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Games of the Moment 58: "I already am eating from the trash can all the time"

Demetri
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The name of this trash can is "board games". Folks, I'm preemptively sorry for this one.

Sometimes you've got to vent the old spleen, lest it get backed up and rupture. There's one good game in this entry. A whole one. And it's very good, maybe even great! But the rest are mediocre or worse. If you like watching someone complain (and you're on BGG so I suspect that's in your wheelhouse) you've come to the right place. Welcome to the show and avoid the front rows, those are in the bile splash zone.

UGH




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Gave this one the proper review treatment over at Pixel Die (https://pixeldie.com/2021/04/28/cthulhu-wars-duel-review/) and on here (https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2649499/cthulhu-wars-duel-e...).

This was my last Cardboard Diogenes Club entry and it's...fine. Probably. If I sound uncertain it's because I am. This CWD box is fairly light on content and I suspect it doesn't showcase everything the system is best at. I want to believe - truly I do, the concept of this game is one I desperately want to succeed - but my doubts won't leave me. More than anything else this is what confirmed for me that experiments like the CDC are valuable, and also not something I'm going to repeat exactly. I have ideas for new "challenges" in the future though, because that in and of itself is a kind of game.



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This is not my first rodeo with Exceed, nor with this particular set. I played a season 1 box back when it came out on a review copy, but declined to cover it as I bounced off it harder than expected. They were cool with that, fortunately. Exceed did get past that awkward start though, as my previous games with S2 proved. Cool new original characters with big punchy abilities and a great art style? Better all around I figured. And it is better! But after a few more plays I've come to the conclusion that Exceed just isn't for me, and there are a few reasons for that:

- Mucho texto: every character has a book's worth of text to parse in order to play them even somewhat effectively. It's not quite as wordy as later characters from BattleCON got, but most of BattleCON was cleaner than Exceed, as is Yomi, Unmatched, etc. The barrier to familiarity is high and wide for every character and that isn't really a flaw, but it does make teaching new players and learning new characters a pain when most fundamentals don't apply. There are also a lot of cards that could get their ideas across with fewer words, which is weird to say about a card game. I hate to say this but more keywords might have been in order.

- Brevity is the soul of hit: I like that Exceed is short. Fighting games should be short, that was Yomi's biggest weakness. But matches in Exceed just kind of stop sometimes, often as a result of a little momentum snowballing like crazy. This is helped by not drawing after strikes but even so, having gauge is better than not and landing one good ultra can decide the entire match unceremoniously. It's thematically appropriate, certainly, but not always satisfying.

- Spaced out: The big advantage that Exceed, BattleCON, and Unmatched share is a focus on spacing and positioning. Footsies, in fighting game terms. Of the three I feel like Exceed gets the least mileage from this. BattleCON had a lot of attacks with very specific ranges and often made movement effects cost a premium. Unmatched has entire maps to handle with LOS in its zones and characters blocking paths. I don't think I've ever struggled to hit someone when I wanted to in Exceed. Characters are anime fighter high flyers and can pretty much do something wherever, which makes the focus on movement feel off.

All of this is kind of weird to lay out because I can't say I dislike what's on offer here. It's a perfectly fine system and set, with every character I've tried feeling distinct and powerful in unique ways. And yet I just have no passion for it. Usually it's the other way around, where a game gets stale after numerous plays wear the novelty and excitement thin and reveal that there's less going on under the hood. Exceed is for sure a deep game and its competitive scene loves it for very valid reasons, I just can't see myself ever reaching for this in a post-Pocket Paragons world. So it goes.



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This will be a short entry because it's based entirely off a single scenario and I would need to play more before making any sweeping judgements. That's something I'm excited to do though, because our experience with that first scenario was EXTREMELY positive.

Forgotten Waters may seem like it's going to be a bit of a bear during setup, but in play it's smooth as silk. Place your pirate, take your action, mark up your sheet, probably do a skill check, move on. And it's the simplicity of that framework and its skill checks that keeps it moving at a brisk pace while still delivering a far better story-centric experience than most of its narrative-focused ameritrash contemporaries can manage. Look, I love Arkham Horror 2nd Ed and games like it as much as the next red-blooded board game person, but this is the first game that truly feels like an evolution of the genre as opposed to a rehash (Eldritch Horror) or an overwrought scenario-based Pandemic (Arkham 3rd). And it's due, in shockingly large part, to its app.

I'm typically distrustful of board game apps. As soon as a boxed game starts offloading functions to a device I often end up just wishing I'd chosen a video game instead. Video games handle admin for you and that in and of itself is an improvement. But FW doesn't just offload unfun tasks to your phone. Instead its app is the obligatory scenario book with instant page searches, voice acting, and spoiler-proofing. Thanks to PHG making it a webapp it's downloadable and easily archived, which I've done. This is the rare case of an app doing more than just enabling a game experience; it elevates it, it enhances it, it makes it genuinely better.

My early impressions are that FW could be a modern high water (ayyyy) mark for ameritrash. Looking forward to seeing what the other scenarios have to offer as well as playing with more people, which is made easier by some really solid remote play options on Plaid Hat's site and on TTS. This thing was an all-around joy to play and I can't wait to see more.



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This made me mad. Mildly. Mildly mad. The kind that's more fun than genuinely upsetting.

