GCL Meatball Division #132: Lesser Loyalties

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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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.

On deck:
ellephai

On the bench:
johnbandettini
Osirus
jythier
aaarg_ink
fateswanderer
qwertymartin
Sorp222
lacxox
cymric
Jugular
bnordeng
NateStraight

On injured reserve:
ldsdbomber
rarevos



It's Christmastime! Or Hanukkah! Or nearly Kwanzaa! Or Boxing Day week [is that a thing the same way "Christmas week" is?]! Or Festivus! Or whatever other ritual you pretend to observe when your parents are around.

But we're not here to talk about any of those things. This is the list to celebrate the less well known winter [or summer, if you're more into "oi oi oi"s than "ho ho ho"s] traditions. So festoon the corridors and let's get [nut]cracking.
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1. Board Game: Shear Panic [Average Rating:6.39 Overall Rank:1584]

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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Maybe Henrik or Mats or Lee can explain it better if they're lurking, but apparently goats [particularly, "julbock"] play a major role in holiday celebrations in Northern Europe, Scandinavia and especially Sweden in particular.

The tradition seemingly consists either of dressing up as a goat oneself and beggar-your-neighboring [beggaring-your-neighbor?] for treats [the Swedish Halloween?] or of making a small straw goat [or a gigantic one?] and surreptitiously depositing it inside your neighbor's house [a Swedish white elephant exchange?]. It seems these goats are usually burned [intentionally or not] after the fact because a) dried straw is basically a fire waiting to happen; b) what are you going to do with a straw goat during the remaining 11 months of the year?

Have you ever surreptitiously deposited a game inside a family member's home [perhaps by, say, wrapping it in fancy paper] during the holidays in hopes you'd get to play it? Have you ever received a gift game you wanted to burn?
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2. Board Game: Bacchanalia [Average Rating:6.43 Unranked]

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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Apparently among the ancient Aegean midwinter traditions was a festival called Lenaia, a term deriving from the name given to the stark-raving mad female devotees of Dionysus who were depicted in mythical representations as female satyrs--that's right, goat-women.

The most ancient ritual of Lenaia seems to have been a sort of theatrical parade in which a poor sot is chosen to play the role of Dionysus as he is ripped to shreds by the Titans [apparently played in the festival by the self-same stark-raving mad women--the "lenai"--who, yes, literally tear the vicar of poor young Dionysus to pieces as part of the play] at the behest of his jealous stepmom, Hera. A slightly luckier newborn baby gets to take the role of the reborn Dionysus.

After awhile, this human sacrifice deal got old and Dionysus' stand-in was replaced with a bull or--you guessed it--a goat. The nature of the festival seems also to have shifted over time away from the sacrifices and toward dancing and general drunken debauchery.

What's your most rowdy holiday tradition? Does it involve dancing? Drinking? Debauchery? Also, what is your favorite game that deals with sacrifice [however you choose to interpret it]?
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3. Board Game: Inca Empire [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:1067]

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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Inti Raymi is an ancient festival established during the Incan Empire and held in late June to commemorate the southern hemisphere's winter solstice. Counterintuitively, given that the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, this festival is translated as "Festival of the Sun". During the festival, priests would symbolically tie the sun to Intihuatana [the "sun-hitching-place"] to prevent it from escaping for good. The more obvious festivities of sacrifice [llamas, not goats... but just you wait], dancing, costumes, drinking, and so forth were also part of the ancient rituals associated with the festival.

Modern interpretations obviously do away with the less appealing and messier aspects, instead focusing on the theatrics and symbolism of the event. More interestingly, certain regional celebrations have been mixed up with Catholic feast days or local histories. Take Ecuador, for instance: In Cotacachi, a city twice divided amongst various indigenous tribes and again between the aboriginal and European / immigrant populations, a reenactment of hostilities between these various people groups takes place in conjunction with Inti Raymi, with each side trying to symbolically take control of the city square. The fighters wear chaps padded with [here we are at last] goat hair to protect their legs and shins during the scuffle.

The holiday season is a time for celebrating, but also unfortunately for many people a time of stress and of trying to avoid bringing up bad blood. A bit of conflict is probably the unavoidable outcome of putting the same people on multi-hour plane flights / car rides and cramming them into a too-small-for-the-purpose living room / den for a day, week, or more year after year. Are there any infamous scuffles which you either jokingly recreate or stressfully try to avoid during the holiday season? What's your favorite game where you basically just beat each other in the shins for the duration?
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4. Board Game: Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:455]

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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The Kalash people of Pakistan have a winter festival known as Chaumos which includes, among other things, the de rigeur sacrificing of goats and baking of goat-shaped breads to celebrate the harvest and general fecundity [blah blah blah], but also a slightly more, shall we say, individualized take on the season.

