Board Gaming with Helena
Sean Mannion
United States
San Francisco
California
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Not too long ago, here in March of 2018, I began to introduce my friend Helena to the hobby of board gaming and through this geeklist, I will chronicle the adventures we have as she discovers and learns to play these games. I hope you enjoy.
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1. Board Game: Piñata [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:1846]
Sean Mannion
United States
San Francisco
California
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The Intro
The first game that I picked out for Helena to try was Piñata. I felt that it would be an excellent initial game to get her feet wet into the hobby as it has a theme that she would enjoy and is easy to pick up and play.



The Information
Piñata is a hand management style card game in which players compete to collect sets of colored candies by playing cards to several piñata mats that can have 1, 2, 3 or 4 candies available. Each mat must have cards of the same type as candies available on the mats, meaning if there are 2 reds, 1 purple and 1 green, each side must have 2 red cards, 1 purple card and 1 green card or wild cards can be played in place of the colors. If all the cards have been placed on your side of the mat, you can play cards on your opponent's side. Once both sides have the appropriate cards placed, a winner is determined by counting the cards total value and the high number wins on a purple background piñata mat with the arrow pointing up and the low number wins on the orange color piñata mat with the arrow pointing down. The winner of the mat takes all of the candy, then the mat is flipped to its opposite side and new candies are brought out of the bag while the winner of that mats candies looks to see if they have the required number of candy of a specific color to earn a medal. The first to earn three medals wins the game.

The Feedback
Piñata is a very clean and simple design with depth that provides wonderful choices of when to play what card to maximize their potential and win the candies you need for the Medal cards you are targeting. There is a fun twist in turning over the mat and suddenly you are competing for the opposite of what you were competing for previously as high becomes low and low becomes high. There are memorable gaming moments where all four mats are turned to their high side and you have mainly low cards and have a tough decision on what card to play and where and then a tense draw hoping for a high card that can get you what you desperately need and many other memorable occasions where you play the perfect card you have been holding at just the right time to pull off a satisfying win.

The Experience
Helena picked up the flow of the game very quickly and our first game was an enjoyable experience in which I won but she was able to grab a medal and was very excited to play again. Our second game she won easily, as she quickly grabbed three medals before I had a chance to get my hands on even one. She wanted to play again for the tie-breaker and I pulled off a strong victory that had us high fiving and trash talking while having loads of fun. The next day we took the game with us to the beach where we played our fourth game at a picnic table as the sun was setting and I was able to win the narrowest of victories.

The Reaction
After four plays, over the course of two days, she was hooked. She loved the artwork with the colorful piñata boards and the cards with the blindfolded kid swinging the piñata stick in various poses as well as the medal cards with the boy giving the thumbs up while he shows off his medal that had us doing the same thing when we won a game.

The Critique
The only real problem we had with the game is the color of the pink candies which are much too close to the red candies and are difficult to tell apart in low light and sometimes on the colorful piñata boards. Several times we had to pick up candies, whether on the mats or in our personal supply, in order to know which color it was.

The Evaluation
Overall we have had a blast in our plays of this game so far and she is wanting me to bring it each time I see her. As her first game, she loves the theme and the colorful and bright artwork as well as the management of the cards gameplay that led to some tough choices. For me, having played it before and now revisiting it again with her, I really enjoy the overall presentation and the charm the game radiates as you play. Piñata is definitely a game I plan to keep in my collection and was a great choice to bring Helena into the hobby.

The Grades
Helena gives the game an enthusiastic A with both thumbs up high while Sean gives the game a solid B with a thumb held up while searching through boxes in the garage for medals from that "glory" day in junior high school track.



Piñata is a game by designer Stephen W. Glenn and published by Rio Grande Games in 2013.
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2. Board Game: Forbidden Island [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:584]
Sean Mannion
United States
San Francisco
California
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The Intro
For the next game to introduce to Helena, I decided it would be nice for us to play a game together, as a team, and so I brought along with me Forbidden Island. I had thought about Pandemic but felt that for her second adventure into the hobby, that Forbidden Island would give us a similiar experience with a quicker playtime and less to manage.



