Matt's Board Game Back Room

Join me in my cozy little back room filled with games! Ooh and ah at some new releases. Learn about some more recent games. Or, look back at some older and classic games. From Euros to Ameritrash, kids games to grown-up games, easy to intense - nothing much is ignored in Matt's Board Game Back Room! (Updates will be cross-posted from my blogspot blog - click my Blogger microbadge to go there now)

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JUST GAMING AROUND - Yucata.de Online Gaming Review with my Impressions after 100+ plays

-matt s.
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A year ago I was just not that interested in playing games online. But as of late, I have found that I've actually been enjoying it quite a bit.

So what changed? I thought I'd describe my experiences with Yucata (http://www.yucata.de/), what I like about it, what I don't.

In the Beginning
First, let's back up a bit. Last year in March I signed up for an account on Yucata I played a handful of games including Vikings, Oregon and Saint Petersburg. I had a good time with it on and off for about a month but life got busy then and I kind of dropped off playing in May.

Then, I started back up in September again. I really got into playing Oregon (mainly because of my friend garygarison) and also playing Vikings which I played with a variety of people. I loved playing Stone Age FTF but shied away from playing it online at first - it's a dice game and I kind of like actually rolling the dice. However, I later started playing it as well and found that I was having a great time trying out a variety of strategies.

Why might you want to play a game on Yucata?
So, I used to be very against playing games online. I think this stemmed from me playing Hive with an AI - I could play a number of games really quickly and, eventually, I figured out what the AI was doing to win and started emulating it - honestly, it kind of ruined Hive for me.

So, I was tending to shy away from online gaming at all. But, then when I thought about it, playing another player (which is what Yucata offers) seemed much more interesting than playing an AI. When I realized this is when it seems my playing more online really took off.

Reasons to Consider Trying Online Gaming
There are many reasons to play games online. Here are some that you might consider if you are hesitant yourself:

* You can try out a game you aren't sure if you will like or not - before making a purchase. However, keep in mind that some games are better played FTF rather than online - your preferences may dictate this so keep this in mind.
* Ability to play games with someone that is far away from you or that you may never be able to meet FTF. I've been playing with some online-only friends that live half-way around the world and it's a nice way to interact with other people that I might not otherwise have spent time playing actual games with.
* Play games with someone that you normally don't have time to play games with. I play games with several people that are in town but that I don't normally have time to get together with more regularly. It's a nice way to stay in touch and get some gaming with them between FTF sessions.
* Ability to play games in the small time slices in your day. There are many days I am not able to get together with friends to spend even a couple of hours to play a game. Usually if I want to get together with people to play I want to get more than one game played so we usually require several hours. With Yucata, you are splitting up those hours across days, fitting in your moves when you have time. Sometimes I'm waiting for my kids or my wife to finish a task (say brushing teeth before bedtime). In those couple of minutes I can sit down and get in my next move.

Even better, because I'm often playing multiple games, I can play through turns on several games at the same time.

Features of Yucata
So, what is Yucata like? Well, the interface is fairly basic, no fancy bells and whistles in terms of main web site interface. It's 'clean' but somewhat dull. However, it IS fairly functional and not too difficult to get around. It has it's quirks but none that frustrate me too much. Except maybe the in-game chat....

Some features that the site has:
* All the game rules are available on the site and, in fact, can be reached directly from the game interface if you need to check on a rule.
* There is a messaging feature where you can send private notes to other users outside of any games.
* There is a public chat area where anyone could be chatting at any given time - usually it's just for quick meet-ups or for people to give congratulations, etc. I tend not to use it and prefer private messages or in-game chat messages.
* There are user profile pages where information can be customized including putting in your BGG username for cross-referencing purposes. It also has user ranking overall on the site as well as ranking information for each specific game. I don't care about the rankings too much other than maybe to size up other players. Also, I'm ranked in the top 30 currently for the game Oregon so I check on this from time-to-time so I'm aware of it but it's not critical to my happiness in playing games (although it does contribute I guess )
* There are also discussion areas where you can report bugs or ask questions about specific games. The developers are pretty good about getting back with answers to questions within a day or two usually.
* If you're looking for someone to play a game you can check the Invitations list to see if anyone has an open invitation for a game. If not, you can create your own open invitation, or you can stick to inviting just players you know.


Here are the games I have been playing and a bit of info about how they work on Yucata:
Note that I've almost exclusively been playing all my games as 2 player. There's just something about the head-to-head competition that I really enjoy. Also, there isn't a dependency on more players to make their moves so they tend to move along a bit faster.

Can't Stop - This is a classic Sid Sackson push-your-luck game rolling dice to get to the top of the board first. It's a simple and fast game. I haven't played for real since I was a teen but it's been fun to play online. Although, I think I'd rather be rolling real dice, but it's nice to play just the same. Interestingly, it somehow inherited a dice cup that looks like the real leather one from Stone Age! At least it doesn't smell!

The implementation is a little strange as the board is turned sideways to fit the window so you're kind of moving up at an angle. But it's nice that your choices are highlighted at the top for each roll. It just needs a 'wah-wah' sound when you bust

Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers - What I like about this implementation is you can hover over your hunters and your huts to see how much they are worth - no more counting and re-counting ... and counting again which you have to do FTF! Also, when placing tiles, as you rotate your tile to see where it might fit, it highlights all of the legal placements for it. Overall it's a very good implementation although the zooming of the board is a little cumbersome.

Chinagold - This is an interesting abstract game where each player is playing on a different 'board' but each is overlayed on top of the other such that actions you take can benefit both you and your opponent. This implementation is nice as it scores everything for you. The one thing I DON'T like is you can't undo your move - you must click correctly the first time or you're screwed.

ConHex - A nifty connection game that is interesting as it's non-obvious just looking at the board how you're doing - sometimes you think you're doing fine and then you realize you're in trouble. The implementation is really good as it does all the hard work for you AND you can revert your move after clicking somewhere.

Egizia - There's a lot of accounting in this game and the implementation handles it really well. It's clear what actions you can take (although not always obvious). It even has an option to turn on more highlighting to show all of the available action spaces (good for newbies). The unfortunate thing is the board is sideways and can put one a bit off-kilter, especially on the first play or two. It IS nice that there is an option when starting the game to not use two of the more powerful cards if you prefer not to.

Hacienda - Only played a few times and the implementation is very good here. It will let you know what is and isn't legal which is nice in a game that is fairly wide open. Unfortunately, it doesn't highlight all your options when you click a card. And, if you accidentally click a card to buy you can't backtrack because it has already revealed the next card, so make sure you click on what you really want when buying cards. When setting up the game you also have the option of a couple of different boards including ones not normally available in the real world.

Luna - Luna was a really tough game for me to learn FTF. Playing online didn't help that a lot, although this implementation has pop-up lists that show you all of your options when you click on or hover over different parts. This is nice, BUT there are SO many options around the board it's still confusing/overwhelming for someone new to the game. Also, you REALLY need to be able to plan out your moves ahead of time for several turns in advance. There is a NOTES features where you can make notes for yourself, but this can be a bit cumbersome. Personally, I've decided to avoid this game online because I'd rather just put my head into the game and play it through due to it's complexity. I will say it is a very good implementation overall though - very well done.

Oregon - Really nice implementation of this game. You can play very quickly if you know what you are doing. If you need to think/see your options you can click the cards and it grays out areas that you CANNOT place, thus showing where you CAN place - in real life you just do this in your head but clicking the cards and looking makes it much faster and less confusing. I only wish the gray-out part and highlighting showed a bit more contrast for some areas of the board as sometimes it's difficult to distinguish where you can place. Scoring in this game can be a bit tricky so it's nice to have it handled and just let you play the game. garygarison and I can knock out a full game in 20 minutes.

Ponte del Diavolo - Sometimes with abstracts it's hard to know what is and isn't a legal move. This is one where it's nice having the computer manage that for you - if you can't move on a spot you just can't click it. Being able to undo a move is nice as well. This game can play pretty fast although I think a FTF version of this must be really neat with the nifty bridges, so you kind of miss that, although it still looks great on the screen.

Saint Petersburg - This is another game where you kind of need to plan far ahead. Interestingly, I kind of don't mind it online as much as in Luna. I think the reason is because your options are fairly limited in what you can do and it's just a matter of planning what you want to do with your cards, plus the system automatically calculates discounts for you which is very nice. Yucata has a Notes feature which lets you take notes for yourself so you can remember what you want to do on future turns, esp. if you are only taking a couple of turns per day and I tend to make notes to myself in this game. However, you aren't planning so far in advance like in Luna so it's not as bothersome.

When playing St. Petersburg, I was having trouble distinguishing when the switch between rounds occurred so I made a recommendation for an updated implementation and they actually added a highlighting change to indicate a new round had started! Unfortunately, I haven't played much since they made the change, but it's great to see they listen to user feedback.

Stone Age - This is another of my favorite games to play on Yucata and FTF. On Yucata it is REALLY nice because it will highlight all of your legal placements for you which is really helpful in a 2 or 3 player game where there are limits to where you can place. This implementation also shows you your total points (including with your cards in hand, not just the scored points) if you hover over your scoring area. You can also see the other person's total points as well as all cards they have, so you ALWAYS know where you are at in terms of score. This is both good and bad - FTF it's a nice surprise to see who comes out ahead at the end. On Yucata, you always know and the tension is there because you know if you have to catch up and you know what cards the other player(s) are going for. The fact that the cards are all out doesn't bother me because its easy to scan them quickly so it doesn't slow down play much. In person, I could see that being a real problem (plus it would take a LOT of extra table space)

Two things to watch out for on this game: 1. When all placements are done and you're at the end of the round, be sure to click and activate ALL of your tribe members and make sure you didn't overlook anyone. The system will warn you if you forgot one, but if you play too quickly you might click past the message and effectively 'skip' part or all of the end of your turn. It's happened more than once, mainly from people trying to play through multiple games and not reading the messages closely. 2. Be sure to click on and activate your tribe members in the correct order - if you don't click the tool guy first to pick it up, you won't get to use it for your rolls! I wish the game gave you the food and tools first automatically, but alas it doesn't.

Torres - This is a relatively recent implementation of a game despite it being a fairly old game. I love Torres but don't get to play it much FTF, so it's nice to be playing it online. I wondered how they would do the stacks of tower pieces and, at first, I was quite disappointed because they just show an overhead view of the map and then show a number for how many tower pieces are stacked there. This was difficult to get over at first, but then it became apparent that this was a very good solution to the problem on a flat screen - it suddenly became a lot easier to calculate where you were in relation to the other player. Also, one really neat feature is for moving - you can click on one of your pawns and it immediately shows you how far you can move it with the actions you have and how many actions it will take to get there. This is MUCH easier than when playing FTF. I still miss the stacks of towers all over the board though.

Vikings - For this implementation, the circle of Vikings and tiles becomes a simple line of Vikings and tiles that move just move closer to the zero value (instead of turning the rotating circle like in real life). This is a fair change I supposed, but turning the wheel is kind of fun. A great feature here is if you pick a tile/viking combination then the system highlights all legal placements for the tiles. So, you can click on each of the options and see where you might be able to place them - very handy. My biggest gripe with this game, though, is the end-game scoring - it gives you a scoring summary, but it only shows you what you earned for each Viking, but not for any of the end-game bonuses and such! Really annoying and not helpful for newbies at all. Still, it's one of my favorites to play on Yucata because the turns are fairly quick and yet they are interesting as well.

MY FINAL COMMENTS:
Overall, I've really enjoyed my experience playing games on Yucata. The attitude there seems to be very similar to that on BGG with people just happy to play. There's no arguments or swearing and such, just nice civil people wanting to play some fun games.

I will say that occasionally I've played random people where the experience isn't quite as fun as playing someone that I know - someone I can chat with during the game and have a bit of conversation in addition to playing the game. I've played some games where we never chatted much at all and it just felt like I was playing against an AI or robot. I have found I WANT a bit of social interaction and sometimes it's lacking depending on who you are playing. I've sometimes even sent messages to these people afterwards to say 'nice game' and such but still no response. I typically won't play with them again.

What I like about Yucata:
* Large variety of games (72 currently - see list below)
* Relatively easy interface
* Lots of people available for playing
* You can see when people are online and when they are offline (although I've had some consistency issues with this, but it's fine most of the time)
* Performance is generally very good
* Regular additions of new games
* Ranking system encourages good play (but is not critical to whom you can game with although some people might not play with you if not ranked high enough)
* Ability to play games quickly live with people
* Ability to go back and review a game
* Site has relatively friendly people without worrying about getting into disagreements or seeing poor behavior
* BGG username can be entered for cross-identification - many BGG frequenters are also on Yucata
* Private and Public invitations can be left
* Easy to find a game via the invitations

THINGS I WOULD LIKE CHANGED ON YUCATA:
* Chat feature in games is significantly lacking - This one really bugs me. First, you can typically only send in-game 'chat' messages when it's your turn. The other person only receives it when it's their turn - even if they are online at the same time. Also, if it is NOT your turn, you can't consistently 'send' messages AND, if you are successful in sending, the other player won't get it until their NEXT turn. The chat really needs to be 'live' like Yahoo Instant Messenger. This would be REALLY helpful for those teaching games to newbies because they could give instructions to them when it's the newbie's turn.

* Final scoring sometimes not obvious/shown - Some games need better final scoring summaries so that you can see where all the points are coming from. Sometimes its obvious, but when it's not there should be something more explicit.

THINGS THAT ANNOY ME ABOUT YUCATA (but I can live with them):
* No page that shows everything about current invites and games together - There is a page that shows the general chat window, any games where it's your turn and any invitations you have received. There is also a page which shows you ALL of your games (even if you aren't on turn) but nothing else. But I'd like to see them combined so I can see ALL my games AND my personal invites. My reason is that I like to see who is online and who isn't so I might not have a turn but will know I might have a turn soon if they are still online. It's not a huge deal, but I tend to stick to the page just listing all the games and so I miss out on any new invites I might have received. I suspect others may have the same issue.