As part of the festival, a ceremonially chosen teenage boy who has been [un?]ceremoniously sent to live in the mountains with goats all summer long [the tending of goats is apparently a kind of coming-of-age occupation for boys through puberty, probably because of the goat's ancient sexual symbolism] returns to town and gets to copulate with whomever he wants for a full day. [Apparently, this practice has been abandoned in modern times for reasons of fitting in politically.]

What are the things that you don't get to do during the summer [or winter, Oi oi oi] that you look forward to around the holiday season? If you could be sent away on a mountain [or your own chosen destination] retreat for an entire summer to play games rather than tend goats, what games would you bring to play?
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5. Board Game: Saturn [Average Rating:6.76 Overall Rank:4273]

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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Saturnalia is among the more well known lesser known ancient winter festivals, and its traditional day(s) of celebration [which gradually expanded from a one- or two-day affair to a week-long embargo on all sane behavior] is one of a few different explanations for the origin of the tradition of celebrating Christmas itself on December 25th.

There don't seem to have been many actual goats involved in the festivities, but there may or may not have been [no really, this isn't a figure of speech for "there totally was"; it seems it is up for debate] for a time a scapegoat designated from among the populace to serve as a representation [and the honorary leader] of excessive indulgence and general licentiousness, who would be ritually sacrificed [possibly through self-sacrifice] at the end of the festival week [perhaps to absolve all of his subjects of their excesses?].

Licentiousness played a role in other aspects of Saturnalia, too, particularly in the reversal of the master-slave relationship for a time. For the week, slaves were served by their masters and probably got to decide minutia such as the menu or the days' festivities. Restrictions on gaming were also lifted, and you could even play dice with your master.

Do you allow yourself license to enjoy some otherwise [self-]prohibited activities in the Saturnial spirit of role reversal during the holidays, perhaps succumbing to family members' requests to play a "normal" game like Monopoly, Cluedo, Apples to Apples, or Trivial Pursuit instead of playing the stereotypical geek and pushing "your weird games" on family? Or maybe the holidays are the time when your family, who otherwise would force you to have their kind of fun, lets you introduce a new game or two of your choice?
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6. Board Game: Clash of Cultures [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:205]

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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Of course, all of the above descriptions are just quickie research from Wikipedia and Google-fu, and probably don't accurately represent the intricacies of these cultural celebrations [or the cultures themselves, for that matter] whatsoever. My apologies if anyone reading is a modern-day devotee of any of the above celebrations.

Explaining things is itself a holiday tradition. Why do / don't you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, whatever? Why do / don't you perpetuate the Santa Claus myth to your kids [seems religious and areligious people alike differ on the issue about the same]? Exactly what position do you take on that political issue, Crazy Uncle Joe? Why are we going to your mother's house again, honey? What is the "real meaning of Christmas" or "the holiday spirit"?

As gamers, we're probably about as misunderstood as the less well known festivals I chose for the list. How do you [or do you even try?] explain your hobby to curious family members or friends when / if it comes up in conversation during holiday celebrations? Do you have any other "weird" customs / traditions which require explanation to outsiders?
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7. Board Game: Secret Santa [Average Rating:7.92 Unranked]

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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Oh yeah... and what's on your gaming wishlist for Santa?
 
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8. Board Game: Herr der Ziegen [Average Rating:6.08 Overall Rank:6540]

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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Oh yeah... and what's your favorite game involving goats?
 
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9. Board Game: Article 27: The UN Security Council Game [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:2346]
Andrew
United States
San Francisco
California
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This was a great week for me, though now I'm overseas and Alien Artifacts didn't come out in time

I acquired Article 27: The UN Security Council Game as a response to a Catan-only gamer arguing that another game she tried (Belfort) lacked interaction. I prefer indirect interaction, but I still think it's a shame that there are so few trading/negotiation games that provide a comparable experience to Settlers or Monopoly. There's a wonderful Geeklist right now about games designed by a class of 13-year-olds full of hilarious descriptions and off-the-wall themes and is well worth a read; it turns out that almost every game uses an "action points" mechanic, because it's a very clear, simple, default way to convert a wacky theme into a game. One BGGer commented on this suggesting "worker placement" as an alternative, but I think that Eurogames have the exact same issue where a flabby form of WP is that default mechanism.