The Information
Forbidden Island is a co-operative game in which the goal is to capture four treasures scattered throughout the island which is made up of a series of tiles. Players use actions to move around the islands tiles, shoring up tiles that they come across that might be flooded and giving treasure cards to other players located on the same tile. Each player also has a special ability that they can use as an action. After you have completed your three actions, you draw two cards from the treasure deck, making sure to discard down to your hand limit of 5 and then you turn over the number of cards from the flood deck as indicated by the Water Level Marker. Each card turned over will either flood the corresponding tile, which will flip over the tile to its washed out side or sink it which will remove the tile from the game if the tile is already flooded. Treasures are obtained by using an action to discared four matching treasure cards while on the tile containing the treasure. Once the players have all four treasures, they make their way to the tile called Fool's Landing and use a Helicopter card that would be drawn from the treasure deck to escape the island and claim the victory. Players lose if both tiles pertaining to one treasure sink and are removed before the treasure is captured or if the tile for Fool's Landing sinks or is a player's pawn is on a tile that sinks and there is no adjacent tile available for the player to swin to or if the Water Level Marker reaches it's peak.

The Feedback
Forbidden Island is a pure and sleek design. A player takes three actions, draws two cards to add to their hand and draws cards to flood/sink tiles and then it is quickly the next player's turn. There is a little bit of talking about what a player is going to do and what that could lead someone else to do as well as who is going after what treasure but a lot of the decision's seem pretty obvious. In the game we played, the game seemed to play itself for us and we went along for the ride. The game is definitely pretty with nice treasure pieces and gorgeous art on the island tiles as well as a simple graphic design that makes finding the tiles quick and easy.

The Experience
We set up the game and I looked over and saw that Helena had a smile on her face as she looked at our randomly created island with the various tiles and the good looking treasure pieces scattered around. She felt like there was life to this island and that the theme of the game really shined through very well. She could see why this would be an exciting game to bring out for a family game night. She was unsure of how to start and so she had me go first. I shored up a nearby tile and then moved a space and shored up a second one before drawing two treasure cards and then flooding a few new tiles. She went about her turn in a similar manner, as we collected cards and discarded others to stay within our five card hand limit. She used the special ability of her character to give me a card that allowed me to grab our first treasure and she was happy at our success. When one of us pulled out the first water rises card and she saw that we were shuffling the discared flood cards and putting them on top of the deck to begin to draw from, she said "Really?" and the real challenge of the game became more clear. We went along fairly easily though and before we knew it, I had captured the fourth treasure and made my way to Fool's Landing where she joined me on her turn and used a helicopter card to lead us to escape the island with the treasures and secure the victory.

The Reaction
While putting the game back into its well done insert, Helena told me that the game was different than what she was expecting and that she liked the experience of playing it but felt that the choices were easy and that we never felt in danger of losing the game. I told her that this is a game targeted towards families and that with us playing on normal difficult and with only two players, that the game might not be as challenging as it could be if we were to increase the difficulty a bit and choose one of the official variant tile layouts as found here on BGG. I think with some tweaking this could be a game that offers quite the challenge and she agreed and looked forward to try it out the next time we play this game.

The Critique
Other than the ease of the game that was mentioned earlier, there is not much to complain about. She did find it odd that we were using standard pawns in a game that has such nice artwork on the tiles and great pieces for the treasures but didn't find it too much of an issue.

The Evaluation
Overall we both agreed that we enjoyed the experience and were happy to have played it. It was fun to play together as a team but I also learned that she would prefer to play as competitors although I do hope to win her over to cooperative style gaming. I feel the game in it's normal state functions just as it should for families and non-gamers. I have played this game several times in the past with co-workers and family members who are not gamers and all have enjoyed the game. My goal now is to find that perfect combination of tweaks that will bring everything together for Helena and I to have great future adventures on Forbidden Island.

The Grades
Helena gives the game a delightful C with hopes of uping her grade if future games provide that challenge she is looking for in her gaming and Sean gives the game a hopeful C+ as he begins his research into the variant tile layouts. The "Bridge of Horrors" looks like a good one to attempt next time.



Forbidden Island is a game by designer Matt Leacock and published by Gamewright in 2010.
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3. Board Game: Carcassonne: Amazonas [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:1449]
Sean Mannion
United States
San Francisco
California
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The Intro
For Helena's third game, I wanted to go with a version of one of the classic gateway games and brought with me Carcassonne: Amazonas. I felt that she would enjoy the lush artwork and the simple but strategic tile placement decisions this game offers.



The Information
Carcassonne: Amazonas is a tile placement game in which players draw a tile and find an appropriate space on the ever-growing play area to position the tile and then can score points depending on that placement. Players can place one of their four meeples on a just placed village or tributary area of a tile and they will score points per tile when the village is completed or per tile of the tributary when both the beginning and ending points come to a close. The player may also place one of their two camp tokens in the jungle of an area and will score points at the end of the game per animal found in that jungle. If the player draws an Amazon tile, that player must play it to continue the Amazon River and an Amazon scoring phase takes places where the player in first gains points equal to the number of caimans and piranhas on the tile and the player in second gets points equal to the number of only the piranhas. All other players move their boat 1 space. There are Amazon tiles with an "!" icon on them and when these are placed, the player gets to choose from a stack of four double tiles and places the tile on the Amazon, these tiles have different number of caimans and piranhas icons and the player who would be placing this tile would pick one. There are fruit icons on tiles that score you additional points for villages and tributaries and there are boat icons on tributaries on tiles that allow you to move your boat. The game ends when the last tile is placed, then a final scoring occurs as players get points for unfinished tributaries and villages, camps are scored and points are awarded for player's boat progression on the Amazon river and the person with the highest score wins.

