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"Play it Straight" for 2011

Nate Straight

Covington
Louisiana
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After deleting all of the plays from my early years on BGG because I felt uncomfortable with the inconsistency of my data entry, I avowed myself to begin anew sometime around last Christmas and have kept up the recording of my plays faithfully throughout this entire year.

This blog post is a record of what I've played, bought, and enjoyed this year past, hopefully broken down in a semi-interesting fashion so as to provide more insight than one might get simply by looking at my play count. All in all, it's been a pretty great year.

Summary Overview

In all, I racked up 422 total plays this year, of something close to 190 unique titles [things like Settlers vs. Seafarers, Zheng Fen vs. Tichu, and Ticket to Ride vs. TTR: Europe muck this up a bit, but it's close]. That's an average of right around 8 games a week.

Of those 190 titles, roughly 2/3rds were single plays of the game in question. A little over 10% were games I played 5 times or more during the year. I guess that technically makes me a bit more of a buffet gamer than I'd like to categorize myself as, but ok.

Fives and Dimes

My dimes on the year include:

Pedro - 20 plays
Race for the Galaxy - 15 plays
Ninety-Nine - 13 plays
Goblin Market - 12 plays
Magnate - 11 plays
Crayon Rails - 10 plays [9 EB + 1 ER]

Honorable mention to Container at 9.

My nickels for the year include:

51st State - 7 plays [9 if I count my New Era plays]
Galaxy Trucker - 7 plays
Merchant of Venus - 7 plays
Twilight Struggle - 7 plays [in 1 week]
Can't Stop - 6 plays
The Lord of the Rings - 6 plays
Mahjong - 6 plays [2 as Mhing]
Memoir '44 - 6 plays
Schnapps Inn - 6 plays [my own Decktet game]
Through the Ages - 6 plays
Agricola - 5 plays
Corundum Conundrum - 5 plays [another of my own Decktet games]
Cosmic Encounter - 5 plays
Stone Age - 5 plays
Vikings - 5 plays

Honorable mentions to Acquire, Alien City, and Ascend at 4 plays each.

Other fives and dimes of note:

Series: 18xx games - 9 plays: 3 each of 1830 and 1870: Railroading across the Trans Mississippi from 1870; 1 each of 2038: Tycoons of the Asteroid Belt, Poseidon, and Ur: 1830 BC

Splotter games - 5 plays: 1 each of Antiquity, Indonesia, Oraklos, Roads & Boats, and Ur: 1830 BC

Icehouse games - ~15 plays: 4 of Alien City; 1 of Skurðir; and anywhere between 5 and 10 rounds of Zendo

GMT games [not listed above] - 5 plays: 3 of Dominant Species; 1 each of Urban Sprawl and Here I Stand

Decktet games [not listed above] - ~19 plays: 4 each of Ascend and Bharg; 3 each of Hermit and Quincunx; 1 each of Ace Trump, Colour Bazaar, Fifes & Drums, Kingpins, and Varg Bid [if you're keeping score, that's something like 52 Decktet plays; one per week!]

Reiner Knizia games [not listed above] - 13 plays: 3 of Tigris & Euphrates; 2 of Stephenson's Rocket; 1 each of Battle Line, Nightmare Productions, Looting London, Modern Art, Ra, Samurai, Through the Desert, and Tower of Babel [keeping score, that's 19 of his]

Rondel games [Mac Gerdts only] - 7 plays: 3 each of Antike and Imperial; 1 of Navegador [hon. mention to Finca and Guatemala Café]

Vlaada Chvátil games [not listed above] - 6 plays: 3 of Dungeon Lords, 2 of Space Alert, 1 of Dungeon Petz [making 19 total of his]

Alan Moon games - 9 plays: 4 of 10 Days in Europe; 1 each of Airlines Europe, Oasis, San Marco, Ticket to Ride, and Ticket to Ride: Europe

Martin Wallace games - 9 plays: 2 each of Age of Steam, Byzantium, and London; 1 each of Automobile, Brass: Lancashire, and First Train to Nuremberg

Wolfgang Kramer games - 5 plays: 3 of Colosseum; 1 each of Hacienda and Master Builder

All designers with +10 plays on the year:

Darwin Bromley
Vlaada Chvátil
Franz-Benno Delonge
Reiner Knizia
Thomas Lehmann
Cristyn Magnus
P. D. Magnus
David Parlett
Sid Sackson
Nate Straight (whistle)
Ignacy Trzewiczek
Martin Wallace

Honorable mention to Richard Hamblen with 9.

Taking Five on Fives and Dimes

There aren't / weren't too many surprises in my most-playeds, either of games, designers, or publishing houses.

Pedro at the top is to be expected. It's the traditional card game of choice in my in-laws house. We play a round nearly every time we get together.

Race in the second spot is also to be expected. Until we got 51st State earlier this year, it was our go-to 2-player at-home 1-hour time-filler [hyphen-mania!].

