GCL Meatballs #147: Baby, Baby!
Justus
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Las Vegas
Nevada
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This is the weekly geeklist for the Swedish Meatball GeekChat League! Only members are to add items (please add your weekly games played), but civil comments from non-members are welcome, as always.

Rotation:
ellephai
rarevos
Osirus
Jythier
fateswanderer
qwertymartin
Sorp222
lacxox
cymric
Jugular
bnordeng
NateStraight
AAArg_ink

---
I'm writing this in mid-December...cause there's a good chance I won't be writing anything when I'm up next. My wife is due in early February but there's a very good chance that she'll be delivering early. We've had some fun during this pregnancy so what the hell...another GCL about another major life change.
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But then I cut in line at the end of 2013 to bust out the GCL 2013 Metrically Speaking list
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And so instead of having this show up around birth time...its been almost two months since the girl arrived! So with this nice symetry of having written the GL 2 months before she arrived and posting it 2 months after her birthday, I've decided to keep the initial GL items and add my current thoughts as the first comment on each of them.
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1. Board Game: Hanabi [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:275]
Justus
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Who actually enjoys the fireworks? Just curious cause the grandparents seem way more geeked up about her than we are. I think we see serious responsibility and effort ahead, and I guess the grandparents get to just play with the little girl. Though it ain't gonna be all fun and games, we're still crashing with the in-laws until the house gets remodeled!

Were you mega-excited about the baby when you found out...especially the first one?
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2. Board Game: Pandemic [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:73]
Justus
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Any great birth stories? Was it EPIC? Or just another day at the hospital?
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3. Board Game: Flash Point: Fire Rescue [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:255]
Justus
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The wife being sick that I mentioned for the past few months was a case of three seperate (though maybe not so seperate) items that all came up in a period of a week. My wife had a slight tear of the placenta, a case of the PUPPPS, and gestational diabetes.

Fortunately the diabetes was quite mild, but the abruption sapped her energy and put her on light bed rest for the past three months. We are super lucky to be living at the parent's house.

The most exciting thing though was the PUPPPS. Even though the name sounds cute and while it is not threatening to either mother or child, it is an amazingly uncomfortable and annoying syndrome. Basically my wife had an awful case of hives for about a month until it died down. I think there were times when she was on the edge of insanity with this PUPPPS.

So any good complication stories along the way? Also have you experienced any medical issues that have a wide delta between the cuteness factor of the syndrome name and the actual experience?
 
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4. Board Game: Escape: The Curse of the Temple [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:421]
Justus
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OK so we got a baby....but we're still here too. How do you balance it out? How does one capture a little off time? Alone time? How does one maintain peace?
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5. Board Game: Wok Star [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:1707]
Justus
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And for a game related question. How do you get the whole family into it? I want to play games with the kid(s)...but I don't want to turn them off from it by overkilling it. Though of course there needs to be a balance...to much gaming isn't much good for the psyche either...

But yeah just a generic family and gaming type question here.
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6. Board Game: Forbidden Desert [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:263]
Justus
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Nevada
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Any thoughts on taking the baby outdoors? Now that we're not in the hot humid swamp, it would be fun to go outside more. There's some gorgeous desert around here, and I'd love to take her out and about. Damned if I know, I was never much of an outdoor person, but it seems that it would be a shame to waste Red Rock just half an hour away.

When's a good time to start taking the little one out into nature? A couple years? What the hell, now?
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7. Board Game: Onirim [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:936]
Justus
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How do you deal with your dreams and expectations? On the one hand there are lots of things I want to show the girl. There is so much richness in the world. And yet I don't want to suffocate her either with too much of everything. Life is too short to chase it all, but you really don't want to miss too much either.
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8. Board Game: Lord of the Rings [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:698]
Justus
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So really, what kind of journey have we embarked? Any deep thoughts as we start our travels?
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9. Board Game: Glass Road [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:210]
Andrew
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San Francisco
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Recently I've been successful at getting other players for Glass Road, but I've yet to figure out how to play consistently. I made a strategic mistake by picking up two "convert into water" buildings before grabbing the "score for water" buildings, and an opponent (and eventual winner) picked both of them up! I came close by pursuing some high-VP buildings and a "score for clay", but I might have won had I not taken a dead-end path or picked up at least one of the scorers). So far I've not been paying a lot of attention to my opponents' role choices; I'm still trying to get the rhythm of taking resources and using them down.

I next had a shocking game of Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small with expansions, wherein I discovered I had been playing it wrong for my prior 8 games (animals do accumulate)! wow While our scores weren't so high, my veteran opponent gave me a few pointers, so I'll be interested to see how things go next time.

I won our 5p game of Modern Art by avoiding overbidding, timing my double-auctions (we played a variant where everyone was guaranteed some double-auctions), and ending the rounds quickly (or having an ally end them quickly).