S&G has a fantastic hook, truly. I know I bag on roll & writes (flip if you want to get pedantic, which I don't) a lot due to lack of interactivity and variability of the puzzle on offer, but I still try them sometimes just to see if I'll be pleasantly surprised. S&G looked like it would handle everything I care about - cool spatial puzzle, drafting of cards injecting some interaction (making this game un-soloable, even!), and a whole deck of islands to scribble on? How could it go wrong? How indeed?

Our first play was fine, fun even! Comboing special box fills into other things was nice! And then our second was the same, down to about the same score differential. And the third. And so on. So we tested some different strategies. Same result. Asked some other folks who played. They reported the same, often chasing it with "but it's fun though!".

I have a reputation for being hard on games that I don't think I've entirely earned. Sure I get grumpy from time to time and I'm dismissive of games I don't like, but I rarely outright trash a game. S&G very nearly crossed that line but it doesn't make me angry enough to long-form rant about its inadequacies. If it were a person it likely wouldn't care to begin with. It's overbalanced to the point of pointlessness, a game devoid of soul, a product designed to keep people busy as they scribble on their cards and optimize, happy to compare their barely-differing numbers at the end and move on with their lives. And you know, as a thing to do over coffee in a cafe with folks who don't play games? Sure. Maybe. But that's true of practically any light game. I said the exact same thing about The Game: Q&E last bi-week and meant it as a compliment because that's a game that enhances the experience, that's improved for being with said friends. S&G doesn't get compliments from me. It feels cynical, artificial, pointless. This is not a top notch roll and write. This isn't even a top notch roll and write that uses tetrominos flipped from a deck. It doesn't care about you or your input, it just exists to busy you with Xs for 10 minutes and vomit out close scores at the end. Fewer games like this please.



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Played this on BGA when I wanted a cards and numbers fix and felt like trying something new. In summary it's wonky Hearts with no moonshot, only negative points. I never realized how much I'd miss shooting the moon until they took the whole moon away.

Avoiding taking tricks is fun when it's one option of multiple, or you have a bid to aim for. Here it's all you do. Got an opportunity to slip a point card into a trick someone else is winning? Great, do that. Good job. Pull a low hand and be judicious with which suits you burn first and you'll probably be fine. Yeah it's got the custom die for randomizing the special suit each hand, but that's a minor note that wasn't even strictly needed.

Rare is the game that I don't really "get". Papayoo is fine I guess, but who is it for? Casual card players are likely perfectly happy playing Hearts. I'm perfectly fine playing Hearts with them. If I want something more complex there are numerous options, if I want something aggressive and focused on avoidance I'll play Stick Em, and if I want something traditional-adjacent-but-not it's still easy to go for The Dwarf King, Hocus without the powers, or Fool!. Why Papayoo? I can't figure it out. Maybe there's some high level play potential I'm not seeing but it just seems like an unnecessary thing that cribs too hard from its inspirations. Harmless, and fun even, but unnecessary.

THE LAST BIT


Phew. I am relieved. This wasn't exactly a long time coming but it had been longer than usual since the less wonderful side of board game writing reared its mediocre head in such quantities. Sometimes I'm grateful for the plague completely nuking my in-person groups from orbit for this exact reason. Then I realize I miss people more than I hate playing bad games but the thought does still cross my mind.

My Vamp on the Batwalk review is mostly done, as well as one for The Deadlies. The folks over at Vamoose Co felt compelled to send a copy of Scoffton over for review which I am inordinately excited to try. Genuinely funny games are rare and this one seems like it'll deliver.

Thanks so much for reading, especially in an entry that doesn't contain much for positivity. See you all next bi-week!
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Sat May 8, 2021 3:10 pm
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Games of the Moment 55

Demetri
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It's a damn good time for more 2p games, yeah? Little peek behind the curtain - I usually do my intros and outros last. There's enough in this blog post that I think keeping them short this bi-week is justified. Hopefully you'll agree!

GAMES AHOY




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It had been too long since we'd played Greedy Kingdoms. Revisiting it confirmed that it's still a solid 2p design that uses role declaration in a very unique way. It's telling that our play looked one-sided in my favor for much of its duration and yet my opponent was 1 turn away from victory herself. The game often hinges on one or two critical turns and that keeps it exciting.

What I like about GK is the line you have to ride to play optimally. Assuming you're unblocked, snagging an early card or two is all you need to effortlessly grab the resources necessary to win. But crucially, no opponent with more than two brain cells is ever going to let you take the shortest road. So you pay for role upgrades, buildings that act as insurance, and one-shots that guarantee results because they're safe. But do you NEED them? If you can mentally shatter your opponent and obfuscate your goals you could just walk right through without any of that. It's conniving in a Netrunner-adjacent way while still being eminently approachable.



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Haven is a game I'd meant to play for some time. We actually have a physical copy of it that we picked up on a lark a while back and just...never played, which is strange for us. Fortunately when I mentioned this on Twitter my pal Dan stepped in and taught it over TTS and it left quite the first impression.

There were three things that stood out to me in our play. The first was the game's regimented pace and how it constantly threatens to break it. Generally speaking the players control when and which fights start in the game's three "lanes". However, each player also has mandatory cards that are auto-played on draw lurking in their decks which speed the game up, forcing players to be constantly alert. This provides good tension without ever feeling unnecessarily random. Sometimes a fight just breaks out, y'know? War's like that. Gotta be ready.