* No longer works on my (WebOS) phone and some games don't play properly on other mobile devices depending on what features are implemented. I know my WebOS phone is not as well supported now, fine, but it would be nice if the games could be revamped to ensure they work on more mobile devices in general as it's a bit inconsistent right now.

* Some players refuse to play with other players that are ranked significantly lower (due to how the rank scoring works). This is not too wide-spread and I usually just avoid playing with these people and move on to another player or someone I know instead.

ANNOYING THINGS ABOUT ONLINE GAMING IN GENERAL:
* Waiting for a long time for slow players - This is more of problem with other users than anything. If I have to wait more than a few days to make my next move, I've forgotten what I was going to do and kind of lost interest. Usually this isn't a problem, but it does happen.

* Can be a lot less social, especially if playing with random players. Sometimes a pick-up game is nice when your usual gaming buddies aren't online, but it can be hit or miss if they even want to 'talk'.

One other comment: playing several games simultaneously detracts from being immersed in a single game. Sometimes this isn't a problem, but some games its something that bothers me. I love it when someone I'm playing is online and we can play through a lot of turns and maybe even play a full game or finish out a game in one session - its just a much more satisfying way for me to play.

Well, that about wraps up my review on Yucata. Hopefully I've given you some insight into Yucata for online gaming and perhaps have given you something to think about if you've been on the fence about trying it.

Below is the full list of games available on Yucata currently which I pulled from the site then added links to quickly get you to the information or to set up an invitation.

Hopefully you give Yucata or some other online site a shot to try a game or two. There are many other sites out there as well, although I'm not going to provide details here as the focus is on Yucata which I prefer at the moment, but maybe try to find a site you're comfortable with where you like the games and the interface and the players - and if you don't like it move on to another site.

Now get out there and give an online game site a try!


Yucata Info / Yucata Invite / BGG Game Link / Comment
1. (Info / Play) A Few Acres of Snow BETA --> Martin Wallace designed 2 player deck building of war between Britain and France in North America.
2. (Info / Play) Alchemist --> Mix potions and try to make your secret ingredient the most valuable.
3. (Info / Play) Arkadia
4. (Info / Play) Arktia
5. (Info / Play) Aronda
6. (Info / Play) Atlantida
7. (Info / Play) Atoll
8. (Info / Play) Atta Ants
9. (Info / Play) Awale --> aka: Mancala
10. (Info / Play) Balloon Cup
11. (Info / Play) Bangkok Klongs
12. (Info / Play) Black Friday --> Recent Friedemann Friese game.
13. (Info / Play) Campaign Manager 2008
14. (Info / Play) Can't Stop --> Classic Sid Sackson!
15. (Info / Play) Capt'n W. Kidd
16. (Info / Play) Carcassonne H&G
17. (Info / Play) Carolus Magnus
18. (Info / Play) Chinagold
19. (Info / Play) Down Under
20. (Info / Play) Dragonheart
21. (Info / Play) Egizia --> A game I acquired a couple of months ago and now I know how to play because of Yucata! Now to play FTF….
22. (Info / Play) Era of Inventions
23. (Info / Play) Famiglia
24. (Info / Play) Fearsome Floors
25. (Info / Play) Finca
26. (Info / Play) Firenze
27. (Info / Play) Founding Fathers
28. (Info / Play) Four in a row
29. (Info / Play) Gobang & Gomoku
30. (Info / Play) Hacienda
31. (Info / Play) Hexxagon
32. (Info / Play) Hey, that's my fish
33. (Info / Play) Industrial Waste
34. (Info / Play) Just 4 Fun
35. (Info / Play) Just 4 Fun Colours
36. (Info / Play) Kahuna
37. (Info / Play) Kamisado
38. (Info / Play) Kanaloa
39. (Info / Play) King of Siam
40. (Info / Play) Luna --> Good implementation but I only want to play this FTF.
41. (Info / Play) Maori
42. (Info / Play) Masons
43. (Info / Play) Morris
44. (Info / Play) One-Eye
45. (Info / Play) Oregon --> One of my very favorites to play on Yucata - especially if played 'live'
46. (Info / Play) Othello
47. (Info / Play) Pergamon
48. (Info / Play) Pompeii
49. (Info / Play) Ponte del Diavolo
50. (Info / Play) Richelieu
51. (Info / Play) Roll through the Ages
52. (Info / Play) Saint Petersburg --> A tough game to play - Yucata is a great place to get some practice.
53. (Info / Play) Santiago de Cuba
54. (Info / Play) Shanghaien
55. (Info / Play) Six
56. (Info / Play) Sobek
57. (Info / Play) Space Mission BETA
58. (Info / Play) Sticky Fingers
59. (Info / Play) Stone Age --> one of my very favorite games to play on Yucata.
60. (Info / Play) Sudoku Moyo
61. (Info / Play) Tally Ho!
62. (Info / Play) The Speicherstadt
63. (Info / Play) Thunderstone --> Have yet to try this but am interested in seeing how it plays.
64. (Info / Play) Thurn and Taxis
65. (Info / Play) Torres --> A recent addition to the site and a good implementation (although I miss the 3D tower building in real life)
66. (Info / Play) Trias
67. (Info / Play) Two by Two
68. (Info / Play) Tyrus
69. (Info / Play) Vikings --> Another of my favorite Yucata games to play!
70. (Info / Play) War of the Roses
71. (Info / Play) Yspahan
72. (Info / Play) Yucata --> The 'original' Yucata.de game (duh!)



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Mon Mar 5, 2012 1:00 pm
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THE CREATIVE GAMER - What happens when you mix a Cub Scout Pine Wood Derby and Chess? (Warning, graphic pictures inside)

-matt s.
United States
Eugene
Oregon
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First off I'm going to say - sorry to disappoint, no blood or gore or King chess pieces embedded into someone's eyeball.

BUT if you stick with me for a short while, you'll see what I mean about graphic.

So, my son is in Cub Scouts. Every year they have a Pine Wood Derby where they get a block of wood, carve it into some sort of vehicle, nail some plastic wheels to it, then fling it down a track racing against other cars to see who is fastest and gets to go home with a trophy.

From gallery of tasajara

The Track

And, its really nice because our Pack has a 'sibling' category and an 'adult' (aka full grown kid) race for bragging rights so everyone gets to be involved if they want!

In addition to being able to get pins for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in their Dens, they also can win a 1st, 2nd or 3rd place trophy overall for the Pack. There is also a series of categories that all participants and spectators get to vote on including 'Most Creative', 'Most Detail', 'Best Woodworking', and 'Best in Show' among others. The great thing is that the vote counting committee makes sure everyone wins a certificate (although Best in Show gets a special trophy)

In the past we have done traditional cars. And everyone else seemed to be doing crazy stuff like a Nintendo DS (complete with hinge and screen), a piano, a fishing boat, the Star Ship Enterprise, and even a tank with 8 wheels!

So, this year we decided to think a little more 'outside the box'. Well, my son's was probably the most 'outside the box'. His goal was actually to be the most creative so he wanted to do a sea serpent - this is the result:
From gallery of tasajara

Side View

From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

Another View About to Race!

For my daughter, hers was more 'inside the box' - well, inside the cat box as you can see (warning, this is graphic!):
From gallery of tasajara

View showing the cat face (that's a pic of her kitten, Skeeter)

From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

A better 'poop' shot Kitty Box about to race!

She likes to tell how those are real cat poops in the box. Oh, they are! Real styrofoam packing peanuts painted cat poop color

Finally, mine was more somewhere between 'inside' and 'outside' the box - 'inside' the game box taking it 'outside' for a spin:
From gallery of tasajara

The Chess Racer!

From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

Another view About to race....

Well, it turns out that everyone voted my daughters as 'Funniest' car and my son ended up winning 2nd place in his Den as well as 'Best in Show' from the voting (sorry, don't have a pic yet of the trophy).

And what about mine? It finished dead last among the adults shake. And I learned an important lesson - Chess and Pine Wood Derby Racing don't mix (warning another graphic pic!):
From gallery of tasajara


AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Noooooooooooooooo! Not a decimated chess game! The horror!


As it's that time of year, I'd love to hear about other people's experiences with Cub Scouting and how Pine Wood Derby racing goes for your Pack!



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Sun Jan 29, 2012 4:00 pm
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JUST GAMING AROUND - New games played and briefly reviewed (no really) [includes Kingdom Builders, Mondo and Die Burgen von Burgund]

-matt s.
United States
Eugene
Oregon
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So, this weekend I had a birthday gaming weekend with a few friends. The full list of games played is detailed here:
2012 Birthday Gaming Weekend

However, I wanted to give a tiny bit more detailed impression of the new games I played. My resolution this year is to write more with less, so I'm trying that (although I think I have only partly succeeded on this post). The GL only took me 1-1/2 hours to write (that's fast for me!) but this post (now that I've written more of it) took a bit longer. BUT, I covered a number of games in detail so I feel pretty good about it anyhow.

New games I played this weekend were:

Mondo
Snapshot: This is a fun puzzly, speed based, tile laying game. You have a board and you are placing tiles that have animals, mountains, volcanoes and landscape types on them. You are trying to create as many complete landscape areas as possible while minimizing unmatched edges, minimizing erupting volcanoes, and maximizing animals. Play occurs simultaneously for all players pulling tiles from a center pile, much as in Galaxy Trucker. After three 7 minute rounds you total each round's scores to see who wins.

Pros: Fast, fun, puzzly. Advanced goals add additional challenges as does the double-sided boards. Nice quality components and nice clean, clear artwork and colors.
Cons: Speed games might not appeal to everyone.

Verdict: This game was great fun and right up my alley. It was fun trying to grab the tiles you need and rush to get them on the board in the time limit, especially with some of the advanced rules. This game has gone directly onto my Wishlist!

Spy vs Spy
Snapshot: Build tunnels from your corner of the board by laying tiles from a hand of 4 tiles to reach bombs on the board and bring them back to your hideout without getting blown up. You can also place spy tiles to block the tunnels of other players. Bombs that blow up send you back to your start. Bombs you get back safely give you something special such as an extra turn or the ability to place another tile.

Pros: An fun game with some interesting decisions, turns are relatively quick and there's a bit of tension when you roll the die to see if you....err, die, when your bomb blows up.
Cons: A bit nasty for a kids game and can be a little frustrating, but not quite enough going to be a standout for non-kid players. Still, something worthy of playing and being entertained while playing.

Verdict: A fun game for once-in-a-while playing as a filler or kids game. If I found it in a thrift store I would probably pick it up if the price was right.

Alea Iacta Est
Snapshot: Roll your dice and place in varying combinations in one of several areas to collect end-game tiles, people tiles and matching location tiles. You can start off small and later bolster your position in each location by adding to your dice. There are also 'pee' colored tokens you collect from the latrine that give you the opportunity to re-roll some or all of your dice.

Pros: Despite the apparently low number of choices of where to place your dice, there's enough to choose from (both due to revealed tiles as well as values of what other players have placed) to make the decisions interesting. The dice are small but good quality, the latrine is fun, and the ability to expand/shrink the play areas for more or less people. There's even an additional area when playing with more players.
Cons: I could see this game wearing out it's welcome if played a ton, but I enjoyed the game play and choices. The artwork is ok and some of the iconography was a bit opaque on the end-game tiles.

Verdict: This isn't at the top of my list to purchase, but I'd likely pick it up if it was available for a decent price.

Manhattan
Snapshot: Over 6 rounds you get 4 cards that show a 9x9 grid and a dot in one square - this is where you can place a building segment in one of the 6 city areas. The cool thing is because each person sits on different sides of the table the card is oriented from your perspective. Well, it seemed cool at first, but it didn't seem to have any actual effect on the game.

After you get your hand of cards you choose 4 building segments consisting of 1 to 4 floors then start placing them into new city squares (based on the dots on the card) or on top of other building segments giving you ownership. You play a card and then place a building segment to start a new building or to put on top of an existing building. After everyone plays their cards, you get points for the tallest building, a point for each building you are at the top of, and the most buildings you are at the top of in each one of the 6 city areas.

Pros: Simple rules, simple components, simple board. The game is interesting with many decisions and tactics to try.
Cons: Very thin theme may turn some people off. Plastic components are difficult to tell overall tower sizes sometimes when comparing buildings.

Verdict: I enjoyed the game and I don't mind abstract games so the thin theme didn't bother me. There were always interesting decisions to make, but sometimes you could definitely get screwed if you got cards you didn't need when you need to react to a certain situation. This forces you to be creative with what you've got but sometimes even that isn't possible. This may not necessarily go on my Wishlist, but I might pick it up for a good price.

Kingdom Builder
Snapshot: First you set up a random hex grid combining 4 of 8 board sides, each with a different special action building. Then, draw 3 of 10 end-game scoring goal cards. These set the stage for the type of placements for your settlements on the board. On a turn, draw a landscape card and follow the placement rules to place 1 of your 40 settlements. You can gain action tokens from the special buildings and use those on your turn in combination with your landscape card to move existing settlements or be able to place more. The game ends in the round when someone has place all 40 buildings.

Pros: Great looking graphics, configurable board and goals setup ensure a different game nearly every time. Interesting decisions once you get your 'engine' going.
Cons: This is another abstract game disguised with a thin theme. Drawing and playing only 1 card seems it could be a bit limiting, especially in the early game.

Verdict: Definitely has a Dominion vibe, but is very different in gameplay as it's more of a puzzle to figure out how to optimize/combo the landscape card you got with the actions available and the end game goals. The thin theme doesn't bother me at all nor does the limited card 'hand'. Reading the rules prior to playing it was obvious to me it was pretty abstract. Some of the more negative opinions kind of made me not want to even give it a try but the positive reviews kept my hopes up. I have to tell you I am very glad I did try it and I really had a great time on my first play. This type of game really works for me and the variety in configurability will keep me interested for a while. I can't wait for my own copy arrives so I can give it another go!