Ninety-Nine is a new-found favorite of mine. I'd like to see it and Parlett's other titles hit standard rotation.

The Decktet games sprinkled throughout my fives and dimes aren't surprising considering how much I've been pushing it this year. The newly revised Decktet Book was just released a month or so ago, with twice as many games as the first edition, and my interest in the system is still only growing. I still think this was the most interesting thing to happen in gaming in the first decade of this millennium.

"Draw trains" [as my sister-in-law calls the Crayon Rails series] took our home and family a bit by storm when I randomly picked up a copy this year with a B&N coupon. 10 total plays on the year between at-home and with-family gaming. I bought a copy of EB for my brother for Christmas. His in-laws bought him India Rails. I expect this series to continue to excite and entice and entertain for many years to come.

Container is only just now starting to make sense to me, after roughly ten total plays [I think I had one unlogged last year].

Merchant of Venus and 51st State are a sort of "something old, something new" best-of-show in the new-to-me category for 2011. Absolutely fantastic games that have fired others.

Twilight Struggle is funny to see on the list. We bought it at our FLGS' grand opening back in March, played it 5 times the first day we had, twice later that week, and not since.

Lord Of The Rings, I guess, is the biggest surprise. I think most of those plays were on one night, trying desperately to win.

Things I Didn't Play This Past Year

BGG tells me there are 107 items [excluding expansions] in my collection that are "unplayed" [remember I restarted all tracking last holiday].

Of those, roughly a dozen [maybe as many as 2 dozen] are very recent purchases from BGG.con or other trades / purchases. Of those remaining, roughly 3 or 4 dozen are a miscellany of mass-market titles, traditional card / board games, or Icehouse / Decktet titles I've tried once and discarded. I mark "owned" on all traditional card / board games I like and on most mass-market titles I have copies of [even if I rarely play either category], as well as on any Icehouse or Decktet games that I've tried [or remember trying] so I can track my comments even if I don't plan to play the game again [most of these unplayed-in-2011s are in that category].

That leaves something like 40-50 legitimate "games" in my collection that I probably should have played in 2011 but didn't. A few are sitting on the trade pile for this reason [~10 games]; others are things I really enjoy and would probably never trade, but that don't really suit my group [Taluva, Attika, Torres, Khronos, Lowenherz, Rheinlander, Shear Panic, Volcano... tile-laying much?]; a few scattered others are titles that definitely should have seen play this year [Genoa, Cleopatra, etc]. Nearly all of the 100 games on the list were played no longer ago than 2010. Excluding recent purchases / trades, there are maybe 2 or 3 completely unplayed games.

I'm pretty happy with my unplayed list from the past year. I would have liked to see any of those tile-layers hit the table [and Acquire, their grandfather, see a full 5 plays].

Some Thoughts on the "Best" Games of 2011

Best "New To Me" Pre-2011 Game: Ninety-Nine takes the category according to my assigned ratings over the year. It's a perfect modern 3-player card-game in a traditional style; a must-play.

Honorable mentions: 51st State might fire Race for us. Merchant of Venus might crack my top-ten. MarraCash, Chinatown, and Vino are wonderful 90s Euros. Antiquity and Indonesia are intense.

Best Game(s) Released in 2011: Yes, Eclipse really is quite good. We're 2 plays in, 2-player only. It's not a 2-player game, but it's still really fun and has all kinds of space [ha!] to explore.

A few re-hashes / re-releases stand out: The long-awaited 1830 reprint is really nice, and New Era fixes nearly everything that was "wrong" with 51st State. I think Space Bastards is fantastic.

I haven't played enough of Dungeon Petz [1 play, own it], Super Dungeon Explore [1 play, don't own], Upon a Salty Ocean [0 plays, own it], or Mage Knight [0 plays, don't own] to comment much.

I doubt Dungeon Petz or Salty Ocean have enough "umph", but they seem great for what they are. Mage Knight or SDE both could give Eclipse a run for the money for many thematic gamers.

Best Game To Win A Major Title in 2011: Dominant Species took the BGG Golden Geek award in the overall vote and "strategy game" sub-category. A well-deserved win for a really good game.

Dominant Species is a dramatically interactive game compared to previous winners of similar awards. This is a good sign. It's also not ashamed of its epic length. Also a good sign. Score.

Some Final Thoughts on My Personal Gaming in 2011

2011 was a year of firsts for me. A new FLGS opened up [the first in town in quite awhile, and much nicer than any that had previously existed]. I don't want to count it up, but I'm pretty sure I've spent over $500 there since their grand opening in March. I've met at least a dozen local gamers from playing there. This is my first experience with an FLGS.

Also, it was the first BGG.con and BGG Secret Santa for me and Cat. We had a lot of fun with both. BGG.con was mostly a smashing success, my only complaint being my confusion over how to work the hot games room successfully. We each also got our first GeekBadges [and I got my first overtext] this year for our BGG personas.