The second was how it manages to work in special power cards that don't dominate the entire experience. Normally a game is either all about that kind of thing or it only has a handful, and in the latter case they often end up feeling disproportionately important due to scarcity and their exceptional nature. Haven, shockingly, never felt defined by their text. That isn't to say they aren't significant as they often decided fights, but critically it was always something that we chose to do and it came at a cost. If you're drawing lore cards you aren't taking units or elements (I'm ignoring the game's terms here bc I don't want to look them up right now, sorry) and those are, generally speaking, more important more often. Going out of your way to get lore means you're going to use it, and being gifted lore due to getting beaten is a potentially significant consolation prize, but the lore cards manage to add to the core loop of lane management instead of distracting from it. That's rare to see. I like it.

Finally, the third is that I fucking shellacked Dan. Sorry dude. This isn't intended to be a brag though you can feel free to read it that way. Instead it demonstrated that despite the numerous ways the game helps the losing player of any given conflict it refuses to implement a full-on rubberbanding effect. I don't know if the game has a tendency to snowball because again, one play, but I do know that a lot of modern games equate maintaining/gaining a strong position to a negative player experience and that's bullshit. Artificial closeness and catchup mechanisms often rob games their tension and the satisfaction of plays well made. I'm glad to see Haven isn't one of those modern games. Hopefully this is an uncommon result though because hoo BOY I should not have done that well.

So yeah, I dug Haven quite a bit. Needs more plays to really unpack how I feel about it on the whole as a single learning game doesn't provide nearly enough insight on this kind of design. But I'm enthusiastic to get those plays in, and that's a good sign!



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People who spend time on BGG benefit from a lot of industry/design knowledge, but sometimes it cuts the other way. Blind faith or interest as a result of pedigree is never the way. I was reminded of this after playing Waddle purely because of who made it, not for what it was. This one's on me, folks.

Let me make myself clear from the outset - I'm not here to roast penguins. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with Waddle. My problem is that despite it being designed by Raph Koster (of Ultima fame!) and Isaac Shalev (Seikatsu!) it still wasn't something I should have played. Waddle is - and if I took the work Wizkids put into its theming into account I would have realized this - for young children and their families. In our plays Cindy said it felt like an edutainment game and I'm inclined to agree. The scoring cards are never more complex than counting to 5, odds/evens, color grouping, etc.

Waddle isn't a chin-stroking abstract and that's OK. It's a simple card game that loosely borrows from Mancala in that you place pieces in and out of pits, but there's no tricky movement rules to manage or benefits for placement beyond scoring at that moment and trying to set up your next play. Simply play a card, try to score at least 3 points because anything less is bad, repeat. It is a very easy game to play well, both in the base ruleset and the shuffled variant detailed in the back of the manual. That said, it could be very successful at teaching younger players to identify the strongest opportunity available to them and then act on it. More than anything else, I'm glad I played Waddle because it reminded me to not pay quite so much attention to the names attached to any given project and focus more on the game itself.



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Do you remember when you first got into hobby games? I do, or at least I remember how it felt when I played something that felt innovative. There was novelty for sure, there always is, but there's a feeling of electricity that comes with playing something that feels like it's breaking new ground in exciting ways. A jolt of excitement, like you've found something special. I don't get a lot of those these days, probably because I've played so many games at this point that it's harder than ever to find things that stand out. Do you see where I'm going with this?

JvH manages something that I didn't think was possible - thematically grounded 2p trick taking. OK so the actual tricks themselves aren't necessarily tied to anything, but the scoring sure is. One player is Jekyll and the other is Hyde. Jekyll is trying to score a middling number of tricks (with optimal being 5/10) while Hyde is trying to create a huge delta by either taking or losing as many as possible. At the end of each hand a marker is moved as far as the difference between the scores. Repeat 3 times, and if the marker is yanked all the way to the Hyde side of the board at any point Hyde wins. Otherwise Jekyll gets to keep control of his noggin.

It's kind of beautiful, isn't it? And I don't mean the art, though that looks fantastic too because Dutrait always delivers. It's a straightforward telling of the internal struggle resolved over a few quick, decisive conflicts. And there are more touches too, like how each suit plays off the wild potion cards, but I'll spare you a rules overview. Point being, few small box games manage to perfectly encapsulate the setting they use. Say Bye to the Villains is one example, Innovation is another, etc. JvH does the same and it does it in a genre that normally doesn't even bother with set dressing beyond the cover. It's kind of incredible.

All of this isn't even touching on the quality of the game, which I think is way up there. At least very good, possibly great depending on how more plays go. There's a lot of tactical room here. Which cards to pass, which suits to prioritize when, which potion effects to use, how to establish the hierarchical trump suits, lots to think about. Yet it's never overwhelming thanks to its almost featherlight trick taking core. Lead, follow, someone takes the trick. That's 90% of the plays. That it achieves so much with so little is worthy of commendation.



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Let's end with the opposite of the last entry, but in a good way. Rumble Nation is proof that we'll never run out of new ways to use established ideas, and that established ideas don't stop a game from feeling new. In this case we've got Catan's number tile setup fueling a wonderfully short dice allocation/area control hybrid with an immensely satisfying ending.

