courtesy of the inlaws: Patchwork Christmas Edition. Now, I’ll be honest… I already own a copy of Patchwork, so never really saw the need to have a copy of its entirely-cosmetic Christmas re-skin in the house — but a gift copy? Well, that’s completely acceptable! I mean, I don’t need much of an excuse to play Patchwork at the best of times. But if the Christmas theming affords an excuse to get it out for a special play at Christmas time … well … that’s fine by me.

From gallery of MrShep
New art, Christmas tree tile marker, gold and silver player pieces, and a free cookie cutter(!?)


Mrs Shep completely thrashed me on this occasion. But of course, it was only fair to let her win, since its her game

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And with the light and fluffy starter out of the way … it was time to progress to the main course of the evening. An inaugural play of Uwe Rosenberg’s newest: Hallertau.

From gallery of MrShep


Since snapping up a copy the game at not-Essen this year, and then having it put away as a Christmas present, I’ve kind of avoided all media coverage of Hallertau (I didn’t even download a copy of the rulebook for an advance read!) figuring that it might be more interesting/fun to encounter the game completely fresh-and-new on Christmas day. So all I knew, going in to this one, was that it came in a Caverna-sized box, that the physical weight of the box suggested it had a ludicrous amount of components inside (I can’t remember the last time that I was so surprised at the heft of a game box!), and — from the pre-release blurb — I knew that hop growing and sheep breeding feature heavily. Which, obviously, was more than enough to get me excited about the game

So… what’s it about? In a nut-shell: You have 3 player boards. One of them is a glorified round tracker, which also serves as your sheep farm. There are 6 cards placed on this board, one of which will be flipped (and come into your personal hand) each round … but each card space also represents a storage pen for sheep. When you get new sheep, it’s placed in a pen 3 spaces on from the current round. If you flip a card in a space where sheep are present … the sheep die from old age. So, there’s an imperative to either “use up” your sheep before they’re too old to be useful (live sheep give you wool and milk… slaughtered sheep give you meat and hides) … OR … certain worker placement actions — actions which involving caring for your sheep — give you the option to extend a sheep’s life, allowing you to nudge it onto the next card, and live for one round longer. Sheep that are still alive at the end of the game score bonus points. Neat!

Player board number 2 is your fields board… this is where you deal with the crop resources in the game: hops, barley, malt and rye. There’s a really nice mechanism in play here, simulating 2-field rotation farming. What that means is… your fields are all occupy slots in a table … one field per column. The top line of the table represents maximum fertility. The bottom line of the table is the poorest level of fertility. If you plant a crop in a field at the top of the table, you’ll get 5 of that crop back during harvest phase, but then the field will drop down one level for the next harvest. The poorest quality fields — at the bottom of the table — only yield 2 items. Leave a field fallow for a round, and it moves up one or two rows. Plus, there are worker placement spots to fertilise fields, or add extra fields (of various fertility levels) to your farm. There are lots of very pleasing decisions here about looking after your fields, and deciding what gets planted in the “good” fields, and whether to use to poorer fields or leave them fallow for a year. All in all, this is a very nice, abstract simulation of real-world crop growing. I’m really impressed by this bit. Very elegant.

And board 3… represents the development of your village. Oh… did I mention that you’re the chief of a village, trying to out-chief the chiefs of all the other nearby villages by scoring more victory points than they do? Well, yes, that’s exactly what you’re doing. And this is the board where the point scoring (mostly) happens.

Basically, your village board has 5 little tokens on it, representing your five main industries: Carpentry, Brewing, Meat/Dairy, Baking and Manufacturing. There’s a phase in each round where you get to improve each of these buildings (i.e. slide it one or more spaces to the right) by spending appropriate resources… with the costs of those improvements escalating from round to round. If you’ve played Rosenberg’s earlier game — Reykholt — then you’ll be familiar with this core mechanism … farm a bunch of stuff, and then squeeze your stored resources as much as you possibly can to edge ahead of your opponents on these tracks. The evolution of the principle in Hallertau is that you’re moving along 5 tracks simultaneously … and when you’ve managed to progress all 5 buildings along their respective tracks (leaving an empty column in their wake), a huge tile depicting a half-timbered building — your “community centre” — shuffles up behind them. Moving this community centre tile is the main goal of the game… because there’s cut-out window on the tile which reveals numbers on the board behind; initially the number of workers you get to place each round, and then — towards the end of the game — victory points. LOTS of victory points.

