Boardgames To Go - Season 12 (2016)
Mark Johnson
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Santa Clarita
California
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Boardgames To Go is back! After being "on the air" for a decade, I celebrated...by taking a break from the podcast. That break (which I pretentiously called a sabbatical!) ended up lasting an entire year, though I interrupted that to post daily recordings from last year's BGGcon. And I've kept my companion podcast about wargames going all along. But I'm happy to announce that the original BGTG podcast is back! Enjoy!

-Mark


Mark Johnson's occasional & opinionated podcast about family strategy boardgames
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Episodes
BGTG 162 - Return of the Podcast (with friends)
BGTG 163 - Long Games (with Eric Brosius)
BGTG 164 - Managing the Hoard (with Greg Wilzbach)
BGTG 165 - The Times They Are A-Changin'
BGTG 166 - Catching Up Before Essen
BGTG 167 - Pre-Essen 2016
BGTG 168 - Essen 2016
BGTG 169 - Post-Essen 2016
BGTG 170 - BGGcon 2016 (with friends)
BGTG 171 - Post BGGcon 2016 Part 1 (with Greg Pettit)
BGTG 172 - Post BGGcon 2016 Part 2 (with Brian Murray & Dave Gullett)
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1. Board Game: Star Wars: Rebellion [Average Rating:8.51 Overall Rank:6]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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BGTG 162 - Return of the Podcast (with friends)

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I'm back! I'd said that my time off (the "sabbatical") was only temporary, and that I planned to return to the microphone to continue Boardgames To Go. And that's just what happened. During the year that I've been away from this podcast, I've still been playing plenty of games, which you can read about. I've been doing more wargaming, which you can hear about. And perhaps you've seen or heard me at BGGcon or on other podcasts & videocasts. Which means I was never really gone. Nonetheless, those things are different from producing my own boardgame podcast, and I'm happy to be doing that again.

To kick off my return, I'm featuring a roundtable discussion with a bunch of friends after we played a full day of Star Wars-themed boardgames. You may recall that I once grumbled about boardgame themes that were for kids (including kids that never grew up), not grown-ups. I have to admit I still feel that way about most games involving goblins, zombies, or spaceships. BUT...you're all welcome to call me a hypocrite when it comes to Star Wars. Here is where I cave. I was in 5th grade when A New Hope was released, and it may not be an exaggeration to say it changed my life. I'd decided to be a "spacecraft architect" the year before, and that's sort of what really happened in my life, but Star Wars probably sealed the deal. I remember talking with a college classmate who had a similar experience, and she grew up in Singapore. What an influence!


Back in 1977 I was everything Star Wars. My brother & I saw the film many times in the theater. I had the LED watch, the belt buckle (this was the 70s), the t-shirt, the action figures, the X-wing, the LP records... When the prequels came around my kids were the perfect age to enjoy them with me. Now that the new movies are upon us, I'm loving the fact that they're December releases, so even though they're away to college (& beyond), we can still enjoy them as a family over the holidays. Star Wars has always been an important part of my life.

What about Star Wars games? Well, yes, kind of. It took a long while for some really good games about these favorite movies to arrive on the table. I had the vintage Escape from the Death Star game, but it's not good. We played some Star Wars RPG when it came out in the 1980s, and a couple of the associated wargames. (Star Warriors was tedious, but Assault on Hoth was good.) Though I'm only a casual computer and videogamer, in the 2000s I definitely had wonderful times playing Rebel Assault, Rogue Squadron, Battlefrontand others with my son. Anything we could play co-op was our favorite.

More recent years have produced quite a few family strategy games with a Star Wars subject. Oddly enough, the prequels have some of the best games, probably because that's just when Craig Van Ness and Rob Daviau at Hasbro were doing incredible things with the production capability of that mainstream publisher. Other publishers, too, however. Now we're seeing a resurgence in Star Wars boardgames, like an awakening in the Force...

I invited some friends over to play several of these titles for a Star Wars-themed game day, and then flipped on the recorder to have a roundtable discussion of them. Enjoy!

-Mark

P.S. AFTER the Star Wars game day we learned about the Black Series (aka deluxe) edition of the Risk game. It addresses most of our grumbling about the production shortcuts in the mass market edition we played...but not all of them. I'm not sure if it's worth the extra money. And I've already bought a couple MicroMachines to get figs for the Falcon and Executor in my game.
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2. Board Game: Die Macher [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:155]
Mark Johnson
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Santa Clarita
California
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BGTG 163 - Long Games (with Eric Brosius)

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Openers: Trambahn, Animals on Board


As long as I've been in the hobby, I've never taken a liking to long games. Even though I'll play for hours & hours on a Saturday, I always want that time to be spent playing many different games. Why is that?




Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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The truth is, I've been asked that question many times and have never been able to answer it. I know what I like, sure, but on my podcast I try to analyze my own opinions & preferences. That's what I'm doing here, with the help of Eric Brosius. Eric's an interesting guy who's been gaming even longer than I have. He likes short games like I do...but he also appreciates long games. I sought Eric out to work through this topic. He told me he thought of this topic through his own life experience in the hobby, encountering different games (long & short) over the decades. His story matches my recollection that the history of the hobby had a lot of long games before Catan came along. There are long games after Catan (and some short games before it), but 1995 was a landmark year when our hobby changed.

By the second half, I have a few different ideas about why I avoid long games. Some of it is complexity or length for its own sake, without a corresponding increase in narrative depth or strategic interest. I hate that, and those games feel like a waste to me. I get more fun out of 2-4 shorter games that play in the same time. Another consideration is the mental reset that happens between games, which is nice. Still another is the "arc" of a game, with its own beginning, middle, and end. I inherently have more interest in multiple games that will have multiple strategic milestones in them.

Closers: Game design engineering, Packing games for a family weekend

-Mark
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3. Board Game: Dragon's Hoard [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:2386]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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BGTG 164 - Managing the Hoard (with Greg Wilzbach)

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Greg Wilzbach
United States
Valencia
California
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Openers: Evolution, Bruges/The Last Spike/Treasure Hunter (also EsCon)

I know this is a subject that resonates with many gamers--having too many games. How many is too many? It differs for everyone. Even the reason to think about "too many" games differs for many people. In my case, it's a physical limitation of storage space. For other folks, it's about saving money (or using proceeds from game sales to buy new stuff). For still others, they want to focus on playing old favorites more & more, less focus on the latest new thing. I guess for most of us, it's a combination. Greg adds to his "degree of difficulty" for this effort by wanting to have an attractive visual library of games.




I've got a medium-sized collection (a few hundred)...but I've run out of room. Greg's got a pretty enormous collection (a few thousand)...and he's also out of room. How do we decide what to downsize? Greg approaches it in terms of series, versions, or expansions, finding clusters of games he wants to keep, and how that allows him to (theoretically) release a bunch of similar series, versions, or expansions.


Closers: Getting active in the hobby community, Finding gamers after a (temporary) relocation

-Mark
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4. Board Game: Reiner Knizia's Decathlon [Average Rating:6.21 Overall Rank:2745]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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BGTG 165 - The Times They Are A-Changin'

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Opener: Geeklists for the podcast Season 12, my Extra appearances, and Session Reports



Just a solo show this time, something like the old "Session Report & Feedback" episodes I used to do. I wanted to get something out relatively quickly, before I make my move to France. This fit the bill, and it also let me get a show out with better sound quality. (My switch to a Mac has presented me with some challenges to the multi-person shows, whether over Skype or in the same room. I'll figure it out.)



It didn't take too much thought to come up with a unifying idea for this episode: changes. Of course my big change is the temporary relocation to France, which will have unknown impacts to my hobby. The other changes are to this podcast, which happened already--new shows are posted to the same old audio feed, but on the web they're at a slightly different location, in my Season 12 geeklist. You should subscribe to that. Also my "Extras" geeklist, which is where you'll find my guest spots on other podcasts and video shows. Finally, if you like this session report episode, then you really should be subscribing to my (mostly) weekly session reports that I post in geeklist form on BGG. Got all of that? Good!

The other changes I note are to the hobby itself. While those things can be a consternation to old farts like me, who still think in terms of email lists and 1990s German Games, these are clearly changes for the better. We sure seem to have more people playing games than ever. If Kickstarter products and mini-filled "thematic" games aren't my favorite things, I can at least agree that this rising tide is lifting all of our boats. I think so, anyway. Kickstarter produced a nice Medici reprint, and you can get more 1990s German than that! My local Barnes & Noble already had a decent game section, and now hosts a monthly public game night. The other day I went to Target to buy a game for my brother's family, and while there I was amazed at that the second-largest retailer in the US has Hanabi, Magic Labyrinth, Rolling America, Ticket to Ride, Spyfall, Qwixx, Codenames, Evolution, Catan, Machi Koro, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Forbidden Island, Dixit, Sheriff of Nottingham, King of Tokyo, and Pandemic. Probably even a few more of "our games" that I missed. Wow!

Closer: The mainstreaming of our hobby at places like Target and Barnes & Noble.

-Mark
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5. Board Game: HMS Dolores [Average Rating:6.43 Overall Rank:3194]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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BGTG 166 - Catching Up Before Essen

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Opener: Whoops! I recorded this little episode so quickly that I completely forgot about my new Opener/Closer framework! Ok, let's say that the opener was my intro en français. Vive la France!