The Feedback
Carcassonne: Amazonas has all the goodies from its big brother with villages instead of towns, fruit icons instead of shield icons, tributaries instead of roads and camps instead of farmers but it also adds the Amazon river as a racing mechanic of trying to get your boat down the Amazon as an additional way to score points. It's another decision to make. Do I put this meeple on this two tile city and score four points or move another space down the river in order to catch up or to extend my lead so that I can score more points in the future? What it all means is that you are constantly moving something on your turn. Draw a tile, put a tile down, add or remove a meeple, or add a camp, posssibly move your boat down the Amazon and possibly score points. Then it is the next player's turn. The game plays pretty fast and even faster if players draw their next tile at the end of their turns giving them time to think things over as the other players take their turns. With that said, there are still a total of 83 tiles that would be played during a game which makes the 35 minutes listed on the box as a bit unrealistic.

The Experience
After explaining the rules and setting the game up, giving ourselves plenty of space for the river to extend downwards, I saw that Helena was fascinated by the meeples, the boats and the camps pieces. We began as I drew a tile from one of the stacks and placed it without putting a meeple and moved my boat and then it was her turn where she picked up a tile with a large village area and some fruit and decided to begin building a village placing her meeple down. Tile after tile we played and she began to grasp the ideas and flow of the turns in the game and how and when things were scored. By the middle of the game, she was catching on and doing very well. She had placed a camp in a great location with plenty of animals surrounding it, she was just a space behind me on the Amazon and had three meeples out in villages looking to expand or complete. She had caught up from my early lead and soon had grabbed the lead for herself. We then went back and forth until the end of the game where her camps gave her a comfortable 8 point win. We had a fun time and afterwards sat talking for a bit about memorable moves we made during the game.

The Reaction
Helena said she really enjoyed this one. The look and feel of the game is very well done and the decisions and choices on where to place each tile was great. She also really adored watching the game build as we played and in the end she looked at our completed game area and smiled at how much had been done from where we started with our initial tile.

The Critique
The game takes up a lot more space than one might expect when starting out as the river goes down quite a ways making a final board that is 18 tiles lower from the bottom of the 4 tile high starting piece, which leads me to feel that the board runs a bit too long for some play areas as it can take at least forty inches of space from top to bottom to play. Another thing of note is that the rulebook does not do the best job in explaining the game, especially regarding the boat icons and that can easily be misplayed although reading the text in the examples is extremely helpful. There is the luck of the draw in this game that can frustrate some players of Carcassonne and especially in this version where a player can draw several Amazon tiles in a row and if they are behind in that race, their turn was giving 2-5 points to an opposing player and moving their boat one space. Finally, What happened to the tiles that show points over 50/100? I am not a huge fan of the laying down and standing up the scoring meeple concept but I guess it works.

The Evaluation
This game was a big hit with her. As of now it is her second favorite game of the three she has played with me. She very much enjoyed building the area with the tiles and the decisions that the game presents. She did feel that the luck involved in who drew what tile can impact the game to an extent but not enough so that smart tile placement and strategic decisions would ultimately decide the winner. For me, the game was exciting. It feels like a race game where you are trying to keep separated from the pack with Carcassonne attached to it. Making villages is nice and scores you helpful points, and tributaries are important not only to get you points but also to help you move down the Amazon river by adding those valuable boat icons and smartly putting your camp in a prime location is incredibly important but with all of that, it does feel like the Amazon river is the star of the game and what you should focus on in order to win and maybe that is how it should be in an Around the World version of Carcassonne that takes place in the Amazon Jungle.

The Grades
Helena gives the game a joyful B+ as she looks forward to games that allow her to build something in the near future and Sean gives the game a satisfied B- as he works on his fire making skills in order to make better camps the next time we play.

Side Note
The next day, Helena and I went to a local board game store. She has been to the one close to me several times but this was before she started playing games. This store was located closer to her and after she told me about it, we decided to drive over and go inside where she looked around at the various games and Can't Stop Express and Indian Summer both caught her eye. She purchased Can't Stop Express as her first tabletop game that she owns and she looks forward to learning that one and teaching it to me.