There's a lot of recognizable DNA in RN but it doesn't really matter. What matters is how the game feels, and it feels as fresh as it is spicy. You'd think that 15-20 mins for an area control game would render it with minimal investment or meaning, but RN dodges that bullet by not having a single area be determined until the resolution phase, when everyone's troops are deployed and you get to see how much smarter your friends are at cascading troops around the board.

It's an odd thing calling that ending a "phase" because it could easily be automated. There are no choices. Yet I wouldn't want it any other way. There is something consistently entertaining about watching reinforcements move from area to area, bouncing around like ping pong balls in a feudal Japanese dryer. Areas resolve in number order and are worth as many points as their number. Win an area and any adjacent ones where you have already have troops get reinforced, which lends the low value territories more weight as their reinforcements will influence more battles in the high-value ones. It's simple to teach but consistently interesting to see in motion, in large part thanks to the areas being numbered randomly during setup.

RN was actually a consideration for a CDC game early last year, but I passed on it as imports were a bit shaky. Now I've played it and I can confidently say it would've placed in the upper half of that set. There aren't a lot of games doing what this does and it does those things very well.

THE LAST BIT


I wasn't lying about short intros/outros, got a lot to do today and don't have time. Thanks so much for reading! See you in 14.
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Sat Feb 27, 2021 4:55 pm
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The Cardboard Diogenes Club - December's Game, and an audit of the results

Demetri
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The year's pretty much over, and you know what that means? Introspection to the point of self-indulgence. That's what it means.

January: Little Town


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I thought I started pretty strong here but in the grand scheme I guess not? Little Town's a good game, make no mistake, but I definitely played it out with my work group. You'd think being luckless beyond setup would allow for player driven flow, but it more just kind of coasts to an end state (albeit in different ways).

LT's in that awkward spot where I definitely like it, but not enough to keep it long-term. Ars Alchimia remains my favorite Japanese worker placement and possibly my favorite worker placement in general? There aren't really times where I wouldn't pick it over LT.

Could this be someone's favorite game? - Yeah, totally! It's an approachable thing that gives you a lot of room to grow as you play it more and learn how to form a long-term plan from the opening and adapt. You can get really good at Little Town and that's an excellent quality. It's just not quite my tempo.

February: Krass Kariert


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This is by far the most played "new to me" game of the year. I've played Krass/Dealt/Checkered Combos/Dirt McGirt a ludicrous amount of times by now and it never, ever gets boring. Despite my love of the genre it's so hard to write about cards 'n' numbers games, y'know? KK doesn't have the broadest decision space and that's intentional, you're meant to play through the restrictions. If the game played to one winner it wouldn't work nearly as well, but because you only need to do well enough to survive the edge of variance with the deal is significantly reduced.

Could this be someone's favorite game? - Easily. This is an amazing coffee table game and could become the go-to for any group. I could see us playing this deck to shreds. Good thing it got a US release so it's easily replaceable.

March: Ettin


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I, uh. I barely got to play Ettin. Plague hit right as I picked it up so aside from one tiny game of it it's gone unplayed.

Could this be someone's favorite game? - Look, maybe? I don't know. I couldn't know.

April: Plunder


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Plunder's an odd duck. Lots of clear inspirations, yet they come together for something that feels very new. It's capricious, mean, lucky, and solid for all of those reasons. Decidedly not a game for the majority of BGG's audience, but arguably better at what it tries to do for not attempting to please that niche as well as its own. Just a goofy yar-har time for all involved.

Could this be someone's favorite game? - For a family I absolutely think so. Hell, if I'd had this as a kid it very well could have been mine. It's got that 80s-90s big box game energy in spades.

May: King of Tokyo: Dark Edition


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I reviewed this so I'll keep it short. This is the best version of King of Tokyo you can get. I may not like their FOMO-centered approach to marketing/producing it, but that doesn't make it any worse of a game. The evil perk tree is a way better take on evolutions, keeping the game to its original length while making every side of the die valuable. Solid.

Could this be someone's favorite game? - King of Tokyo already is a lot of people's go-to. This is better, so yes.

Dishonorable Mention: Godzilla: Tokyo Clash


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I said everything I needed to say about G:TC here: https://pixeldie.com/2020/12/10/snake-eyes-5-non-reviews/

Could this be someone's favorite game? - I refuse to believe so.

June: Pan Am


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Cindy likes Pan Am more than I do. It's strange, and not entirely in a good way. In many ways it feels at odds with itself. An strategic economic game, but with die rolling and event decks that are massively impactful. Stocks, but they aren't. Target distribution, but cardplay rules that are more complex than anything else on those shelves. A brilliant bidding mechanism, but one that you can often guess the results of before the phase starts.

I do enjoy playing it, is the thing! But when you could break out Acquire, or a cube rail, or something with fewer rules and more interaction? I dunno.

Could this be someone's favorite game? - I...guess? But I have trouble imagining anyone other than a hardcore "Plane Guy" putting it on that pedestal. Cindy considers it a great pick for the teen and up croud that plays with mixed ages. I sort of agree, but surely there's better?

July: Escape the Dark Castle


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I needed something like Escape the Dark Castle this summer. It was a really fun time, one I have no regret spending time with. But I'm also done with it. Even with the expansions and not having seen literally every card, I've experienced everything this game has to offer. It just doesn't offer the same spread of experiences or degree of hilarity that something like Dungeonquest can.