The shortest episode I've done in a while, this is to "clear the decks" of boardgame session reporting before I do my traditional Essen Anticipation episode in a week or so. This year I'm going to the event, at least for the most crowded part of the weekend, and I'll be doing both Pre-Essen and Post-Essen episodes. That's the plan.

In the meantime, what have I been playing lately? Not as much in France as I'd hoped, but a special opportunity let me try one new game. Add to that the games I played at my last visit home to California for a long while.




Closer: Actually, I kind of had a closer, I just forgot to set it aside as such. At the end I mention how new Essen titles can sometimes show up in online versions, contemporary or soon after the Spiel event itself. Are there any of these for 2016? I haven't noticed, but should look harder.

-Mark
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6. Board Game: Spiel [Average Rating:6.16 Overall Rank:5598]
Mark Johnson
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Santa Clarita
California
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BGTG 167 - Pre-Essen 2016

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Opener: I should've made it more clear in the audio, but the obvious opener is that I will be going Essen this year, and you can find me on Saturday afternoon at the NorthStarGames booth, Hall 3 P-103. It’s near a corner by a restaurant, and the same hall where Amigo, Z-Man, Pegasus, Stronghold, and others are. Please stop by and tell me if you listen to the podcast. I'll also be around on Saturday morning and all of Sunday, just taking it all in myself. I'm not wearing a BGTG shirt or anything, so just try to keep a lookout for this guy. -->

Woo-hoo! After work on Friday I hop a train to Essen! I'll arrive after Spiel closes for the evening, but hope to see some folks that evening. Then on Saturday & Sunday I get to take it all in. I'm buying a few things, but mostly I just want to experience the spectacle of it all. I was last there (my only other time) for a single day in 2003. I wrote an article about that experience for an online magazine of the time, The Games Journal. It's still there, with a photo of a younger me.


Now it's over a dozen years later, and I have the opportunity to go back. What am I excited to see? Everything, really, but for podcast purposes I made a list of a "baker's dozen" games that most pique my interest. These lists are typically personal--lists by others feature different games, and you may find some of my choices curious. You can just listen along, of course, but I've also recorded these in a geeklist. Check it out. Here's what I wrote on that list about my "process" for picking games.

Quote:
By now we know the drill... Look through BGG's Spiel (and Gencon) Previews, and flag too many titles that catch my attention. How do they grab me? Theme/setting matters, but hints about the gameplay/mechanisms (especially playing time) matter more. So does the designer and publisher.

Anything that has its roots in Kickstarter makes me instantly wary. It's not an automatic NO, but I'm so skeptical of that platform as a development tool (as opposed to merely funding), that I'll let others take the plunge first. Wait & see.

Expansions rarely grab my attention. I'm just not an expansion guy, expect for a few rare favorites (e.g. Port Royal). Similarly with abstracts--not my thing, but there are rare exceptions.


In general, my ranking of factors is

1. Publisher (which goes to development process & production quality)
2. Gameplay/mechanisms (looking for the types of games I know I like, though sometimes something unique & new. I steer clear of games rated at over 60 minutes--wait & see only, for those)
3. Designer (I'll let someone else take a flyer on a new, unproven designer...in most cases)
4. Theme/setting (I have distinct preferences toward real-world, historic subjects, and away from zombies/elves/spaceships. But I've learned from long experience that this is the least reliable indicator of whether a game will be a hit with me, alas)




Full list including many more Honorable Mentions, and some additional comments on my geeklist.


Closer: It's too long to call my honorable mentions the closer, so I guess that means it's the part where I talk about how Mars games aren't automatically on my list. Almost the opposite, really. Does it work that way for you? Is your day job uninteresting as a game subject? I think it's because we know too much about our own jobs, and any game about them falls short...but if they include all of that detail, it's too much! (Plus, it becomes work again.)

-Mark
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7. Board Game: Spiel [Average Rating:6.16 Overall Rank:5598]
Mark Johnson
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Santa Clarita
California
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BGTG 168 - Essen 2016

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Against my own expectations, I ended up recording a podcast WHILE I was at Spiel 2016 in Essen. My buddies DaveO and Steve joined me just outside the Messe convention hall for an open-air recording this afternoon. Now I'm editing it and posting it while on on wifi with the train back "home" to Paris. This is a seat-of-the-pants episode, just giving you a feel for what the impressions are DURING the actual event, when general impressions and incomplete information are the name of the game!

(Shoot, I forgot about my opener/closer framework AGAIN! This was MY idea! I'll get better at that.)

By the way, I also recorded a segment with Doug Garrett for HIS longstanding podcast, Garrett's Games & Geekiness. I'm just one of a few people he talks to for that upcoming episode. Check it out.