7 Wonders: Leaders
Snapshot: There are 42 white backed leader cards in this expansion that give certain special abilities. The 'abilities' are generally similar to what you get on the regular building cards such as money, military, end-game VPs, and perhaps some other special bonuses. You draft 4 leaders before the main game starts, then play 1 leader at the beginning of each round. So, it basically adds 1 additional card to your tableau each round (1 leader each isn't used).

You also get 1 new civ board and 4 new purple VP cards, plus some 6 coin tokens (you get to start with 3 more coins than in the normal game to help you pay for the leaders).

Pros: The Leader cards can give you some nice bonuses and extra things like more military or more money. The ability to also use the leader cards to build the Wonder is a nice option (or discard for 3 coins)
Cons: The leaders and extra bonus cards add to the setup and play time. However, this was not too significant, so it isn't too much of a negative.

Verdict: I liked the leaders a lot. You get a few more options or have cards to dump into the Wonder at the very minimum without having to sacrifice a building card instead. I'm very glad that I received this expansion for my b-day. I don't think I'm going to feel obligated to use them every time, but it will be nice to throw something different into the mix.

Die Burgen von Burgund
Snapshot: You are building your kingdom by rolling 2 dice then first picking up tiles (set up in areas for selection according to your rolls) to place in reserve (limited to 3 per player at a time) then put those tiles onto the board using another die. Some tiles grant straight points, some have special abilities that let you get more tiles, place tiles, or get money. Some let you pick up goods and change the turn order. You can get money by shipping goods or building mines. Also, money earned can be used to purchase additional tiles from a special area on the board.

Pros: The dice roll mechanic to limit options is interesting and a great take on the worker placement type of mechanic - not quite worker placement, but with similar results. Turns are generally fairly short so downtime isn't too bad. Despite the limited options, there are ways to expand your options such that you usually don't feel too stuck if you plan carefully. Potential for playing 2 to 4 players is also a big plus.
Cons: It IS luck driven with random tile draws and dice rolls for tile selection and this might turn some people off. Components are nice but the tiles are very small with tiny graphics which can be hard to read from across the table.

Verdict: Ok, this wasn't my first time playing, but it was only my 2nd time and it's been at least 6 months since the first play. I'd been biding my time waiting for it to become available and my lovely wife was able to find a copy for me for Xmas (along with the expansion boards, too!).

I love the combos and the variety of options you have with every dice roll. The gameplay overall is about the right length and seems to be well balanced. There is some interaction, but it's mostly indirect as you try to grab tiles needed before other players take them from you (or steal others' tiles before THEY can get them)

I'm really loving this game - I love the look of it and the puzzly nature of it. I like how the dice rolls limit your options, but you can expand your options by using special tokens. There are a lot of tiles and they come out differently every time which helps change things up, especially since not all tiles will come out every time so you need to be opportunistic with what's coming out. And I love hitting a good combo.


--------------------------------------
Well, that's it for now. Ok, the overall post ended up being fairly long, but each description is shorter so hopefully it's not too much to read through. I'm trying to be more succinct. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm trying.


Now go try a new game that you've got hiding on the shelf, still in shrink, and give it some love!

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Wed Jan 11, 2012 10:50 pm
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TIMELY TOPICS - What games should I play with my family this Christmas holiday? (or, Why do I keep buying games to play with my Family that they refuse to play?)

-matt s.
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So, something I've been pondering is how to get my family to play different games beyond a certain handful. Part of the question lies in WHAT would they like to play? This is a bit beyond the typical 'gateway' gaming question, more of a 'what the heck can I bring that everyone might want to play?'

Over the past 3 years I have purchased numerous games thinking 'my wife might like this' or 'this might be fun with my parents'. Then, I bring them out and describe them briefly and their eyes glaze over and they want to play something else instead.

Where I'm coming from
My perspective here comes from gaming with my wife and parents who live in Washington state (~4-5 hr drive from our home in Oregon). We get together at least 5-6 times per year, primarily for Thanksgiving, Christmas and my kids' birthdays, and we usually have some potential gaming time mixed in. I've introduced some gateway and non-gateway games in the past and it's always hit or miss. It's difficult to know what will work for everyone.

So, when the question comes up of 'what game should we play?' it invariably gravitates to the same games: Ticket to Ride (usually US map, occasionally one of the others), Dominion, Crokinole, Banangrams (although my Dad refuses to play that and most anything with a speed element), Blokus (played rarely) and ZOT (a form of Oh Hell!).

I like playing all of these but I also like to mix it up a bit from time to time.

ZOT we played for years and I'm a bit tired of it.

TtR (which we introduced to my parents 3+ years ago) is always good although I would prefer to play some of the other non-US versions more often.

Bananagrams was a big hit at a family reunion where everyone is into word games, but my Dad just doesn't like the speed element of it.

My Dad likes more 'thinky' or 'puzzly' games. We love to play Odin's Ravens although we've not played as much lately. My Mom and wife love playing Flowerpower but again it hasn't been as much lately. Plus, both of those games are 2-player only so not for all of us as a group.

A couple of years ago I taught my Dad Dominionand he totally latched onto it. In fact, we got my Mom to try it and she loved it too. They even had it set up permanently at their house for a couple of months surprise until my Mom got tired of it. Part of the problem was she refused to play with some cards - mainly some attack cards and also those that tended to force longer chains. I bought them an expansion (Intrigue) but she still seemed put off by some of the cards/combos. So, we play it infrequently now as a group.

Crokinole is great (and we even got my Dad a board last year with the Mayday games pre-order deal) but it doesn't get played often. We did have a good time at it during Thanksgiving but I am a good bit better than the rest of them and try to dial it down a bit but sometimes that's difficult to do....

Anyhow, as you can see, that leaves TtR, Crokinole and Zot the main games we play. We have experimented with some many other games over the past couple of years - many of which I will note here and there below. I will admit that I ruined Rummikub by crushing everyone the one time we played (oops - wasn't so tuned into the 'dial it back' thing back then)

Oh, and we play some games with everyone including the kids such as Apples to Apples (almost every time we get together) and Rat-a-tat-cat (not so much lately - hmmm, there's a trend here). We even pulled out Pictionary to teach my kids for the first time and had a blast.

Where we've headed
When I first started getting into gaming, my friend, Chris (cdefrisco), taught several games to my wife and I, one of which was Pirate's Cove. I enjoyed it and my wife REALLY seemed to enjoy it, which surprised me. So, she got a copy for Christmas. Unfortunately, it has been played exactly 1 time since we got it. We played with my parents and they both hated it. I think they didn't like the direct confrontation. So, it sits on the shelf - yet another purchase my family refuses to play

Interestingly, my Mom has been willing to dabble in some new directions. She and I played Tobago at Thanksgiving with the kids and she seemed to enjoy it, although I think the game went on longer than it should due to her and the kids taking a long time to take turns.

She gave Oregon a go last year but we only got a partial game completed although she seemed to enjoy it. I'm a bit concerned with that one though as now I've been playing it online a lot (and am ranked 18th currently out of 1000+ players) so would have to play very lightly to make sure I don't accidentally crush like in Rummikub.

Gaming Exploits with my Dad
Over time, I've come to realize my Dad is the most willing to try just about anything and is able to do well with some more complex or different types of games.

Now, to give some perspective, he has always been into computers, gaming systems and video games. Yes, he is over 60 and he plays video games. He probably plays them more than I do because it's something he can do by himself easily for short (or long) periods of time on the computer.

We owned an original Pong game way back when. We had an Atari 2600 when they first came out and later an NES. He bought pinball machines and an Asteroid Deluxe machine when I was a teen. Like me, he loves racing games, but he also loves a good adventure game, puzzle games, pinball games - you name it he's probably played it.

He even used to play games like Loom and Monkey Island. Later, he got into Doom, Duke Nuke Em, Tomb Raider and Quake. He played all the way through the original Zelda on the NES. He has more modern games that I don't even know what he plays (as I've veered directly away from them in favor of board games). And, now he has moved the large screen TV upstairs and bought himself an X-Box for Christmas to 'play with the kids'.....surprise laugh wait....shake

And now that I think about it, I guess he DID teach me how to play Chess when I was growing up, so he's always been into somewhat more complex games.

What usually happens during our visits is my wife and Mom will go out to lunch and then shopping and will be gone for several hours. This leaves time alone with my Dad and kids. So, we have played games like Nexus Ops, Dungeon, Qwirkle, Jaipur, Pastiche, Haggis, and some others that aren't coming to mind. These are not 'heavy' games, but certainly different and he usually does well in them even on a first play.

Heading in new directions
I'm not one to generally play the same game over and over and over again - I like more variety, to try out new games, or play known games with new people.

As a result, I try to get my family to play new and different games. I think my Dad is pretty much up for anything, as long as it doesn't have a speed element - he will flat out refuse to play that type as he likes to think about his moves.

Interestingly, my wife is the most resistant to 'new' games, if I can get her interested at all. She games when we're visiting with my parents, but it's difficult to get her to the table otherwise. My Mom is open to newer games, but generally not in the evenings when she's tired and wants to game more to relax and socialize at the same time.

It's a board game mine field I'm trying to navigate: something my wife is willing to play, something that's not too complicated for my Mom to play, and anything without speed elements for my Dad.

Last month at Thanksgiving I taught my Mom and Dad 10 Days in the USA. My wife bowed out. My Dad won with me 1 turn away from winning. And my Mom got mad, threw down her tiles and stormed off (i.e. she hated it).

Wow.

I'm generally not accustomed to gamers getting so emotional about games. Gamers typically go 'oh well' being happy to have played, win or lose, and are ready to move on to the next game or even try again to see if they can do better.

Family gaming with my parents and wife is not quite as simple unfortunately. They sometimes get emotionally involved and can push their limits sometimes - way beyond what they are used to or even desire, even if it seems like a 'simple' game. Ironically, some more complex games seem to be 'ok' depending on theme or interactions.

Where to go from here
I have to follow-up with my wife on this, but when I was playing Tobago with my Mom and kids, I think I heard my wife say something to the effect of "I don't like to think too much when playing a game". Whether that's what she truly said/meant or not, it did get me thinking - simpler games must be better for her. I think this also suggests playing the same games more often (i.e. playing more often means you understand it better and don't have to 'think' about it as much).

Also, my Mom seems to like card based games, and games with quicker/faster turns. I have a feeling she is also in the same boat of not having to think too much. Apparently 10 Days in the USA was 'too much' (well, too frustrating at least).

So, I'm starting to change my perspective on what my non-Geek family members (i.e. my wife and Mom) might like to play (and when I say 'might like to play' I mean, 'might like to play that is different for a change')

The the problem here is more about me I think - my expectation to get them to play more/different games. They tend to like to be comfortable with games and not be required to have to think too much and I want change and more complexity.

Over the years I have purchased many games thinking 'I bet my family might like playing this'. Then, I'll bring it. I'll set it out on the table. I'll show it to them. I'll show them several. Then we play Ticket to Ride. Or worse, Zot. And the new games go back on the shelf or into the tote. *sigh*

So, I seem to have a bit of a dilemma here - *I* want to be able to try out some new games. My family does not necessarily want to try out some new games. New games. No new games. Crap.

I guess a compromise is in order, and some more careful planning about new game selections, if I bring out any at all.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this yet - it's been a good thought process for me. I'm not sure any of you reading are in the same boat as me or not, or have come to similar conclusions, but if you have any ideas on where this is leading me let me know.

Here's my stab at this for me: 'simpler' card based games, quick turns, not too much thinking, probably shorter rather than longer (say 45-90 minutes per game).

Interestingly, this seems to lead me in a couple of directions:
* More modern card based games
* Co-operative games (short turns + encourages social interaction which I think my Mom likes)
* Maybe some shorter puzzly games
* Maybe simpler dice-based games

Here's a short list of games I've been thinking about:
* Bohnanza (although just played recently with my kids and they were just 'ok' with it - I kinda liked it but we had to stop mid-game just as I was getting into it)
* San Juan (perhaps still a bit too much)
* Forbidden Island, maybe Pandemic (we played Forbidden Island with my parents and kids and had a good time before - I need to bring it out again)
* Castle Panic (my Dad enjoyed it and I think it goes in the same direction - quick, fast, easy to learn and play)
* 7 Wonders (might still be too much)
* Blue Moon City (great theme, general mechanics are easy, but some complexity in the card play might be too much)
* Downfall of Pompeii (I think we actually played this a long time ago, but not sure what the feelings were at the time)
* Zooloretto (played once a long while ago - maybe need to bring out again)
* Lucky Loop (simple dice-rolling fun)
* Micro Mutants (fun dexterity game, although more with the kids)
* Mosaix (just picked up this simple to play puzzly game)
* Oregon (if I don't play too hard)
* Show Manager (no one seemed to want to play this before though - just a better sell is needed? I'm wondering if there is too much screwage)
* Straw (simpler card game but I still haven't played it myself and it seems maybe 'too' simple for my tastes)
* Andromeda (just arrived yesterday so haven't played myself yet, but is also by Alan Moon and somewhat luck based??)

I know not to bring ALL of these but want to narrow it down to a handful that might be easy sells. Any recommendations/suggestions would be great (preferably with games I already own)

Final thoughts
Now, one thing you may have noticed is that I've actually been able to get my family to try out a good variety of games - quite a few in fact. You may even say the are NOT non-gamers as a result. This may be true with my Dad, but with my Mom and wife I'm on the fence.

FOLLOW-UP
So, I thought about this independently of the list here and have a different list where I need to simply and also need to try to keep size down due needing to pack luggage and gifts in the SUV as well.