Could this be someone's favorite game? - This is a really hard call because I don't think that folks with a ton of affection for this genre wouldn't have a game that got them to that point already. This is the inherent hazard of designing a love letter to a genre - you're inviting comparison to classics.

August: Gulf, Mobile & Ohio


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I played a lot more train and train-adjacent games this year. GM&O was the best of the lot. Its area control by way of auction captured the attention of almost everyone I played it with, and the unrestrained parasitism of the shares gives it a feel all its own. A lot of cube rail games get outclassed by similar games, but GM&O stands head and shoulders above most of its contemporaries.

Could this be someone's favorite game? - Do cube rail diehards ever have a single favorite? It always seems like it's a rotation of faves, not a single A-#-1 choice. I think it's possible for certain if only because it's that strong of a design.

September: AEG Big Game Night 2016


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You ever make a mistake but not regret it?

I'd considered picking this up as a storage solution for small box games that didn't require me to debox them. Turns out it really doesn't work great for that. The box's wonky dimensions and dividing solution just ended up not doing the job for me. Did include a fantastic tile version of the Kanai Factory Love Letter though, so that's a W.

Could this be someone's favorite game? - It's kind of not a game, so...

October: Rap Godz


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I called this the reverse-Wingspan earlier this year and I stand by it. A card tableau builder that's so thematically grounded that it becomes a fully fleshed out storytelling game, with nitty gritty math and long-term planning nowhere near the top of its priority list. That's much more my kind of thing. I do think you have to care about the setting to some extent in order to fully enjoy this, but that's not a criticism.

Could this be someone's favorite game? - Absolutely, albeit a small niche. I enjoy it immensely with likeminded folks. You aren't gonna win euro people over with it, and that's fine.

November: Scape Goat


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Now we're getting into stuff that's a bit more difficult to evaluate. For the same reason that I haven't been able to review Never Bring a Knife, I can't fully evaluate Scape Goat on account of this year being what it is. That said, at lower player counts I absolutely see what this game is doing and I dig it. Inverting the social deduction formula and forcing players to figure out who they are based entirely on in-game actions? Brilliant. Fantastic. Yes. More of that. Jon Perry maintains his spotless record to the point where I'll buy his stuff blind.

Could this be someone's favorite game? - Social deduction game preferences are a very case-by-case thing but this one's unique brand of paranoia could very well get there. That said, much like cube rails, this genre doesn't tend to produce a single fave as much as a handful.

December: Cthulhu Wars: Duel


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And so we come to December's game! A game that, had you told me it was being made, I would have called you a liar and to stop playing with my emotions. This is something I never thought we'd get, something that Cindy and I were EXTREMELY excited to learn about and immediately ordered. Turning CW into a 2 player experience with a handful of rule changes while pushing aggressive pace instead of the restricted one is a fantasy made cardboard. That said it hasn't shown up yet, so maybe it could all fall apart? I doubt it though. I am excited.

Could this be someone's favorite game? - I can't read the future, who knows?

THE LAST BIT


So it's time for some reflection. This experiment was interesting. I mostly enjoyed the process. I'm glad I did it. I'm not doing it again, at least not in its current form.

Sometimes you need to set rules just to get started. It's like doing a cleanse, or a weird diet, or something else for a while just to reset yourself physically and/or mentally. I think I do a better job of evaluating games now than I did about a year ago. I feel the urge to buy things far less, to the point where a couple months it was more "well I guess I could pick this up for a CDC thing" than full on enthusiasm. The middle of the year in particular was a lull (not just because of COVID) where our picks were curiosity-driven more than actual desire.

This was never a budgetary issue, not really. I just wanted to fix the way I look at games I don't own and/or want to cover but can't get a review copy of. I've accomplished that goal, I think. The KS ban aside from things I had some kind of attachment to was good for that too. The habits I've gained should help maintain the ultra-selective momentum. It also means that I'll have less crap to play for review, but that's only debatably a downside. Godzilla: Tokyo Clashes are hiding out there.

It's not really -over- since December hasn't finished and its game hasn't arrived yet, but I don't have any desire to buy anything else anyway so it's not like I'm gonna break at the last minute. The marathon's made. There may be more notes on the CDC in the future but this is the closest to a proper finale it's gonna get, I think? I really appreciate being able to use this blog as an accountability/documentation thing, it helped immensely. Thanks to everyone who came along for the ride, and especially to the folks that did some challenges of their own/for their own needs.

Thanks for reading, everyone. See you all in 14!
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Sat Dec 19, 2020 5:08 pm
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The Cardboard Diogenes Club - November's Game

Demetri
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This is kind of an odd one. Also fairly short.

Sometimes we preorder stuff at our FLGS. Sometimes those orders don't make any sense in the current climate. As an example, Cindy's been waiting on the new version of Sidereal Confluence since it was announced and she saw the new art. It is very much her kind of thing - space, talking, weirdness, high interaction, etc. That just arrived for her and she was very excited, despite us knowing full well it'll sit for a bit.

But Cindy's choices are not mine! Honestly I wasn't going to pick up anything this month as I'm focused on review copies, but I also happened to have a game come in that we may struggle to actually play:

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I like social deduction as you all know, but that means that I'm also picky. It takes more than another riff on the formula to get my attention. So an inversion of the formula? By the ever-brilliant Jon Perry? For $15? Yes, I will have that.