Anyway, I played a 5p game of Article 27 this week and had a great time. I have a couple of concerns: that negotiations are going to fall into a similar pattern that lacks complex deals, and that it's too common to have issue combinations that make you indifferent. However the game is a great pure, short negotiation experience, where lying is optional (unlike the many social deception games), and there's no unnecessary Euro baggage that pads out the game (Genoa I'm looking at you).

I also got to play Tournay at last (a 2p game) and while I enjoyed the glimpse of depth (here I messed up by having too many buildings and not enough workers and characters), I was very lucky to be teaching a really smart guy who could put up with all the rules caveats and my disjointed explanation. I'm dubious about the likelihood of it easily hitting the table again (maybe I can persuade the same guy again?) and that's a shame.

We followed with Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small with both expansions and I was astounded to have the new guy destroy my personal best score of 52 with 56 on his first game!

I was reluctant to join a long game but I ended up playing 3p Nations and enjoyed it. While I won't seek it out due to duration, I could appreciate the design, and it was certainly better than the awful game of Power Grid at the next table, where the person whom I vented about was doing his thing (that game actually was longer than Nations). I liked the approach to military - it's interactive but there's no dogpiling and there are ways to ameliorate the ill effects, and the events and culture scoring resulted in lots of fighting over first and non-last places on the various tracks.

We then played a round of Haggis, which I won easily.

Due to holiday sales I picked up Carcassonne and Small World with Small World: Grand Dames of Small World. While I've been ambivalent about Small World for a while (decent game but lacks something, runs too long with more players) on the iPad it's excellent (though I wish I could speed up the animations).
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10. Board Game: Aton [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:832]
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: at the house of one of my Bristol group

We were 7, and 4 wanted to play Railways of the World. Unfortunately the remaining three contained a Spanish guy who seems to have diametrically opposed taste to me. Between him not doing auctions and me not doing worker placement, there weren't many suitable Euros left to pick! We ended up settling on Hanabi first. Interesting discussion about conventions - one player thought it was OK to give emphasis clues (THIS is a four, and so is this) but not memory reminders; I'm exactly the opposite. We managed a mediocre 19.

The Spanish guy had brought along his freshly-kickstarted copy of The Agents. It's a take-thattish cardgame with special powers. There are some neat ideas: all cards are double-edged and provide benefits to both players that they are played between. Ultimately forgettable though - just another game I didn't really need to learn.

Two of us managed to lobby for Sticheln over the Spanish guy's lack of enthusiasm. I think he quite liked it in the end. I seem to be getting the hang of it, 3p at least; ended up 30-12-5 after three rounds. I got my come-uppance in Love Letter though, not winning a single round.

Finally the tables were united for Kakerlakenpoker. One guy has decided that the 'obvious' strategy is never to call. Every time I get the chance I try to teach him why he's wrong

Wednesday/Thursday: dropped round to Joe's studio a couple of times (he's the guy that hooked me up with my new group, as I knew him from BGG already)

He taught me Aton and we played six times! What a great little game. For those who don't already know it, it's a half-hour 2p abstract (but with card randomness) with multiple end-game triggers and player-controlled pacing. Simple rules but lots going on, just how I like it. Joe won 5 of the 6 games but the last two were delightfully knife-edge affairs.

Online

Played several great games of Innovation with John (rarevos) and also taught him Pax Porfiriana over Skype and Vassal. It worked really well and he's a quick learner!
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11. Board Game: Nothing but the Truth [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Laszlo Molnar
Hungary
Budapest
Hungary
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Another week with nothing played (as it's Sunday afternoon I guess it's not going to change now).

I mean, except from children's games. I wasn't working this year, my wife worked a lot, so I went for the kids every day, also took them to the doctor etc. and we played a few kids' games (including the not-really-kids'-games King Arthur: The Card Game and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Das Kartenspiel with my son).

And as for "the Truth" mentioned in the title: working a lot is just one of the reasons why we didn't play that much in the past month. The other part is some good personal news that I can share now: my wife is pregnant now and we are expecting our third kid by the end of June 2014. I've seen the baby (this week I could accompany my wife when she went to the doctor) so now I can believe the baby is there - and they look beautiful.
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12. Board Game: Catacombs [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:677]
Brad N
United States
Madison
Wisconsin
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.NA. Catacombs - 2 Players
.NA. Danger - 3 Players
.NA. Tally Ho! - 2 Players
_8_ Flash Point: Fire Rescue – Dangerous Waters - 3 Players
_8_ Flash Point: Fire Rescue – Extreme Danger - 2 Players
_8_ Pick Picknic - 5 Players
_7_ TAMSK - 2 Players
_7_ Tobago - 3 Players
_7_ Lost Cities - 2 Players
_7_ Ingenious - 2 Players
_7_ Seeland - 2 Players
_7_ Round-Up - 2 Players (x3)
_7_ Loopin' Louie - 4 Players (x3)
_6_ Granada - 2 Players
_6_ Love Letter - 2 Players
_6_ Pictionary Junior - 5 Players


There were some sick days this week and it was another where all games played were with family. I missed a good game night because I was under the weather. Hopefully, I get another chance for a bigger game night soon.