This blog [and the whole blog system] is also new for 2011, if you recall.

Thanks for reading along with us so far. Resolution for 2012: Post much more.
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Sun Jan 1, 2012 4:36 am
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"Play it Straight" at BGG.Con

Catherine Straight
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I'm sure Nate will come in later and give a more detailed account of what all went on and talk about a couple of games in paticular.

EDIT: Here is said more detailed account: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/74922/what-i-played-at...

I wanted to thank everyone we got to meet and game with. We had a lot of fun and are talking about going again sometime. Nate of course got in more gaming than I as I like my sleep and will get as much as I can now before I won't be able to.

These are the games (that I have not played before) that stood out to me the most in no paticular order:

Vintage
MIL (1049)
Poseidon
The New Era
Mecanisburgo
Urban Sprawl
Greentown

New games we bought from essen preorders, virtual flea market, and flea market:

Hunting Party
1835
König von Siam
Cannes: Stars, Scripts and Screens
Bus
Rise of Empires
Dungeon Petz
Upon a Salty Ocean
Dakota
Hermagor
Oraklos

Thanks to everyone who made this a memorable trip. We had fun.
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Mon Nov 21, 2011 6:21 pm
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On Originality -- Is there nothing new under the sun?

Nate Straight

Covington
Louisiana
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Had a chance this week to play two new-to-me [and new in general] games in similar styles. One struck me as almost entirely derivative, while the other was fresh and interesting and had some actual spark of newness about it. I figured it might make a nice blog.

Board Game: Eminent Domain
Eminent Domain isn't released to the public yet [as far as I know] but my FLGS managed to snag one of the preview copies in Tasty Minstrel Games' "Preview Nights" event. At the shop's Thursday night open boardgaming event, Cat and I had a chance to try it out. I played it once and Cat played it twice. We both left feeling that it was fun enough, but nothing we'd ever choose over Race for the Galaxy.

If you haven't read any of the early reports, the game is essentially a hybrid of mechanisms from Glory to Rome, Dominion, and Race for the Galaxy. Essentially, Tasty Minstrel has taken the action cards from Race and duplicated them many times over. This set of cards forms your starting deck for a Dominion-style deck-builder, so that when you draw your initial hand you'll see, instead of Coppers and Estates, things like Develops, Settles, Produces [the names are only vaguely changed in Eminent Domain, but the functions are almost entirely a direct port from Race]. From this hand of cards, you'll be able to carry out game actions [exploring for new worlds, colonizing new worlds, producing goods, etc]. As in Glory To Rome, you can boost the strength of the action if you have matching cards, except they come from this Dominion-hand rather than your GTR-clientele. As in Glory To Rome, other players can "dissent" [read: "think"] to draw new cards or follow along to carry out the same action, again taking cards from their hand rather than a clientele of previously-played cards. After you're done, you "clean up", except unlike Dominion you can choose to keep a few cards until your next draw. The game ends when the VP tokens are gone [a la Race] or a number of role stacks are gone [a la Dominion].

The things you're doing in the game are colonizing planets [which give you points and the potential to produce and consume goods] and developing technology [which instead of going into your tableau go into your hand action-card-style as in Dominion]. You can "Survey" which lets you draw planets from the separate planet deck. Then you can engage in "Warfare" or "Colonization" which let you gain the benefits of the planets you've Surveyed [essentially, these two roles are just two ways of "paying for" your planets, akin to the two ways in Race]. Once you've got some planets, you can "Produce" or "Trade", which work exactly as they do in Race except each good is always worth 1 point and you're limited to producing/consuming a number of goods equal to the number of phase power cards you have in your hand. Finally, you can "Research" which lets you pick up the special action cards ["technologies"]; you're limited by the number of research phase cards you hold and the number and type of planets you've settled. These cards go into your hand and then get shuffled through your deck eventually, so that you can re-use them every time they come up. They do all the fancy stuff you might expect: "Settle a planet then settle again", "Produce 2 resources for 1 card", "Gain x points for each y", etc. Your standard powers.

The most original thing here is, I guess, the way the role cards are handled: When you "lead" a role on your turn, you take a card from the role stacks rather than from your hand, with the option of boosting the strength from the cards already in your hand. The little tagline the publisher's been using is that "As you take actions more often, you become better at them" because the role cards you've taken go into your deck to eventually pile up in your hand and give you even bigger boosts next time you take the role. This is cute, but it's not quite the revolution they've made it out to be. After all, the more you buy money cards in Dominion the better you get at buying money cards in the future; the more you buy cards that support a deck-thinning strategy the better you get at deck-thinning. Essentially, taking the free role card for "leading" in Eminent Domain is just a zero-cost mandatory buy. So, you'll be picking up cards that support your over-arching strategy ["Do I want to settle a bunch of planets or go for technology?" with the answer being "Take a bunch of colonize cards" or "Take a bunch of research cards", respectively] and then shuffling through your deck doing those actions. One of the bigger problems seems to be that some of the roles [Colonize] are just way too useful so everyone takes them, removing the specialization aspect and forcing everyone down similar paths.