Fortunately it plays with lower player counts than most of the genre and has online implementations so who knows, this may see play regardless. I certainly hope so. I don't buy games just to have them around.
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Tue Nov 24, 2020 8:31 pm
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The Cardboard Diogenes Club - October's Game

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There almost wasn't an October game. As I've mentioned elsewhere, things have been busy and games have not been happening. But one thing that has happened was an online play of Rap Godz.

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I have a weird history with Rap Godz. Omari Akil is a local and a really good dude, super friendly. I tried it once in an early state and thought it worked pretty well, though it didn't blow my socks off. When it came around on KS a while back I threw some money in to support, but didn't have the funds to actually get the thing myself.

Time passes as it does, and I was reminded that I really wanted to play the finished version when BGB brought Hoop Godz to KS the other day. So I got ahold of two willing participants and we braved Tabletopia's murky depths to play it.

Tabletopia is a nice thing but it has some problems, especially with its physics. We had a deck get devoured by the table twice, the first time requiring a restart. It was kind of a nuisance throughout, though we were able to work the thing. Online goblins like this have a way at chipping away at enjoyment, if only a little, and make playing online implementations less fun than the real thing.

I'm saying all this to emphasize that despite all of the possible strikes against our play, Rap Godz was a RIOT. We all had a fantastic time, losing it with laughter as our characters took different (and wildly contradictory) paths in their hip hop careers. What struck me on this play is how richly integrated the themes and setting are with the mechanisms. In a strange way it felt like the inverse of the response games like Wingspan or most modern euros evoke - mechanically straightforward and occasionally rough, yet every hard edge and detail was crafted with very keen intent and the game was better off for having them.

I could wax lyrical on it but I'll save some thoughts for a future review after more plays. My point is that there will be more plays, online and in person, because my FLGS had Rap Godz ready to go and I had store credit waiting to be used. Like I said, local. I am happy to have this thing finally. There's some magic in this box and I want to understand it fully.
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Sat Oct 24, 2020 7:22 pm
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The Cardboard Diogenes Club - Rafflegeddon

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Two games arrived through no fault of my own. They've each been played twice thus far. They shall be documented.

Diogenes himself sustained mostly on the kindness of others. As I am a completely inauthentic imitation I haven't gone that far, but I did happen to win a drawing run by J of 3 Minute Board Games with a rather hefty payout:

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Yeah. Uh. This was kind of a big thing, both as a thing to get for free and as a physical object. Game's freaking big. It's also freaking fun. Two plays in I've more or less smoothed out the rules, and they're quite impressive. There are very few Ameritrashy games that offer as many strong tactical decisions as this seems to. Gonna dig into it a lot more.

There's also been another arrival a bit closer to our usual pay grade/interests. Cindy's had a preorder sitting for a couple months that finally came to pass:

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We're Engelstein fans in this house. Cindy's spent precious little time with roll and writes as they really aren't our cup of tea, but this seemed like it was more grounded in its setting at least. And it is! Also offers a fair amount of variety and options in a genre that typically doesn't. Definitely lacks the interaction we typically like, but as a fun thing to mess with over coffee this works well. Plus it's pinball. We like pinball.

Yep yep. Games coming in. This is fine. Point is I had little to do with it. The method works, you just need to have a partner that likes games and/or be really lucky.
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Tue Oct 6, 2020 10:14 pm
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The Cardboard Diogenes Club - Halloween Prep

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Had a particularly fortuitous set of events happen. I won't get into all of them, but accountability must be had. I nearly broke a rule and would have done so willingly had it come to that.

A local had a copy of a game that's quite out of print with no current plans (AFAIK) to fix this. I had a game he wanted. A trade was made. Had Cindy not agreed that this was a reasonable course of action for a possible (however unlikely) Halloween get together down the road I would have declined until October and moved on, but her involvement somewhat absolves.

In short: with Cindy's blessing I traded a copy of Tigris & Euphrates for Shadow Hunters.

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Is this sacrilege? To some, perhaps. T&E is a classic and SH is a largely forgotten social deduction game with roll and move! But we're all heretics now and again, and so I reject the gospel of Knizia in favor of bumbling into spooky monsters armed with chainsaws in the woods.

Weird writing aside, I just really like Shadow Hunters and we don't play T&E. SH isn't a top tier social deduction game, not really, but it's also not just a social deduction game. It's a bizarre conflict-loaded cocktail, one where you gain a significant amount of your information through cardplay and bonking people over the head. It's a game of moments, moments that are memorable, like having the Werewolf reveal himself dramatically for a counterattack only for him to completely whiff and be rent asunder by everyone at the table. Simultaneously an EVENT game and a casual one. It's good is what I'm saying.
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Mon Sep 14, 2020 3:03 pm
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The Cardboard Diogenes Club - September's Game and a Gift

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Remember when I wasn't sure what constituted one game? You probably don't because that was back in January, approximately 50 years ago. Here's the link if you want some context: https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/99574/cardboard-diogenes-...

Anyway - I did it. That's September. Yes it took that long. I am indecisive and it's not like the store sold out in the interim.

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I've already packed this thing mostly full of good games for optimized shelf storage and aesthetics. Yes good.

In other news, I have received a wonderful care package from internet board game playboy Rand Lemley! It contained two games, one I've been recommended and looking forward to trying for a couple years, the other being a spin on the prisoner's dilemma by way of a Japanese publisher with fantastic aesthetic sense.