(1) Catacombs - My brother is getting games that I probably normally wouldn't play and I'm enjoying them. Catacombs was a good time and we enjoyed it a fair amount even though he was in a world of hurt as the heroes. He made an absolutely astonishing shot in the second-to-last room that put him through to the last room... but he never should have made it there.

(2) Danger - A simple push-your-luck card game that I received for free at BGG.con. I played it with my dad and my 8 year old daughter. It worked well. Very simple, but decent for a very quick filler and with kids.

(3) Tally Ho! - My wife and I played this for the first time and we liked it. I'm a bit surprised she liked it since it does have a bit of a chess-like feel to it. However, the theme and random set up with tiles being uncovered over the course of the game seems like enough to keep it interesting for her. We'll definitely be playing again.

(4) Flash Point - We tried the Laboratory and nearly one, but not quite. We did avoid any extra explosions or chemical spills. We also tried the Merchant Ship with 3 of us and I played the Rescue Dog. The dog is very limited in what he can do, but he sure is good at getting around the board and saving people. We just needed one more character who could fight fires.

(5) Pick Picknic - I still say this is one of the best family games out there. Simultaneous turns, it plays fast, players make interesting choices, a bit of push-your-luck, spans lots of ages well.

(6) Granada - It's just Alhambra with two twists that make it slightly more balanced. But, it's really not much better than Alhambra in my view. You can pay to flip tiles to get a different color and scoring is the same for all colors of tiles and is based on how many of each color tile is on the board... the more tiles of a color on the board (for all players), the higher it will score.

(7) Love Letter - My 8 year old daughter and I played this as a 2 player. It's not great with 2 people, but it passed some time and we had fun... she liked the idea of the game.
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13. Board Game: Caverna: The Cave Farmers [Average Rating:8.12 Overall Rank:15]
Agent J
United States
Coldwater
Michigan
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He's looking real sharp in his 1940's fedora. He's got nerves of steel, an iron will, and several other metal-themed attributes. His fur is water tight and he's always up for a fight.
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He's a semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal of action. He's a furry little flat-foot who'll never flinch from a fray. He's got more than just mad skills, he's got a beaver tail and a bill.
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Played games with the kids Saturday.

Monopoly Deal x3
Bisikle
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Card Game
Masters Gallery

Monopoly Deal is actually a pretty good card game. I won twice and my 5yo won one.

Bisikle, my 6yo won. He had a great start. My 3yo played this for the first time and had a blast just being part of the game with Daddy and the boys, we used a Ninja Turtle figure for the 5th marker.

TVHCCG is terrible. It is the very worst in card game design. You must have a certain card to win, a butterfly card. If you somehow get rid of all your cards without a butterfly card, you have to draw more cards, get rid of them, and hopefully draw a butterfly card at some point. There are only enough butterfly cards for each player to get ONE.

Seed more game-end cards into the deck? Naw.

Oh, so if you draw one and you already have one, you have to shuffle all the cards again.

Ridiculous.

Anyway, Master's Gallery was the best game, 3yo played and won that one. So I've decided that the rest of us are terrible at games. She won due to purple being the first color to come up as the 'extra' card and naturally played all her purple cards first, causing the rest of us to go heavily purple as well. Worth the most points the first two rounds, at least.

Edit:

What?
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14. Board Game: The Mole in the Hole [Average Rating:6.32 Overall Rank:2991]
Justus
United States
Las Vegas
Nevada
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So we got our final order of the Big Game...the last of which was Kolejka but then I threw in a bunch of other random games just cause they were available.

Unfortunately Mole in the Hole was a bit of a disappointment. I think there is more there, but my wife and mom-in-law was not too hot on it.

Same with Lords of Scotland. Not because it was bad, just that it was too confrontational for my wife's taste. I suspect that its going to go where Schottentotten and Aton have gone to die. She also doesn't like auctions so really this hits all the wrong notes. HOWEVER, I personally think that despite the art (which is actually amateurish in an endearing way) its actually quite good. How come American publishers can't do any good art if its not that socialist-realistism SciFi or angry monster Fantasy art?!

Speaking of good art, I stickered up Kolejka. This is an amazing production! I've been adequately warned about gameplay, but I'll say out of the box its very impressive.