Oh, yeah… workers! It’s a worker placement game… though the worker placement system is unlike anything I’ve seen in a previous Rosenberg game. (Actually… I’m not sure I’ve seen exactly the same execution anywhere before, though the component parts all seem vaguely familiar). Each round, you get a handful of worker cubes to place (depending on how far you’ve progressed your community centre, as per above). There are 20 worker placement spots to choose from… covering appropriately farmer-themed type activities like sheep breeding, or crop sowing, or field fertilising, or whatever … and each worker placement option has up to 3 “uses” attached to it. The first player to use a space only has to place one worker. The second use takes 2 workers, the third takes 3 workers … (I guess this is a tiny bit like keyflower, but without the colour-locking). The interesting thing here is… the workers don’t all disappear between rounds. If you’re playing a 4-player game, then only the TOP row of each worker placement spot gets cleared each round. And with lower player counts, you draw a card which determines which quadrants of the board have worker returns applied to them (so even fewer workers are cleared!) … resulting in a board where popular actions clog up with cubes and stay expensive, and a system which greatly rewards the pursuit of actions when they’re out-of-fashion with the other player(s). The result is a less-direct form of worker placement interaction than, say, Nusfjord … but is something that’s quite interesting in its own right — there was at least one part of the game where you could see this “economy” of player actions flowing towards an imminent choke point (in this instance, around the availability of sowing actions), instigating a very specific tactical shift that round, and a fair bit of brinksmanship in action selection.

And the last major ingredient is… cardplay! In addition to the table-consuming sprawl of boards and resource-production action, a huge part of the game involves playing cards! Each player has a hand of cards … you begin with 5 of them, but there are various worker placement spots (or card playing options) that bring other cards into your hand. Each card has a trigger condition on it … and at any point during which that trigger is met — no matter if it’s during your turn, or during that of another player — you can play the card onto the table, and stuff happens. This might be an instant effect (typically, giving you resources, or a new field) … spend something to gain something… a re-occurring resource income for the rest of the game… or a banked points bonus for the end of the game.

I can see how the card element might make-or-break this game for some people. There’s a little bit of luck-of-the-draw involved here … though, I suspect, a fair bit less than might at first seem evident. Hallertau adopts a similar approach to cards as Nusfjord and Reykholt… i.e. although the game comes with a whole heap of cards, with diverse powers and themes, the cards are curated into a number of decks… and each deck has been tuned to maximise good interactions and combos within that particular set. It’s an approach which kind of betrays Rosenberg’s statistician background, and which seemed to work really well in Nussy, so I’m optimistic that it’ll work equally well here. Hallertau has players drawing cards from 4 different decks … two of the decks are consistent from game to game, and two of the decks are provided as 4 different variants decks. So you’re looking at 16 different game card configurations, out of the box. Nice

Anyway, that’s the core nuts and bolts… there’s some other stuff going on — a jewellery box mini-board for each player (provides wildcard advances on the village board), and a collecting-tools-to-dislodge-boulders -which-impede-your building upgrades thing, which I haven’t even started to mention here… but, yeah, that’s the main moving parts.

But how well does it all hang together?

In short… pretty well. It’s a good game. A very good game.

From my first impression, I suspect it’s NOT a top-tier Rosenberg game … it’s not an Agricola, a Nusfjord or a Le Havre. But I’d certainly slot it in at second-tier Rosenberg … an Ora & Labora, Fields of Arle, or a Feast for Odin, and very happily put it forward as a thing to be played.

The farming aspect plays really well. The field management element is a particular delight, the worker placement engine is sound, and there are lots of different resources to play with. The way the game uses cards is really good fun, and gives the game a flavour that’s rather different to any other Rosenberg I’ve played.

The community centre board I’m a little less enthused by. It is, as I’ve previously mentioned, the element that’s the most obvious evolution from a previous game — Reykholt — and it can feel, very slightly, like playing five games of Reykholt simultaneously… which is no small feat, and a recipe for analytic paralysis! The rules suggest that this phase of the game should be executed simultaneously by all players, and it really seems like a game that you can only play (competitively) with folks who you trust to do this correctly, because it’s such a complex process to execute (and resource tracking in this game is so obtuse) that there’s no easy way to audit or replay the decisions that were made in this phase …especially when you factor in some extra fiddly rules about moving those boulder obstructions that I mentioned earlier. Because it was our first game, we took turns to work through this step … and that did slow down our game a lot. Obviously those steps might whizz by a lot faster with familiarity. But this aspect just doesn’t seem to flow as well as the rest of the game.

