Kevin L. KitchensUnited States
Being a relatively new returnee to tabletop boardgaming, one benefit is the ability to explore not only recent releases but modern classics that have already gone through their trial periods and proven themselves to be decent games. Such is my situation with two space-exploration card games Race for the Galaxy and Eminent Domain.
From a 40,000 foot view, the games appear very similar in style. Each player uses cards to explore, colonize, conquer planets, expanding their empire. Likewise, each turn a player can choose from a set of actions, knowing that the other players will also be able to take a lesser version of the same action.
Both games are also not acceptably playable in solitaire mode without additions. For RFTG there is the Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm expansion (separate purchase sadly). For Eminent Domain, you have several fan-created solo variants, including "Eminent Domain Solo", the variant rules used for this comparison. While both solo options do an admirable job of simulating a real opponent, do they result in a fun solo experience?
Summary of the Games
In general Race for the Galaxy is a engine-building game where you hope to optimize your empire through developing technologies and settling planets. Through hand management, you use your cards for payment as well as planets and technologies to be played to your empire's "tableau". There are many different strategies to take in the game and none of which can be decided beforehand (like a deck construction game). The game ends when a player's tableau totals 12 or more cards OR the total number of victory point chips is zero or less after the current round completes.
Eminent Domain is a deck builder, where you start with a planet pretty much the same as all the other players (in the base game) as well as starting deck of cards. From this you build your deck through your selection of a role each turn. Your hand size starts at five, but this can increase through planet bonuses and decrease as you choose to follow other players lead roles. You are not required to discard your hand after your turn, so you can carry cards until it's advantageous to use them. Planets and technologies are separate decks and are gained via Survey and Research roles. A player first surveys a planet, bringing it into its empire and then settles or conquers via Colonization or Warfare roles. Influence points (aka victory points) are gained via planets, research and selling goods produced on your planets. There is no set tableau size, the game will end after the round all the influence tokens run out or when a number of stacks of the central role cards is depleted (varies by player count).
The games each have somewhat similar "I choose, you follow" mechanisms, however in RFTG all players reveal their selections at the same time. The actions get resolved left to right with all those picking the action getting a special bonus and those who did not get a basic resolution of the action. In EmDo, the turns alternate. The player can play an action alone, then they choose one of the central roles to "lead". As the leader they get a bonus, but all the other players can follow for a basic resolution or dissent to draw a card.
In RFTG, the "bot" is different each time based on the starting world randomly assigned to it. The AI card has locations for putting various chits to change the programming of the bot and this presents a unique challenge each game. The player will roll two special dice for the bot to select their actions for the round. The AI card shows what the current programming for the bot is for this game based on whether they selected the action or are taking the follow action.
In the EmDo variant, the bot uses a pre-defined deck of starting cards (different from a player deck) and draws two of those each time it's its turn favoring the one that appears leftmost in the central draw area for all players. The variant rules describe what the bot does for each role type, whether leading or following and they are for the most part very clear and easy to understand.
While neither of the AI actually play the game like a real player (they are not building a real tableau or following the exact rules as the player does), the effects produced by each bot as it relates to the player are quite realistic. There is enough randomness with the die rolling and card drawing that is tempered by the programmed bias toward certain roles and actions to keep things intelligently variable. Kudos to each of the developers of the AI systems, they've done a great job in that regard and I'd love to see more games produce intelligent AI opponents.
But are they fun?
Race for the Galaxy is incredibly fun to play, against a real opponent or an AI. About the only problem with it is that it's so fast that setup takes almost as long as the game itself (exaggeration). There are several starting planets and after you and the bot each get one at random, the rest are shuffled into the deck (100+ cards). To play a new game, you have to sift through the deck, pull all the starting worlds (clearly marked), randomly assign, and then reshuffle. The cards are used so much, it's the first game I ever sleeved. But yes, the game is a blast to play solitaire and it's clear why it ranks so highly on BGG (22 as of today).