A couple lack luster plays of 6 nimmit! Don't worry George, I very much enjoyed it, once again my wife thought she was just flipping cards (and I suspect she feels its to mano-e-mano) confrontational. I'm going to try out a couple of the other 2P variants on BGG both of which involve playing through the complete deck, but one has you only wiping the longest line and the other which has you wiping the whole table each round. Both seem promising to me at least.

And then a few games of the always excellent Glory to Rome, which may become less favored by my wife now that I'm exploring the power of the legion (thanks Seth!)

Oh and a couple plays of the previously mentioned Can't Stop and Wurfel Bohnanza. The former is a true classic, the latter is not bad, but not great either. And one play of Space Beams, which is a very cute little Bohnanza variant. Uwe knows whats he's doing.
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15. Board Game: Peloponnes [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:668]
Maarten D. de Jong
Netherlands
Zaandam
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A gaming day brought three hitherto unknown games to the table.

Peloponnes (4P) — This game has always been on my radar as a weak blip; mostly because Iron Games' titles have been not-quite-there for me. I couldn't quite justify a blind purchase too, and hoped that someone would be able to walk me through a game.

The game proved to be a simple affair of bidding yourself a tiny civilisation consisting of lanscapes producing various goods, and buildings producing people, money and useful abilities, augmented with a few nasty events to provide the ubiquitous 'brake' on players' engines. And since a good idea is better copied than imagined by oneself, the author took good note of the lessons taught by Tigris & Euphrates and Ingenious: he introduced two score tracks, and the lowest score of either is compared to the lowest scores of other players. This forces a balanced approach to matters, giving quite a lot of bite to at least two of the events all of a sudden. Apart from that highest-low scoring the game is really nothing at all special; but it is flawless in its execution, is over and done with in the right amount of time, and is thus in total even charming in its own right. It is quite well suited to being expanded, and I gather a number of expansions exist already.

Owning a copy is probably a tad much, but a few replays, also with the expansions to see how they change the game, is certainly not an Unwelcome Thing.

Russian Railroads (4P) — Nearly 10 years of worker placement design has culminated in this constructed JASE. The worker placement itself is uninteresting and little interactive, and does not even attempt something original; and whatever subject is present is drowned out by a ruthless push for VP gathering. You don't really need to know more about this game than that it all happens on your own, and not even personalised, player board where you are working to extend three railway tracks with coloured H-profile tokens. You always start out with black profile, can then catch up with grey, brown, beige and finally white. A later colour can never overtake a previous colour, so the more you want to move a later colour, the harder you will have to move the previous colours. The amount of spaces from a profile token up to the next are worth points, with later colours giving more points of course. Along the tracks are tons of little extras such as point bonuses, bonus discs, and 'H-profile unlocking' events, because you really did not expect to be able to use the expensive white profile straight away, did you? To make matters more complex you also have trains which limit the point to which VP are to be had... so it (mostly) pays off to match these. Then there is finally an industry track which yields points and 'pluggable' actions: in fact trains which are too weak and have been discarded. They become a single-time action which you can take.

The Dutch rule book is atrocious and has been written by someone who obviously had no idea of what the full game was about. Instead of a conscise summation we were stuck with lengthy examplified rules which seemed to leave out lots of little details; or to put these in places you did not expect them to be. The result: a needlessly and lengthy painful experience for all involved. I hope the other languages have better rulebooks.

Onto the game, then. Since the WP doesn't do anything interesting, the real beef is, as I said, on your private board of tracks. It's a bit like a puzzle how to get all the tokens and discs and extra actions together, and probably accounts for a good deal of the general public's enthusiasm for this title. It's not exactly bad, but to say that tokens chasing each other is much fun, especially after a number of games... I'm not sure. If there is one thing I do find annoying to the point of it being inexcusable then it would be this: the fact that end scores of 300+ and even 400+ are fairly easily obtainable, and that it is not uncommon to clock up 100+ or even 150+ points on the last of the 7 game turns. Given that you start out with point totals of 10 to 15 on the first two turns the dynamic VP gathering range is really unmanageable for me. Really small things in the beginning can have a tremendous effect later on; I would be seriously interested in the potential loss of VP caused by initially harmless-looking moves. For now it probably satisfies others who want to see the game go out with a Big Bang, though.

Caverna: The Cave Farmers (4P) — Agricola V2. If you don't like Agricola, then Caverna isn't your cup of tea either. If you like Agricola, then it depends on what you like about it that would draw you to Caverna. My explainer, an old hand at Agricola, explained that in the original people usually complained about not getting to do actions until very late in the game; and that it was usually a fight for food despite the various cards. Caverna was designed to deal with these things: there was supposed to be less emphasis on food because more resources could be used as such, and with more action buildings the players could attempt to diversify. In effect Caverna has inched somehat closer to Le Havre: make of that what you will.