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Peak Oil seems like it should be my kind of thing. Mean worker placement and constant jostling for position? Yes'm. Plus it's gorgeous. Good job Heiko and team. It may be a bit before I can get this played, but I look forward to it.

Dilemma is straight up goofy and kind of adorable. It's a straight up PD game, but it's also got a real time dexterity phase to establish who's going to match up with the active player on any given turn? Sounds hilarious. Getting the right group for it is difficult in the current climate, but some day. Kudos to Rand for picking super cool things to ship out - I'd never even heard of this before despite it being 20 years old!

Phew. No more accountability posting for a few unless review copies show up. Inventorying like this is good for me I think; it makes acquiring things for any reason work and therefore less desirable. Win-win.

Thanks for reading!
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Sat Sep 5, 2020 8:07 pm
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The Cardboard Diogenes Club - Replacements and Removals

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Been a bit since the last dedicated entry, eh?

This is an accountability post that you may have feelings towards. I've allowed myself some leeway, leeway that I maybe didn't need, but that serves a purpose.

I've acquired some game bits to replace lost/worn out/given away bits. For example, my liar's dice cups are basically gone. They're essentially donated to the office and folks in it. I am OK with this! But it also means that I want more cups to chuck dice with. Yellow Mountain Imports is doing a Labor Day sale and had some WONDERFULLY gaudy cups, so I bought 'em for $9-ish.

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Is that a game? Yeah, it is. But I dunno, this felt excusable somehow? I can't explain it. The real Diogenes is turning in his grave considering that I acquired the very implement he threw away. We have perfectly functional hands, after all! Feel free to call me a hack fraud, especially after part 2:

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I gave away my copy of Don't Mess With Cthulhu some time ago because Timebomb is amazing and should be played by all. This Japanese deck is jam packed with visual splendor, like a softer version of the art from Gitaroo Man. I had an in on a limited supply of copies to replace mine with and pulled the trigger. Was it necessary? No, but again, replacing things gone seems somehow more OK. I may retroactively count it as my thing this month, I'm hemming and hawing as I do. We'll see.

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The last thing I want to address is where I'm at with some of my prior selections. A fair number probably aren't sticking around long-term and may go to a remotely-handled local sale (plague proof, you see). Ride the Rails, Little Town, and Ettin are on the block. Escape the Dark Castle and Pan Am might be. We haven't figured that out yet. Cindy is a force in this after all, and I, er, haven't gotten her opinion on 'em leaving. Pan Am not being at its best at 2p kind of limits it, and while Escape the Dark Castle absolutely succeeds at what it tries to do and is gorgeous, we've kind of already chewed it up and spit it out. Kind of. I don't know. That's the emergent theme of this entry I think? Losing some grip and what games are/are for. I'm sort of OK with that in a way.

I'm not even going to read this back. Just gonna publish the word vomit. Thanks for reading!
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Fri Sep 4, 2020 1:52 pm
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The Cardboard Diogenes Club - Off the Cube Rails (and also August's game)

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Bit of a different piece this bi-week - I'm going to write about a specific topic. It might end up being sort of a review/reviews? I don't know yet.

I've had a gradual introduction to cube rail games over the last 2-ish years. It began, as I assume many do, with Chicago Express. I haven't spent much time with it since so my memory's a bit foggy, but I remember being impressed far beyond my expectations. Then I played Northern Pacific (my introduction to Tom Russell's games as well) and absolutely fell in love with what the genre could be even at its most distilled. Trains may not do anything in particular for me, but high-interaction spacial knife fights sure do. This "cube rails" thing had my interest.

Since then I've spent time trying trying several others which I won't delve too far into so as to not get lost in the weeds just naming Winsome games over and over. Highlights include the bombastic Irish Gauge and the oddball charms of The Soo Line, lowlights mostly consist of an excruciating 2-hours-and-some-change playthrough of Locomotive Werks so painful that a friend spite-sold his copy of Chicago Express afterwards due to train-induced PTSD. Yes I know it's not cube rails, but it was Winsome! I wanted to believe!

Anyway.

Today I want to focus on two games. They're both by John Bohrer, which should surprise no one familiar with the genre. The reason I've tagged this as a Cardboard Diogenes Club entry, besides it chronicling an acquisition, is that it directly ties back to one of the two preorder games that I specifically set up at the start of the year. As those were the only two I actually planned around it seems right to give them special treatment on the blog. This entry isn't particularly structured, so if you're here for honest to goodness stream of consciousness mind vomit I've got plenty.

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For context: Ride the Rails and Cosmic Frog were the two games I announced at the outset of this year that I would buy, despite not having played either at the time. I've since played both. Cosmic Frog is good, but this is not a post about Cosmic Frog.

Irish Gauge was an absolute sensation with my work group. We played it over 50 times at least. I don't track plays so I don't know the exact number, but based on how many months it hit the table in a row that's a very conservative number. Point is it was a sensation. I was absolutely locked in for Iron Rails 2, knowing full well that it would be a different game, because if it was even mostly as good as IG I figured it'd be worth it.

I was half right. It goes without saying that Ride the Rails is a very different game despite its aesthetic trappings. No auctions, instead focusing on generating victory points (they call it money but it's never spent so it's VPs, fight me) via shared incentives and route creation. Ok! I like those things too. As a matter of fact the game's 3 phases are pretty clearly delineated: get stock (incentives!), lay track (routes!), scoot passengers for points (pick up and deliver!). And this is where I started to lose the thread.