Unfortunately, Eminent Domain pales in the shadow of RFTG. While many find Race difficult because of the iconography on each card, EmDo is much more accessible and clear on what each card and action does. Don't get me wrong, EmDo is a great game and deserves its excellent ranking (290 as of this writing). However, playing it solo feels more like training for a real game rather than a real game in itself. While other variants simple create a scenario in which you try to best your high score, this variant at least simulates a real opponent. However it is only for the base game and as such the base game becomes a bit long and boring. You can get several rounds into the game and have barely a dent in the influence token pool or depleting any of the stacks. The expansions add a lot more flavor and variability to the game that I'm sure keep it fresh and interesting when playing with real opponents.
For good or bad, I play the majority of my games solo (my scores are "so low" too). A multiplayer game that can deliver a solo mode that captures the excitement and strategy of a live opponent is a treasure to the solitaire gamer. In this case, Race for the Galaxy (with Gathering Storm) is the clear winner. I do wish that they would market an RFTG solo version that includes only the cards and components necessary for playing the AI. Even if they simply bundled the expansion into a single product. While it wouldn't reduce the footprint of the game too much in terms of the total cards you use, it would certainly be of benefit to those only buying it for solitaire (rather than having to make two separate purchases).
I am almost exclusively a solo gamer and look at the gaming scene seen through those eyes. I also literally like alliteration. TWITTER: @onesuponagame
Archive for Kevin L. Kitchens
29 Jan 2015
- [+] Dice rolls
In my previous post: Space Hulk Death Angel - Box Insert, I demonstrated a simple card stock box insert for Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game. One thing bugged me about how tight the container was and it made getting the cards out a little frustrating.
To solve this, once I got all the cards out, I made some simple lifters from strips of scrap card stock. A piece about 8.5" long and 1/2" wide will do nicely.
Fold it in about two inches from one end to make a little tab. Then from that bend, fold in the other direction the width of the box. I just set it inside the box and just folded it up along the side of the box. You should end up with a rough Z shape.
Then glue and/or tape the small tab to the bottom of the box, butted right up against the edge. When you're done the tab should be on the bottom, the next segment is over it running the width of the box, and the last tail is coming up the edge of the box.
Trim the excess off the tail, so the tail rises only about 1" above the edge of the box. You can fold this over the top of the cards and the box will close smoothly.
Alternately you could use a piece of ribbon or something similar. Old electronics used lift devices like this to help get batteries out.
When all is said and done you have a lift tab that makes getting the cards out a piece of cake!
- [+] Dice rolls
Most of the time, folks who use the GeekBay auction geeklist to sell their games include a BIN (Buy-It-Now). A BIN price allows the seller to set a fair or slightly inflated price for the item and a buyer can jump on it immediately, securing the purchase.
Some, however, forget or choose not to include a BIN on the items, most likely at the expense of reduced bids and sales.
Much like a reserve or starting price, BINs are a beneficial and commonly expected feature of an online auction.
In one recent auction, I jokingly made the comment:klkitchens wrote:An auction without BINs is like an ocean without water.
Which received a few interesting replies...ASLChampion wrote:Well, the beauty of "open" bidding is that you can set your OWN BIN's.
Bid $100 on a game...and it will likely be yours.
Bid $50 on the SAME game and you might be pleasantly surprised to win it and thus "save $50"
The game's value is based on the buyer not the seller.tebald wrote:I've been to auctions before and other than, Ebay and here on BGG, I don't recall the auctioneer having a BIN, reserves yes, but BIN nope.
Next auction I attend I'll ask that question.
Thank you for your interest.ct5150 wrote:klkitchens wrote:An auction without BINs is a true auction.FTFY
To correct the last one:klkitchens wrote:ct5150 wrote:klkitchens wrote:An auction without BINs is a true auction.FTFY
A BGG auction without BINs is like an ocean without water.
Sheesh, some people are snarky. <--- Smiley face denoting "I'm Kidding!"
But seriously, BINs help a seller move their product much faster. Yes, you could bid $100 on a $25 item and be reasonably sure of winning it. Likewise, the seller might sell for much higher in a pure auction format, though most here on BGG are savvy enough not to pay more than the current value of the game.