I played good old Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs Imperium and managed to crush three opponents with 52VP (next highest was 36VP). While my memory of RvI was that it's faster-tempo than other versions, I ended up running a slower p/c engine (with Consumer Markets and Diversified Economy).

There was lots of teaching Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts with several 2p non-advanced games with a couple of new players, and then a couple of 2p-advanced with a veteran. While I've said in the past that Brink of War has the most stuff going on, I'm really, really liking the balance of the Alien Artifacts cards - I played a couple of Gene-tableau strategies, one with Uplift Chamber and PGL, another using green (!) p/c, and Terraforming Robots (a card I discounted in the past) is proving its value. So far, 6-costs haven't been dominating play (but it's been a while since I've played against stiff competition).

It's been 6-months since my last game of Hansa Teutonica, and in this 3p game it showed. I played against the best HT player in my groups and he destroyed us taking 9 actions in a row on the last turn to grab three Coellen slots and end the game. I was rusty and it showed with weak early turns, but my major issue was a strategic reversal where my attempt to end the game early was thwarted.

I may have played my last game of The Resistance ever, as I played as well as I'm ever going to. I can't lie very well, but somehow things came together and in the last game of three, we the spies won 3-0.

We also played a prototype of a social party game that's really not my thing; basically you vote on people in the group for being "most likely to die alone" and the like.
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10. Board Game: Caverna: The Cave Farmers [Average Rating:8.13 Overall Rank:14]
Seth Brown
United States
North Adams
Massachusetts
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*Three* games of this last week. Someone (possibly Nate?) was asking the other week if the weaponizing buildings are just an overpowering strategy in the 2p game. Well, in one game I had just gotten my 5th dwarf and had 3 weaponized and plenty of coal sitting around, planning to get the 8 points for all armed dwarves building and the 3 points per armed dwarf building. But, Debbie bought the 3 points per weaponized dwarf building right then. So, I completely switched gears and bought the Peaceful Cave and the 8 points for *no* armed dwarves building, and still ended up winning. We ended up tying in another one of the games.

I'm really liking Caverna. While it doesn't have the "new options every game" random card lure of Agricola, the wealth of options is always available to everyone, so it's just a question of how you go about playing with it this time, and at least half a dozen games in I still feel like there's still plenty of room for me to try different things.
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11. Board Game: The Capitals [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:1548]
Brad N
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
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_8_ The Capitals - 4 Players
_8_ Carcassonne: The Castle - 2 Players
_8_ Dominion - 2 Players
_7_ Ingenious - 2 Players
_7_ Can't Stop - 2 Players

With the kids...
_7_ Gulo Gulo - 4 Players
_7_ Loopin' Louie - 4 Players (x4)
_6_ Fish Eat Fish - 3 Players
_6_ Fleeting Foxes - 3 Players


It'll need another play before I know how much, but I like The Capitals; I've played it twice.

(1) The Capitals - This is an involved city-building game that appears to be really well put-together. One player commented on the rough edges (special cases/special rules) and I agree that those are there. But, I don't think they take away from what feels like a pretty good game. I liked it better with 4 players as I recall the 3 player game being one where the turn-order bidding was uninteresting.
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12. Board Game: Morels [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:579]
Laszlo Molnar
Hungary
Budapest
Hungary
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Wednesday, gaming club:
A rather weak evening. The kind of evening when I feel I should have spent it with my kids instead.
I played two unpublished prototypes.
The first one had some Tzolkin impact but the tiles and cards were very unbalanced right now, it still needed lots of improvement (I suggested some) and it wasn't that original - the only interesting part didn't come from the "designer" but the guy who was the developer of the game.
The second prototype tried to be a party card game. The good thing I could tell about this was there are worse games published out there. But it still was bad, Uno-like randomness mixed with some 6 nimmt!-like fun and cards that had 3 different qualities each - you had no decisions to make, luck factor was about 95% and the second half of the game wasn't even enjoyable. The designer said kids love it. I can imagine they do, but that does not make it a game that works.
Then I played FlowerFall with them (the designer and the developer). They were rolling their eyes during the game. I won by 18:5:2 (even though I was the start player).

Saturday, at home:
My 25th play of Kingdom Builder with the expansions. See details here.

Sunday, at home:
Artus - a very close game with my wife. I made some mistakes in the second half while my wife kept scoring the maximum for the task cards so I thought I'm going to lose big time (I had two evil scoring cards left for the last round), but in the round before the last I made a clever move so I almost won.
Morels - I bought it on Wednesday, played it against myself on Thursday evening and now I played it with my wife. I heard good things about this so first I was a bit sad to learn the rules - it did not feature much novelty. But I quite like it; I need to play it more to know how much and why.