With just Dad:
* Tigris & Euphrates (chess-like, more depth/thought involved plus I've been talking it up for a while)
* Haggis (small, card based, played before and would like to play again)
* Jaipur (small, card based, might even try to play this with Mom)

With my Parents and Wife:
* Showmanager (fast, card based, although worried about screwage)
* Pandemic (co-op, card based)
* Straw (small, fast and simple, card based)
* Oregon (quick turns, card based, relatively easy play)
* Mosaix (small, fast, puzzly, dicey)
* Potion Making: Practice (relatively small, card based, although did not go over well with Geek gamers, but might be good for parents)

With the kids:
* Apples to Apples Sour Edition (my wife picked this up for the kids - has a twist with also picking the 'worst' card)
* Forbidden Island (relatively small, fast, card based)
* Rat-a-tat-Cat (small, fast, card based)

Other Possibilities:
* Micro Mutants (fun dexterity, but box is kinda big)
* Tsuro (got for xmas and haven't played yet so not sure....)
* Pizza Box Football (dicey fun and Dad loves football - haven't played yet but thrifted a decent copy so want to try)
* Dominion (with Hinterlands which I just got for Xmas and added to my combo box!)

Ok, ok, I know the list got a little too long. But I LIKE TO HAVE OPTIONS! Even though I know the X-Box may be the big hit over board games this year shake

And, even if they never want to play the games I keep buying and bringing for them to try.....I can dream, can't I?

Have a Happy New Year!
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Mon Dec 26, 2011 7:25 pm
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JUST GAMING AROUND - EGG Game Day - ESSEN GAMES GALORE - My first plays and impressions

-matt s.
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Eugene
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The EGG Game Day was the weekend of November 12 graciously hosted by our Chief EGG Head, Lorna (and, yes, I'm very slow to getting this posted - due to Thanksgiving and spending my 'writing' time working on Dominion dividers for Hinterlands), :


Lorna goes to Essen every year and picks up a number of Essen releases then invites locals over to give them a go. I received at least a couple of invitations but unfortunately I was too busy to be able to attend.

So, I was really looking forward to the EGG Game Day as I had most of the day open to be able to play games (well, after an early-day Scouting activity). And, I was really looking forward to getting in some of those Essen games I'd been drooling over.

The night before I read through the rules of Dungeon Petz as it was one of several games near the top of my 'to play' list. I've been hoping that it might be something I could play with my kids. Reading the rules closely really started getting me excited about playing it. I did have some concerns though whether my kids (8 & 11) would be able to play it as it I read through the many moving parts.

I could go into a long description of the details of attending the game day (like I usually do) but I'm not - I'd rather go into a long description of the games themselves. Well, ok, I'm going to try to be short...or medium length at least.

Here's a quick rundown of the NON-Essen games I played first:
* PitchCar - My friend Chris (Togra) left me a message the day before to bring PitchCar as his wife wanted to give it a go. So, I brought it and set it up with her soon after I arrived. Upon setting it up we played a 3-player, 2-lap game with a third, Doug. It had a nice looping hairpin and a longish jump (which we shortened later). She seemed to enjoy it quite a bit despite realizing it was more difficult to play than on the iPad...I didn't even KNOW they had it on the iPad!

* 7 Wonders - My friends Aric and Heather attended for their first time at my suggestion and I wanted to get a game in with them. They have attended a couple of game nights at my house and have been more and more interested in trying different games. I figured they would like this one and we also happened to have 7 people looking to play a game so this seemed like an obvious choice. I've really enjoyed my few plays of it and I'm enjoying trying different ways to try to score points. Everyone seemed to have a great time and the newbies (A&H, plus Greg who only played once before) picked up the game quickly (not surprisingly). Interestingly, all the players with resources were at one end of the table and all the players with military were at the other end of the table - and the military side ended up with mostly the lowest scores, mainly due to lack of......resources! As usual, a quick, fun, solid game.

Well, I have to laugh at myself a bit here - I thought I had played more Non-Essen games, but, nope, it was just these two! Overall, I was there for about 10 hours and I ended up playing a total of 8 games, 6 of which were Essen releases (well, 5 games, I played Mondriaan 2020 twice).

So, here are the Essen games in the order that I played them (barring the Non-Essen releases)

* Dungeon Petz - I had read the rules before arriving and was looking forward to getting this played. It took a little while to get everything set up and fully taught - there's a lot going on here. I love the artwork and I enjoyed the gameplay quite a bit as well. Putting together all the groups of imps with money was an interesting mechanic as it was very difficult to play out your entire turn without knowing what everyone else was doing...you seem to have to just focus on your 1 or 2 key important things then take what you can for the rest. I really like how as your pets grow you get more and more cards for them. Having magic books is nice to give you an extra card or two for the rest of the game. There's a lot to think about, but at the same time

It seems we were mostly pretty lucky with the card draws (or were we just skilled at managing our hands?) - none of us ONCE had a suffering monster OR a mutation. I think if the cards came out differently it could have been more of a problem...we didn't see too many negative effects of 'luck' in this game, although I suspect horrible card draws could likely really screw you over. The tough part is you need to place your creatures in cages BEFORE drawing cards, so you obviously aren't 100% sure you can get what you want. But, it seemed there was enough to do to keep your pets mostly happy and contained. I think getting the 'books' which let you hold an extra card helped as well as having multiple creatures from which to draw and select cards.

The last round was toughest as the differences between the Exhibition and the Customers was fairly wide, plus we all had non planned properly to be able to sell a monster each to both customers (only having 1 appropriate sized creature each)

The point difference between 1st (Lorna) and 2nd (me) was only 1-1/2 points, so it definitely came down to the wire and if either of us had drawn 1 or 2 different needs cards, it could have flip-flopped easily, so I guess luck of the draw can make a difference. But honestly, there's so much going on it's hard to say exactly which moves did and didn't ultimately make a difference by the end.

This game is now on my Christmas wishlist. I think it might be a tad heavy for my kids to play, but I think I can at least tweak it a bit if necessary just to have fun playing it with them.

* Mondriaan 2020 - This is an interesting game from Cwali for 2 players. The game consists of 11 large-ish square tiles for each player plus 1 additional to draw as a starting tile. Each tile has 1-3 colors on it. You take all 11 tiles as a 'hand' and select any one tile to play on your turn. Colors must match on played tiles. You then receive 1 point per 'section' of that color in the extended area (i.e. count all attached tile sections except the tile you played). Keep a running tally on a piece of paper. Whomever has the largest total when no more legal plays are available is the winner!

This game feels familiar and yet different. It actually feels a little like ConHex but without the goal of connecting the ends of the board. The key to the game seems to be getting large scoring areas without letting your opponent get in on them - if you can do that consistently and they can't you'll come out ahead.

Apparently the game was inspired by Mondriaan's artwork, but in reality the lines could have been drawn in a number of different ways (curvy, sketchy, etc) with different colors and the game would play exactly the same. Still, it has a sort of the feel of his artwork, but not enough for me really - no solid black lines, not quite the patterning I'd expect. It works for the game and looks neat, but it isn't Mondriaan for me unfortunately...

The game was fun and fast enough that we played twice in less than 30 minutes including teaching. I'm not itching to get it but if there was an opportunity to pick it up I might.

* Space Maze - I was quite interested in this game reading about it. I loved the idea of working through a maze with different colored space aliens. The goal is to get the relic (tinfoil looking hat) in the middle and get it back to your spaceship. You also get a token each time you steal it from someone else and can win by getting 3 tokens.

The most intriguing element for me was the gates between rooms (square tiles) of the maze are colored red, blue and yellow. These colors must 'mix' to match the color of the alien that you want to move through the gates. Then, you can play action cards to rotate or swap the squares to change who can go through each of the gates. I really liked this idea.

The issue I had with this game was I was expecting the game to be a bit faster paced. The way the cards came out and how you perform your actions, you only get 1 set of moves per turn. Then, if your action cards only let you rotate you're kind of stuck. This all is especially frustrating when you have to use your movement points to get more/better cards instead of moving the direction you need/want.

I would say my expectations were different than what the game ended up being. It was very difficult with 4 players to get yourself anywhere at times, made even more difficult by people then moving you back again wrecking your progress.

Ultimately, I still need to wait to try it again before I determine if this is a game I might want to get. I think the key is understanding how to leverage the action cards to get more 'movement' out of your turn.

* Tournay - I, like many other geeks, LOVED Troyes. For me, it got to the point of making my own mini copy of it before it became available. Granted, it didn't get played as much as I'd hoped before I got the 'real' copy, but I enjoyed the project. And, I still really love the game.

So, when I heard about Tournay it seemed like an instant buy for me, even after reading about it being a card game with no dice, but many similarities including the artwork (which I really like) and work placement aspects.

Lorna agreed to teach and Bryon joined us mid-teaching - he had not played before as well. I liked the idea of having limited space to build your buildings and the idea of building in such a way as to try to set up combos.

In playing, I never quite felt obligated to go after the event cards and so, I didn't. And, according to Lorna, the town criers came out very quickly making this normally shorter game even shorter than usual.

Still, my biggest complaint was the fact that EVERY card has different iconography and it's difficult to say what each building does. Even with the information provided it wasn't always perfectly clear. There is a reference card for all the symbols (a full sheet in fact) but even that doesn't seem to cover everything (or show the possible variety in the symbols).

Now, I'm not against having initial difficulty trying to figure out what cards do, but I will say it definitely made the first play a bit of a slog trying to even read through each of the cards, compare abilities, and make choices when selecting 1 card out of 2. In Troyes, when the action cards came out, everyone read through them once, deciphered them together, then we could move on to playing the game. Our very first time playing from the rulebook was extremely slow, but once we got past the initial interpretation we were good. Here, you had to deal with this sort of situation nearly EVERY TURN! In fact, with the cards in hand and the cards in the tableau it was a bit overwhelming for being a 'simple' card game.

Ultimately, it seemed I made several not-so-good choices and couldn't get any of my tableau to combo properly.

Bryon on the other hand seemed to catch on quickly and was really working his combos. I will say he is very good at grokking new games and performing well right out of the gate, but I was honestly amazed he did so well.

Well, having said all that, I 'got' the general idea, I just couldn't execute - whether this was due to not understanding the cards, or just not getting the right ones to synergize, it's hard to tell.

I will say this is a game that requires knowledge of the cards to a great degree to be able to play well I think. I'm just not sure that if I bought it I would be playing it enough to get to that level.

Anyhow, Tournay didn't click for me like Troyes did - I think Troyes was so innovative in it's use of dice and that part was quite understandable and created a degree of interaction that made it really interesting.

I am intrigued by Tournay, but I have other games ahead of it that I'd rather play instead. Needless to say I won't be making my own mini version of this game although I won't be against picking it up next year when the price comes down from US distribution and/or people re-selling it.

* Trajan - Reading about the Mancala mechanic on Board Game News initially made me scratch my head a bit - how exactly was that going to work? Then, as the idea sank in I began to imagine the possibilities and it had me intrigued.

So, when Chris S. suggested playing it I jumped at the chance. I really had no idea about the specifics of how the game worked, but it was a Stephan Feld game and it sounded interesting so I was ready to give it a go. Also, since Chris had played it earlier in the day and was suggesting it, that seemed to be a good sign that it wasn't a BAD game at the very least

What do you do in this game? Well, you move some bits around in your own little circular 'Mancala'. The bits are multi-colored and get picked up and re-distributed just like in Mancala. The key here is that you want colors to end up in the right pockets such that they begin to match patterns on the special action tiles played adjacent to them. Then, whatever pocket you place the last bit in triggers that associated action AND, if there is also a special action tile there and you match it's pattern, you get to do that as well. There's a bit more to it then that, but you get the idea.

So, what do you then do with all these actions? Well, each corresponds to a different area of the board where you pick up tiles that give you points, resources or special abilities, and some also let you draw and/or play cards.

Without going into too much detail, it basically amounts to a mult-level set collection game where you are trying to be as efficient as possible in gathering the sets and also try to activate combos that let you do more on your turn to get you even more stuff.

The theme on this game is paper thin - if you like theme you may have a problem here as this game really is very abstract and sort of reminds me of a Knizia in this respect - do a bunch of stuff to collect sets of stuff that gets you more points with more or larger sets. There is also the need to collect a set of stuff that everyone else is collecting and have it completed by the end of each of the 4 rounds or else you LOSE points.

Ok, I suppose that sounds boring BUT this sort of game is right up my alley and I quite enjoyed it. I'm intrigued by the Mancala and I love the multiple ways you can score points in this game. It seems you have to really focus on a couple of key areas and then just try to keep up in the rest of the areas and hope you can outpace everyone else with your bonuses by the end.

I'm not yet sure if I'd buy this game right now - probably eventually it will be on my self, but I'm not highly motivated like I am to pick up something like Dungeon Petz.

Still, I really had a great time even though I found I made a critical mistake mid-game which stalled me for about 1-1/2 turns and I never quite was able to recover.

---------------------------------------
Overall, I'm happy to have played all of these, although some of my top interests are still unplayed (Drum Roll, Helvetia, Powergrid - First Sparks, Pala, Village, Walnut Grove, Kingdom Builder) - and I don't think Lorna even has a couple of those.

Anyhow, I'm very grateful to Lorna running the game day and also for purchasing and making the Essen games available for playing. I'm sure I'll be picking up at least Dungeon Petz and perhaps Trajan as well. Tournay and Mondriaan 2020 are on my possible buy list but I think I have other priorities first. I like the concepts behind Space Race but it hasn't won me over enough yet to make a purchase - but it definitely warrants another play or two before I decide for sure...if I ever get around to trying it again.


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Wed Nov 30, 2011 7:38 pm
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THE CREATIVE GAMER - Carving SnakeKitty from Dungeon Petz on my Halloween Pumpkin

-matt s.
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Every year at Halloween my family goes to the pumpkin patch and takes a horse drawn or tractor drawn hay ride out to the patch to pick a fresh pumpkin. It's a fun tradition that we will continue as long as the kids enjoy it (and maybe even as long as the kids DON'T enjoy it)

Here are some pics from Lone Pine Farms in Junction City, OR:

While waiting in the long line for the horse-drawn cart (most popular) the kids checked out the Goat Walk and sent them a little feed via the pully system (pic on the right):

From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

The Goat Walk (sort of a hamster trail for goats)

Then we went to the patch and picked out some pumpkins:
From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

My son greeting the horses and the traditional family pic

From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

Searching the fields for the perfect pumpkin, my wife and daughter


The next day I washed all the pumpkins and we got started carving. First we carved open the tops and scooped them out.
From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

Carving open and scooping out the pumpkins

My son decided to do an image he found in a design book we have that has the headless horseman. My daughter went for a simpler design of a cat (surprise, surprise - she loves cats). She also ended up doing some 'scary eyes'

This is the results of their own carvings:
From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

Emily's scary eyes and scary cat, Jacob's headless horseman

So, my idea came to me pretty quickly - I had just been showing my kids the game Dungeon Petz the previous evening and we had looked through all the various Petz you could breed. The most natural choice for me was the SnakeKitty because my daugher loves cats, my son loves snakes, and I love games

Board Game: Dungeon Petz

SnakeKitty

It seemed like a fun and Halloween-y carving project with some interesting challenge as well.