Carcassonne: Amazonas is a game by designer Klaus-Jürgen Wrede and published by Z-Man Games in 2016.
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4. Board Game: Hive [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:205]
Sean Mannion
United States
San Francisco
California
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The Intro
For Helena's next game, I felt something simple to play yet difficult to master with that addictive "let's play once more" type of experience would be a great selection as her comfortability grows and so I brought Hive with me. Hive has wonderfully sized and shaped Bakelite tiles pieces that have a brilliant feel and look great with the easily recognizable insect icons. There are several version of Hive and I own Hive Carbon.



The Information
Hive in an abstract game in which players place and move pieces that represent different insects. On a players turn, they do one of two possible actions, they either add a new insect piece to the hive or they can move their pieces that are already a part of the hive. In adding a piece, the player must place the piece so that it is not touching an opponent's piece with the exception of the second players first turn. Each player must play their Queen Bee before the end of their 4th turn and players cannot move a piece until their Queen is in play. Each insect has different ways of movement such as the Grasshopper who jumps from its space over any number of pieces to the next unoccupied space or the Soldier Ant that can move from its position to most positions around the hive. Pieces in play must be linked at all times and must move in a sliding motion meaning that most pieces can only move in and out of a position in which they can slide the piece, an opening doesn't mean that the piece can get through unless the player can slide the piece through. The game ends as soon a one player's Queen Bee is completely surrounded by pieces made up of either color. Hive Carbon includes the expansions for the Mosquito and the Ladybug.

The Feedback
Playing Hive feels elegant and classic. The goal is simple. The pieces have a feel of importance. The decisions on what to play and when to make a move all sing beautifully together and overall Hive is a delight to play. Helena remarked that she very much enjoyed building the hive as we started with an empty area of table and by the end of the match we had a vibrant and alive board of playing pieces that told the story of our game.

The Experience
We began by pulling the tiles out of the travel bag as she read the rules while I separated the pieces. She really liked the feel and weight to each piece and loved the artwork. She felt it was very classy and well made. We went over each piece and did a tutorial of a few practice turns as an example of how everything moves. Then we began our first game with me placing a Beetle down and then she responded with a Spider. I put down my Queen and she played an Ant. Very quickly, we had an active hive going and she had made a move with her Soldier Ant to pin my Queen as she realized that this was an important strategy to stop me from moving out of harms way. We continued until she was able to surround my queen and get the victory. She was happy with her arms raised in triumph but felt that I let her win. I said that I did not and that while I was assisting her throughout the game, I was playing to win. We then added the Mosquito and Ladybug for our second game which she also won. She really liked both of the expansion tiles and used the Ladybug to move into the final space and take her second victory in a row. We played 3 more times with her winning once more and me salvaging two respectable wins of my own. Somehow we did not result in a draw and I feel we weren't playing as defensive as we probably should have as we were getting used to the game.

The Reaction
She loved it. She felt that this might be the best game that we have played so far even if the first game will always hold a special place for her. She enjoyed the pieces and the different movements and all the activity of the game and she really liked the strategy of balancing your defense but making an offensive move at just the right moment. I purchased Hive Carbon a number of years ago but have only played it a handful of times. That falls on me for not bringing it to the table as often as I should. I feel that this game worked wonderfully for us to play with one another and I can see this being a regular fixture at our game nights.

The Critique
She did feel that once someone starts to pull ahead, the other player is essentially stuck playing defense just trying to force a draw. She also felt the rulebook was a little sparse but did the job and that the movement list that I printed out was very useful. We also felt that the travel bag was not as nice as one might expect but then again, the fact that it has one and that it is functional is great. I definitely will be taking this along on our upcoming trip.

The Evaluation
I find this as an essential game that belongs in almost every enthusiast's game collection. I think it is a wonderful battle of wits between two players and is an abstract game that people who may not really like abstracts could be interested in trying out. I also feel that this is an extremely overlooked game and I don't really know why. Is it the name Hive or the theme with the insects? Would spearmen and axe wielding dwarfs trying to surround a flag bearer make this game as popular as it should be? I myself have had this game for quite some time and have only played it on a few occassions. Now that it is back on my radar again I will make sure not to overlook it in the future.

The Grades
Helena gives this game an impressive A- and a request for me to pick up the Pillbug expansion and Sean gives the game a apologetic A for keeping this box on the shelf all this time as I look online for the Hive Carbon version of the Pillbug for our next adventure into the hive.