However… there’s an awful lot to like here. The stuff that Hallertau does well easily outweighs the elements that I’m less keen on. First impressions are good; looking forward to playing it again!

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Sat Dec 26, 2020 3:19 pm
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August in December

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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The August Button Shy Board Game of The Month package arrived yesterday. Odd. Seems like only a couple of weeks since I was opening the July package. This Pandemic is definitely doing strange things to the passage of time.

From gallery of MrShep


I’m guessing that the main attraction for most people this month will be Tough Skies, a tiny 3-card expansion for Food Chain Island.

I’ve only played Food Chain Island a couple of times, and I’m a bit “meh” on it (hence the lack of coverage hereabouts).

It is, essentially, a variation on peg solitaire.

Except with only 16 pegs.

And you move on top of pegs to "take" them, rather than jump over them.

And the pegs are all numbered.

And a peg can only take a numerically-adjacent-ish peg.

And each peg has a unique special power triggered after it moves.

And the more I try to explain this, the less it sounds like peg solitaire — but trust me on this one, it is totally peg solitaire. Except where it's completely different

But, alas, Food Chain Island is a game that’s never really clicked for me… it feels like it sits more at the “puzzle” end of the solo spectrum, rather than the “game” end of the solo spectrum. Like something that you solve, rather than “play”. And that's something that doesn't appeal to me as much. But some folks seem to be very into it... so I guess it’s a good month for those folks.

The thing in the package that piqued my interest more was a copy of MechAge - The Stand. MechAge is Button Shy’s super-micro mechs-vs-aliens 3-card war game. To play, you need 3 cards: a left hand half of your mech, a right hand half of your mech, and a scenario card. Plus some marker tokens and dice, stolen from some other game. You can mix and match cards with other instalments in the series for increased variety … but this 3-card set provides just enough stuff to play the included scenario.

From gallery of MrShep


It is — perhaps unsurprisingly — a little bit dicey and ameritrashy. And to be fair, I get the impression that this particular instalment is probably NOT a good one to cut your MechAge baby teeth on, as it trashes a whole bunch of fundamental features of the base game (in this scenario, your mech is defending a base… and therefore remains stationary throughout — so all the usual rules about movement and closing range between you and your enemies are scrapped, and the enemies attack the base, rather than your mech and your infantry). But it’s got that same retro-1980s-videogame aesthetic to it as Beneath Falling Skies has, which kind of appealed to me … and it kept me vaguely amused over my lunch break. Not sure I’ll go back to it though.

Never mind... Roll on September -- I believe that Skulls of Sedlec goodies are next on the itinerary

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Wed Dec 16, 2020 7:10 am
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A life lived through television

John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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It’s been a funny sort of weekend.

On Saturday, I “attended” a virtual gig…

From gallery of MrShep

On Sunday, I took part in a virtual Christening…

From gallery of MrShep

And that evening, I had a ticket for a virtual Comedy Show…

From gallery of MrShep


It was a return to virtual work on Monday, working on virtual documents, with my virtual team, for a depressingly non-virtual deadline...

and then, Monday evening arrived … which meant it was virtual Board Gaming time!

…well, actually, no,

not this week.

To be fair, of all the virtual things I’ve attempted, virtual board gaming gets a lot closer to the real experience than most of them do. (Well, perhaps with the exception of virtual work. Which feels an awful lot like real work to me). But it looked like I was going to have to work a little bit late on Monday evening, and I was starting to feel a bit tired of all the living-life-through-a-screen that’s gone on over the last few days anyway. Plus, it seemed like attendance would be down to just me and Olly this week anyway. So we decided to skip this one.

My evening wasn’t entirely game-less though. After supper, Mrs Shep & I sat down to a quick NON-VIRTUAL (hooray!) game of Clever Hoch Drei. My “legit” copy of this showed up last week… and yes, I will write about it properly, once I’ve got another game or three under my belt. But the thing is, I’m not entirely convinced that we’ve played a game 100% correctly yet; there are quite a few bonus-scoring situations that don’t seem to be thoroughly covered in the rulebook, and for which a very literal interpretation of the rules-as-written doesn’t seem correct. In fact, some folks with scoring queries have resorted to playing the (official) web-browser version of the game over and over until they could re-create exactly the same circumstances, just to see what happens. Which isn’t an ideal way to get yourself a rules adjudication on a rules question. So we’ve tended to house-rule a few little things on the fly, until better guidance emerges.

Oh well. I’m sure that all of the oddnesses will be FAQed eventually

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Tue Dec 15, 2020 7:10 am
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