Dudes on a Map: A Personal Quest
Greg H.
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After enjoying this hobby for a couple of years, I've made a discovery. I like Dudes on a Map games. Well, not all of them. But I love the concept of dudes on a map, waging war, seeking conquest, building stuff, and haggling and dealmaking with other gamers at the table.

I didn't mean to explicitly, but I've accumulated a fair number of Dudes on a Map games, and I'd like 2013 to be the year where I discover more about these games.

This is my geeklist to chart the discovery, where I hope to record plays, learn the pros and cons of these games, see which cream rises to the top, and understand the design challenges and advantages of this style of game.

For the record and according to my hackneyed definition, a Dudes on a Map game must:
1. Have distinct, interconnected areas and spaces on a board, where multiple units can congregate.
2. Have units that move from one area to another, and there must be unit elimination.
3. Tell a story and have a strong narrative arc.
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1. Board Game: 1812: The Invasion of Canada [Average Rating:7.39 Overall Rank:639]
Greg H.
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Beachwood
Ohio
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Number of prior plays: 1
Number of plays in 2013: 1

What initially excites me about the game:
I’ve only played it once, but I love the idea of the asymmetrical teams. The Native Americans felt unique, and the game seems to offer a nice balance of quick playing time with fun decision making. I need to try this with both five players and two players.

What's the evolving verdict about the game:
Well, got a 2nd play in with the full complement of five players. I love it. I've always been intimidated by "serious wargames," but I really enjoy the simplicity of these rules, the approachable nature of the game play, and the chance to play a game that has a bit of historical theme.

Only rarely have I gone off the deep end with game purchases, but this 2nd play prompted me to dig into what Academy Games has to offer. I pre-ordered 1775, and picked up Conflict of Heroes and Strike of the Eagle. Zoinks!
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2. Board Game: A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition) [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:85]
Greg H.
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Number of prior plays: 1
Number of plays in 2013: 2

What initially excites me about the game:
I’ve only played the original version once, so I’m hoping the 2nd edition does not add too much complexity. The original Game of Thrones struck me as having a relatively streamlined and elegant set of rules, particularly for a Fantasy Flight game. More than others on the list, I suspect A Game of Thrones offers the greatest opportunity for diplomacy, deal making, and backstabbing. I’m also a sucker for the HBO series.

What's the evolving verdict about the game:
So, I got two plays of this game in at Origins. One with five players, and one with six.

I love it.

Right now, this is the standard bearer for me personally regarding highly thematic "dudes on a map" games. Unlike Eclipse or Dominant Species, which feel a bit too long with six, AGoT is actually best at that player count.

The games run smooth, the diplomacy is tense... I want to keep playing this game.
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3. Board Game: Dominant Species [Average Rating:7.84 Overall Rank:56]
Greg H.
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Number of prior plays: 5
Number of plays in 2013: 1

What initially excites me about the game:
Dominant Species (along with Eclipse and Shogun) is one of the titles on this list that I’ve played 5+ times. It’s also one of my few 10 ratings. So, I like it.  I also want to keep playing this one and see how it holds up. Will it stay a “10”? Some folks in my gaming circles have soured a bit on this title, but with a little cajoling, maybe we can give this one a few more plays. Worker placement, area control, double majority scoring system… woo hoo! Every play of this has made my head hurt and has felt like a grueling, taxing, but rewarding experience. But interestingly, every play of this game has involved 5 or 6 players. I’d like to try it with 3 or 4.

What's the evolving verdict about the game:
I snuck in one "half play" so far this year, as we had to give up after running out of time. Man is this game hard! This seriously gets the neurons firing. It's also brutal--I got the brunt of some nasty cards, but honestly, I could have done a better job of preparing for those actions. (That's what happens when I focus on teaching others!)
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4. Board Game: Eclipse [Average Rating:7.97 Overall Rank:33]
Greg H.
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Beachwood
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Number of prior plays: 5
Number of plays in 2013: 1

What initially excites me about the game:
Along with DS, Eclipse is one of my longer, big box, epic games. I really don’t seek out games that take any longer, and I picked up Eclipse as the “shorter, better Twilight Imperium” (which I haven’t played, so I have no idea if that claim is accurate).

I’ve played this 5+ times, and I want more. I love the tech buildup of ships, and also the unique powers of each race. Most early learning plays were all-human, so I’m curious to keep trying those various alien races.

What's the evolving verdict about the game:
I got another play of this game in at Origins with three players, and though I miss the diplomacy that the game adds in with 4+, I think three is still a very good number for this game. Still a favorite of mine.

One nitpicky observation--the dice chucking for combat seems a bit out of whack at this point compared to how smooth all the other "Euro-y" parts of the game run during play. I'm finding I like the card play of Kemet or AGoT to determine combat results. However, if you buy a big honkin' photo cannon (or whatever it is) and add it to your ship, I suppose you need to chuck some dice to really appreciate your newfound technology.
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5. Board Game: Imperial 2030 [Average Rating:7.73 Overall Rank:170]
Greg H.
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Beachwood
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Number of prior plays: 4
Number of plays in 2013: 1

What initially excites me about the game:
Dudes on a map and stock/investment in different countries. Does it belong on this list? I think so! You’ve got your map, your units, your combat… but no player permanently owns any given country.

In my group, we are certainly not afraid of table talk and negotiation when it comes to investing in different countries and conspiring. Our last play was with only three players, and the thought afterward was that this really needs 4 and preferably 5 to take advantage of that negotiation dynamic.

What's the evolving verdict about the game:
Got a play in with five players... I lost fairly significantly, but another play confirms that this might be my favorite investment game. I just love the combination of "dudes on a map" and investment, and the horrible loss just challenges me to try and do better.