Games mentioned: Papà Paolo, Key to the City - London, Great Western Trail, Railroad Revolution, Qwixx Das Duel, Life is Life, Take That, Kuhhandel Das Brettspiel, GLÜX, World Monuments, Checkpoint Charlie, 13 Clues, HMS Dolores, Camel Up Cards, X Nimmt!, Bohnanza Das Duell, Twins, Port Royal Unterwegs!, Fuji Flush, 23, Mea Culpa, Area 51: Top Secret



-Mark

P.S. Later I'll post some of the photos I shared throughout Essen on social medial. In the meantime, you can scroll back and look at them all here:

http://twitter.com/BoardgamesToGo
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8. Board Game: Spiel [Average Rating:6.16 Overall Rank:5598]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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BGTG 169 - Post-Essen 2016

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Opener: Bohnanza Das Duell

A solo episode where I get to tell stories about Essen 2016 and reflect on my own experiences there. If you followed my Twitter feed during or after the event (on my blog), you may already know what I'm going to say.

If you've listened to my podcast for a while, you know that I like taking the long view of our hobby, looking back a decade or more to gain more context about what's happening now. In this case, I have my own personal long view to take, since I was at Essen once before, back in 2003. That was before I had a podcast, yet I still reflected on my experience in an online magazine article. I've recently re-posted that article on my blog here at BGG.

I don't think it's the best aspect of our hobby, but it's undeniable that "show us the loot" photos and lists are part of the Essen experience. There's more buying than playing at this event, as far as I can tell. Ok, here are mine:





Closer: Light/Short/Couples Game Group in Paris


-Mark
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9. Board Game: Go to Texas [Average Rating:4.25 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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BGTG 170 - BGGcon 2016

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Opener: Saint Malo

The gig in France that allowed me to go to Essen last month has a downside--I had to cancel my plans to attend BGGcon. I'd attended the big event in Dallas last two years and was eager to make a third year in a row. Instead, I had to skip it this time, and follow remotely like so many others in the hobby.

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Dave OConnor
United States
San Diego
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Ryan Wheeler
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Mobridge
South Dakota
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Spielgeek.com
United States
Escondido
California
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North San Diego Bordgaming Convention(www.jandjgames.com)
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United States
Yorba Linda
California
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Luckily, my buddies were willing to take a break from their fun to record a long-distance podcast with me. While they were being night owls at BGGcon's Saturday night, I woke up early in France to dial in. Several of them gathered around an iPhone and told me about their time at the event. Greg Pettit always does this with me (and that's still an upcoming episode), and he took the reins to direct a meta-conversation about BGGcon itself. Later we wrapped up with some specific game recommendations.


 






Closer: Light/Short/Couples Game Group in Paris, combined with Joueurs Anonymes at the Anticafé Beaubourg


-Mark
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10. Board Game: Insider [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:1410]
 
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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BGTG 171 - Post BGGcon 2016 Part 1 (with Greg Pettit)

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Opener: skipped this time, because we cover so many games in the main show

As before 2014, I was not able to attend BGGcon myself, so lived vicariously through my friends there. Greg is an "every timer" at BGGcon, and many of those years we've talked over Skype afterward about the games he played there. I know Greg--he keeps a pocket notebook with him to at least record the titles he plays, and maybe a thought or two about them. Later that helps him construct a geeklist with all of those games, and a simple, first-impression 5-star rating for how he felt about the play. You can follow along to that geeklist while listening, or refer to it later if you need it.




Closer: Improving AI in boardgame apps; the BGGcon Puzzle Hunt


-Mark
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11. Board Game: Great Western Trail [Average Rating:8.29 Overall Rank:16]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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BGTG 172 - Post BGGcon 2016 Part 2 (with Dave Gullett & Brian Murray)

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David G.
United States
Moorpark
California
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Moorpark
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Opener: skipped this time, because we cover so many games in the main show

My last episode of 2016 is going to (pretty much!) wrap up my coverage of BGGcon. Two more SoCal friends join me across many miles & timezones to share their experiences at the convention. It's a very game-specific episode, with many titles discussed. They're pictured below, but you really should follow along with their geeklists (linked below).

This brings another year and season of Boardgames To Go to a close. I'll definitely be back in January to kick off the next season. When I moved to France for my job mid-year, I really wasn't sure what would happen with the podcast. I knew I WANTED to keep it going, but could I? Yes! It may even be possible that I've put out more episodes than I would've at home (especially if you include Wargames To Go, which is on a roll.) Thanks to all of my listeners who stuck with me another year.





Closer: skipped this, too, because we talk about "meta" stuff throughout the episode


-Mark
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