First, I grabbed the tools I would need. We've purchased several pumpkin carving kits in the past and have a number of tools available. Here's what I chose out of our kit:
From gallery of tasajara


The tools are:
(Across the bottom of the image)
* Large carving saw - for carving large areas, primarily for cutting open the top.
* Drill - used for drilling starting holes or opening up small areas.
* 'Poker' - this has a line of sharp pokers on a curve. You use this to poke a series of holes to mark the design on the pumpkin.
* Washable pen - this is sometimes used to highlight parts of a design that are hard to see while carving.
* 3 different detaile saws - Different sized saws for doing larger cuts and then detailed cuts.
* Peeler/Carver - Used to scrape/peel off the skin, also used for carving out details and cleaning up edges.

(Across the top)
* Scraper - Used to scrape out the seeds inside and also can be used to thin down the walls to make them more translucent and/or easier to carve if they are too thick. No more mangled spoons!
* 2 different LED Pumpkin lights - The one on the left does a yellow glowing/flickering effect like you'd get with a candle, the other does a multi-colored display rotating through different colors. We also have a white strobe light version not pictured.

Next I cropped the SnakeKitty image, then printed it to a full sized sheet so I could tape it to my pumpkin, then started 'tracing' the parts of the image I wanted to carve using the 'poker'.

If you look at the image below where the picture of SnakeKitty is taped to the pumpkin you can see a bunch of small holes where I used the poker to trace the design onto the pumpkin. This makes it fast, easy and 'permanent'.
From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

Image taped to the pumpkin, then a shot of the pumpkin surface where you can see the holes poked into it.

Now, I will say that there was a lot of thought process involved in this step - you have to make good decisions about where you want to carve through, what needs to remain attached, and what areas you might want to carve away/sculpt. Last year I my carving was mostly carved through with some details carved into the surface. This year I wanted to do a bit more of the carving/sculpting and this image lent itself to that.

So, now that I had the design traced I focused on the 'carving through' areas. The thing I've learned from previous designs and looking at other designs is if you have an 'object' in the middle then it helps to have a 'frame' around it so that you can get that great glowing effect with some depth added. BUT, you also have to look for key points that the design can attach to the frame so that it stays connected to the base pumpkin - you don't want too many bits hanging out by themselves and obviously you can't cut all the way around the object or you'll just have a big hole.

Here's where I decided to make the cuts through to give the frame but still keep it connected:
From gallery of tasajara

The initial mapping out of negative space, and beginning to carve away the sculpted/thinner areas

You can see where I kept the 'whiskers' attached for support but also cut away enough to get the light to come through. I liked the idea of the eyes glowing and also initially intended the fangs to glow as well. Later, I switched this around and made the fangs solid. My focus was on keeping the face dark and close to the front, then try to show the furry/winding body more in the background and 'glowing'. This was accomplished (I hoped) by carving away the surface of the pumpkin.

While it looked good in light, in darkness the lantern light just didn't show through enough to 'glow' because the walls were too thick. I tried thinning them from the back side using the scraper but it was slow going and I was concerned about the whole design popping out of the pumpkin (i.e. I should have thinned the walls BEFORE carving)

So, I turned to actually carving out a layer of the middle areas to make it thinner. I don't have any pics of the process but here's the final result:
From gallery of tasajara
Board Game: Dungeon Petz

SnakeKitty carving complete, and comparison with glowing version

You can see how the middle areas are now set back - this was due to carving out those areas. I used the saws to slice into the depth and pull out most of the material, then used the 'peeler' to carve away the rest. I also used it to carve texture into the surface in the lower portion - note that doing that is NOT easy to do and difficult to get much fine detail on.

You will also note that I have changed the fang design here to be positive space instead of negative space (i.e. black/shadowed instead of glowing)

Well, that's the process. There are some details I glossed over, but not much really - the key is envisioning how the design will work, then determining where you can cut through to get a good design and what you can leave for interesting shadowing effects.

If you have any interesting carvings you've done recently I'd love to see them.

Now, go play a spooky game for Halloween! (wish I had Dungeon Petz to try out!)


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Mon Oct 24, 2011 8:14 pm
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TIMELY TOPICS - ESSEN release games that look interesting to me & why

-matt s.
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It must be that time of year to write up an Essen list of interesting games seeing as it's Essen week this week. Of course, I haven't done such a thing before. And, there really isn't a point to it other than sheer interest. Why? Because I'm not going to Essen and likely won't be picking up most of these - at least not for a while if I do.

My friend Lorna will be attending and she always brings back a good pile of interesting games and I usually get to give some of them a go, so I'll just be getting my fix that way.

Anyhow, my interest for games release Essen has generally been pretty low this year up until last week when I finally got the bug to peruse the Essen 2011 Canonical List. After I spent a few hours doing that my interest was starting to increase quite a bit - I was expecting to not find too many games to be excited about but as I read through I kept finding interesting items.

Then, as I started to prepare writing a blog entry about my findings, I ran across the Board Game News list: Spiel 2011 Preview which purportedly had even more games listed and seems to be a more 'official' list, if there is such a thing. Ok, time to spend a few more hours perusing. The interesting thing about this list is it uses a new headings feature that is being added to Geek lists in the impending site redesign; these headings are then designated as publishing companies and their games are then grouped together under them. So, if you like particular publishers you can easily find their newest games.

I then tore through this list and found a majority of them were the same items from the canonical list (there were some I hadn't recalled seeing before), plus some other more obscure titles and/or non-English titles. Ultimately, this seems to be the go-to list this year.

So, as I went through the lists I decided to tag each with an Essen2011 tag so that I could then have a compiled list to work from later. Here's a link to the list in case you're interested. I find tags OK as a feature, but you can't do too much with them as the entries aren't sortable in any way. But, there it is at least.

So, here's my rundown. I have organized them in categories of my interest or into logical groupings by type. The primary grouping is what drew me to them and then secondary either just a property of the game or the element that seemed to grab me. It's hard to explain but you'll see what I mean.

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This section is THE BUZZ - games that were buzzworthy that I also found some interest in. There are OTHER buzzworthy games but the didn't interest me as much (despite looking like good games overall)

The Buzz - Deck Building:
CORE WORLDS
Deck building in space where you work your way from the outer reaches to the inner core of civilized space - terrific graphics, improved gameplay from other deck building games, ability to keep cards in play until needed…

The Buzz - Different:
FLASH POINT: FIRE RESCUE
Co-op saving people in a burning building. Great graphics and interesting gameplay with good amount of variability. I'm not much into co-op play, but I really love the theme and the potential for excitement in trying to save people.

The Buzz - Different:
PRÊT-À-PORTER
Some say this is actually similar to Drum Roll - but putting on a fashion show instead. This one is more economically grounded (in fact was designed specifically that way) but both this and Drum Roll sound interesting for different reasons. I would say this one seems more 'serious' where Drum Roll is more 'fun'

The Buzz - Family Fun:
DRUM ROLL
You are the owner of a Circus and working to put on the best shows - the higher quality shows require better performers. You try to acquire equipment to let your performers perform at their highest. Once you have a successful show you have to decide whether to gain the prestige points or re-invest in making future shows even better.

The Buzz - Village Building:
KINGDOM BUILDER
New game by Donald X Viccarino - NOT Dominion although perhaps feels similar. The theme seems even thinner than in Dominion as this looks to be thinly veneered abstract with cardplay for the actions and more cards for the victory conditions. Lots of variability should still change it up a bunch but it's one I'll want to play before buying I think. Some elements look similar to Strasbourg.

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There are different reasons for MUST HAVE games for me - mostly these are expansions/additions to ones I already have.

Must Have - Deck Building:
DOMINION: HINTERLANDS
No details yet on any of the cards - it is a must have only because I have pretty much everything else. The only problem is that soon people that use my Dominion storage system are going to want new inserts for the cards in this game and that always takes a lot of time to put together.....gotta go, I can hear them beating down my door already!

Must Have - Dicey Fun:
DIE BURGEN VON BURGUND
Yes it came out last year, but only after Essen 2010 so this is on the radar officially for me. Hopefully more copies will become available…

Must Have - Different:
POWER GRID: FIRST SPARKS
Power Grid in the stone age!!!!! It is supposed to play faster than traditional Power Grid but still has the same overall flow, only set in the stone age where you want to expand your tribe to 13 meeples and be able to feed them at the same time. Very nice artwork and awesome meeples make this a 'must have'

Must Have - Different:
TOURNAY
Loved Troyes and, yes, I know this isn't the same sort of mechanic (no dice), but it looks great and suggests similar but different play - I wouldn't want a carbon copy of Troyes anyhow. Looking forward to giving this a go.

Must Have - Expansion:
FRESCO: THE BISHOP'S FAVOR
This expansion provides an extra benefit for completing a tile the Bishop is on. I recently got to play Fresco with all 7 expansions and now I MUST have this to be able to play with 8 expansions!

Must Have - Expansion:
STONE AGE: STYLE IS THE GOAL
One of my favorite games gets an actual full-fledged expansion! I think the title is ridiculous (and others think so too) but love what it does - adds another player color(!), allows for trading in resources to get other resources, and has another way to spend your resources by creating ornaments and jewelry. It also adds new cards and new huts to the mix. I am officially

Must Have - Family Fun:
DUNGEON PETZ
Love the art, love the idea of raising these interesting creatures. I think the kids will love it (and me too!)

----------------------------------------------
HIGH INTEREST games are ones that I found particularly appealing for some particular reason and likely want to get them in addition to playing them and would be likely to purchase without playing them.

High Interest - Art:
PALA
Color mixing as method of changing color (suit) of your cards in a trick taking/betting card game. Awesome idea! Plus, anything related to Art appeals to me...

High Interest - Different:
MELTDOWN 2020
Save people from being poisoned by nuclear fallout. This is one of 4 of the latest offerings from Cwali. This one I'm interested in giving a go and the theme is unique (although perhaps a bit morbid)

High Interest - Pick up and deliver:
UNDERMINING
Mining in space! It appears to be very configurable giving a lot of game variability, terrific graphics and theme, interactive mechanisms and double-sided board for more options. Work towards achieving short term goals which let you upgrade and eventually complete long term goals.

High Interest - Village Life:
HELVETIA
A Kosmos game from the designer of Glen More and Lancaster. Build up your village in the Swiss alps by using tokens to indicate which actions you will be taking. Actions include meeples getting married, having babies (which then can go to school then become integrated into the village), wake up tired sleeping meeples, and producing goods (among other things) and go to sleep. When producing goods there are simple goods and there are also production chains for complex goods.

High Interest - Village Life:
VILLAGE
Another village life game (duh) but here you are going for prestige in the village. There is an interesting time element and as time moves along your meeples die and go into the register indicating their prestige. In this game, the resources are: Skill, Persuasiveness, Faith, Knowledge, Time, Grain. Also, Plague exists which reduces life of your meeples. Again, you can marry, have kids, move up in society, etc. Something about this game and Helvetia really appeals to me.

----------------------------------------------
These games all have some sort of COOL COMPONENTS in them. I may or may not want to actually GET them, but they're great to look at.

Cool Components - Abstract:
CUBULUS
Puzzly looking 3D game with simple gameplay and looks interesting with a cage-like structure and balls that you push into it causing them to shift and form new patterns. Plays up 2 OR 3 players equally well.

Cool Components - Abstract:
TRENCH
The designer calls it 'the next big thing' - that we will have to wait to see. It is a Chess-like game abstracting war in the trenches with the board divided into two clear areas and movement is different along the dividing line (the Trench). If anything, it's an eye-catching work of art. I would likely buy this game without playing it if it was a reasonable price, but I'm not shelling out a ton for it without playing it.

Cool Components - Architectural:
CASA GRANDE
Build 3D buildings and get points or bonus points for others building on your builds. Interesting looking 3D construction game like Torres or Arkadia.

Cool Components - Family Fun:
SCHNAPPT HUBI!
This has a haunted mansion that you discover and put together as you go. It contains an electronic device that tells you if there is a wall or not when you try to move a particular direction, then you insert the necessary piece. Move your rabbit through the house to find the magic doors, then chase the ghost, Hubi, out of the house. Looks interesting and fun for the kids.

Cool Components - Family Fun:
SPACE MAZE
Looks a bit chaotic, but that seems to be the fun in this game - escape the maze using interesting mechanic of combining colors along tiles edges to 'mix' them to get the color you need for your alien meeples to move. Very cool alien meeples. Mazes, color mixing and aliens. Sounds like a perfect game to me! This might be one I'd buy without playing.

----------------------------------------------
This category has games that are being reprinted, expanded or are based on something that's already been around a while. I don't have super high interest in getting them but would like to try them at least.

Something new from Something Old - Abstract:
TALAT
An abstract designed ONLY for 3 players, originally published as Drei (3). It has 3 boards, one betweeon each 2 players. If you move a piece on one board you don'y get to move a pioece on the other. When no captures are possible on a board it is frozen. Once two boards are frozen the game ends and you get points for captures and piece advancements. This game seems to offer something a bit different in terms of abstracts and I'm interested to try it out.

Something new from Something Old - Different:
RISK LEGACY
Risk but with forced meta gaming - you record past results directly onto the game so that future contests will be affected by past results. I'm not sure if this is something I'll go for, but I like the concept.

