Recent gaming: Above & Below, Between Two Cities, Canal Mania, CodeGAMES, A Fake Artist, Karuba, Kings and Castles
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Mar 7-20, 2016

I didn't get around to posting one of these lists last week, so this one is DOUBLE sized with goodness. Played quite a few good games recently, both old & new.

-Mark

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1. Board Game: Above and Below [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:128] [Average Rating:7.65 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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I'm a well-known grump when it comes to fantasy theming, so it surprised my friends when they heard me enjoying the storytelling paragraphs in this one that sound like a fairy tale or even a dungeon crawl. Ok, ok, I can still have fun with this when the underlying game is really good (like with Magic:the Gathering). In this case, I think the game is pretty awesome. The best part is that someone finally figured out how to blend some roleplaying (or at least storytelling) elements with a boardgame. The trick is to remember it's primarily a boardgame. Too many other games try too much, and I was left feeling that they should just leave real RPGs to do what they do best. (Yes, I was a roleplayer for many years, long ago.) This one never forgot it was a boardgame with resources, workers, points, and a modest playing time. Good stuff.
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2. Board Game: Between Two Cities [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:460]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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I really enjoyed this one, too, as I thought I might. Fun to see some good, new angles on the drafting mechanism. This isn't much new, but what there is has good execution. I mean the gameplay. I do agree that the artwork is underwhelming. Would've preferred something that "popped," visually, like the cartoony stuff in Machi Koro. (I don't often prefer cartoony artwork, but the "realistic" stuff here is just boring.) I'm a LITTLE concerned that the scores are so incredibly close, but need to play it more.
 
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3. Board Game: Canal Mania [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:1260]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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This is the route-building game for me, better than most of the train games out there. I love the historic contracts, the historic engineers, the charm of the brief canal era, and the (somewhat) improved market-delivery system. I always felt the system in Age of Steam was too gamey, and rewarded inefficiency in ways that didn't feel thematic. Here it's different...but not too different. So I can't really get up on my high horse and proclaim how much better Canal Mania is. But it's still better (just not as much as I first thought).
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4. Board Game: Codenames [Average Rating:7.86 Overall Rank:35] [Average Rating:7.86 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Actually this was CodeGAMES. The difference is that we used a 5x5 grid of actual game boxes instead of the word cards that come with the game. Then we used one of the same red/blue grid cards and played as usual. Since the display was so large, my friends had to stand up, which added to the fun. I stole this idea from somewhere (Twitter?). Codenames could be played with a 5x5 grid of just about anything. You could even intersperse cards from the published game with real-world objects of any type. Yes, it's best when there's some overlap and ambiguity about the objects. Resetting for another game takes more time, however.
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5. Board Game: A Fake Artist Goes to New York [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:943]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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I'd heard such great things about this one, as if it was one of the best of the Japanese microgames. Nope, I don't think so. Party games where you draw stuff happen to be my favorite type of party game, though I didn't really care for the marriage of that to social deduction. Also, I'm bothered that the game doesn't come with a bunch of category cards that have been tested/developed by the designer & publisher to generate the best gameplay. That's what you pay for with a party game, as much as the rules & other components. I felt that was lacking here.
 
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6. Board Game: Karuba [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:366]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Rating might go up, too. I liked how it took the Take it Easy! style of gameplay, but added a fun movement system on top of it. Not to mention the more fun type of scoring.
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7. Board Game: Kings and Castles [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:4862]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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That's a Palm Pilot on the left, and a pink iPod mini on the right. Yes, I've been doing BGTG that long!
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This is an old "favorite" from 2000, back when the Ragnar Bros produced their games with tea towel printed maps. They're charming, in their own way. I remember this one having a lot of history, as well as a small set of rules that were non-intuitive. Yep, when we played we constantly had to read the simple rules out loud to discuss what they meant. Other players think we changed our interpretation halfway through (though I didn't think so). I still really enjoy this game, warts & all. One of these years I'll finally finish my component upgrade (not the tea towel map, which I'm keeping--I'm replacing the cardboard bits with wood). I hope to get in a repeat play soon.
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Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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designer
That's a Palm Pilot on the left, and a pink iPod mini on the right. Yes, I've been doing BGTG that long!
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http://www.WargamesToGo.com
Avatar
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robotrobotrobot Online boardgaming robotrobotrobot

7 Steps This one caught my eye at Essen (vicariously), so it was a treat to see it online. Easy to learn, interesting to play, but I wonder if it's got an AP problem face-to-face.

Maori Still love it, but I've got to get my friends to try the harder variants, which I also love.

Port Royal: Ein Auftrag geht noch... I learned online, but later this expansion really clicked when I played ftf. Now I can go back online and really enjoy this new addition.

Pergamon So wonderful. I can't believe a local friend is unloading hers for five bucks. I should buy it as a backup copy...

R-Eco The bloom is off the rose for this one now (after 40+ plays), but I still am happy to see it hit the table.

Stone Age I finally tried the starvation strategy. It worked!

Through the Ages New version. The only one we'll probably play, from now on. Still love it, but online only, please!
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