Hamster Rules: War Chronicles from a Galaxy of Games! (2015)
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The Hamster Rules: War Chronicles from a Galaxy of Games! (2015) will be something totally different from the 2014 edition. This list will certainly record all the games for next year's 10x10 (I'll try both versions, hardcore and normal), but I'll add these games to the list as soon as I start playing them. Additionally, I'll use the GL to talk about the games I'm enjoying the most, providing reports for the most interesting sessions and reviewing the games. Not reviewing games after one play, but after several, trying to go as deep as possible into them and hopefully sparkling some good debates about strategy and tactics.

The two lists I created for the 10x10 challenge can be found:

- Here, for the hardcore challenge
- Here, for the non-hardcore challenge

So, please, if you were interested in my previous list, or if this one is sparkling your interest, then subscribe, and let's journey together into a galaxy of games
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1. Board Game: Arkham Horror [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:238] [Average Rating:7.32 Unranked]
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Between me and Arkham Horror was love at first sight, and even now, after 8 years and 350+ plays, it remains the game I like the most. I could brag for 20+ pages about the goods and the bads of the game, but I think the best in this case would be leave the game speak for itself, through accurate session reports.

The first part of my Arkham year will be devoted to win against a complete rotation of Ancient Ones, and use in all games the following combo:

- Arkham Horror, Dunwich Horror, Kingsport Horror, Black Goat of the Woods, Miskatonic Horror in play
- Herald: Black Goat of the Woods (the official, without nerfing, hence, yes, a surge = doom token)
- 5 investigators at a time

Games played during 2013: 47
Games played during 2014: 37
Games played during 2015: ??

This game is listed on both lists (hardcore and non-hardcore); I'll start collecting plays for the hardcore list first:



Arkham Horror hardcore challenge completed on 2015.06.22

And then I'll play ten more for the non-hardcore list:

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2. Board Game: BattleLore (Second Edition) [Average Rating:7.87 Overall Rank:132]
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At a first glance, Battlelore 2nd edition could be classified as a light game. The rules are simple, extremely streamlined when compared to a more evoluted game like Battles of Westeros; and units to be fielded appear to offer a very limited array of choices, since only 5 unit types are offered / faction. Always at a first glance, apparently Daqan are born to defend and then lose the game to the unstoppable brute force of the Uthuk Y'llan clans.

But after some plays, the game appears to be completely different from this initial impression. Indeed, the game is simple, in sense that you don't need thick manuals filled with tables to check countless parameters like in an old-school wargame, yet it's very complex at the same time, because you have a pletora of elements that must be considered while playing: terrains, that can affect your movement, change your defense value, limit the number of dice you roll, induce automatic damage; status tokens, to indicate your units are stunned, or bleed, or have suffered this many wounds; swarms of insects endangering your units or portals helping with movement from one side of the board to the other; lore cards, that help attack, defend, move, cancel your opponent's lore cards, and so on. The vastity of all of this is so huge yet it works like a clockwork mechanism: in the smoothest way. The game can reach a very deep tactical and strategical level, and still be played under 60 minutes.

As for the replayability, it's not a problem either: the core set comes with 7 scenarios / faction, and the coming two army packs will raise the total number to 12 scenarios / faction. This means that if a single player plays all the possible combinations of scenarios, playing both sides, he has 2*12^2 = 288 possible combos. Without considering how fielding different unit types will result in a fresh gaming experience. Finally, 2 neutral unit packs were announced a couple of days ago, expanding even further the options for replayability.

One last note about balance: the factions in the core set are well balanced. Not all units are easy to play; to play properly with archers some time needs probably to be invested, and the same for the Roc Warrior or to understand the huge potential of Daqan (while Uthuk are more immediate to play), but if you invested a little time in this, again, the game will repay you totally. One example to explain this better: Daqan archers roll 2 dice when resolving an attack. But. If you position them properly so that they can attack without moving, and they gain the flanking bonus by means of a Riverwatch Riders placed near their target, and you order them with the Darken the Skies command card, then they roll a total of 27 dice. Boost those numbers with an Assault lore card, and you have 27 dice plus 9 automatic "kill" results and 9 "flag" results, forcing the enemies to route. Suddenly, the boys becomes terrific. This is clearly just a mere example, but it also gives an idea of how many effects can influence an attack.

