Recent gaming: Dice Decathlon, Kraftwagen, Medici, Imhotep, Dead Man's Draw, Deception, Deep Sea Adventure, Xtronaut, Family Feud Strikeout
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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July 24-Aug 7, 2016

It's been two weeks since my last Recent Gaming geeklist, and now I'm back with a bunch of titles. Those were all played in the last few days, though! The preparations I'm making for my move to France are squashing most of my boardgaming opportunities. That will hopefully change later, or else perhaps it will be an entire year of squeezing in gaming when I can. Regardless, I managed a great batch of games recently.

Why? Two reasons. My daughter returned home from her college study abroad quarter, and her game-playing boyfriend was over. Also, I made it back to our new, public game group hosted at Barnes & Noble, the Tabletop Gamers of SCV (Santa Clarita Valley).

Another oddity of the last couple weeks is that I had THREE packages from Kickstarter arrive, almost at once. I know other gamers have that experience from time to time, but it was new to me. I continue to be very cautious and skeptical about most products on Kickstarter. As you'll read below, this week's experience substantiates my caution...but also showed how it can be a good thing, too. I guess. I'm still iffy on it, even when I enjoy a game that was financed via Kickstarter!

-Mark



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1. Board Game: Reiner Knizia's Decathlon [Average Rating:6.22 Overall Rank:2760]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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If nothing else, we play this every four years, during the Summer Olympics. I think we play it in between sometimes, too. This is one of the best dice games I've ever played, and Reiner gives it away for free. Just go to the link, and print out a scoresheet, which also contains the rules. While everything just uses standard 6-sided dice, the way the individual events are modeled gives a whiff of theme/subject, and definitely retains Knizia's mastery of game design & strategic balance. Wonderful stuff.

One of these days I want to make a fancy, boxed version for myself. For now, though, we just print those scoresheets and break out the ancient stash of dice from my roleplaying days.
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2. Board Game: Kraftwagen [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:762]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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This would've been my pick for last year's Kennerspiel, actually. For me, it's the right level of meatier gameplay (still not heavy), with some chewy strategy and an awesome theme. I took one star off of this play, since it was just 2-player, and I think the game is best with 3-4.
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3. Board Game: Dead Man's Draw [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:916]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Nice filler/opener for game night. Davebo described it as similar for Circus Flohcati, and I can see the resemblance. It's almost CF with special powers. Normally "special powers" is a mechanism I avoid in games, as I rarely see it done well (or balanced). Here, though, the effects are modest, and add to the fun of the game. They add to the tactics, too. I kind of suspect the game could be a little bit too chaotic/swingy, but will enjoy playing it more to find out.
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4. Board Game: Deception: Murder in Hong Kong [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:180]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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I didn't realize this was another social deduction game when I agreed to play. Those really aren't my thing, even when they're done well. As this one is, I believe. The grittier and more specific theme is fun, and the incremental cluegiving is a neat addition to the genre. Really, if you like these sort of games (Werewolf, The Resistance, Spyfall), then you should check this out. Me--I felt my heart rate rising when I flipped over my role card in the first round and inevitably found I was the secret murderer. Yikes.
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5. Board Game: Imhotep [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:336]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
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Wow, this was great. A fantastic superfiller that would've been a great winner of the Spiel des Jahres...if only Codenames hadn't stood in the way. It plays so quickly, and the rules are so straightforward...I was really impressed. What's interesting to me, too, is that it doesn't just feel like my favorite old-school 1990s/2000s German games (not exactly), and it definitely doesn't feel like today's binary of bigger point-salad/goods conversion or minimalist microgames, either. It's its own thing, and that's good. We only played the A side of the scoring boards, so now I have the B side to look forward to.
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6. Board Game: Medici [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:422]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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This was my good experience with Kickstarter. I've owned and loved Medici for almost 20 years already. I've owned a couple versions, and still own the one I think is best (Amigo's from the 90s). So why did I kickstart this new version?

In the first place, I don't mind owning two copies of an all-time favorite game, especially two different versions. Second, I wanted to see publisher Grail Games succeed in bringing out a nicer edition of the game to a new, wider(?) audience. Third, I just like Grail Games as a company, the guy behind it and the games he's producing.

So why just 4 stars? It's not for the game production, which is excellent. Yes, there are two commodities, that are a LITTLE close in color/artwork, but we never had any difficulty telling them apart. It's SO much clearer, attractive, and functional than Rio Grande's earlier edition. No, the only reason I shave off a 5th star is because this was a play with three others who were completely new to the game...and pure auction games can be rough the first time. They all liked it, and it played so smooth, but it's tricky to properly evaluate bids when you've never played the game before. (I think Medici's once-around auctions even increase that degree-of-difficulty.)

It's still great, though. I think we got through rules and a complete play in 45 minutes. So just play it, figure out what you would do different, and play it again!
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7. Board Game: Deep Sea Adventure [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:558]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Another superstar hit from the past year or so. This was the only time I've played when all four divers collected treasure and made it back to the sub every round. It was an actual contest of points for the ultimate winner. My usual chicken/cheapskate strategy failed badly!
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8. Board Game: Family Feud Strikeout Card Game [Average Rating:5.56 Unranked]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Ok for what it was. Actually, we had a great time during our one play, but that had more to do with the friends & family than the game itself. I really doubt the statistics of the results, though. (The card game doesn't actually claim to have surveyed people like the real game show does.)
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9. Board Game: Xtronaut: The Game of Solar System Exploration [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:9147]
Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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Ugh, this was my Kickstarter stinker. I backed the game in a moment of weakness, and because I saw some connection between my day job and the gameplay. (In fact, the mission I'm working on even shows up as one of the possible spacecraft.) It looks slick, and actually has some real value as an educational game. There's a simple way of representing the delta-V necessary to send a space mission to some part of the solar system. It's not just the rocket's thrust, or fuel. It's not even just the rocket--there are cards that add planetary flybys for gravity assist maneuvers. This is all done in a very simple way, yet one that is scientifically accurate.

In terms of gameplay, though, it's subpar. There are take-that cards, including ones that force players to practically* skip turns. Oof. There are ones that steal from opponents. If I ever play again, I'll simply remove those cards, but that won't fix everything. There are still many turns where you draw a card, do nothing, and discard. You're waiting for the one card you need.

True, there is trading, and in my one 2-player game that part of the game was stunted. It would be marginally better with 3 or 4 players. But even so, the trades will only be made if both players see an obvious (perhaps immediate) advantage. I'd hoped the game would have modern German/eurogame design sensibilities, but that's not the case.

* Clarification: you don't actually skip a turn. You still draw a card, and can play action cards. You cannot launch a mission or trade with others, though. And since you must discard two action cards to get rid of this penalty, you don't really want to play action cards, either. So you draw, then pass. At least, that's how it played with us. Effectively, if not literally, a skipped turn. I stand by my description that it wasn't fun.
 
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Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
California
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robotrobotrobot Online boardgaming robotrobotrobot

I haven't written anything about my online boardgaming recently. I keep playing, pretty regularly. There are new offerings on Yucata, BoardgameArena, and others that I should try, too.

Glen More Always pleasant, never compelling. I like this mechanism in Kraftwagen much more.

Maori Still playing a lot of 2-player Pro version.

Alhambra The SdJ jury made a good selection with this one. A classic.

Deus One of the best Kennerspiel-class games of its year.

Port Royal Still playing & loving the expansion. Now I just ordered the copy of Spielbox with four more cards.

Stone Age Still a solid game, just one I'm not super excited about right now.
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