To correct the comment above, the VALUE is determined by both parties, not the buyer only. I may hate a game and be willing to part with it for $10. You may love it and be willing to pay $100. Our value of the game is different for sure. But the fact remains, we both set the value. The closer the sales price is to each of our values the fairer the deal is.
The problem with not having BINs is that an interested buyer has to (realistically) wait until the end to submit a bid. Unlike a "real" auction, auctions here on BGG span several days, sometimes weeks. There is no advantage to bidding early in the auction window and every disadvantage. You tip your hand to your interest. You let others have control because they can decide if they would be willing to pay $1 more than you.
A real auction goes until no one else wants to increase the bidding. Likewise, all the bidders are either in the same location, represented by a proxy, or electronically participates during the live bidding window. But while that window may only last a few minutes (vs. the many days of a BGG auction), if you've watched real auctions you'll see that people enter at all times within the window. Some jump in immediately. Some wait until there is no bid and the opening bid drops. Some wear out the others until they see who the real competition is and then enter the fray.
The good thing about a real auction is that you know all the competition up front.
The bad thing about a BGG auction trying to imitate a real auction is that people wander in and out throughout the bidding process. They see the listing, make a note, come back, forget, etc. You bid too early and you've hung a big banner on the item saying "I'm interested!!!!!!!!!!". So the smart bidder waits and hopes the other smart bidders are waiting too and forget. Then he or she can come back toward the end and get the item for a decent price, close to the opening bid.
Which leads to the "evil" practice of sniping. Bidding at the last second to secure the item. This is a completely valid strategy for an online auction, that cannot happen in a real auction as the auctioneer always gives a chance for someone else to bid.
In BGG and online auctions, people enforce all sorts of silly rules to prevent sniping. However sniping is pretty much the only smart strategy for bidding in an online auction to get the lowest possible fair price. Most of the anti-sniping rules center around extending the deadline for the item by an hour or so if a bid comes in in the last "X" minutes (usually five). There was one that extended it 12 hours if a bid came in the last 12 hours!!!.
Obviously the BEST anti-sniping rule is the BIN. It's there for everyone from the start and the first person who wants it can buy it. Now.
Advice to Sellers:
1. Set a fair (not lowball) opening price that you'd be willing to sell the game for. If it goes for this and no more, you'll be happy.
2. Set a BIN price somewhere near the top of the current selling range for the game (for a used copy) in the BGG Marketplace. Again a price you'd be happy happy happy with if it sold for that amount. If it's too high, you will probably still get bids at the starting price (chances are you'll get bids LOWER than the starting price from people who cannot read), but it leaves the immediate buying window open to someone who doesn't want to play auction "games" and just get the game for what they think is a fair price.
3. If you're selling a new, in-shrink copy AND charging shipping, don't expect to get more than the big online stores are currently selling it for. I can take the $50 you want, add another game or two, and just bundle with an OLGS for free shipping. Yes, you might have paid more 10 months ago, but that's not what people are going to pay now.
4. Look at YOUR competition. Compare your item and condition with other sellers who have sold or are selling it right now. You want to be the lowest within reason.
Your job is to sell your games. Your job is not to make life "fair" for everyone participating in your auction.
- [+] Dice rolls
A few months back as I was clipping my counters for Combat Commander: Europe, I found myself lamenting that while the GMT storage trays were great for holding counters, they sometimes were too big to adequately separate smaller groups of counters. You'd end up fishing around for a specific weapon or unit and that would be a pain.
So I started designing in my head a solution to sub-divide the tray compartments, then it occurred to me that someone else had probably thought of this obvious solution. And sure enough they had. In the Miscellaneous Game Accessory file section you can find the following: GMT Counter Tray Dividers 1.3. These are an excellent set of dividers specifically designed for this purpose. I use them all the time now and recommend them highly.