It's not only a recommended game; it's a game destined to be a timeless classic, and it's one of the best "new games" FFG has produced over the last few years. Fantastic.

Games played during 2014: 55
Games played during 2015: ??

This game is listed on both lists (hardcore and non-hardcore); I'll start collecting plays for the hardcore list first:



Battlelore 2nd Edition hardcore challenge completed on 2015.02.01

And then I'll play ten more for the non-hardcore list:




Disclaimer: all the games we played so far with Battlelore used elements from still-to-be-released expansions; as soon as this material becomes available, I'll enter session reports for those.
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3. Board Game: The Castles of Burgundy [Average Rating:8.12 Overall Rank:12]
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Castles of Burgundy was my first Feld game, and it still is the game he designed (among those in my collection, clearly) I enjoy the most. It's incredibly heterogeneous even if the strategy for winning is more or less always the same: complete the smallest areas first to capitalize the bonus points / round; try to choose carefully the knowledge tiles to maximize the points in the end; focus on mines and castles as soon as possible since these tiles give you extra actions or extra money to get the most powerful black tiles. Still, there are so many varying factors that we still have to play twice the same game; not to mention that during the years Stefan designed many and different boards so that replayability is really granted.

Finally, even if the game implements dice, the incidence of luck factor is not particularly high: there's always something you can do with dice, also thanks to the clever workers mechanic where, by spending worker tokens, you can "manipulate" the results. Really, a brilliant game.

Games played during 2013: 24
Games played during 2014: 12
Games played during 2015: ??

This game counts for the hardcore challenge

Games completed during 2015:



Castles of Burgundy hardcore challenge completed on 2015.02.22
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4. Board Game: Castles of Mad King Ludwig [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:82]
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Introduction
Alspach was a name we've never heard of until one year ago, when, by chance or coincidence, we watched a GameNight episode focused on a game called Ultimate Werewolf. The game sounded like a lot of fun, but, not having a big gaming group, we just kept an eye on the designer waiting for something different. So we got Suburbia, and was love at first sight. Rich, dense, deep, with countless interactions among tiles and one component that often is missing in many games: the freedom to go wherever you want, to develop your city in the way you thought being more interesting / rewarding. Could Castles of Mad King Ludwig be any better? Or at least at the same level?

Short summary of the rules
The rules (honestly, badly structured and badly worded as all the Bezer Games rulebook we read so far) are quite simple. Rooms that will be used to build the castle are divided into ten stacks, according to their size (from 100 to 600 sqm). Inside each stack, tiles are randomized and then some of these (the exact number depends on the number of players) are returned to the box. In addition to the room stacks, there are two smaller stacks containing hallways and stairs. At this point, two separate deck of cards are prepared. The first one represent the "bonus cards": basically "secret objectives" that each player (and only him!) can score to gain extra points at the end of the game. The second deck (built on 11 cards / player) works as randomizer for new tiles to enter play. At this point, every player gains 15K Marks and the public objectives ("King's Favors") are revealed. All players can attempt achieving these.

The game begins with five cards from the randomizer being revealed (6 cards in a 3p game, 7 in a 4p game); on the board, there are a certain amount of spaces showing off a price (in a 2p game, ranging from 4K to 15K Marks) and the starting player ("Master Builder") decides what tile goes with one space. Id est, after tiles are placed on the board, there will be exactly one costing 4K, exactly one costing 6K, but which tile costs which price is decided by the Master Builder, who is the last one playing the round: the first player entitled to purchase a tile is the player on the left of the Master Builder, who pays the Master Builder (and not the bank) the cost of the tile. Once all other players have played, it's the Master Builder's turn to buy a tile, and he pays to the bank. Leftover tiles receive a cash bonus. Then a new round begins, with cards being drawn to replenish the reserve of tiles available for purchase. The new Master Builder may arrange the new tiles and the old tiles, according to his needs. As soon as all the cards in the randomizer are drawn, the game ends and you move to the final scoring. Points are also awarded during the game: each time a new tile is places, and when a room is completed (all doors lead to new rooms) special bonuses to resolve (depending on the type of room completed) are triggered.