It seems this week I did not play anything with my kids. This is the first week like this in quite a long time - it has to do something with the renewed playground nearby, the good weather and the evenings spent with them cycling and this evening that I spent with my son at the hospital with his open wound (he's all right now).
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13. Board Game: Café International [Average Rating:6.28 Overall Rank:2070]
Justus
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In my quest for playing all the SDJ winners, last week I made a bunch of purchases. My amazon order arrived with Cafe International and Barbarossa (the Mayfair Klaus Teuber classic of nymphomatic nazi babes!).

Aside from that, we read Brian Floca's Locomotive, the 2014 Caldecott winner. Its a great book! Given some of the other books he has written and illustrated (moon landing, ship, trucks) I suspect he is in serious contention to take on the mantle of David Macaulay for beautifully illustrated non-fiction works for children/adults that is compelling and still descriptive about the mechanics of thigns. Some of the other books I've been chatting about I really enjoy at an artistic level, but I really, recommend y'all with kids to check this one out...most likely not deep enough to purchase, but certainly worth the time to borrow at the library.
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14. Board Game: Ticket to Ride: Märklin [Average Rating:7.41 Overall Rank:235] [Average Rating:7.41 Unranked]
Maarten D. de Jong
Netherlands
Zaandam
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My mother came to visit me and the little guy, and regular game night was postponed. I played several games with her and my partner: Ticket to Ride: Märklin and Catan Dice Game. We discovered that when playing this edition of TtR, it is probably a good idea to immediately block the 1-wagon railroad sections in the west of Germany, irrespective if you have assignments which take you there or not. It is an important corridor from north to sourth, requiring very little effort to build compared to other stretches of track. This is something for the next time, though: I'm glad that my mom truly caught on to the idea that having an assignment doesn't mean you have to give in to the Pavlovian urge to complete it. Apart from that I still think the game is meh, with at times too much influence of raw draw randomness. But I can play it with my mother who seems to enjoy it, so I keep my mouth shut about these thoughts.

The other game, Catan Dice, was not so fortunate. I'm the first to admit that the deviation from Yathzee is sufficiently minimal for newcomers to catch on very quickly, a Good Thing. But after our second game I wondered what would happen if I went all-out on the cities... and lo and behold, I discovered the broken strategy to this game. I have since learned that it was the wish of the publisher to ship the game with the simplest scoring sheet author Klaus Teuber had submitted to them. But balance testing obviously was not part of the deal! Some geeks have come up with altered scoring sheets to play Catan Dice as if it were a Yathzee-clone, and they look considerably less skewed. But the best fix is probably downloading other scoring sheets from Teuber's Catan website and using those. I'm rather curious about them.

And why I own a box of Catan Dice? A lottery in which my lot number got drawn so late that it was either Catan Dice or pocket Chess . I already own three Chess games, so adding a fourth was really not an option especially considering that I don't play Chess these days.



Sunday Gaming Day! Apart from serving a rijsttafel for 8 (why do I torment myself thusly? the logistics remain a horror despite only cooking 7 or 8 dishes excluding the rice...) I also managed to play a few games.

Luna (4P) — The game wins in strength as the number of players goes up: there is far more bickering with respect to the Apostate, and in the temple you're much more likely to feel the squeeze, thus necessitating the use of the 'Transfer Knowledge' action which appears to be seldomly used in 3P-games. The time squeeze is also more pronounced because there are now 3 players in between your turns, and that means that a game round can be over really quickly if the players so desire. My fellow players caught on rather quickly and enjoyed themselves for the rest of the way: they understood why I'd warned them beforehand that the game was hard to explain and also hard to 'get' on a basic level. But thanks to a few tips which helped me 'get' the game, they were soon being major pains... in a good way, of course. They all pronounced they liked the title, which came as a bit of a surprise as Luna is definitely an acquired taste.

Discworld: Ankh-Morpork (4P) — This title lives or dies by the players knowing the secret goals of the other characters by heart. As such it died in this particular attempt. I remain curious as to how it plays once it lives: many complain about the randomness, but I fear that's missing a fine point. Yes, there is randomness, but in terms of stopping others you don't need to act precisely. Anything that hinders a victory condition from appearing on the board goes, and you can usually do something in this regard.

And it is of course fun when someone plays Mr. Teatime (a psycho killer who is so absolutely psycho that he has passed through normal psycho-ness and has come out on the other side) and announces that (s)he is playing, well, 'mister teatime'. Discworld fans now exchange a secret dap.

Stone Age + Stone Age: The Expansion (5P) — I don't really like the expansion as a means to get 5 players to play. It makes the game go on for too long. And on top of that we got a trading rule wrong. I'd probably not have won, and certainly not by as much as I did, but I see little sense in waking sleeping dogs. Right?



Two further games, Alphabet challengers this time.