The actual play of Ride the Rails lies in those first two phases. Choosing which companies to go in on and how to spend their very limited cubes (tiny trains but still) is great! I like it in other cube rail games and I like it here. Where RtR loses me, and I really didn't expect this to be a problem, is the actual scoring mechanism. Looking past the weird thematics of passengers wanting to take the longest routes possible (these games are ultra mechanical and that's fine), this part of the game just isn't interesting. It's actually pretty easy to math out which passengers to scoot for the most points, and it only takes slightly longer to find one that's almost as good while avoiding paying your friends quite as much. But - and this is the critical point - that process is not fun. And of all your time spent in a play RtR, over half of it is spent here.

I've seen a few folks voice concerns about analysis paralysis in this phase. I don't have that problem because I'd rather fumble than waste time, and other people taking their time doesn't particularly bother me. But my god it just takes too long to drag a meeple from hex to hex to hex, counting everything it touches, scooting the bits on the calculator time and time again. Even with the adjusted scoring method attributed to Heavy Cardboard this just takes too darn long for how little is actually getting done. I found myself getting impatient, not with the players but with the game itself, and this was true in multiple sessions with different players.

My other problem with RtR is the sheer amount of bits. Many hands make light work here, but compared to the elegance of Irish Gauge almost being devoid of upkeep this was a rough adjustment. Playing a version on Tabletop Simulator only did so much to alleviate this as moving bits on that platform is like playing every game with chopsticks; it's almost surgical. I couldn't help but think that it would be better as an app with a bot managing upkeep, but then you'd sacrifice much of the social element which is the entire point of the thing.

I got the additional maps with RtR and haven't played them. I've been told they're better, and I can kind of see why, but I don't think I want to spend much more time with this system. Other folks I know have this and perhaps I'll play theirs sometime after enough time passes. It isn't a bad game, to be clear. And I'm not mad that one of my two "special games" didn't land for me. I'm just disappointed. I'll still be very interested to see what Iron Rails 3 brings but there'll be a number skip on the shelf if I decide to pick it up next year.

With that said, I've replaced it. With another Bohrer box, even! And now we arrive at August's game:

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I was introduced to GM&O a few weeks ago by some cube rail enthusiasts. Initially I was a bit put off, what with the dozens of card stacks and funky "divide everything you bid by 3" system. Despite tying for a win at the end I never quite felt like I had a handle on what the game was trying to do. It felt weird, especially so. But unlike RtR's milquetoast abacus management, that feeling stuck in my brain afterwards for days. I had to play it again, try some things, pull some levers, see if it worked the way I thought it did. And that was the point where it cracked wide open.

GM&O can easily be described as an auction game because, well, it is. You have to bludgeon each other with bags of money in order to get almost anything done. There are only four possible actions in the game, one of them's a pass, and the other three all cost player-determined dollar amounts. But there's more to it than just auctions here. No one "wins" an auction in GM&O. You pay for the privilege of affecting the game state. You pay to choose when your actual turn is. You pay to force the cube color to change. You pay to leech off your opponents' work. You pay, you pay, you pay, and it's in this cycle of paying into an uncaring bank that's particularly stingy with its dividends that the game lies. Unlike most euro games the "worth" of an action is nigh impossible to ascertain. Oh sure, I can tell you exactly how many points you're getting per dollar, but what's a point worth in this particular game? Is it a high scoring one or a low? The degree to which this system allows players to steer the course of the game is practically unlimited, and it does all of this in under an hour.

Of course, some of this goes away past the halfway point once players are building to cut routes and connect cities for color bonuses before anyone else does. But the game you play from then on is the one your actions have created. I've played 6 games of GM&O at time of writing and not a single one of them has felt remotely the same. An example: in our most recent session someone made a particularly spicy play, spending somewhere in the 20s of dollars (a lot of money!) to completely cut off Atlanta (the most valuable city!) from every direction. Completely surrounded, no way in or out, scorched earth. He ended up losing the game as we managed to create alternate hubs while his expansion efforts couldn't keep up, but the fact that that was even possible and could work blew me away.

I also want to take note of the parasitism. GM&O doesn't opt for the shared incentives that many of these games love to toy with. Instead, buying the second share (which is the ONLY other share) of a company is a purely selfish act. It reduces the original owner's income, allows the buyer to place cubes for their own score exclusively, and makes the buyer money when dividends pay out. There is no "helping" here unless you count capitalizing off the board state at opportune moments as "helpful", which I do not. This is a knock down drag out area control game that's entirely powered by your wallet. It's wonderful, and much unlike any other cube rail game I've played. That isn't to say there aren't others that work this way - I probably just haven't played them yet - but I love what this does from start to finish. So I grabbed it from my FLGS. This is August's game. Yes it's on 8/1, and I'm ok with that. GM&O is worth it, and will be sliding directly into the vacated spot RtR left.

Was this fun for anyone to read? I don't know! I didn't play a super broad spread of games over the last two weeks so I needed to do something different and this seemed more or less in line. Let me know what you thought, maybe I'll shift programming around more often.

Thanks so much for reading! See you all in 14.
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Sat Aug 1, 2020 8:01 pm
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