The technology cards are cute, but are rather limited in scope [there are very few duplicated cards, so they're more analogous to GTR or Puerto Rico buildings in this respect than to Dominion action card stacks] and effect [by the time you've got enough "Research" cards to buy the "big ones", you'll probably only get to use them once or twice each]. Other aspects of the game are limited, as well; you'll probably only end up settling 5 or 6 planets, at most, during the game. Most of your action / progress will be taking new role cards into your deck, but [again] the variety here is limited by there only being 5 roles to choose from. The game ends up not having the heavy super-combo-building aspect of Race or GTR because of the limited amount and expected use of powers, not having the deck-tweaking / diversity-of-approach of Dominion because of the limited set of roles / actions and the need to have Colonize and at least a few Surveys before you can make any use of the Produce/Trade or Research powers that might let you specialize / distinguish yourself a bit. There are certainly some different strategies to pursue, but I have a feeling after you've done the two or three big strategies [Research, Colonize->Consume, maybe Survey-Colony spamming] in the game you'll have "seen it all". This would be fine if it had the depth / scope of Puerto Rico [which has only a few strategies], but it doesn't.

The main problem with the game isn't its scope, though [after all, I like Magnate quite a bit, which has a very limited scope / arc], but the complete lack of anything novel aside from the cute combination of mechanisms from the three heavy-hitters in the genre. Magnate has the funky probability distributions to deal with that drive easy-build-low-yield vs tough-build-high-yield decisions [a subset perhaps of "short term gain" vs "long term gain" tradeoffs, some of my favorite decisions / problems in all of gaming], which aren't really present in Battle Line, Lost Cities, Balloon Cup, the Catan Card Game, or anything else that it pretty blatantly rips from; this gives Magnate an entirely new problem to solve, and gives players a reason to choose it over similar titles. Eminent Domain doesn't really seem to present any new problems; it's a game entirely based on mechanics rather than meta-mechanics [the things you're using mechanics to do: optimize marginal gains, seek out game-winning combos, maintain competitive growth rates, etc]. Or maybe it's just that the central meta-mechanic ["select a specialized path of actions and pursue it more faithfully than your opponents pursue theirs"; see Puerto Rico, Navegador, etc] doesn't interest me much. It felt like Eminent Domain embodied the "nothing new under the sun" dilemma. "This does this, but that does that; pick one and do it more times than your opponent" isn't very interesting or innovative.

Board Game: 51st State
51st State was a game I picked up recently as a birthday purchase, despite no recommendations or real hype to commend it. Its tagline is [in Engrish] "One card, three possibilities, tens of decisions" [yes, really]. It is in the same overall genre as Eminent Domain, Race For The Galaxy, Dominion, Glory To Rome, etc: tableau-building, power-combo card games. Unlike Eminent Domain, 51st State seems to bring something new to the genre.

At its core, 51st State is a resource allocation game kind of like Through The Ages. Every turn you get some resources, and you use them to play more cards that will give you more resources or spend them using your set of special powers to gain victory points. It's "economic snowball" and "efficiency engine" through and through; keys to winning are making the best use of your scarce resources and making them as "less scarce" as you can as fast as you can. The catch is that there is an added dilemma that produces the "tens of decisions" promised; namely, when choosing to increase your resources [build your "engine"], you must choose between "more right now", "less but more often", or "more potential and more points but more work". What if the "Mineral Deposits" card in TTA was also the "Iron" card and was also the "Transcontinental Railroad" card? How would you choose which power to use if they were mutually exclusive and could never be combined? This is the central problem that 51st State offers. TTA offers a bit of these "now or later" / "time value of money" trade-offs, but much less directly because you can always "do both". 51st State asks you to actively choose whether you want a boom-and-bust economy, a lean consistent production model, or a fully integrated supply chain with very high overhead.

The way it works is that there are three ways to "pay for" a card, three "powers" on each card, and three ways to use a card. There is a "red" power which takes red currency to put into play; if you choose this option, you will be able to use the card to get a one-time influx of a lot of resources. There is a "blue" power which takes blue currency to put into play; if you choose this option, you will get much lower resource output, but you will get it every turn instead of as a one-shot deal. There is a "white" power which takes white currency to put into play; if you choose this option, the card will be worth a point [red and blue aren't] and might generate some each-turn income, but usually will require you to commit extra resources in a "x for y" conversion function scenario to gain the benefits [points or further resources] of the card. Individually, these functions are present in nearly all resource-type games [influx vs income; cash vs points; etc], but it is the combination of all three on each card that makes this game tick, and makes it feel original. Because you need three different currencies [essentially a refined resource, in most cases] to use each of the three different card options, the way you set up your "engine" will determine to a pretty large extent the way your income model and cash/resource-to-points model will work. Rather than just casually building up along a different specialization track at approximately the same pace, you might be moving in bumps and spurts while another player is gradually ramping up efficiency.