Lancaster (3P) — A lavishly executed worker placement game which I think isn't really all that great at 3 players. Player 1 chose an upgrade strategy, player 2 a conflict strategy, and player 3 a lots-of-knights strategy. Halfway the third round it became apparent that there would be no stopping player 1, who eventually won with a massive pointδ of about 50 VP, twice as much as the average of players 2 and 3. Not only did he score the 6 VP bonus of Somerset (?) county twice; he also scored all the end game majorities for the most powerful knight force, most castle extensions, and money. That's 30 VP right off the bat the other two players did not have. There is no way to counter such a strategy save by following it yourself so that exclusive access to the more expensive counties is no longer a given. With 4 or more players there is the additional benefit of inherently more competition for counties, making the conflict-aspect a quicker VP route than it is in the 3P case. This evens out a lot of the rough extremes we encountered.

That all said, I'm still not sure how I feel about Lancaster, this being my 3rd or 4th occasion I've sat behind a steering wheel. I think there is a lot of stuff in the game for something that lasts as short as it does (5 rounds only). You come out with all guns blazing immediately or you lose; there's no other way to play this game. Investment strategies are risky because there is no way to tell you will have the right resources to take advantage of an opportunity should it present itself... Oh no, wait, that's not entirely true, because you will know which laws make what appearance, so if you play the game often (or make a cheat sheet) you at least know which laws will be voted upon. But still there is no guarantee that the law you need actually becomes active: the other players have their own agendas, of course.

For the moment: quintessential good-for-once-every-while material.

Leonardo da Vinci (3P) — An old worker placement game which never took off as many hoped it would. Remembering rather disastrous previous episodes in which I collected the wrong resources for inventions I was after (the artwork isn't that clear), and that there is a time bonus for completing research into similarly grouped contraptions, I think this was the first game of LdV which was played according to the rules. We used the suggested starting position.

Player 1 took full advantage of having a ton of resources by immediately completing numerous inventions, and cashing in bigtime. Because LdV is structured as a 'money begets more money'-system, I was extremely hesitant at continuing play at that point. But we continued to see what would happen. Which was not what I expected, to be honest. Player 2, who had an average starting position, had the advantage of obtaining a lot of resources very cheaply on a few occasions, thus notably improving his research efficiency. Player 3 got a good lab at the beginning of the game, but little money and few resources to show for it. This player was forced to pay rather a lot to obtain specific resources for longer inventions, and had the ill luck of competing with player 1 more often than not, lowering the payout. Player 2 played the game of I think that you think that I think that you're starting that invention best, and thus managed to make up for the sizable money difference created by player 1 on the second and third turns. Players 1 and 3 squandered whatever proceeds they had resources which didn't deliver, with the end result that player 1 barely won out with just 2 or 3 ducats. Player 3 was lagging behind at a delta-ducat of about 10.

I admitted my doomsday thinking at about 1/3rd of the game had been uncalled for, but I also think that with a more conservative strategy player 1 would have wiped the floor with the others. Player 1 rearranged the invention deck on nearly every occasion, and still managed to lose his head start!

So, what to make of Leonardo. Somewhat grudgingly I have to say it isn't as bad as I had always assumed/thought it was. It is very much a product of its age: the first attempts at worker placement with a curious repeat action mechanism which sees you able to repeat an action at a spot albeit at a higher price, and of course a well-developed money snowball. But it is also a very 'constructed' game in that players tend to build up their engine in the beginning, thus emptying the top part of the board; and then cash in in the end, thus fighting like cornered rats for access to cheap resources—the right to pick first saves you 2 VP, and makes someone else lose them. A delta-veep of 4 is worth a little fighting... although it's admittedly hard to work out how this evens out over all the resource fights. Perhaps it is closer to zero sum than I think.

In the end, though, I think Leonardo a tad boring. Inventions are just cards with symbols and numbers you have to manage somehow; the simultaneous selection of inventions feels clunky; the final two rounds are just there to let the engine, revved up to insane RPMs, shoot off across the tarmac and see where it ends up. Preferably in one piece across an imaginary finish line. Oh well. In any case, I consider the author group's later achievement Egizia to be the superior title by far.



(Turn up your speakers to full volume. Don't do this with cats, dogs, wives, and sleeping babies in the vicinity.)
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15. Board Game: German Railways [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:1841]
Johannes cum Grano Salis
United States
Finger Lakes
New York
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"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
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Innovation (2p)
Guillotine (4p)
Slide 5 (7p)
The Boss (3p)
Glory to Rome (3p)
German Railways (5p)


Innovation was with Martin on Isotropic. I lost despite jumping out 3-0 on Achievements. He Combusted my scorepile and I never recovered.

The rest was all at an impromptu "wife out of town" gameday at a friend's place. We played split tables for a while (yay), and had a great time. I'll specifically call out The Boss as a really neat game.