Something new from Something Old - Related:
NEW SCOTLAND YARD: CRIME SCENE
Race around the city collecting equipment then evaluating the crime scenes and finally perform forensic tests to determine the evidence and solve the murder. I have recently been able to play the original Scotland Yard and, even though this looks like a different sort of game, I am interested to see what it brings to the table...

Something new from Something Old - Remake:
[thing=73421]UCHRONIA[/thing]
Glory to Rome with Dinosaur theme added…apparently theres's some litigation around this so it may or may not be available soon. Note there is also going to be an official 'Black Box' version of GtR with new cleaner/more muted graphics that looks pretty awesome as well.

Something new from Something Old - Remake:
BIOS MEGAFAUNA
American Megafauna but drastically changed. I have been peripherally following the design changes for this game as I am on the AM discussion list, but I have not played it myself. It sounds to be shorter and faster with significantly different gameplay (and yet still maintains it's true-to-science core). This is the first in what will be a 'BIOS' series of games coming from Phil Ecklund.

Something new from Something Old - Reprint:
ANTIQUITY
And there was much rejoicing for this reprint! Until they choked on the $125 USD price tag. It was available for Pre-order from Out of the Box but no longer is now that Essen has arrived. It sounds like some will be available @ Essen and perhaps from the Splotter website after Essen if there is any stock left. I just bought R&B and I don't know that my wallet can afford this as well now I am definitely tempted though....

Something new from Something Old - Rework/Reprint:
FIEF
This game originally came out in 1981, then was re-implemented/re-printed in 1989 as Fief 2. This game is listed separately so there must be something significant enough to make it different. This looks to be a heavy middle ages themed game with alliances and economic engine building. This might not quite be my thing but looks interesting and has terrific artwork as well.

Something new from Something Old - The Buzz:
ALBA LONGA
City/Civilization building game with interesting dice and multiple paths to victory. Uses dice selection, worker placement, combat between player's civilizations and comes with 3 in-box variants for even more playing possibilities. Apparently this won a game design award in 2009 and now is being officially published.

Something new from Something Old - Expansion:
POWER GRID: THE ROBOTS
Play Power Grid with 2 or 3 players using the Robots as an additional 'player'.

----------------------------------------------
These are games of particular interest to me because of the theme, but I haven't been especially excited by seeing them. I'd love to play them all, of course. You will note a particular lack of fantasy and horror type of games from my list - I guess they just aren't my thing. That doesn't mean they aren't worthy, just not for me. If you have interest in those areas keep this in mind as you will want to peruse the Essen lists yourself for those types....

Theme - Architectural:
CASTELLI
Gather resources and build castles - typical Euro but the resource tiles can be rotated to change distribution which makes for some interesting interactions between players.

Theme - Architectural:
CITÉ
Gather resources and build buildings with special abilities. Partnerships can be formed and trading of resources is crucial to building successfully. Simultaneously play occurs which helps make the games move along quickly.

Theme - Architectural (Are you seeing a pattern here?):
GIZA: THE GREAT PYRAMID
Manage resources and labor to most efficiently build parts of the pyramid. This has elements I like including worker placement and area majority. It also has bidding and cooperation.

Yes, I'm very much into architecture and even went to architecture school for 2-1/2 years. This type of game ALWAYS appeals to me. Always.

Theme - Architectural:
QUÉBEC
Worker placement with unique method of 'cascading' workers when you come out ahead.

Theme - Architectural:
URBAN SPRAWL
Another Chad Jensen 'simulation' game which abstracts out the buildings themselves but have different roles you can earn through 'elections' (evaluation of area majority). There are restrictions as to where the buildings can be placed and special action cards that allow you to break some rule of the game. Anything with city building related activities always appeal to me.

Theme - Area control:
SPACE BASTARDS
Funny name but ultimately actually looks like an interesting area control game - managing the 'relationships' between alien races changes how the interactions of the actions occurs. I think the name suggests some nasty are control going on despite the humorous alien graphics. I might be likely to buy this without having played it.

Theme - Bluffing, Party:
[thing=104559]BANKSTERS[/thing]
The box of diamonds is passed around and you must decide if you will be a thief or not (i.e. take some diamonds out of the box or not). Then the investigator asks questions to determine who the thieves are. Innocent players get points based on the number of diamonds recovered, thieves get points if they get away with stealing. Arrested thieves lose points. Reminds me of Master of Thieves (although the box isn't as cool as the one for that game)

Theme - Deck Building:
FREITAG
Part of Friedemann Friese's Friday (Freitag) project. It is a unique deck building game where you are Robinson Crusoe and his servant Friday trying to gather resources and prepare to battle the two pirates at game end. If you run out of health at any time you lose and you must defeat the pirates to win.

Theme - Different:
SANTIAGO DE CUBA
I really liked Cuba and this game is similar except you are driving around Santiago making deals to collect goods to ship out on 7 different ships throughout the game. With random board setup and ship demand it seems there is a lot of potential variability in the game. As to whether that variability is enough over time is something else to be seen.

Theme - Different:
ALCATRAZ: THE SCAPEGOAT
This is a co-op game where you are trying to Escape from Alcatraz. You must work together to get out of the prison, but then try to leave someone behind who ends up being the scapegoat - bluffing, negotiation, backstabbing, and variable play all make this sound interesting. As I'm not heavy into co-op I'm interesting in trying it but not sure about buying...

Theme - Different:
DR. SHARK
Antonio Bauza (7 Wonders) and Bruno Cathala (Mr. Jack, Cyclades) have worked together to make a different type of 'Dexterity' game - you are a spy and you must literally reach into a 'pool' and 'feel' around for clues. Each clue has a different texture (1 of 4 types) and you need to try to pull out the right kind of clue and avoid the sharks. And you only have 30 seconds to search for clues. I'm intrigued.

Theme - Dragons!:
DRAKO
Asymetrical gameplay with one person playing the dragon and one person a team of 3 dwarve dragon hunters. I'm not too much into fantasy themes but I do like dragons and this looks interesting.

Theme - Economic Engine:
UPON A SALTY OCEAN
Sail and go fishing, then process the fish and get them back to port to sell in the market. Each action, once selected, costs more for the next players to use them during the round so you much choose your actions wisely before things get too expensive. The theme I find interesting and the art is tremendous.

Theme - Family Fun:
EXPOSAURUS
Tile laying game where you are trying to get different sets of dinosaur artifacts grouped together. Theme is light and gameplay reminds me a bit of Mosaix but with a bit more going on with bonuses and such. Love dinosaurs

Theme - Family Fun:
THE IMPOSSIBLE MACHINE
Build a machine to accomlish a task Rube Goldberg style. I LOVE this type of game although I suspect it's fairly light - should be fun with the kids/family.

Theme - Graphics:
HAWAII
This game has a Vikings like player board but there is also shared island where you collect resources to support your villages. The island is tiered so as you work your way across it the benefits increase, take too long and you might miss out on those benefits, but but if you progress too quickly you might miss out on other important actions leading up to that spot.

Theme - Life and Death:
WILDERNESS
An interesting experience type of game where you are trying to escape being eaten/killed while surviving in the wilderness and get out alive. Options for a shorter or longer game along with a configurable board and setup make for potential variety of play.

Theme - Racing:
LAMBORGHINI: THE OFFICIAL RACE GAME
Another racing game. Yea!

Theme - Steampunk:
WIRAQOCHA
Far out there theme. Dice, Steampunk theming with terrific graphics, resource management and worker placement all in one game. It sounds like the game has a lot of subtle gameplay that requires multiple plays to get good at and may be brutal if you have a bad start.

Theme - Village Life:
MIL (1049)
Deeper Euro with similarities to Helvetia and Village but also includes war, soldiers and lineages. Too bad the meeples aren't soldier shaped instead of the traditional Carcassonne looking meeples included in the game.

Theme - Village Life:
WELCOME TO WALNUT GROVE
Carcassonne crossed with Agricola? Interesting. Progress through the years and maintain your ranch, feed your people, etc. Plus there is competition for land and the desire to build similar improvements together for better production.

----------------------------------------------
Some games look interesting but there's just not much information about the gameplay so I'm WAITING TO SEE what comes out of Essen (or later) before making any decisions on them.

Waiting to See - Abstracts:
SARENA
Requires strategy and bluffing(!?) to win.

Waiting to See - Architectural:
ANIMOCITY
Not a lot has been published about this, but the box looks interesting it looks like you are fighting for control and can steal points from other players. The only thing is it seems like a simpler version of Urban Sprawl so until more information comes out it could go either way for me.

Waiting to See - Architectural:
BIRUDA
City building but with some craziness/random powers so not quite sure. Artwork looks really nice.

Waiting to See - Bluffing/Deduction:
HATTARI
Discover the murderer from between 8 suspects. Plays fast with simple components. I'm always interested in deduction games and this one seems quite interesting and despite what appears to be relatively simple gameplay.

Waiting to See - Card drafting/Set collection:
PAX
Larry Levy is very interested so it must be good.

Waiting to See - Deck Building:
TERRA EVOLUTION
I love games related to genetics and evolution and this seems to go that direction. I'm actually getting to like deck building games and am excited to see where designers are taking them.

Waiting to See - Deck Building:
PERGAMEMNON
Deck building with much player conflict...sounds promising.

Waiting to See - Euro:
TRAJAN
Stefan Feld (I've been liking his recent games) uses a unique 'mancala' type of mechanic to determine what actions you can do and if you get bonus actions if done in a particular way. Other than the mancala mechanic, this could go either way as being a standard Euro or something greater.

Waiting to See - Family Fun:
PICTOMANIA
Pictionary with everyone drawing and guessing at the same time! My kids recently discovered Pictionary so may very well like this, too.

Waiting to See - Graphics:
FORTUNA
Great graphics - start as farmer and work your way up Roman hierarchy. Standard Euro fare or something more?

Waiting to See - Never will happen:
VERITAS
This has been on the Essen list since 2007 and seems to now be put on there as traditional only. - it will likely never see the light of day at this rate, but it's fun to mention it!

Waiting to See - Pick up and deliver:
VINTAGE
Yes, another wine themed game. I haven't played Vinhos or Grand Cru yet, both of which looked interesting to me, and this one looks interesting as well. The only drawback is that it may seem like too many other Euros already out there.

Waiting to See - Puzzly Fun:
PALENQUE
Very little is known but I like the artwork (I like that style)


Well, that's 'it'. I found 60+ games out of 700+ listed as Essen releases (or soon after Essen). That's actually quite a few. Of course, a much smaller subset are Must Buy or of High Interest. Plus, there are so many on the list it's hard to evaluate them all. The buzzworthy and the ones that just stand out due to graphics or components are what I tended to focus on. It will be seen what the Essen darlings and duds really are.

If you have comments on any of these or suggestions for something I missed, I'd love to hear about them - please post as a comment!


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Wed Oct 19, 2011 10:31 pm
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JUST GAMING AROUND - More Yucata PLUS Trying out Vassal with 'Inspector Moss 2' - PnP solitaire game design winner (aka Am I Gaming Online Again? 1-Player even?)

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YUCATA REPRISED
I'd stated before that online gaming isn't so much my thing. And then I tried out Yucata back in March and found that I enjoyed it. I played a few games then got busy at the end of the school year and during the summer and didn't revisit online gaming.

Well, a couple of weeks ago I had some friends over and we ALMOST played Hacienda (which I got to play at the Gaming Olympics early last month and wanted to play again), but it was a split decision and we played some other games instead.

My friend garygarison really wanted to try it though so we agreed to give it a go online. I invited him to a game of it, along with 4 or 5 other games (Stone Age and St. Petersburg) with some other online buddies. I haven't had a lot of FTF gaming the last couple of months so it has been a nice way to get in some gaming.

Since that first game we played a couple more times, then moved on to Oregon where he is KING OF OREGON (as he says - he's top ranked on it). We have played several games and finally got to where I only lost by 1 point on a couple of games! And yesterday I finally defeated the King of Oregon!

Anyhow, what's been great about Oregon in particular is that it plays very fast and has a lot of interesting little things going on and every game is different. One game we literally filled up one entire corner of the board and almost nothing else on the board. Other times we've been all over the place. I'm learning to love it's subtleties and fickleness with the card draws (and points draws on the Coal and Gold - which have been KILLING me in the end game, hence losing by 1 point at least twice as a result). I literally cannot stop playing it now. It's been a great way to unwind in the evenings and even get a quick game in during lunch.

I've also been learning to love the tightness and subtleties of St. Petersburg as well. I had never played it before playing online and it's been great online as I can take my time planning out my moves, reviewing what each card's benefits are, etc. The ability to take notes as reminders for myself between turns has been invaluable as well.

I'm really starting to enjoy online play. Who knew!?

VASSAL AND INSPECTOR MOSS
I must digress a bit though - what REALLY spurred me to actually plugging in again was a geek mail I got from one of the designers of the game Inspector Moss: House Arrest,
Jonathan Warren
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he apparently reads my blog and thought I should check it out. It recently won a recent Print and Play contest: Solitaire Print and Play Contest which is pretty cool.

The other designer is:
Rebekah B
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Well, I looked at it and, honestly, I thought the artwork was a little strange with heads stuck on pawns as bodies.

[ImageID= inline][ImageID= inline][ImageID= inline]
The detective you play - Inspector Moss, the dead guy - John Dough, and one of the suspects - Sue Phlaye

And, it's a solitaire game. I don't typically play solitaire games (almost never) - if I have time for myself I'm usually writing about games, pimping games, building my own copies of games, or opening, punching or learning new games. If I'm going to play a game I usually prefer to play with someone else.

Hence, my willingness to play games on Yucata recently - at least it's with SOMEONE. I like the competition against with other players, particularly 2-player games with head-to-head action.

I admitted to Jonathan that I wasn't likely to print it out and make a copy just to play it, but I noticed that it was available on Vassal and might be willing to try it there.