While that all sounded interesting in theory, in practice Caverna still bogged down to an Agricola-esque selection of seemingly unuseful actions because the ones I wanted to take were taken up by others all the time. From about half way through the game I realised that for me, the game was still about a fight for food: I could not afford to take development detours and had to pour everything into obtaining scraps which would be gone immediately on the next feeding phase. Yesyes, starting player and all that: the next turn I would be starting player-off, and again faced with giving up nearly all my stuff. Contrary to Agricola the feeding phases now appear at random from a certain point onwards; and have sometimes been cut in half. You feed the dwarves less, but don't get to harvest nor to breed new livestock. I took an instant dislike to this mechanism: in a game with a scope as large as this, you do not want to have to experience random jabs of pain.

For me the game had been a total waste of time, and I did not even bother to count up my score in great detail: there was no point in doing so. I estimate the explainer had 3 times as many points as I did; my fellow gamers had about 1,5 to 2 times as many points. Truth be told, I could at one point have improved my position by working the 'looting' aspect of my dwarves as I had a massive amount of coal; and this would have caused stiffer competition for two other players too... But really, it then all becomes timing and blocking and basically annoying each other for as long as the game takes. That I couldn't be arsed to do so says it all, really.

As my gaming friend owns the only copy of Agricola in my neighbourhood, and since he announced after playing Caverna that he's going to sell it off because he simply doesn't like the game concept, this will be the end of my exploration of Agricola and its descendants for the next few years. It's not something I find difficult to deal with, to be honest.
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16. Board Game: Caverna: The Cave Farmers [Average Rating:8.12 Overall Rank:15]

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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We actually have played a fair bit this week! Woo.

We set up a Mage Knight scenario last week which we played over three literal days and nights [for those who don't know, the game itself plays in 2 or 3 "day" and "night" round-pairs]. I think Cat ended up winning after I deducted points from wounds, or else it was a tie and I missed one area and ended up with like 2 or 3 more points than her... it was close is about all I recall exactly.

We played the "Druid Nights" scenario, which was interesting in that it didn't focus on the find-the-city / bash-the-city structure of the default scenarios. I am starting to wish for more different kinds of things to find and do in the game; I guess the expansion offers up a couple. It's an ambitious and impressive game, but the dramatic arc / flow of the game seems a little strictly drawn.

Someone recently posted a "quests" variant where you pick up little mini-missions at Villages; that seems like a cute concept and I'm interested in trying it.



As I mentioned above, I bought Catherine the "Agricola 2.0" new hotness, Caverna. Her sister just randomly called us last night and asked if we would "let her" take Linus for the night. Yes, yes... we will "let" you provide free overnight babysitting any time. No, no... it's no trouble, we insist. Well, since we had the night and most of today free, I decided to give her the game early.

We played one learning game last night and two more today [in which we both basically performed progressively worse than we did in the "learning game"].

I'm sure I'll end up with an awful lot more to say about the game in the months to come, as will the rest of BGG, but here's the short and long of it:

- Yes, it actually is Agricola 2.0. Le Havre and Ora & Labora had various completely unwarranted claims to that title, but they are wholly different games with almost no shared mechanisms or goals. From what I've seen of the little Agricola 2p title, this here is basically that game and "real" Agricola mashed together, then super-sized [it's tagged for up to 7 players and comes in a double-wide, for heaven's sake!].

Things that are dramatically changed from Agricola:

-- No diminishing marginal returns for points earned from anything. You can spam just about anything you want for wads of VP.

-- Related, fewer penalties for specialization. You lose only for missing animal kinds and empty spaces, not for farm features or planted crops.

-- Cards have been entirely replaced by a room-building system similar [I gather] to that used in the 2p special version [though obviously beefed up]. Rooms do a couple basic things: a) Let you get more people, b) Let you get more food / resources [mostly in non-"X for Y" ways], c) Let you get bonus points for various stuff, d) Let you wrangle around the built-in trade-offs: points vs food, etc. They're all interestingly chosen.

-- Your workers "level up"! There are various action spaces around the board which include the opportunity to go on an "expedition" [WHAT IS YOUR QUEST?]. Unlike other action spaces, what you "get" from the action is not predetermined. Instead, you get to choose a certain number of things [based on the action space taken] from an "a la carte" menu which gets progressively better the more any particular worker goes questing! Way cool.