In The Boss, you have a deck of cards and some cubes of two sizes. There are 5 cities all arranged in a row, and each city has between 3 and 5 cards associated with it; the card backs are identifiable, so New York cards have black backs, Boston yellow, Cincinnati grey, etc). Each city gets a face-down card, and this is the reward for that city. The remaining cards are dealt to the players, and each player can see what their opponents know about each city. On your turn, you a.) may optionally place a bid of cubes on a city, and then b.) play a card to a city row. The cards are dollar amounts (1 million bucks, 2 million, 3, 4,; hospital cards, jail cards, pistols, or banishment). The game comes in trying to have cube control over the cities where you think the face-down cards are dollar amounts. The other players are doing the same, but also trying to bluff so that you maybe think there's 2 million in Kansas City, but in fact it's a gun and I'm bidding you up to mislead you.

It's damn fun. A cool addition is that there's a floating Chicago card, where each round it moves one space to the right and is worth half the top cards of all cities to its left. It's potentially a huge amount of money. Another col thing is that you have two cube sizes, and the smaller ones are one-time use. So you can place them, but you don't get them back at the end of a round. And if you "win" a jail card in a city, you lose a big cube for two rounds. Most money wins.

German Railways was great as always, though I'm pretty sure one player wasn't enjoying himself a whole lot; if you look at the game as being a game about building track on your turn, the game will frustrate you a lot more than if you view it as an auction game first and foremost. We actually never tallied the score because partway through we realized three of us had been computing our income incorrectly and shorted ourselves a lot of money in the process. Whoops.
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16. Board Game: Manoeuvre [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:639]
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Don't fall in love with me yet, we only recently met
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Tuesday: games night at Will's

I wanted to get another game of Quantum to cement my impressions and Joe and Ian were up for it. We chose a T-shaped 3p board which turned out to be extremely tight, rewarding aggressive play even more than my first game. So I grabbed the most attack-oriented set of special powers I could muster, ending up with FEROCIOUS (subtract one from your combat rolls), ENERGETIC (your ships can move/attack more than once per turn) and CONFORMIST (take an extra action if two of your ships have matching numbers). This allowed me to give up on peacefully settling planets and just hurtle my battlestation (a 1 ship) around the centre of the board destroying everything it bumped into

After that, Joe suggested his new Splendor, which was on my radar due to Knizia/Sackson comparisons. It turns out it does have the simplicity of those great designers' rule sets, but lacks any of the spark they would have put in. Essentially your turn is either taking gems (one each of three colours or two of the same colour) or trading them in combinations for a tableau card from a central display. Each card gives a permanent gem that can be used towards future purchases and some of them give 1-4 VP. I'm struggling to isolate what made it so disappointing when it appears to have some qualities I praise. The best word I can come up with is 'textureless'. No exciting moments; no arc; just a repetitive grind. It reminded me a bit of Machi Koro, which I also found flat, but without the charm of the artwork and theme.

Thursday: at Joe's and then at the cafe meetup

Joe taught me Manoeuvre It's a highly abstracted card-driven war game that comes with a hell of a lot of variability in the box (modular maps, eight different armies). I liked it. Spatial positioning, hand management, simple rules, all that good stuff. As long as it can be played reliably in an hour or so (this game was more like 2) I could see us getting a few plays in.

Adam, the guy who's been running the cafe games night has just had a baby so I volunteered to take over. So far this just involves sending out an email to a bunch of his colleagues. But it can grow! It's nice that it hasn't been set up as a 'gamer' group at all - the games we play there are always light and social.

I got there early to meet up with a friend from LoB who lives in Bristol, Andy. I taught him Aton and then we played a couple of rounds of Hanabi. I haven't loved this as a 2p before, but this time I really enjoyed it. We seemed to be pretty in tune with each other, and though we only got 19 both times, I felt we'd done pretty well with difficult card orderings.

Then one of the regulars, Andrew, showed up and we played Divinare. I love this game, and I'm getting really good at it now too. I don't know why it's taken me so long, but I came up with a much easier way to count cards, and it worked really well. Andy couldn't stay late but had time for some Love Letter before catching his bus.

It was looking like it was going to be just me and Andrew for the rest of the night, but then four women sat down at the next table and got out a copy of Wildlife Adventure. Turns out they were colleagues of Adam's too and they invited us to join them. It's a fun game - kind of Transamerica-style shared route-building. A few more people were milling around now (mainly just to socialise rather than game) so I got out Dobble for a couple of frantic 7p rounds.

Finally, Andrew and I broke away with Katie (who's a semi-regular) and a new guy Owen to play Fauna, which was a blast as ever.
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17. Board Game: Nations [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:94]
Paul Lister
United Kingdom
London
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Nations was my one big game of last week. I really want to like it as Civizilation Building is my favourite boardgame conceit. It's not horrible to play, however it lacks the tension of my favourite Civ builders (by tension I mean the ability to lose the game in one turn to military aggression). The game also seems to lack a story arc - each age (there are four of them) feels like the last one but with slightly modified costs. The game feels incremental , tactical and just a little too bland for what I would hope to find in a Civ. builder.