A recent review of 51st State [see, I'm linking to a negative review of each game; I'm trying to be fair!] describes the game as "actually a fairly stock-standard {resource}--->{engine}--->{VPs & more resources} style tableau game where the focus is very production-oriented and very solitaire in nature." This is accurate, but it kind of misses the point. "{engine}" is a fill-in-the-blank here, and it could theoretically be the engine of anything from a lawnmower to a diesel truck to a coal-fired steam engine. No one's going to intentionally play TTA relying on "Mineral Deposits" and "Rich Land" to make up for poor resource productivity [though they might be forced to do so as a result of poor planning]; I could see someone playing 51st State with the intention of looting and pillaging as many high-value one-time gains as possible instead of focusing on marginal gains to each-turn income. In fact, this is probably the ideal strategy for some of the game's asymmetric starting positions. Maybe it's just that short-term-vs-long-term is one of my favorite quandaries in gaming, but this strikes me as a much more interesting and multi-faceted game system than "See who can stay ahead on the marginal growth curve". If nothing else, it doesn't seem to really have been tried before in this particular manner. I've certainly never seen a mechanism very much like it. Race has "cards as resources" vs "cards as engine", but not in the overlapping "cards as quick firecracker engine," "cards as slow consistent engine," "cards as powerful resource-hungry engine" tradeoff trifecta used here.

I have to point to the mind of Ignacy Trzewiczek to find the impetus for this three-uses model, whereas I can't really point to Seth Jaffee but to Carl Chudyk or Donald X. Vaccarino or Thomas Lehmann to find the source for the interesting ideas in Eminent Domain.
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Mon Aug 1, 2011 5:06 pm
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"Play it Straight" for our Anniversary Updated

Catherine Straight
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Lacombe
Louisiana
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So Nate took off Thursday and Friday for our 4 year wedding anniversary and 9 year anniversary of just being "more than friends". Thursday just so happens to be the day of our anniversary and our FLGS weekly board game night. So ... Can you guess what we are doing?

We are meeting up with two fellow gamer brothers, Jacob and Jerry, shortly after lunch to begin gaming. After everyone else gets off work and such, the rest of our game group will be showing up. How better to begin year 5 than by gaming?

It is a great joy to have such a loving and caring husband who enjoys so many of the same hobbies and interests.

Stay tuned for when I update with our fun filled gamiversary. laugh

Edit: Update

The gamiversary is almost over. We will probably finish up the rest of the day/night with some M*A*S*H.

Nate cooked a yummy Indian lunch in which we got the recipe from this geeklist entry and I made some Naan from one of the following comments yesterday. After lunch we headed over to +1, our FLGS to met with several of our gaming buddies. Here is a run down of what we played and who won.

Return of the Heroes: Cat
Dungeon Lords: Jacob
Race for the Galaxyx2: Simon x2
Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization: Nate
Alien Frontiers: Cat

There were some other games going on that neither Nate or I were playing so I didn't see what was played nor who won.

We had a blast and want to thank everyone who shared today with us and sent us warm wishes!kiss
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Tue Jun 14, 2011 9:43 pm
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"It's been nice knowing y'all"

Nate Straight

Covington
Louisiana
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So by sheer coincidence, we planned our first game of Civilization tomorrow not realizing that the rapture is scheduled to occur at the same time.

Whoops. Our bad.

Since it's such a long game, whatever timezone that glorious event is set to tee-off in [it's 5:00 somewhere], we'll probably be otherwise engaged.

But, never fear.

It would be the end of Civilization as we know it, but I've made all the proper preparations. I had our FLGS install a RaptureHatch[TM] last week!

From gallery of NateStraight


I would say I'll be coming back tomorrow to report on yet another 8-hr game [this poor scheduling must be some kind of cosmic revenge for our playing that evil evolution-themed game, Dominant Species, last week], but things aren't looking so good availability-wise.

Well, here's hoping.

Barring the end of the ages, I'll have a session report of our journey through the ages [not Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, mind you] to share tomorrow. I hear there's still time to get your own RaptureHatch[TM], but a skylight will do just as well.
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Fri May 20, 2011 8:11 pm
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"Wow, that sucked!" -- On the writing of negative reviews

Nate Straight

Covington
Louisiana
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I figured something out.

I think I know why nobody writes or likes negative reviews around here.

Last night, Cat and I tried out Phoenicia which I had taken from my mom's collection [she buys a lot of games on Tanga, hence why she had this otherwise not very desirable game].

WOW. I really think this might just be the worst game I have ever played. I gave it a generous 2 for a rating. I don't think there was a single interesting decision to be had in the game.