Things that are more subtly different from Agricola:

-- There are some cutesy things which serve to make the different kinds of animals different apart from assigning different point values to each [actually, here all animals are worth the same anyway... 1 VP each!]. Boars can live in stables in the forest, and you find them wild when you start clearing land. Sheep can be housed in pastures, or you can use sheep dogs in an empty meadow. Donkeys [basically horses from FotM] can live deep in the mines in addition to out in the open. Additionally, the animals attach to substantially different special combo abilities granted by the room tiles [in the same way in which particular occupation / improvements would change the value of animals in Agricola, but in a more stable built-in structure].

-- There are some cutesy things throughout which serve to make the game a little "friendlier". Rubies and gold coins [which are each a little hard to come by, but each player should at least end up with a few] are new resources which are worth points straight up, but which can each be traded in various ways for certain advantages: Rubies can serve as wildcards for just about any resource, and coins [I think--didn't play 3+ where it comes into effect] can be used at a market action space to buy resources. Also in 3+ [or 4+... whatever] there is an action card which lets you pay food to "imitate" another player's action card selection. The rubies / market seem more influential, and as Maarten noted above it is definitely still a WP game heavy on direct and indirect blocking.

-- Harvest rounds and feeding requirements come faster and more frequently. After the first two rounds of play [out of a dozen in all], there will only be one round [pseudo-randomly determined] in which you do not have to pay food. Most rounds will be a full harvest; others will be a "special" "Hey you, pay 1 food per worker for no reason!" harvest. Damn you, Uwe.

-- Potentially workable strategies seem much more distinct. Additionally, family growth seems considerably less of a necessity. Whereas in most Agricola matches you can ill afford to ignore one facet of the game, it seems this game is set up to where it is simply impossible to engage in all aspects of the strategic space, and probably detrimental to attempt to do so.

-- Many of the long-winded action chains [grain -> plow -> sow -> [harvest] -> bake bread; wood -> fences -> sheep -> clay -> major imp] from Agricola have been shortened by having most major action spaces do more than one thing: the "sheep" space gives you the ability to make a pasture, add a stable, and get sheep! This is a net positive for the game flow, for sure, but distracts from the core WP idea of prioritizing action selections in the action draft in favor of the more engine-builder idea [adapted from Uwe's own Le Havre and Ora & Labora, to which in this aspect--basically alone--Caverna is more similar than to Agricola] of optimizing the efficiency of every action [getting to use all the options, something that only mattered occasionally in Agricola with the +/or Minor-Major Improvement spaces].

It probably adds to the frustration like what Maarten felt above in that not only do you have to "settle" for something that isn't what you want when you get blocked, but you also have to settle for getting less from even that suboptimal choice than you would have liked had you known you'd be forced to make it. It's a bit of a double-edged sword, since each action "does" quite a bit more than it does in Agricola... the game goes faster, but the blocking hurts more. You have to do more to prepare for each action you plan / hope to take, so you're probably less fluid in the short term in this game on account of it. In Agricola, if someone took the wood you wanted, you'd usually just say "Ok, well I'll take any of these three other things that are a little less good." Not as much so here, really, as far as I can tell so far.



So what do I make of Caverna thus far? Well, I'm glad you asked!

- It's very well designed and over the top in production value.

- It's not better for me than Agricola, but it will break the BGG Top 10 easily and stay there for a long time if Mayfair doesn't botch distribution. Agricola will remain my clear favorite among all of Uwe's big box games for simplicity and directness of the basic game structure and how this creates reliable opportunity cost decision-making and relatively "deep-ply" analysis. Additionally, Agricola's end game is so serendipitously well-timed as to be magical, like Power Grid's infamous "$1 SHORT!" feature. Everything comes together so cleanly in Agricola.

- It's better for me than Le Havre and Ora & Labora which, if Agricola has a perfectly focused direction, lack almost any sense of the same. Le Havre and Ora & Labora are incredibly open-ended games [c.f. the multiple ways in which players have legally rigged solo Le Havre so as to obtain MILLIONS of points]; there is no clear measure of "how much is enough?" or "how much is good?" except to say "more!" And, the primary limit on the efficiency of any given strategic path is not resource availability, but time-to-maturity of the plan.

Most of the resource and strategy paths in Le Havre and Ora & Labora do not overlap significantly. This means comparing them is a task of looking at how much time is left in the game and estimating the future value of the choice at the present moment, then comparing to a similar estimate for a different choice. These future values are made up of "annuity" payments [and switching costs are high after you've made up your mind], too, because for a plan to pan out you need to follow it through to the end. If you invest in a particular type of infrastructure, it has little other use than to crank out what it's designed to do and you HAVE to feed it or waste your investment.