Other plays

Assassin's Creed. quick, knockabout ,hand management and running around a board.

I am not going to be playing much else before London on Board's Easter Eastbourne Event.

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18. Board Game: Nations [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:94]

Lacombe
Louisiana
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Suddenly a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.
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Played a few things this week.

On Friday, Age of Industry with the 2p Great Lakes "fan expansion". As a constraint to the map and deck size appropriate for 2p play, this felt about right. I'm still not really sure the game [or Brass, obviously] is actually good for 2, but I enjoyed it. I'm also not sure if Age of Industry is any good [or, if so, how good] given that Brass exists. Brass is certainly more multifaceted, what with the differences in how coal and iron move, the very sharp differences between income and VP buildings, the two phase game structure, and various other differences. Age of Industry is relatively one dimensional [cash cash cash, maximize revenue, minimize expenses] but it still plays well, I think. The oddest choice, to me, is the change to the card-play mechanisms [not every action requires a card, and the game end is variable / player-controlled based on optional card draws]. Everything else makes sense as an attempt to streamline the game from Brass, but this change is pretty dramatic and gives the game a totally different feel.

On Saturday, grandma took Linus and we went to our FLGS' game day. We played a 3p game of Samurai while waiting for our fourth, which I took away from Cat by 2 tokens in the "all your rest" count after a "surprise"-ish ending swapping the last remaining rice into a spot I was about to close and then closing to claim it and one other token. I wonder how strong the turn order advantage is in this game [and if stats exist from any of the multiple digital implementations it's had]; I wasn't first player [our first player had little experience with the game / had not played in a long long time], but I was before Cat. After Samurai, we had the choice between Bus or 1830 and opted for Bus since our fourth needed to leave early [but then ended up staying later than he'd said anyway]. I got out to an early lead, but I think I made a mistake the one time I chose to stop time and was out of it from that point. The other two players pseudo-colluded to hold on to their ~3 stones each in the round that Cat and I ran out, and they Vroooomed for a few rounds in parity before ending it. I think one of them ought to have defected a round earlier, though.

After Bus, we played Nations and then closed the evening with Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island, both new to me recent "hotness" games.

Nations was pretty interesting, although I think it kind of felt like playing Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War or 51st State for 3 hours straight. It's the one game in recent memory that actually does what a ton of BGGers [I'm usually not in this group] seem to argue for when presented with a large Euro game brimming with strategic possibilities but without any interplay variability in the setup / availability of potential strategic paths [i.e. Caverna, Ora & Labora, Homesteaders, etc]: Cry for some of the multitudinous possibilities to be randomly removed from the game so as to alter the otherwise carefully designed balance. Well, that's exactly what you have here; in contrast to Through The Ages where nearly every card [at least in the civ deck] cycles through the card row in every game, you use only somewhere around 30-40% of the total game deck available for each of the 4 ages. To my eye, it seemed the way the game accomplished the feat of not completely destroying any balance was essentially to blend the edges of the potential game strategies sufficiently to where each basically looked the same, ran into the others, and basically required the same resources.

Where TTA has a totally dichotomous relationship between rocks and food, they're mixed up [with each other, and with other resources] here, to where a single worker can make both. All of the other resources are also mixed up, so it's not really like you're going to plow all of your dudes into labs making only a ton of lightbulbs. You're mostly making decisions about the relative amounts of each resource you want in your [necessarily] admixture of stuff each turn. You need to be able to do this, because you have no idea whether the cards coming down the line are going to need rocks [wonders], stability / strength [wars, etc], books [golden age, etc], or what. It's also much cheaper / easier to shift gears here than in TTA, which is also necessary to respond to the ever-changing and hugely varying card draft. Through The Ages does seem to have some baked-in strategic lynchpins [take early Iron, Age III wonders, etc], but at least they're strategies; I'm not really sure what here counts as a "strategy" when the long-term horizon is so incredibly variable. I'm also not really sure "extreme" strategies are possible, which is where half of the fun really lies in Through The Ages. Because you're limited to so many wonders, so many colonies, so many [what would be in TTA] grey cards, and so on, you really need quite a bit of everything.