It's an "economic" game with no economics. There aren't any trade-offs, because you simply don't have enough options for spending your money [literally; you need workers in order to make production engine choices, but only get them from something like 3 cards in the entire game; the only other thing to buy with money are the auctioned development cards, of which--with 2 players--a grand total of 2 are available every turn, which will be bid up such that one player gets one and the other player gets the other]. There is almost literally no opportunity cost because there is almost no opportunity in the game; you have one thing to spend money on, and you spend it.

Compare to The Scepter of Zavandor which a) Allows you to purchase outright the equivalent of Phoenicia's "workers", giving you an actual trade-off between bidding on cards and building up your engine; and b) Throws in the entirely separate skill track sub-game, which gives you a third main option for the use of your money, leading to a much richer opportunity cost analysis. Both are nearly identically the same system [pulled from Outpost, as I understand], but the difference in the games [I still think Zavandor might as well be in the BGG top 100 or even top 10 given what the general BGG populace likes] is really quite remarkable. The games are so very very different.

Now, I'd love to go and write a glowing negative review of Phoenicia, but I won't.

Why? Simply because I have no desire to play the game ever again, and thus no "leg to stand on".

When you watch a movie, for instance, you've by definition experienced everything you were supposed to in the film. Now, one person may have better knowledge of the genre and be able to better articulate where the film deviated from the expected plot direction or character styling, and another person may have better knowledge in general and be able to latch on to interesting tensions and philosophical questions in the story line of the film... but in the end you've both experienced "the same thing" [actually, GAH, this is a rather strong proclamation I've just made that I'm not sure I could--or would even want to--rigorously defend, but problems of empiricism aside, you get the point].

People don't seem to have the same "one and done" approach to board gaming [and this is probably a good thing, mind you]. If I went and posted a negative review after our one play with just 2 players, I'd get slammed from fans of the game for "not giving it a fair try" and "not experiencing the full complexities of the game on your first play" and "needing to try the multi-player game at X sweet spot" etc. Similarly, there are unresolved questions I might want to ask about the differences I outlined above between this game and Zavandor. Is Phoenicia really as inflexible and uninteresting as I experienced it to be on my first play? I'll never know because I likely won't ever play again.

It takes a strangely sadomasochistic person to play a game they didn't enjoy and don't expect to ever enjoy over and over again just so they can have "enough" experience with the game to write a bad review.

Why would I want to do that when I could be playing a better game? Answer: I wouldn't, and I won't. And so I won't likely ever write a negative review of a game that is truly bad, like Phoenicia, because I like to write informed reviews.

Instead, I'll keep ranting about mediocre games that I play more often.

C'est la vie
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Sun May 8, 2011 2:05 pm
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"Play It Straight" for... BGG.CON!

Nate Straight

Covington
Louisiana
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If you're going to be at BGG.CON and want to meet the Straights and play some games, here's the place to start setting such things up.

It's also the place where we'll keep track of what games we'd like to get played at BGG.CON. We're new at this con thing, so bear with us.

Here are my biggest want-to-plays. Most are things we don't / won't get a chance to play often / otherwise.

Antiquity: A big Splotter game we haven't played, and I know we should.

Bus: Another Splotter game we've never played, and I think we'd enjoy.

Ur: 1830 BC: A less-known Splotter we own, but doesn't work well for 2.

Duck Dealer, Greed Inc, Indonesia, or any other Splotter game really.

1830, or any other Series: 18xx: We really like 18xx, but are still n00bs for want of local players up for this sort of thing.

Magic Realm: I wouldn't be averse to playing a high player-count game of this, either teaching n00bs or with experienced players who do PvP.

Merchant of Venus: My remake copy! I'd like opponents who wouldn't mind some variants [mining colonies, crew, etc] and/or my Rastur rewrite.

Age of Steam: We've enjoyed the [multi-player] game the few times we've played, but don't play it enough 'cause it's a little too long for most of our group play. Would like some experienced opponents in a larger group!

Civilization and/or Advanced Civilization: This is one of the other classics that's right up our alley that we likely won't ever play elsewhere [though apparently one guy we play with at our FLGS has a copy... hmmmmmmm...].

Here I Stand with an experienced group [read: knows the rules] that doesn't mind 2 n00bs at the table [and teaching / refreshing them a bit].

Friedrich, Maria, Struggle of Empires, Revolution: The Dutch Revolt, or any other big multi-player war-game cross-overs that seem interesting.

Medieval Merchant, Vino, San Marco, Löwenherz, Stephenson's Rocket, MarraCash, Rheinländer, Medina, Big City, Tigris & Euphrates or any other rarer and/or old-school [or new, but old-style!] Euros in our [or in your!] collection.

First Train to Nuremberg, London, Dominant Species, or any other of the big new-school Euros that are in our general play-style / area of interest. You'd all probably know better than me; I don't really track the hot new games.

I'm sure there are others I'll add to the list later, and I'm sure Cat probably can come up with some of her own to add, too.