To Vassal or Not To Vassal
Well, I've never actually used [url= I sort of knew about it and that it was a computer application that you could make game components and a framework for playing games, but you manage all the rules and such yourself as you normally would playing a table-top board game - you have to know how to play the game. Without going into details I began to see how LARGE a selection of games were available for the Vassal system. Check it out yourself (well, later after reading the rest of this post of course )

Still being skeptical I installed Vassal and loaded Inspector Moss - a solitaire game where you are a detective trying to solve a murder? It didn't seem possible that this could be very workable or with much replay value.

Ready to Roll with Moss
Once I got the game loaded, it was obvious I was going to have to read the rules to understand how to play. At first I started reading the rules slowly. Then, I started getting more into it the further I got into the rules. It sounded kind of interesting. Well, *very* interesting actually. I could see it was a puzzly sort of game but with movements and actions restricted by dice rolls. Actually, I thought the whole mechanic sounded very clever.

What's Vassal Got to Do With It?
As I was reading through the rules I was starting to play the game as well. Not having used Vassal before it took me a bit to get used to the interface. With Yucata the system handles just about everything for you and has tips for elements when you hover over them.

There's very little of that with Vassal - you get all the components and a couple of buttons (such as to start a new turn, roll dice, etc) but you get to move all the bits around yourself, rotating them as necessary, keeping score as necessary, etc. This lends itself to making mistakes, but also leaves it open to be able to play games the way you want, back up/redo if necessary, etc.

I love this...I love having control and being able to play the way I want to play. Yes, it's nice when the computer keeps track of everything for you, but sometimes you want to be able have more control and play the way you want to play.

Anyhow, the game! 'Inspector Moss 2: House Arrest' goes like this: you are Inspector Oliver Moss investigating the death of John Dough, wealthy bachelor and owner of a large baking company. During a party he was killed in his house where 11 guests were attending - you and what are now 10 murder suspects. A judge orders an injuntion to lock the house down and you must explore the house, examine the evidence, find the murderer, arrest them and haul them out to the waiting police car. And, you only have 45 minutes to do it!

I'm not going to go into full details, but here are the basics to give you a flavor of the gameplay:

* First you roll 7 white dice and 1 red die. You decide which dice to 'lock' and which to re-roll. You can re-roll twice more. You can even re-roll 'locked' dice on the 3rd roll if you wish. And, yes, you might want to do this.

* Then, you can use 6 of the 8 dice in different combinations including:

- Move (1 die, 2 pair, 3-of-a-kind) -- Go through open doors using the matching dice number of a neighboring room that is connected. You may need a pair or 3-of-a-kind of that specific room number to get through locked doors to go that way - very 'expensive' use of your dice. There are also 'secret' passages that may let you move quickly across the board.

Also, as you move into new rooms you begin to 'see' more of the house and neighboring connected rooms (and items in them) are revealed.

- Reveal evidence (small straight, i.e. 2,3,4,5) - The 'evidence' is arrows that point in different directions that prove suspects as innocent (if they are pointed to). The arrows can be rotated to point any direction. This action also lets you re-rotate previously placed arrows if you use it again in the same room (i.e. re-examine the evidence)

- Collect assistance tokens (3-of-a-kind) - If you are in a room with an assistance token you can pick it up. These tokens help you out by giving you 1 of 10 different special abilities including a key to go through any doors for only 1 die, a flashlight that lets you use secret passageways for NO dice, and a phone which lets you switch any 2 evidence tokens.

- Make an arrest (5-of-a-kind) - If you have eliminated 9 of the 10 suspects, you know who did it! Go to that suspect's location and roll a 5-of-a-kind to arrest them. Once you are successful you must then haul them off to the waiting police car (outside the house)

Time Keeps on Rolling, Rolling, Rolling....
After rolling the dice and taking all of your actions, you then must account for the amount of time spent on that turn. There is a timer (score track) that goes from 60 (minutes) down to 0. The standard game you start on 45 and must make the arrest before time is up. You can make the game easier or harder by allowing more or less time. This is a terrific way to ramp up the challenge once you get good at it!

The way time works is this: No matter what the Red die value was when you stopped rolling, that is the amount of time taken. Thus, 1 to 6 'minutes'. This occurs whether you used the red die for your actions or not. I really like this mechanic - very well done!

In addition, if (and only if) you used any 6's in your turn, each counts as 1 more minute. Why for just the 6's? Well, because a 6 is 'wild' meaning you can use it as any number you want. But it will cost you if you use it in terms of a time penalty (even if you use the 6 as an actual 6 you are penalized)

Also, if you used a secret passage, you must also account for this 'extra' time spent by adding the numbers of the passage end values then moving your time marker down the same amount.

Every Little Thing You Do Is...Important
One more interesting little twist is the mechanic for placing the police car - you can actually control it a bit sometimes. The first tile you place that has a door to the 'outside' of the house (on the outside edge), the police car is then placed there. You can see that it might be to your advantage to delay that 'choice' as long as possible to try to get the murderer and the police as near each other as possible.

In my first play, this was definitely my downfall. Once I worked the evidence to narrow it down to just one suspect who was the murderer, that person ended up being on the complete opposite side of the house from the police car. AND, I only had a few minutes left on the clock....needless to say I got pretty close to winning the game (probably just 3 or 4 turns at most) but alas, he got away

It's all these little things of how you place the tiles, how you place the evidence, how you leverage your dice that brings everything together and presents you with an interesting challenge.

Turn, Turn, Turn
I may have left out a small rule here or there, but that's basically the game play. What I discovered from my reading of the rules was what seemed to be a clever and potentially interesting game, for 1 player, in the vein of a 'puzzle' game where you must manipulate the board to get the result you want/need, while also managing risk with the dice and fighting a quickly (sometimes VERY quickly) running clock.

Obviously, you can see that a time limit of 45 means anywhere from 7 to 45 turns (if you never used wild dice that is)...that's a HUGE range. Of course, luck of the dice dictates. If you figure an average of 3 to 4 minutes per turn (rolls + wilds), that's roughly 11-15 turns.

So, you have to be efficient, but you also need to be a little bit bold as well and push your luck in the dice rolling to get the most actions out of a turn that you can. Remember that even though you may have a certain number of turns, you can perform multiple actions on a turn based on your rolls and how the game is set up.

Whoooooo are you?
So, before I give my opinion, there is one last thing that is fun to read. The characters in the game ultimately are just pawns in the game. HA! Literally! But, they are all given colorful and pun-ny backstories in this geeklist: Dicing... with Death: Introducing the Characters of Inspector Moss: House Arrest

Take a read and get to know the characters a bit...none of this makes any difference in the game, but it gives you a sense for 'who' they are.

The evidence before the court is incontrivertable...
So, I have to say that I enjoyed playing this game. I enjoyed it quite a lot, more than I expected. I found myself engaged in it and pushing myself to make good decisions with the re-rolls as well as the actions. I would formulate a plan and then try to get the rolls to execute on it while also trying to keep wilds down and the 'minutes' per turn down.

It was fun trying to get the evidence to eliminate enough suspects and get them oriented the right way. The 'assistance' special actions were very helpful and I had to figure out how I could best put them to use.

So, here's a shot near the end of the first game I played on Vassal:
[ImageID= large]
You can see by the 'timer' in the top-left that it is near 0 so I don't have many turns left at this point. I have narrowed the suspects down to 1 (Sue Phlaye, you bad little...pawn you!) but she is across the house from me and, worse, her location is clear across the house AGAIN from the waiting police car. Thus, I must make good use of my dice rolls and hope I get low time usage per turn.

I have two 'assistance' items in my favor: the 'clock' (far left) which allows me to eliminate any time used for 1 turn (basically a free turn), and I also have the flashlight which lets me take the secret passageways without incurring any additional time penalty. Both very helpful in the endgame.

Well, as you can see from my roll, I didn't get quite what I needed. I was able to use a 5 to move to the neighboring room, then another 5 to move to the diagonal room from there using the secret passageway (which doesn't cost me any time with the flashlight), then 2 of the twos to move to the neighboring room through 1 unlocked door. I had another 2, but actually needed 3 of them to move into the room with Sue. So, accusations would be waiting for one more round. Also notice I had two dice that I didn't even get to use (i.e. two dice of the 6 that I was 'using') - and using the 6 didn't even really help me. AND, the red die was a 6! Ugh. So, I had to spend my clock to allow myself more time on future turns.

I won't play out the whole rest of the game here, but you can see that the odds were stacked against me. Once I got to the room with Sue Phlaye in it, I couldn't arrest her! Man, she's one tough EGG! By the time I did the time for the injunction ran out before I could get her out the to police car and had to let her go free. But I was pretty darn close for my first play! I need to play this again!

Well, overall I feel there is a nice mix of luck and decision making with enough elements to keep it interesting and yet not overwhelming. Other than the special actions which each have their own ability, the rules are pretty simple once you get the hang of them. And, even with the abilities added in, only a couple of them come out during a game so you just have to look those ones up as they appear.

Overall I like the artwork and look of the game. I'm still not overly crazy about the faces on the pawns, but it certainly does give it some...ah...character

A couple of things I might suggest tweaking in the game:
First, I ALMOST want to say change the pawn artwork, only because it might actually turn some people off before they even give it a further look. BUT, it also makes it distinctive and gives it a bit of personality, so it's difficult to actually suggest doing that.

One thing I would suggest changing in the game is the 'Bomb' assistance action. It really doesn't make sense that a detective would place a bomb and create an opening between two rooms. Why not just make it a resolving book case or something? Much more 'mystery in an old house' feeling. The bomb just doesn't fit the theme.

Another change I might suggest - the arrows for the evidence are kind of boring - I think they should either be fingers pointing (which only sort of makes sense but at least goes with the theme) or something else that suggests 'innocence' that I can't think of at the moment. I like the fingers pointing idea at least.

Also, the Informant assistance doesn't seem to be as strong as the other ones. Why not let you look one time at ANY facedown evidence (or maybe ANY?) token (i.e. you don't have to be in the same room) - it seems an informant may be MORE likely to tell you about evidence you do NOT have direct access to. It also lets you be able to plan ahead when working with other evidence. (Also, why doesn't the informant picture have a head of some shady guy whispering or something?)

These are minor quibbles though in a very strong game and it's no wonder it took first place in the Solitaire PnP contest!

The Final Countdown
So, when I played my first game I wondered how it would all come together. And, I was pleasantly surprised. One of my initial concerns was around if it would always be 'solvable' given the mix of randomization going on. Not solvable in the sense of easy to find the solution, just that the concept even worked. Well, I didn't see it manifest into a problem, so that seems to check out.

I will say the game theme suggests 'deduction' but this game isn't really about that - it's about manipulating the board to get the result you want - a single guilty suspect (also note that eliminating ALL pawns causes you to lose immediately). This might disappoint people that expect something else, but if you like puzzly games you should LOVE this one as I certainly did. Plus, the addition of the clock is brilliant as, obviously, you'd be able to put it all together and be successful at some point, but trying to do it within a set time limit is really the key to making this game 'exciting'.

Well, that's the story on this interesting PnP game from a couple of fellow BGGers. I suggest you go out and give this game a go (or maybe even one of the other 165 PnP Solitaire contest games entered) - you might just find a hidden gem (or murderer)

Oh, one final note: There aren't too many components to make a physical copy of this game...in fact, I have plans already to make my own copy, partly because I like the game and partly because I serendipitously have enough round and square tokens as left-over parts from other games as well as some nifty dice and even some boards and a box that are almost exactly the right size for everything. I even have some 'pawns' I might use for the characters (but not sure if I'll be putting little heads on them or not)

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Tue Sep 27, 2011 7:58 pm
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HOT BOX - 'Potion Making: Practice' by Sergy Machin (What's in the Box?) - Interesting looking game from Russia!

-matt s.
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Hello, good to see you here today. It's been a busy week since my last post. A garage sale, selling a bunch of stuff on ebay (mostly non-game stuff), first day of school for my 2 kids, and a game night squeezed in. Oh, and a trip to Portland for a Taylor Swift concert for my daughter's birthday present. And it's been in the 90's all week including during the garage sale...I just haven't felt much like writing otherwise.

My recent plan has been to do a writeup on my favorite abstracts. Well, my friend Lorna (unknowingly) beat me to the punch, although I have different games I'm profiling so I'll probably still finish it sometime but just haven't been motivated to do it. Perhaps the copy of Black Box I thrifted will help me get back on track.

Well, I got some inspiration in the mail for something ELSE to write about. I have been reading the blog [blog=759][/blog] since the beginning of August looking at some of the interesting games they've been publishing in Russia. Well, last month I saw they had started posting listings on ebay selling English versions of games by the publisher Rightgames RBG SIA.

One of particular interest was Potion-Making: Practice. Yes, a bit of a strange name in English but that didn't deter me from wanting to try it. Interesting graphics coupled with the 'best game in Russia for the past 5 years' certainly piques one's interest. AND it was a fairly reasonable price even when factoring shipping from Russia. Ok, maybe a bit higher than you'd expect to pay for a card game, but as there are no other sources there weren't many options.

Well, it arrived and I was very excited to get it opened, but wanted to give it the HOT BOX treatment. To my surprise I ALSO received a shipment late in the afternoon containing a tabletop 'photo studio' I had ordered which comes with lights, a light box, mini-tripod, and 4 velvet backdrops all in a nice case. Of course I had to pull it out and set it up so that I could try some photography with it instead of my usually 'flash' methods with the hopes of getting something a little more professional looking.

From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

The photo 'studio' in the case and in-use

Needless to say I had a lot of fun playing around with the setup and lighting and such. I hope it shows in some of my pictures, although I still need to work on some techniques. Also, the size of the 'studio' is a little small for large games so I might still need to figure out something in that regards.

Anyhow, let's take a closer look at the game!

From gallery of tasajara

The package that arrived from Russia

The package that arrived concerned me a bit as I could feel a box inside a simple plastic envelope....man, I could only imagine the possible damage to the box.

But once I opened it I understood....

From gallery of tasajara


Ah! The game must be inside this simple shipping box!