I missed the chance to investment in the fast-rising country (Brazil), and over-invested in a laggard country (China).

Our group did comment that Europe seems to be in a tough spot, and we're wondering about the pros and cons of using the Investor card.
 
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6. Board Game: Mare Nostrum [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:1090]
Greg H.
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Number of prior plays: 0
Number of plays in 2014: 1

What initially excites me about the game:
I’ve seen Mare Nostrum on a handful of “Ultimate Civ Lite” geeklists, looking for that holy grail exploring expanding, teching and conquest. After reading the rules, Mare Nostrum appears to offer most of that, with the exception of teching. I’m most intrigued by the trading phase where players swap goods and money cards one after another. I’ve printed off the minor tweaks to improve the balance at the start of the game, so I’m excited to put this game to the test.

What's the evolving verdict about the game:
Well, I didn't get to play this in 2013, but Jan. '14 finally saw this hit the table. It was a flop. The trading of resources felt flat, one player was heavily marginalized from the start, and I concluded that no one in my group would really be willing to try this game again. I ended up trading it away.
 
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7. Board Game: Nexus Ops [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:346]
Greg H.
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Beachwood
Ohio
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Number of prior plays: 5
Number of plays in 2013: 1

What initially excites me about the game:
I almost didn’t put this game on the list? Too short? Does it tell a story? But, it struck me that it does have the area control, the unit elimination, and enough going on to consider this a “Dudes on a Map Filler.” Every game I’ve played with this so far has been pretty entertaining, but I’ve yet to try 2 v 2 teams.

What's the evolving verdict about the game:
At last! Finally got a chance to play a 2 v 2 team game. I gotta say, this is a great "dudes on a map" game when you have a four person player count. Sure, there's plenty of dice chucking luck. But it's easy to teach, there's still decisions to make, and there's very little "fluff" in the rules. This is a keeper.
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8. Board Game: Senji [Average Rating:6.53 Overall Rank:1905]
Greg H.
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Number of prior plays: 2
Number of plays in 2013: 0

What initially excites me about the game:
From the designer that brought you Mare Nostrum comes… Senji!!! Here’s a game that I have some question marks about. I’ve played it only twice, and at least once, the game seemed to end very abruptly. I’m not sure about the balance of the various paths to winning.

However…

The game offers plenty of negotiation, and a clever system of cards where each card is an “IOU” to another player. Heck, the rules encourage side-room negotiations and conspiring. The map is beautiful. The custom dice are chunky, and combat is slick and simple. And, it’s got the biggest honkin' sand timer I’ve seen in a game.


(Credit to Toynan for the image!)


What's the evolving verdict about the game:
...We'll never know! I ended up trading this sucker away. It's not that I didn't enjoy the prior plays... it's just that as I started playing other games on this list, I recalled some minor flaws in this one. This game ultimately suffered from the fact that I'm really getting into other games that probably does what this does... only better.
 
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9. Board Game: Shogun [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:129]
Greg H.
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Beachwood
Ohio
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Number of prior plays: 6
Number of plays in 2013: 0

What initially excites me about the game:
Shogun was the first “heavy” game I bought after my introduction to the gateways. I fell in love with it from the beginning, and harassed my family to play it (with mixed results). This one has sat on the shelf for quite some time, but it’s time to return to it. I mean, c’mon! 10 pre-selected actions, the infamous cube tower, I love this combo of war and Euro mechanics. And though I’ve played it 6 times, we’ve not yet chosen our provinces at the opening.

What's the evolving verdict about the game:
To be determined…
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10. Board Game: StarCraft: The Board Game [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:345]
Greg H.
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Number of prior plays: 3
Number of plays in 2013: 1

What initially excites me about the game:
Starcraft is the game I own that contains the most plastic. A whole dinosaur went into the production of this game. The first couple of plays involved two teams, and both games ended abruptly. Ahh… but the third play with five players went down to the wire, and my opinion of the game rose considerably.

Starcraft and Eclipse both compete for a similar slot and experience. What I love about Starcraft is the “first in, last out” order token placement, along with the slick customizable combat deck (no dice at all!). What is a barrier to getting this played is the sheer diversity of units.

I certainly want to try this more, and I did pick up the expansion. Sure, it adds even more units, but I’m curious how the expansion patches some of the perceived flaws in the base game. This will likely require some lobbying to get folks to play it.

What's the evolving verdict about the game:
This is the longest and most complex "dudes on a map" game that I own. But, with one more play, I'm left with the impression that the length and the complexity add to the game experience. The problem with this game is that it's hard for first-time players, and the best game experience is probably between players with a few plays under their belt.

I won't say the expansion is a "must have," but it's close and I'm very, very glad I picked it up on the cheap. I like this game enough to continue to hold onto it.
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11. Board Game: Winner's Circle [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:681]
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...and the winner is... (drumroll)

Hit of 2013
1812: Invasion of Canada and 1775:Rebellion. I really, really enjoy these two games. They are very light, approachable, fun, and playable within a reasonable time frame. The production quality is wonderful, and I love both versions of the same game system to the point where I don't want to trade either away.

Miss of 2013
Easily Mare Nostrum. I had always kept an eye on getting a copy of this game, but finally getting it to the table was a big disappointment. Oh well! They can't all be zingers!

Discovery of 2013
A Game of Thrones: The Board Game was a joy to play twice within two days, and I'll want to play this game more. This is the most cutthroat and negotiation-heavy DoaM game I played, and I loved it. Kemet was a suggestion by someone in the comments, I played it, and really enjoyed it. Great suggestion! Love the straightforward tech tree that it brings. And finally, one play of Chaos in the Old World convinced me to trade for it, so I look forward to more plays of that one as well.
 
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