Hive is a game by designer John Yianni and published by HUCH! in 2001. Hive Carbon was published in 2010 and currently is sold as Hive Pocket by Gen42 Games with slightly smaller tile pieces that are color coded similar to Hive and includes the Mosquito and Ladybug expansions.

 
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5. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:124] [Average Rating:7.46 Unranked]
Sean Mannion
United States
San Francisco
California
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The Intro
For our next adventure, I wanted to show Helena what brought me into tabletop gaming. I discovered Catan and Carcassonne and finally Ticket to Ride on Xbox Live Arcade through a friend’s recommendation. I played these games repeatedly with Ticket to Ride being my favorite of the bunch and so one day, while standing in line at a local bookstore, I happened to glance over and see a bright and shiny copy of the actual board game. I purchased it and went home to play with friends and have been gaming ever since. This game holds a special place for me and so for our fifth game, I brought with me Ticket to Ride along with the Ticket to Ride: 1910 expansion so that we can play with the Big Cities Rules that in my experience is the best way to play this map with two players.




The Information
Ticket to Ride is a route building / set collection game in which players draft train cards of a variety of colors looking to create sets that can be used to claim a route. Players receive destination tickets before beginning the game and choose to keep some and discard others and also receive 4 random train cards as their starting hand. During the game, on their turn the players select and perform one of three possible actions. The players can draw train cards of either two face up train cards or one locomotive train card from the five card display or can draw cards from the top of the draw deck instead of the display. The players can use their turn to claim a route by playing a set of train cards that match the length and color of the route being claimed with locomotives being used as a wild card and then placing that number of their train pieces on the board and scoring points depending on the length of the route. Finally, the player can draw destination ticket cards keeping at least one and returning the rest to the bottom of the destination ticket deck. Play continues until one player has only zero, one, or two train pieces left and then a final round takes place before players reveal and score their destination tickets receiving points for completed tickets and losing points for non-completed tickets. There is a bonus card which in our case, using the USA 1910 Expansion was The GlobeTrotter Bonus card which is awarded to the player who completed the most tickets. In the final tally, the person with the most points wins.

The Feedback
As a person who loves to travel, Helena was very happy with the look of everything. She really liked the board with the little flourishes on the map and the different cities and lines between them. She felt the game was simple but had style and that everything made sense and was well thought out. Elegant was a word that she used as she felt the game was very polished and a high-end production. Ticket to Ride has a presence and she was very pleased with the entire package.

The Experience
After taking a few moments to go over everything she looked at her destination tickets and chose to keep two while I kept three. She went first and grabbed a pink card and followed that up with a white card. I chose a black card and then a blue one. She was first to claim a route and put down one train between Seattle and Portland for 1 point. In time I had a line of trains going along the southern border of the US and she had a sizeable number of trains in the middle of the country. She could see I needed to get to Toronto and she was able to block my intended path forcing me to use more trains and take the longer way around. We each picked up a few more destination tickets and as we dwindled down to our final trains, we both hustled to the end gaining those valuable last minute connections. Before we factored in the destination tickets, she was behind me by only 4 points but once the final scoring occurred, while we both finished all of our tickets, I had completed 5 to her 4 giving me the 15 points bonus along with my tickets scoring 30+ more points than hers which allowed me to pull into the station with the comfortable victory.

The Reaction
Ticket to Ride is a classic. It is very easy to pick up and play and the game will have first timers strategizing like a veteran by their third turn if not sooner. I think for Helena, she needed to see everything progress from beginning to end. She didn’t realize the importance of the bonus for having completed the most tickets and was nervous to take too many large value destination tickets and not be able to finish them and having to take negative points. She felt she would do better in game two of our planned trilogy after participating in a full game.

The Critique
Neither of us had anything negative to say. She felt that while there is a tiny bit of the luck of the draw with both destination tickets and the train tickets, that the game handles it well with the locomotive wild cards and that drawing a handful of destination tickets should give you the opportunity to grab several that are within the path you are building.

The Evaluation
Ticket to Ride is one of the best gateway games out there and while I decided to introduce four games prior to pulling this one out, I felt that this would be the one that would really grab her and push things over the top for us as gaming partners and as expected, it lived up to my expectations. I felt that the Big City Rules worked well for us creating a race in order to grab the best spots to several cities that we both needed to connect to. Helena really enjoyed the speed of the turns and the pace of the game and can’t wait to see the other maps that I have.

The Grades
Helena gives this game an well-travelled A and starts her list of top ten places she would like to go next and Sean gives the game a respected A for being exactly what it needs to be.



Ticket to Ride is a game by designer Alan R. Moon and published by Days of Wonder in 2004 with the expansion Ticket to Ride: USA 1910 by the same designer and publisher in 2006.

 
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