From gallery of tasajara

Opening the box

Inside was the game and a bit of protective bubblewrap. It appeared to have arrived intact just fine! It had even arrived a couple of weeks ahead of what the estimate was (mid-September)

Well, the box is fairly small, but that's expected as it IS just a card game.

From gallery of tasajara


So, it's time to cut into it and get it unwrapped:

From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

Cutting the shrink and ripping it off...

From gallery of tasajara

Freshly unwrapped box

The box itself looks really nice and I'm loving the artwork so far!

However, one thing I'm noticing is that the insert seems to be of a lower quality cardboard and the slip cover just a medium weight card stock, but with very nice high-gloss printed artwork that makes it looks like a book of magic.

Sliding the insert out confirms that it is just thin corrugated cardboard folded into shape and a medium weight cardstock folded insert inside of it to create the divided sections and give it a bit more structure.

From gallery of tasajara

Sliding out the insert

From gallery of tasajara

Full view of the insert

It's reminiscent of a cheaper game box, more like a simple card game box rather than a more solid mid- to higher-end cardboard box such as you might get from Z-Man. You won't want to stack too many games on top of this box.

Inside we find...

From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara


The single sheet of double-sided, semi-gloss printed rules (and extra smaller sheet with a partial game example) as well as the thin card stock score tracks (also semi-gloss)

There is also a baggie with 12 player pawns (2 each per color) and another baggie with all 75 cards in it.

From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

The pawns and cards

The cards are of a mid-range quality with a smooth finish on both sides - some might say the cards are perhaps a bit thin. Luckily there doesn't appear to be a lot of shuffling in this game. I do like the artwork and overall they look very nice.

Here are some example cards:

From gallery of tasajara

Elixir of Fire, Love Potion, Elixir of Wisdom

As mentioned before, the score tracks are of thin card stock so they'll need to be handled somewhat carefully.

From gallery of tasajara

Score tracks in play

The colors don't seem to mean anything and the artwork is pretty basic. And, I can't say that I'm a fan of this method of scoring points having two markers per person...it's a touch more difficult to tell who is ahead and who isn't, but I think it's certainly serviceable. We'll see how it works during gameplay.

One issue I have here though is that on the reverse side of the larger scoretrack is a 'map' of how all the formulas relate to each other....

From gallery of tasajara


But since you need to score during the game and ALSO likely want to refer to the map, it seems a little awkward. Plus, there is only one map - it seems there should be at least 2 or 3 that could be shared among the players and without having to turn over the score track.

I will admit the map is really nice, although a bit tiny to read - it's a great idea but I'm not sure about the execution of it here. That being said, I'm suspecting that having the map may or may not actually be that useful during a game - just read the cards and react to what's available on the table as it's all there implicit in the game. Playing it will certainly bear this out. If it's important I'll be scanning it and printing enlarged copies.

A note about the pawns here:
From gallery of tasajara


They are small plastic pawns - somewhat 'wizard hat' shaped. They are a bit slick but seem to be fine for the game.

And finally, here's everything in one shot:

From gallery of tasajara

All of the components

I'm excited to give this game a go. After reading through the rules it appears to not be an overly complicated game - it seems to be more tactical than strategic, which is expected for a shorter game. I'm interested to see how the whole practice of creating formulas works with the cascading effect of having to make more and more complex potions. The aspect of a shared set of cards on the table that are used to create the potions is an interesting concept.

The theme seems fun and I think fits this, although it seems like it mostly is there for flavor as all you are doing is mixing ingredients to make formulas, but then you don't actually DO anything with them after they are mixed except to mix them further to make more potions and such.

Now that I've stated that, it's exactly what the game title says: Potion-Making: Practice - you're making potions! I'll have to look into the expansions to see if maybe you get to DO something with the potions after you've made them.

Well, that's a quick look into the box of this game that seems to be a hit in Russia and is just now making its way out of the country.

I'm looking forward to maybe playing it this evening so hope to have a review put together in the near future if we do get it to the table.

Thanks for stopping by! Now go play a magical game with your family or friends....


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Fri Sep 9, 2011 10:12 pm
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HOT BOX - Z-Man 'Factory Fun' vs. Cwali 'Factory Fun' (What's in the Box?)

-matt s.
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Eugene
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Factory Fun is one of my favorite games of all time. In this game you are trying to maximize profits by fitting machines into your factory and connecting them in such a way as to generate more profits than what it costs to place each machine. This may sound a little dull but if you like puzzle sorts of games the fun factor cannot be beat!

I was introduced to it early in my gaming resurgence in 2008 by my friend Chris (it's one of his all-time favorites as well) and immediately fell in love with it. I loved the puzzle aspect to it. I loved the components. I loved the artwork. I loved that it played quickly but still was a lot of fun.

I soon was looking for my own copy and ended up purchasing it directly from the designer, Corné van Moorsel, straight from the Netherlands along with a few of his other games. This was a little before the incredible price increases started occurring.

Then, when I heard there was going to be a reprint by Z-Man I was somewhat interested but figured I wouldn't bother since I had it already. I also saw some of the artwork and I wasn't sure - I loved the hand-drawn artwork of my original version and didn't know if the slicker artwork was an improvement or not.

Then I started reading more information that came out about it and they mentioned that it had pieces for 5 players instead of 4 (cool!), the pipes were done as tiles instead of shaped pieces (hmm, not sure about that), and the player boards were double-sided for standard and expert play (awesome!)

Well, I finally caved and decided to get it. And it arrived. And...it sat on my shelf. I can't even remember how long now. Since earlier this year I think. Yes, definitely earlier this year. *sigh*

Perhaps I just wasn't ready to give up on my older copy of the game...

Then Chris got his own copy of the game recently. And opened it right away! Gah! It was time to open mine. He posted a pic of the neat containers he used to put the game pieces in.

He said the containers were for 'spices'. Apparently they had 'spice' labels on them and and he was complaining about it. I suggested he make his own labels and he promptly did! Very cool!

Board Game: Factory Fun


Ok, I'm motivated! I've actually been planning on opening it for the last month or so with the intention of doing a comparison of the old and new versions but hadn't 'gotten around to it'. Well, it is finally time...to see WHAT IS IN THE BOX! Then, further down, I do a comparison of the components of the two versions.

So, here's the box, ready to be opened!

From gallery of tasajara


I have to admit I like the box art quite a bit. I'm ok with the people on it, but I REALLY like the factory - the look of the machines and most especially the lights on the ceiling. I don't know why I like them so much, but I do...


Two cuts and we can start peeling....
From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara


From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara


...then open the box....
From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara


From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara


...inside, besides the manual, we find...
From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

a nice stack of cardboard! Yes! Lots of neat stuff to punch!

From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara

And more cardboard! All the beautiful factory boards! I love the light that looks like it's coming in the windows and the 3D effect that creates with the shadows! It looks even nicer in person than in the photos I'd seen.

I was really getting excited now!

Here are the wooden player bits and some baggies for putting everything into and the box with the empty insert:
From gallery of tasajara
From gallery of tasajara


But why do included baggies always have to be so BIG when provided in games? Flexibility...I know....but still. Guess I'll be pulling out some smaller ones.

Ah, it's time to punch everything now!
From gallery of tasajara


Here's everything punched out...
Board Game: Factory Fun


...and put away neatly in the insert.
Board Game: Factory Fun
From gallery of tasajara


Now, I'm not fully convinced about the insert yet. YES, it has appropriate sized spaces for all of the components. And YES, it looks really nice in the box. But NO, I'm not convinced I will keep with this solution permanently. In fact, I'm pretty sure I won't - mainly because I sometimes store my boxes sideways and these components will be EVERYWHERE because there's too much space between the insert and the top of the box - everything will definitely start moving.

For now....I'm using it this way, but it will probably change soon. I'm just not sure what I'm going to use yet. Maybe a plano - I might need to go shopping for something special.

OK. Now that I have it opened and punched, how does it compare to the original version?

As mentioned before, I'm not crazy about the people on the cover of the new version. Looking at the two next to each other, I'm still loving the original cover with the hand-drawn images and I think the people look more realistic - something like you'd see in a real factory. Although, I *do* like both covers for different reasons and I'm not disappointed by the new one at all.

Board Game: Factory Fun

A comparison of the boxes.

You can see the new box is substantially bigger. In fact, the new box is SO big it can contain the original version inside of it...

Board Game: Factory Fun

...and, I think there would still be enough room in there for all the new components as well if the insert was left out (I didn't try this but maybe that will be part of a permanent solution....)

Next up is one of the factory floor boards:
Board Game: Factory Fun

Comparison of factory floor board

This is the same floor for both games. There are several differences here. Interestingly, you can see that the size of the factory floor is actually slightly smaller on the new board, but the overall board is bigger.

The nice features of the new board are: the artwork (love the shadows), '+' marks for the corners of the spaces rather than fully drawn lines, and the key at the bottom for costs is a great touch.

Board Game: Factory Fun

Comparison of the score tracks

The new score track is much bigger, has cleaner graphics, and appears easier to score on with the alternate colored spots. It's definitely an improvement over the older score track.

Board Game: Factory Fun
Board Game: Factory Fun

The pipes (left) and the reservoirs & supply tanks (right)

The components have changed quite a bit, and yet they are very similar at the same time. The pipes on the new tiles have nice shaded graphics and all of the tiles are the same shape. They are also double-sided with curves and straights on one type, the 'T' and '+' on another, and the cross-over and double-curves on the third type.

Now, I like that they are double-sided and consistently shaped. HOWEVER, I almost prefer the actual 'pipe' shapes because they 'look' and 'feel' like real pipes, like you're actually piping things together. Ultimately though, the new tiles are easier to keep lined up on the board. Again, I like both for different reasons in this case.

The reservoirs are all very similar, especially the supply tanks which even have the same octagonal shape. Of course the graphics changed a bit for the new ones, but the biggest change is the colors. In particular, brown was changed to orange and yellow was changed to green, plus blue and red changed tints slightly. Personally, I prefer the original colors although I presume the color changes (and the patterns in the tanks) are to make the game color-blind friendly which I fully support. But I still prefer the original colors for me...

In particular I miss the brown. One of the most famous/recognizable machines is the 'Megabrowner' which is a machine that takes a 1 input of blue and makes it a 3 output of brown (i.e. it's very valuable in the game). The machine is still named 'Megabrowner' but now it has orange as the output instead of brown. That just doesn't seem right to me...

Speaking of machines, let's look at those next:

Board Game: Factory Fun

All of the machines, sorted alphabetically with old and new machines side-by-side.

The original version had 48 machines. The new version has 7 more machines for a total of 55 - this allows it to support 5 players (playing a game consists of using 10 machines per person)

Here are close-ups of each set.

Board Game: Factory Fun
Board Game: Factory Fun
Board Game: Factory Fun
Board Game: Factory Fun
Board Game: Factory Fun
Board Game: Factory Fun


You'll notice the names are all the same and the colors and input/outputs are mostly the same (if you consider the converted colors mentioned above) - although at least 1 or 2 machines have changed input/output colors I think. Of the 7 new machines, there's one anomaly - I don't know if this is a mis-print or intentional for some reason, but there are 2 machines named "Sonic Pack 3" in the Z-Man version, one that is identical to the original and one that is very different. Somehow I split them across columns/images, but one is at the top of the right-most image and one is at the bottom of the image to the left of that.

Interestingly, one of the new machines is named "Z-Manixer".....it has two '3' value inputs and outputs - garbage. Well, perhaps black output is supposed to represent something different, but we've always considered it 'garbage' output since it just ends up being a dead-end in your factory line.

Regarding the machine graphics, the machines themselves look good overall, but I still prefer the hand-drawn Cwali version as I feel they have a bit more 'personality' to them. Also, the new version doesn't show workers working at some of them like they do in the original version

Also, the pipes are a bit more clear on directionality (input vs. output) and the sizing of the pipes to indicate the value is an interesting idea (1 is smallest machine pipe, 3 is largest) which I actually like quite a lot in theory, but it seems strange to connect up large pipes to small ones scale-wise. I'm fine with playing it, but I'm not completely sold on it.

The thing what I like most on the new tiles is the 'value' (i.e. income that is immediately generated) is printed very clearly in the center of each tile making it easier to compare (versus the original versions) when trying to decide which machine you might want to grab during that portion of the round.

And finally we have the player pieces as well as the 'multiplier' markers used to determine the value of a pipe flow for end-game scoring:

Board Game: Factory Fun
Board Game: Factory Fun

Special Essen 'expansion' crossover pieces, player markers, and the bonus multiplier markers

The player colors have changed somewhat. I'm fine with the changes because I like more color, but the 'boring' original colors were kind of 'fun' because they were 'boring' and fit with the theme.

The former 'bonus' tile only available from Essen is now included standard in the Z-Man version - it simply allows you cross over 2 sets of pipes which can sometimes be very handy when things are on the wrong sides of the board.

The multiplier markers have changed significantly and, I must say, for the better (for the most part). Why? Because they make obvious the scoring you will get at the end of the game. The original version has simple clear round discs that you would put over the pipe numbers when you connected 2 machines together - those numbers are multiplied by '5' at the end of the game for final scoring.

This version simply does the multiplication 'early' and you place a maker with the final VP value instead. This makes it much easier to see your end-game score (and everyone else's as well) as those clear discs were nice but would easily get lost on the board (and sometimes on the floor as well).

Well, that's my breaking out of the newer Z-Man version of the game and comparison of it with the older Cwali version.

I certainly like the components in both versions, but the older version is more compact and the line drawn art really appeals to me. But, the new version has some really nice slicker graphics and also has some changes that were made that ultimately makes it easier to play and understand. AND, the components are actually interchangeable between games as the new ones are only slightly smaller than the older ones.

I think I'll be keeping both copies because I really like the new changes, but I love the old version. Call me sentimental I guess.

Thanks for stopping by and putting up with my long-windedness!

Now go out and build a factory or something!

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11 Comments
Tue Aug 30, 2011 1:10 am
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