The events are similarly weirdly streamlined with an eye toward mandated diversity of approach. Unlike Through The Ages where the events that happen are seeded by players [usually the players with the most military might], here they are truly and completely random. Also, whereas Through the Ages usually quite predictably targets the strongest and weakest players, these events check for most/least strength, most/least stability, most/least food, most/least books [if I recall], and probably quite a few others which I'm forgetting. I guess the intent is that you can't make sure to benefit from all of the events just by pumping up your strength, but what basically seems to happen is that you either have to try to pump up everything or you have to be willing to be subject to the whims of fate. "Stability" itself, come to mention it, is a very odd mechanism. It's yet one more track to manage [I suppose in some sense it replaces science, but not really], and it functions kind of like an alternative strength track in some sense [counting most/least], but also lets you mitigate the negative effects of some losses [from wars, also by avoiding some bad events]. I guess it's most closely parallel to happiness, but it's not a constraint [the happiness constraint and having to work around it is one of the best parts of Through The Ages, I think], just another thing to manage.

The bits that felt too much [and painfully so] like Brink of War to me were the very awkward [I felt] handling of tracking a bunch of crap just to award a minor VP bonus, plus the incredibly weird war mechanisms. You get this track running from 0 to 50 that tracks "books" which represent "culture", but these aren't points [at least not directly]. All they are is a majority-bonus arms race that goes off every two rounds, awarding weird proportional bonuses based on your position in the race. I sat in last place fairly intentionally [i.e. at 0] the entire game, and so lost about 5-6 points to each of my opponents, but their participation and back-and-forth jockeying between themselves meant that their 'par' / 'net' value was basically zero-sum between each other at the end of the game [one round, someone got 3 and another got 1, then the next round the latter got 2 and the former got 3, then... etc]. This is way too reminiscent of the atrocious Prestige Leader bonus. Or, worse, it's reminiscent of the numberless book track in De Vulgari Eloquentia, which is just confusing, seemingly unnecessary, and incredibly awkward for not much actual VP differential added. I don't really "get it", I guess.

Then there are the war cards, which are not aggressive, at least not actively so, and even worse are not beneficial, at least not actively so. There's no positive incentive for a player to ever pay to draft a war card. Drafting a war card sets up a threshold value which every player must meet or lose a point and some [large number of] resources, but it does not benefit the warring player at all [in fact, they don't even get off the hook; they still must meet the total]. It's possible if all players are willing to let it happen for no one to ever draft a war card and to just divert their resources in other directions entirely. The reason you want to choose a war isn't for some active incentive [like you gaining resources from an opponent], but rather just a passive aggressive "I'm going to be a dick" incentive [when you have strong military] or a defensive "please don't kick me when I'm down... here, I'll pay $2 so you can't" move [when you have very weak military]. There's no active reason why a player would want to start a war, but they happen inevitably because these other incentives are incredibly strong. This is a very weird mechanism, I thought.

The hacked-on "Growth" mechanism where at the beginning of each round you can choose to get a bunch of whatever kind of resource you're short on OR to increase your population once is a dumb choice that could have been implemented much more organically [it is, however, also the basis for a "handicap" system of sorts--you can choose at the outset how many "free" resources each player can take--but that seems even more hacked-on], by making the opportunity cost choice more direct during the turn [say, by just paying a particular number of resources]; I'm not really sure I understand this decision. Anyway, this is mostly nitpicking at this point. It was a good game, but I would worry that the variety of things which the huge pile of cards allow you to do is not interesting enough compared to games like Race For The Galaxy or Innovation or Glory To Rome to support essentially that style of game being played for 3x the game length. Apart from that, neither the scoring system [which seemed quite dumb and unsophisticated overall, especially compared to TTA's system] nor the economic engine itself seemed interesting enough to support the game; the game was in the cards and in reacting to them / reacting to events, and I'm not quite sure there's enough variety, despite all of the possible permutations.

We also played Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island which was pretty interesting [despite a botched rule: your base camp tile's production is automatic and requires no workers! YIKES, no wonder we lost!], but I'm kind of struggling to see how this got to #11 [and seemingly will end up in the top 10]. It's just another action point driven co-op, fueled by a lot of thematic cards / effects and a cool scenario system. There seem to be two kinds of basic co-op games: whack-a-mole and action-point management. I don't find either particularly interesting at this point, as they both seem to remove individual player agency. There was no reason [nor attempt given by the game to provide one] for multiple people to be playing this game, except to provide an exercise for coordinated decision-making. It seems there has to be something more to aspire to as the pinnacle of cooperative gaming than just a meeting of the minds to solve a common problem. There needs to be individuation of motives, knowledge, skills, abilities, etc [and, no, I don't mean a "traitor" mechanism]. I'm really not sure how someone could accomplish this.