So today I was sorting through a copy of Level 7 [Escape] I'd just received in a math trade. Most of the pieces are larger tiles and cards, that will be better suited in bags. But there are several markers and tokens that would go great into the small Plano 3449 style box. This small tackle box has five equally sized compartments, but like the GMT Tray, sometimes those are just too large.
Borrowing from the idea of the GMT dividers, I've uploaded a set of dividers for this Plano 3449 box. You can turn the five spaces into up to 15, depending on your needs and the token quantity. I use three of these boxes for D-Day at Omaha Beach and will now go back and add dividers to make things a little cleaner.
The file is located here: Plano Type 3449 Section Dividers
Print on one sheet of 8.5x11" cardstock. Cut around the perimeter of the dividers and score the interior lines. Glue or tape the peaks together to hold. Each sheet includes:
2x 1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3
3x 1/3 + 2/3
3x 1/2 + 1/2
- [+] Dice rolls
With my limited time in the middle of the week, knocked out some more of the Stormtroopers inner black areas (slow and steady wins the race). Six down three to go.
It's a bit tedious, especially near the gun as the fingers are black with a white armor bit on the back of the hand. The gun being pure black as well, gives a little room for "error", but still a lot of flipping and rotating to get everywhere. I wish the gun were more a gunmetal grey and then it would be more distinct, but growing up and watching the films, they were pure black, so black it is.
To reward myself between troopers, I started on the Imperial Guards too. These guys are pretty much all bright red except their gloves (darker red) and their shock prod staff or whatever it's called.
Based these in a Sienna brown color and have dry-brushed on a couple of layers of barn red before going to the highlight coat. Photo shows one before and after, although added another coat to the after one after that. All are pretty much in the same state now. Will cover with Cardinal Red, mostly highlights, then do a black wash for the detail, then highlight with a clean coat of the highlight red.
- [+] Dice rolls
Have primed some of my Star Wars: Imperial Assault miniatures while the weather was warm(er) so I could start attempting to paint them. The thing about known characters is there is very little room for your own expression and plenty of opportunities for comparison with the "real" thing.
Working first on the 9 Stormtroopers, 4 Imperial Guards, and AT-ST. For support "handles" I'm using a mixture of old film canisters, a prescription bottle, knobs that came on the end of some plumbing supplies, and two paint bottles that I won't be using this go-round. Normally I wouldn't do nine at a time, but I prefer to do it assembly line style, so needed to get some more stands.
Been a few months since I did any mini-painting. I did my full set of Galaxy Defenders middle of last year and they came out fairly well for a newbie.
I find the process very relaxing for some reason, otherwise I might just do the wash thing, color the bases, and be done with it.
Rather that go full bore into the special mini paints, I stick with the easy and affordable so-called "ladies" paints: craft paints from stores like Hobby Lobby or Wal-mart. I do try to get decent brushes that won't collapse and leave bristles all over the place that have to be picked out.
I primed with spray Krylon white. I tried to do some Gesso priming with some Gears of War: The Board Game minis, but they came out a bit clumpy and that put that project on hold.
The Ceramcoat brand of craft paint seems to have a fairly good consistency coming out of the bottle. I have to thin just a little with the Pledge Floor Cleaner/Water mixture, but it is the best of the craft paints I've tried, though all will work...
I wish there was a formula where I could simply add a set amount of "thinner" to the craft paint bottle and pre-mix that entire color. It's a bit frustrating to run out of a small amount and then have to try to mix up more mid-stream. Why not just pay for the game brand paints you may ask? From reviews I've read and watched online, most of those aren't usable right out of the bottle either and need to be amended, so why spend all that extra money? I will say though that the dropper tops for those are very nice and make me a little jealous
Anyway... off I go! Will share more as the project continues.
Working from inside to out, getting the inner black areas for the undersuit (Under Armour?). The white you see is just the primer. Will have to do several coats of white I'm sure to cover the areas where the black touched where it should not.
One thing I did realize is that while I normally use matte clearcoat when done, Stormtroopers are pretty shiny, so will have to adjust and some gloss for the finish.