Caverna, like Agricola, seems to focus more on the opportunity-cost style decisions of comparing the immediate gains of alternative uses of relatively fungible resources. This is especially true given as Uwe has pared down the building resources from four [wood, clay, reed, stone] to basically just two [wood, stone, and "kind of" ore] and added the notion of wild cards and the "a la carte" resource-gathering scheme from quests. Even the cavern rooms which are the closest to a sunk cost you have here are relatively flexible in their use and especially in their interaction to one another [definitely not so in Le Havre which has clear building paths, but a bit more true in Ora & Labora].

All in all, I think Uwe has done well here to produce a well-focused game [with a nod to Agricola] that nevertheless has a widely varied and multi-faceted strategic space [with a nod to Le Havre / Ora & Labora]. It's a little bit of a "best of both worlds" game, and I think it can stand toe-to-toe with "the 'Gric", though I prefer the latter for personal [more than design] reasons.

- If you want something a more open-ended and less restrictive than Agricola, but don't like the start-to-finish resource churn game of Le Havre and Ora & Labora [neither of which have the charming logistical game of, say, Roads & Boats to cover their mechanical bones with some more lively and muscular "skin"], I think this would be a good choice. It has all kinds of potential.



We also played a game of EuroRails tonight in which Cat creamed me as I built an ineffective spidery network [circles are better than back-and-forth, in general... and that's not what I had] and ended up spending at least 8 or 9 turns churning through cards looking for something useful to do.

It would have worked out better if I had setup my network to take advantage of the big southwest-northeast routes, but I ended up going up from Italy to England, which is just simply not that profitable it seems. You have to go out to the extremities of the board if you're relying on big-ticket draws.
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17. Board Game: Caverna: The Cave Farmers [Average Rating:8.12 Overall Rank:15]
Seth Brown
United States
North Adams
Massachusetts
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Three games of Caverna, the first 3p, the other pair 2p. I wrote up a review with bonus limericks, which says most of what I have to say about the game.

Looking over Nate's comments, I think I largely agree with them, especially the part about thinking Caverna is a good game. The one thing I'll add is that I have very little desire to play this with 7, because I can't imagine it adding enough enjoyment to make up for tripling the gameplay time, especially with all that added time just being downtime. Even though Debbie wants to try it just to play with all the 7p action spaces. But it works great 2p, and it works great 3p, and I feel like I haven't really explored trying to drive hard towards a single bonus VP building an maximizing it, but that could be a lot of fun. My first game (the 3p game) may have been my best showing; devoid of resources, I furnished the free dog school as soon as the furnish space appeared, and over the course of the game, picked up 7 dogs (fetching me 7 free wood), which then allowed me to hold 8 sheep without a pasture. I also built the couples dwelling (to hold 2 more dwarves), one regular dwelling, and the additional dwelling (to get the sixth dwarf), and the Broom closet for 10 VP. Sadly, as usual, I got a rule wrong in the opening game, not realizing that the "+1 to all armed dwarves" action was in addition to the level your adventuring dwarf gains, even though upon re-reading the rulebook it is laid out exceedingly clearly. Anyway, I encourage you to read my review if for no other reason than I enjoyed writing the limericks.

Just before our first Caverna game, Jay also brought over Palaces of Carrera which we played 2p. I thought it was a bizarre but neat little game, and it was clear to me that in a multiplayer game, the game of chicken and/or race to be the one to score certain cities would be tricky.
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18. Board Game: Caverna: The Cave Farmers [Average Rating:8.12 Overall Rank:15]
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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Let's make it four in a row.

I've never played this and am unlikely to. There's my review.

It's 9 am on Christmas Eve and I'm avoiding family. When not avoiding family, I've managed 4 games of Kingdom Builder, one of Innovation, one of Parade, 3 of Coloretto, one of Palaces of Carrara, and that might be it.

We're off to take the wee ones on a train ride this morning, and continue our quest to eat the world's supply of refined carbohydrates. Traditionally, Christmas Eve is game day in my family (this dates all the way back to the 80s) so today holds promise.

Merry New Year to you and yours, Meatballs. May your paths to victory be multiple.
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19. Board Game: Caverna: The Cave Farmers [Average Rating:8.12 Overall Rank:15]
Paul Lister
United Kingdom
London
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5 in a row.

I picked up a damaged copy at Essen because it was cheap and. Onthe spur of the moment. I have not played it yet. Maarten's comments confirmed my prejudices against the game, Nates's made me think again that I should try it. I think I still have a lot more to explore in the gric and Farmers of the Moor so not sure i need this game.
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