Notes on gameplay
The game plays fast, and it's incredible. It plays wonderfully 2p, and I suspect it will play wonderfully also 3p and 4p (should give the 3p option a try soonish). The auction mechanism is no proper auction mechanism: the price is set at the beginning of each turn, and it's set considering what tiles you want the other players to purchase and not to purchase, while you attempt to pursue your secret objectives and the common ones. So no obnoxious interactions where the guy with the most money dominates the game, and no absence of competition when played only 2p.

As said, the game is fast, 20-30 minutes and a 2p game is done; it plays faster than Suburbia and so far we are preferring it over Suburbia. Suburbia had a single strategy working better than others (maximize your income in the beginning of the game since the integral money earned over the game will be greater; and maximize your reputation later in the game, otherwise you'll be losing too much power during the game by repeatedly crossing the red barriers along the scoreboard), and some tiles that could lead to disastrous consequences (Casino, for instance, or the similar to the Casino tile that worked on reputation never decreasing), while this game appears (I haven't done the math for it yet) to be opened to many and different paths to victory.

As a plusvalore, some tiles are filled with little nerdy curiosities, such as a Suburbia or an Ultimate Werewolf image hidden as Easter egg on this or that tile.

Fantastic game.


Games played during 2015: ??

This game counts for the non-hardcore challenge

Games completed during 2015:




Castles of the Mad King Ludwig non-hardcore challenge completed on 2015.01.21
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5. Board Game: Doom: The Boardgame [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:808]
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Doom was my first tactical killing game. A love story born in the now far 2010, when Andrea arrived home with quite a big box of "juicy stuff": both the core set and the expansion. It was our first time with modular boards, and our first 3D game. Rules were read quickly, and the first Scenario set-up. It ended in a slaughter (none of my marines survived Area 3), and yet the experience was awesome.

Why, you ask? Basically because like all games made of pure genius, there are just a few rules that can be recombined in endless different ways. At the beginning of each turn, you have to decide only if you want to move 8 spaces, move 4 and perform 1 attack, or don't move but attack twice. Or you can gain an order and either attack or move 4. Easy peasy, rules can be explained in 50 seconds. Still, the game is absolutely difficult. Not only because of the intrinsic difficulty of the Scenarios (some of them are utterly brutal), but because you need to learn how to think strategy. How to ignore the many mental traps of the game, how to choose when to hit and when to run. A single error could cost you the game in a totally unforgiving way.

Many games arrived after Doom. Descent 1st edition, Gears of War, Descent 2nd edition and finally Star Wars: Imperial Assault. Each of these games improved something of the original, up to the point that now we have with IA an almost perfect clockwork mechanism. Yet, I still prefer Doom. The adrenaline pumping in your ears while you run through scorched metal corridors to reach the shuttle bays and leave; the screams of the UAC personnel slowly eaten by the demons; the smell of fresh bullets and sweat and the blind determination that still gleams when the last light is turned forever off and forces you to take one more hit, to unload one more time your weapons on the horde of invaders and then jump, blindfolded, into the nothingness of yet another Inferno.

Masterpiece.


Games played during 1015:




Disclaimer: I won't write session reports on the games played for the 10x10, but I'll instead try to analyze in-depth the different scenarios
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6. Board Game: Elder Sign: Gates of Arkham [Average Rating:7.88 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.88 Unranked]
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For the game dynamics, you can check my review of Gates of Arkham here

Games for Elder Sign will be played according to the Streets of Arkham variant. Ideally, I'd like to play a complete rotation of the AOs, including the ones released for Arkham Nights.

Games played during 2013: 30
Games played during 2014: 40
Games played during 2015: ??

This game is listed on both lists (hardcore and non-hardcore); I'll start collecting plays for the hardcore list first:



Elder Sign hardcore challenge completed on 2015.04.19

And then I'll play ten more for the non-hardcore list:



Elder Sign non-hardcore challenge completed on 2015.06.28


DISCLAIMER: Hectic period in my gaming life; I'll enter reports and comments for the latest games played with ES asap.
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7. Board Game: Forbidden Stars [Average Rating:8.01 Overall Rank:83]
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Placeholder for a game we were testers.

For obvious reasons, I cannot comment on gameplay until the game is released, so that, for now, I'll just record here the progress and open a series of placeholders to comment the games played. Later on, when the game's out, I'll convert placeholders into session reports, and add an in-depth comment about the game here. For now, I'll just say we're having a blast

Total games played during 2014: 3
Total games played during 2015: ??