- [+] Dice rolls
FILE: Space Hulk Death Angel - Box Insert (Simple)
Something I've been meaning to do for a long time with my copy of Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game and to make a box insert to keep the cards, tokens, and the evil die all in their own place. However, foam core is way too thick to make this work. So the alternative was to create a folding paper insert out of cardstock.
This is a two part insert. Insert A holds the cards and Insert B the die (did I mention it was evil?) and all the tokens.
And it all prints on a single 8.5x11 sheet of cardstock.
Yes, I probably should have made the vertical fins a little lower to accommodate the rulebook, but
1. I didn't think about it and
2. any "play" and the cards could slide off the top and move around.
So this way the lid presses the rulebook down onto the cards a little tighter and keeps everything in place.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it!
FILE: Space Hulk Death Angel - Box Insert (Simple)
- [+] Dice rolls
08 Jan 2015
Due to Amazon's apparent dropping of their payments system, Kickstarter has decided to adopt a company called "Stripe" to handle their payment processing. (Source: http://stonemaiergames.com/kickstarter-adopts-stripe-payment...)
Never heard of 'em and while I'm sure they're a reputable company, this decision by Kickstarter is a questionable one that will perhaps result in a downturn in support. Initially.
Not looking forward to another payment processing system. I already have an Amazon account and that made payments easier. I understand Amazon is killing that program, so it's not Kickstarter's fault, but I wish they'd gone with the more standard PayPal as at least one option and let the consumer decide which works best for them.
I don't know Stripe or have a relationship with them. Now in order to use KS, I have to create an account with some new company. It's different than a retail store who takes your credit card, runs it through the processing system of their choice, and the consumer is insulated from the process. If a store changes processing, the consumer never knows nor cares. But in this case, their limitation of a single payment system is foisting an unwelcome change on everyone. They should use this opportunity to simply give several options instead of just one.
I'm sure that some project will come along to make me begrudgingly pay the piper and create a Stripe account... but like today I jumped in a project at the $1 level on a whim (BattleHex: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1376478938/battlehex-a-...), because I already had my Amazon information loaded and ready to go. I was able to do this with no hesitation. Now those support moves will be on hold until such time as I cross the narrow bridge KS has chosen for their benefit, not the consumer.
- [+] Dice rolls
Most of you have probably not yet heard of the word game Length x Wit. It just funded on Kickstarter in early November, but they made available a few advance copies in time for the Christmas season. The game comes in just such a charming package and being a word game, I just had to have it. I knew there had to be a solo variant to be found in there somewhere. I present to you mine, but first a little background.
Like most word games, you're not really competing against the other players. Sure there's an element in Scrabble of trying to secure all the high value spaces on the board before your opponents. But that's really a function of what you did for yourself having an effect on an opponent. While digital versions add some more direct conflict, in general who wins is simply a sorting of the scores from highest to lowest to see who comes out on top. A player can find satisfaction in losing the overall game if they improved their own score.
Length x Wit functions the same way. There is no direct conflict, however there is a neat mechanism whereby after each player's turn in a round, the other players get a chance to the letters on their dice in conjunction with their own tiles to form a word. So while you could play without this mechanic, I thought it would be good to come up with a way to simulate it for solitaire play.
In LxW, you start your turn with a hand of 9 tiles drawn from a bag. You then draw one die from a separate dice bag. Roll that die and using all the dice and any or none of your tiles, form a standard valid word-game word (think OSPD). That done, you can take your points (sum of all dice and tile point values multiplied by the number of dice used) or try for more.
So the first round is one die and thus the multiplier is x1. To go for more points, you move all your played tiles to the side, banking them. Then draw another die from the die bag. Roll all the dice and then make a word as before. As more dice come out, the challenge is greater.
Anyway, more on that in a later review. So as mentioned before when you finally take your final points for your turn, the other players can try to make a word from your dice and their letters.
So all that introduction aside, here's how the variant is played.