I will, of course, have my Decktet with me at all times, and more than likely my Icehouse pieces at most times.
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Fri Apr 29, 2011 9:18 pm
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Icehouse

Nate Straight

Covington
Louisiana
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This blog post will be a work-in-progress / "living" post.

It would be a Geeklist, but most of the Icehouse games in existence aren't on BGG.

I recently picked up my "electric yellow" pyramids, which necessitated me thinking about what I would label my "top ten" Icehouse games [requisite for becoming part of the secret society "Starship Captains" list that the electric yellow pyramids were exclusively offered to].

It was difficult to come up with more than five or so that I really liked. There are two Icehouse games that I like more than any other game I've ever played, and as much as the Decktet [Magnate is a fine game, but it's a 10 for other reasons]. They are Alien City and Zendo.

Alien City's strategy just strikes a chord with me, so it's a purely personal choice.

Zendo is a perfect game, and a perfect Icehouse game.

It is the only Icehouse game I know of that makes full use of every aspect of the wonderful pieces.

In fact, it makes use of things you wouldn't even suspect to be aspects of the pieces. One clever rule Catherine used recently [that toed the line--is this a legitimate phrase?--of the endogeneity rule] had to do with the number of letters in the names of the pyramids' colors.

This works so well [in English] because those numbers are all different [3, 4, 5, and 6] and relate to other properties of the pieces [there is a piece that is a "3" piece; a full tree or nest is "6" all together; it inherently relates to the colors; etc]. It had us guessing for a long time.

The rule was: "AKHTBN IFF it has a grounded large piece and the pip count of the large piece's color is equal to the number of letters in that color's name". She built a GL-GM-YS tree and a RM 1-piece construction [that she had intended to have be a RM-RS stack, but forgot] for her initial koans.

We got very confused when we built other trees that either did or did not have the Buddha nature in no discernible pattern [GL-GM-GS did not; BL-BM-YS did not; but RL-GM-YS did; etc]. Our guesses ran the gamut from focusing on color to stacking / nesting to orientation / pointing.

And that was with us having discussed this property of the pyramids in the immediately prior round!

This is why I have no desire ever to play Zendo without the pyramids.

Their construction and inherent constructability is intuitive and flexible. There are "trade-offs" in it.

Stacked pieces imply certain pip counts, while leaving color untouched. A rule which talks about pointing at certain colors will first be approached from the less complex angles of "pointing" or "color" alone. A simpler rule will tend to be approached from more complex angles.

I started the night off with the rule "AKHTBN IFF it has exactly three pieces". This led [and these type of simple rules typically lead] to a wide variety of koans being marked correct. Trying to justify the variety in the white koans, more complex guesses were made rather than simpler ones.

Everything just comes together perfectly and "fits". There are no superfluous attributes of the pyramids.

Anyone interested in Zendo should read Kory Heath's page on the game.
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Tue Apr 19, 2011 10:34 pm
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"I Can't Stand It!" -- On Playing Games You Hate

Nate Straight

Covington
Louisiana
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Perhaps I "fool"ed a few of you with yesterday's blog post about Killer Bunnies and Munchkin?

Truth is, we did go to our FLGS for game-day on the 31st, and there were people playing Munchkin Zombies [but not Killer Bunnies, I don't think], but we did not play those games [in fact, have never played them, so I was just posturing based on what little I know of them, really]. We did, however, have some fun experiences playing games "hated" by various members of our regular group [who did, thankfully, show up!].

We [all of us gamers, that is] tend to express our distaste for games pretty forcefully at times.

From gallery of NateStraight


I'm pretty sure that the first game we played, Puerto Rico, is one I've said I "can't stand" before.

I must have said it pretty vociferously, though, because while the group of us were trying to decide what game to play first, one guy half-heartedly suggested Puerto Rico [which is, as I recall, his favorite game] but said apologetically "but y'all hate that game, right?"

Truth is, I'm not nuts about Puerto Rico, but few and far between are the games I actively "hate".

Turns out distaste for Puerto Rico was running strong in our group, though, because the other player [we were four: me, Cat, and these two others] said he had played Puerto Rico one time many years ago and the only thing he remembered is that he didn't like it!

With this promising beginning, we nonetheless ventured forth into the balmy tropical seas of Puerto Rico!

The game was pretty tight most of the way through, ending in a score of something like 58-48-39-39 [me and the guy who loves Puerto Rico tied for last!]. One of the things I really don't like about Puerto Rico is this tendency for close scores / tight pace-keeping most of the way through the game, and then a few break-away moves near the end that are nearly impossible to predict or control.

It's common-ish to gain something like 8-10 points on the heels of a miscalculated play by another player [or to have the potential for 8-10 points unexpectedly squashed by another player's play], and with that being close to the typical margin of victory and about 20-25% of a typical winning score, it's always felt cheap to me to win or to lose on account of one "big" play near the end of the game.