This game counts for the hardcore challenge

Games completed during 2015:

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8. Board Game: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game [Average Rating:7.63 Overall Rank:105]
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We picked up this game when it was released, back in 2011. The first impressions were terrible: really slow game play, too many things to consider, rules really badly written (not that they were obscure, but the information was - and still is - extremely poorly organized). We played a couple of games, and then we quit. We tried again the following year, and we quit again. During 2014, we tried again. The theme was so hugely appealing to us that we decided to enter this game in the our 2014 goals, and we forced ourselves to play more. The result was that we finally "broke the ice" and learned how to love the game, playing 109 games between August and December, building different types of decks and trying to exploit the most different strategies. And after so many games, we still feel we're learning. This should be indicative of how huge the game and how high the replayability are.

Anyhoo, first of all: the game. It has a steep learning curve: basically you characters need to be exhausted to perform an action, but these actions are both questing (you send characters to quest to score successes and progress towards the final victory conditions), defending from your enemies when they are attacking and finally attacking those enemies. So that you need to decide carefully who's supposed to do what. And clearly, you need a certain buffer of freedom since the encounter deck you play against has some bad surprises for you and you need to be prepared if something goes wrong.

On the other hand, the game is also "constant": every time you play a certain quest, you have to face the very same deck. This allows players to improve: you go on a quest, you discover how it's structured and what are the problems in your decks and you can consequently alter the composition of your deck to make it more effective.

Our exploration of the game (that I suspect will go far beyond the purposes of the 10x10 challenge) will be focused on exploring different quests and debating strategy and tactics on how to pass those. For this reason, I'll write specific entries for each of the quests played, often grouping several plays against the same quest and trying to infere the best way to afford it.

During the first playthrough, we'll be using two decks, one Leadership / Tactics Eagles deck and one Spirit / Lore Rohan deck, using cards from the core set and the first cycle of expansion packs. As the journey goes on, I'll introduce new decks and synergies.

This game is listed on both lists (hardcore and non-hardcore); I'll start collecting plays for the hardcore list first:



Lord of the Rings hardcore challenge completed on 2015.01.12


And then here we have ten more for the non-hardcore list (but I'll certainly play much more than that during 2015):



Lord of the Rings non-hardcore challenge completed on 2015.01.21
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9. Board Game: Lords of Waterdeep [Average Rating:7.78 Overall Rank:51]
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During the last two years, Lords of Waterdeep was one of the few euro that often hit our table. For many and different reasons: it's light without being "easy", it's fast, and it's incredibly various, since the random distribution of quests, buildings, intrigue cards and Lords grants a constantly renewing source of fun and entertainment. Plus, it's one of Cat's favourites, so that its presence on this list was somehow compulsory.

Still, is the game good? Yes, it's a good game, but it's not a great game. There's an evident problem of luck: randomness in cards distribution could result in certain players being favourite since the very beginning of the game (plot quests allow you to build engines that makes your path to victory easier); it doesn't scale well with the number of players (more players will have a lot less options to gain quests and also the number of actions available / turn drops with the increasing number of players; in this way the incidence of luck becomes more evident); and there is a number of balance issues with the Lords coming with the expansion (my stochastic analysis with fixes on balance can be downloaded from here). Plus, quests are also not that balanced, especially those coming with the expansion. Not in terms of resources to be used / points rewarded, but because of the impact on the game thanks to the different special powers of the plot quests.

Nonetheless, the game is fast, plays smoothly, and it' actually a lot of fun. Hence, if you're ok with some balance issues and with a certain luck impact on the game, then it's certainly a game worth having.

Total games played during 2013: 26
Total games played during 2014: 19
Total games played during 2015: ??

This game counts for the non-hardcore challenge

Games completed during 2015:



Lords of Waterdeep non-hardcore challenge completed on 2015.06.26
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10. Board Game: Star Wars: Armada [Average Rating:7.95 Overall Rank:181]
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This will be certainly the main game in the hardcore challenge. The idea is going far beyong the 10 plays required and explore as deeply as possible the game, adding the different ships from Wave 1 and comparing the gameplay experience with X-Wing.

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