Length x Wit
by Kevin L. Kitchens
1. The game plays as normal with the following exceptions.
2. You play for five rounds.
3. At the start of each round, draw up to 9 tiles, then play your turn, pushing your luck as you see fit. Score your final word plus your banked tiles. Return all dice and banked+spent tiles to their respective bags.
4. Bonus turn 1. Draw a number of dice equal to the current round number (first round, 1 die, second round 2 dice, etc...). Roll those and see if you can score a word for bonus points. No re-rolls of these dice per vowel discard, etc. Score your word as normal for playing off another player, so only the letter values count. Return all dice and tiles played in the word to their respective bags.
5. Bonus turn 2. Draw a number of dice equal to the current round number PLUS ONE (first round, 2 dice, second round 3 dice, etc...). Then roll them as in step 4 and score similarly.
6. If you ever use all your tiles (in your turn or the two bonus turns of a round), score 20 BONUS POINTS and immediately redraw up to 9 tiles. This rule is the same as the base game.
This gives the feel of a three-player game, while maintaining the possibility of using all your tiles in a round and getting bonuses. Admittedly the later rounds get tougher to use all the dice (5 and 6 dice in round five's bonus turns for example), but that just makes it all the more challenging.
Let me know what your thoughts on this are. The game is not slated to be shipped to regular backers until June of 2015. Hopefully they overestimated the timeline. But keep this one on your radar for sure.
- [+] Dice rolls
24 Dec 2014
Picked up Star Wars: Imperial Assault on pre-order with the full expectation of only playing it solo. There are variants for other games using the same engine, so it will not be long before one works for this one. While those other games are hampered with a fantasy theme, SW:IA takes place in the (obviously) Star Wars universe. So big plus there.
I had already played (and lost) the tutorial example a few nights ago. Admittedly it only uses the basic rules, but with two characters it's hard to keep the Imperial from running to an accessing a terminal. You have no power to block their movement, at the very least they can pay an extra movement point to get through you.
So I played the tutorial one more time last night to try to get down the rules and flow. This time started with the two characters I didn't use before, but before my first turn decided to add a third, as it becomes very difficult to move to attack and cover the terminals that are (as noted) a victory condition.
As I type this, I realize that I probably should have given the Imperial one extra troop because of the third character, but oh well.
I also removed the "access a terminal" win condition (for the tutorial) because of the rush the terminal and access it ease.
Tutorial Session Report
Characters: Diala Passil, Gaarkhan, Jyn Odan
Gaarkhan immediately opens the western door and closes on the imperials with his vibro-axe. Uses his charge ability to get in range of the Probe Droid and embarrasses himself on life-day by whiffing. The Probe Droid counters for 2 damage and then moves toward the open door.
Jyn moves through the base to cover the open door. Stormtroopers team up on Gaarkhan and hit him for 4 more damage and disperse, two toward the west door, one to the east. Diala opens the eastern door and moves toward the battle. The Imperial Officer runs for the cover of the bunker, then takes a cheap shot at Gaarkhan, adding another damage.
Diala quickly dispatches the Imperial Officer with her Plasteel Staff. One of the stormtroopers moves and attacks Jyn for three points of damage while the other two pick on Gaarkhan for another five points. Gaarkhan stumbled toward the troopers, straining himself in the process. He immediately kills one and then with a combination of attack and charge, eliminates the other. The Probe Droid move to a better vantage and hits Gaarkhan enough to wound him permanently. Jyn finishes off the last stormtrooper with a couple of well placed shots from her blaster.
Diala closes on the Probe Droid and uses her Precise Strike ability to hit it for three damange. The Probe Droid moves out of melee range and attacks Diala, but she saw it coming and mitigates the damage to only three. Gaarkhan is warmed up and closes in and takes another swing at the Probe Droid, this time connection for another three damage and Jyn Odan finishes him off with a shot from her blaster.
This really is a fun game. I plan to move on to the skirmish mode. There is a canned team set up for the skirmish rules demo, so I will play that first... it gets Vader and Luke into the mix as well! That should be the easiest to solo as card draws are easy enough to handle blindly.
- [+] Dice rolls