You only control [in a 4p game, which we had] 25% of the actions in the game, and predicting what those other 75% will be seems to be the heart of a winning strategy, so it's a wonder to me that something like this gets such high praise here when "multi-player chaos" and "the board changes so much from your turn now to your next turn" are such common complaints. I always feel like nobody is controlling the game.

Nevertheless, I had fun with it. There were some difficult and interesting choices to be made.

Next up was a game I had suggested before we agreed on Puerto Rico, Hacienda. The other guys tend to really like games with a lot of different options for point-scoring / "paths to victory" [Hansa Teutonica, Goa, Caylus, etc] so it seemed a good suggestion.

Turns out the guys don't really tend to like these type of spatial / area enclosure / blocking games.

So now the shoe was on the other foot! Hacienda is a game I really like, and one that I like more the more I play it [I bumped up my rating a full point after this last play!], but neither of the other guys at the table, nor Cat really, are into this sort of game! Yay! Hated games!

It went pretty well, regardless. Scores were also quite tight in this game: 135-125-115-105, or thereabouts.

We played on the PnP South America map I crafted awhile back, which I really like for its asymmetry and interesting trade-offs between land-grab / water-grab play and market-grab play. We had played this map once before with 5, and that was a little too tight. With 4, it worked a lot better [though it got really tight at the end-game because I forgot to take some animals out of the deck, which is the game timer!].

I also, for the first time really, saw a clear difference between the first half of the game and the second half [there are two scoring rounds]. The first half focused on staking out land claims and snatching up either a bunch of markets or a bunch of really long land / animal chains [each of us took a slightly different route]. The second half of the game had a very different tenor, with almost all the water and hacienda building occurring there.

One neat tactic that revealed itself [that I'd never seen or used before] was to harvest a 4-tile chain, take the 12 money earned, and plow it right back into a water tile or hacienda [which each cost exactly 12 money]. I'd never used more than 2 or 3 harvest chips in a game, but this time we used up every last one of them! We had plenty of blocking [the first few turns saw all four of us stake out land in each of the two or three key market areas] which made money really tight.

The guys seemed to enjoy the game well enough, feeling it a bit better than other games like it they had tried.

Together as a table, we decided that the game [for us] would be improved by getting together a bunch of wooden houses to replace the land tiles and a bunch of animeeples [which would have to be spray-painted] to replace the animal tiles. I admit, this would be quite... cute.

I really do like the game, and I have leftover MayDay animeeples after getting the Agricola: The Goodies Expansion.

If it'll make people play the game more often with me, I think I will take the trouble [and money] to make the game a little more visually interesting. Part of the appeal of Through the Desert [a very similar game] is definitely the cute little candy-colored camels.

In fact, Cat told the group the only thing she really enjoys about Through The Desert is lining up all the camels!

Reader Response:

What are some games you "hate" that you play anyway?

What is one thing you like about the games you "hate"?

What could be done to make you like the game more?
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18 Comments
Sat Apr 2, 2011 4:23 pm
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"Play It Straight" for Mar 31 -- Munchkin and Killer Bunnies

Nate Straight

Covington
Louisiana
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So last night was open-gaming game-day at our new FLGS [which we've been enjoying a lot and spending way too much money at] and we were able to make it out this week!

Unfortunately, few of our regular gaming buddies showed up, though, so we were forced to choose between sitting in on the table playing the new Munchkin Zombies or the table playing Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot with five expansions mixed in.

Catherine picked Munchkin because she really likes zombies, and, well, you should know how I feel about bunnies if you've followed me religiously or played a certain game with me.

WHAT GREAT GAMES!

We loved every second of these! Cat said "Munchkin Zombies was just like Zombie Fluxx only with more interesting strategy; you actually get to decide which cards to play when!", and I had a few really difficult decisions to make in Killer Bunnies in choosing whether to target the green bunny or the red bunny [I was playing the blue bunny, since I like ice cream and can never play blue when I'm playing with Cat!] when the game came down to the wire. I normally don't like kingmaker situations, but I felt this game handled it in a really interesting and novel way.

AND I DIDN'T EVEN CARE WHO WON!

These games appeal to me in exactly the same way something like Shear Panic does: In providing a nice brain-burning exercise in a package and setting that belies its depth.

I'm really excited to pick these up in a trade. If you've got a full set of the Munchkin games, I'd be willing to trade you my copy of Roads & Boats [with the &Cetera expansion] for them. For Killer Bunnies, I might give up my copy of 1830: Railways & Robber Barons.

I mean, I like Roads & Boats, I guess, but it's nothing more than a rehashed version of a tired old roll-and-move mechanic. Take out the roll and what do you have? Just move, move, move... blah.

Board Game: Munchkin Zombies
&
Board Game: Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot


AKA, the Scylla and Charybdis of a tsunami of change coming to my game collection.
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Fri Apr 1, 2011 6:47 am
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