Role-playing games, I guess, are the closest, in that the whole point of the thing to act out an individually chosen persona, and not so much to "win" a particular game / "solve" a particular puzzle. Maybe this is just an unbridgeable gulf between RPGs and co-ops, but I'd like to think not. I still like Knizia's LOTR, if only for the hidden information aspect and new card-draws which continue to uphold it. Sure, you could play with all of your cards open [this is explicitly forbidden in the rules] or you could list off all your cards and have your partners write them down [this is not explicitly forbidden], but by Knizia explicitly [former] and implicitly [latter, by virtue of having the cards have backs and not providing player notepads] excluding both options, he introduced a small but significant element of individual action / decision-making. Only I know, in the end, what cards I'm holding, and so I act on slightly different information than everyone else. I think co-ops need to play around with this "only I know" element a bit more, and not just in the "I'm trying to hide my true motivations" [traitor / hidden teams] aspect, but just in the "I can't" [whether for gameplay or thematic reasons or both] share all of my information / motives.

I also just don't think action points [which in this case are carried out via completely unconstrained worker placement, a lot like Ignacy's Stronghold... but WP is action-drafting, which is a meaningless concept without competition, so it's really just action points here] are a good co-op mechanism. They're not interesting. I don't know what is more interesting, but where the basic model for making a Euro game is "take all the resources or actions you want players to be able to do, put them into building tiles or action spaces, devise a modification to the basic building-things or action-drafting tropes, then go", the basic model for a co-op game seems to be "take all of the things that players need to do to win the game, assign each a point cost, give players a number of action points per round, provide a game timer of some kind, then go". This is just boring. There has to be some way to put a more interesting mechanical backbone under the quest to cooperatively complete a given task. Hanabi shows, at least in microcosm, that something like this is possible. I'm hoping its smashing success is the harbinger of bigger, less abstract co-op games with similar styles of play.
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19. Board Game: Crokinole [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:75]
George Leach
United Kingdom
Godalming
Surrey
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My wife's best friend from childhood has also moved back to their hometown and though this is wonderful for her (and me) they also happen to be one of the few friends she has that don't love playing boardgames.

Rewind to our marriage when I managed to get gaming onto the agenda by leaving wooden games (pitchcar, crokinole, shove ha'penny, croquet) out on the lawn (on tables where appropriate). Wife's best friend's husband and a few other guests really got into Crokinole - they ended up playing until it was too dark outside to play any more.

Now back to our house. When I found a spare nail in the wall and was fed up with stacking my large boardgames against a wall I decided to hang up the Crokinole board. So now we have a Crok board up on the living room wall. When Sophie first saw it she went into spontaneous applause!

We invited our friends over for Sunday lunch and after half an hour of my wife's friend's husband glancing up at the board we decided to get it down and play a couple of games.

Fun times! I'm glad I don't play two player very often since, though I'm very tempted to, I don't become good at the game and so even with new players we're not overbearing them.

I managed to get another two player game of Havana in with Kathryn. This time I took more care to plan ahead a little on the buildings, thinking about which roles she had left to use and trying to mess with her plans. I got just enough of an advantage to win by being the first to play in our final round.
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20. Board Game: The Scepter of Zavandor [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:841]
Lori
United States
Durham
North Carolina
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My turn to pick the game on Monday night, and I brought back If Wishes Were Fishes, since I introduced it to this group lately and people said they'd like to play it again.

Then my erratically regular midweek Dominion night.

I thought my weekend was looking pretty empty, but fortuitously a lot of other people thought so too and decided to organize gaming. Friday we got together for Scepter of Zavandor. The host and I usually meet at another friend's house and have been talking about playing certain games we both like, but it's hard to get to them at this other event. So we finally made it happen on another day. The other game on the agenda was Shipyard, which we didn't get to, but maybe next time. We had a great tense game of Scepter, which I won with probably as high a score as I've seen. It was a 3p game with one new player, and he liked the game, which is also a victory.

Saturday was Roborally day. We played 3 games, and the only reason it wasn't more is that I laid out the course for the last one and totally misgauged how long it would take. The host has a ton of the fan-designed boards, and we played with some of those, which I have mixed feelings about. Then after I got home I had a call from my brother, who was passing by. He stopped in about 2 am and we had a cup of tea and played a game of Parade.

Sunday I got together with a different set of SoZ fans. The host had heard about the game of magical wish-granting fishes from one of the Monday group, and asked me to bring that as well. So we ended up playing:
Scepter of Zavandor. I felt like I was doing the same thing as on Friday, but apparently not as well, plus it didn't work as well with 4p as with 3p. I put too much effort into getting the elixir, and then couldn't gather a giant heap of diamonds in time to be competitive. I finished dead last. The winner played an almost no-artifact game, starving herself to get down the Knowledge of Fire track, and then crushed us with her rubies.
If Wishes Were Fishes. Enjoyed by all, and people were particularly impressed with the purple worms, which are possibly the most unique game piece I've known.
Montage. We rode this roller-coaster again at my request, and it was just as insane as before. One great thing about this game is that even when your team wins decisively, as mine did, you feel like you're barely holding on the whole time.
Finally, we tried out a deduction game prototype our host had created. This was probably the most fun I've ever had playing a prototype (an activity I normally avoid).
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