Friday, July 20, 2018

Eldritch Horror - Session Report

The prelude brought the Dunwich Horror into play to start the game and each investigator got a spell in return. Since the prelude didn't indicate a specific Ancient One, I randomly picked a card and got Nephren-Ka as the Ancient One. Nephren-Ka uses the Egypt side board, so I had to make some table space, but different is good. He has a TON of cards. Each time there is a reckoning, the investigators move towards the Bent Pyramid spot (on the side board) or lose sanity. I'm playing solo using two investigators, which my starting two are Skids O'Toole and Patrice Hathaway. I've never played with either (that I can recall).

Round 1
Skids O'Toole - focus + move to Amazon (current expedition spot). Skids encounters and defeated the Snake People monster. He joins the Expedition there - they failed looking for the lupuna tree which caused an impairment on observation. Expedition moved to pyramids.
Patrice Hathaway - boat ticket + move to Shanghai. Patrice woke up to Ghouls trying to devour her soul. She got them to stop and they asked her for help with their curse (she gained a task).

Spreading Sickness - When people see your jaundiced skin or hear your loud coughing fits, they avoid you like a leper...
** Must go to Bombay to help stop the sickness (or investigators will lose health at reckonings). This is a fairly easy one to do, just need a couple clues.

Round 2
Skids - focus token + move to city 7. In a graveyard, Skids listens to a spectre's story and regains lost sanity.
Patrice - boat ticket and move to Istanbul. Did some research and gained the clue there. Shuffled the expedition deck (stayed at Pyramids).

Twin Spawn of Cthulhu - A dark force hidden in the southern-most part of the world has turn the Twin Spawn of Cthulhu free...
** Have to kill off both twins or spend clues at reckonings to avoid going insane. This is a harder one in remote areas. It is also going to eat my clues which I need for mysteries. It is also a little funny that I have so many classic things - Cthulhu and the Dunwich Horror going on in the game.

Round 3
Skids - boat ticket + move to San Fran. There is a gate here that Skids wants to close - through the gate Skids encounters his childhood self who screams at the stranger that appeared. His father tries to shoot him, but he wrestles the gun out of his hands and he barely gets away.
Patrice - focus token + move to Bombay. She helps the doctors cure the Spreading Sickness rumor by spending two clues.

All for Nothing - you wrap the towel around some ice and apply it to your injuries, hoping to reduce the swelling...
** Doom advances (so far nothing horrible in the Mythos cards). Reckoning effect moves Patrice from Bombay to the side board into Cairo. Skids moves out of San Fran.

Round 4
Skids - move back to San Fran to try the gate again and gains a focus. Yuggoth - Skids learns how to operate machinery to close the gate!
Patrice - takes lead investigator. Gains a focus + uses banishment spell to rid Sydney of newly spawned monster. In Cairo, she spies on the Brotherhood of the Beast and gains a clue.

Haunting Nightmares cause both investigators to lose sanity and gain a madness condition.

Round 5
Skids - move to Tokyo + "rests" to get rid of madness. In Tokyo, Skids is arrested and gains a detained condition.
Patrice - focus token + "rests" to get rid of madness. She finds a ritual to summon Anubis and end the Black Wind (mystery 1 solved).

Painful Memories wounds each investigator, but the trauma removed their impairments, so the wound was worth it.

The new mystery requires the investigators gain clues from the Egypt board and spend them to solve the mystery. Not so bad, but I am clue poor at the moment.

Round 6
Patrice - moves to Sahara Desert and rests. She is able to find a symbol on a skull and gains a clue (spent on the mystery).
Skids - Detained in Tokyo and can't talk his way out of it. Finally freed after days of questioning.

The End is Nigh - You've pushed everything to the breaking point...
*** Basically lose everything (1 of each kind of thing) and then 1 health and sanity. Skids goes insane. Harvey Walters joins the team as his replacement. That was a rough phase with two gates getting spawned - one due to the Dunwich Horror, two tough spawns and losing all the stuff.

Round 7
Patrice - move to Bent Pyramid + rest. Locusts swarm and she recognizes the attack was from the Brotherhood of the Beast - clue gained and spent.
Harvey - move to London and tries to use his tome (fail). Harvey is invited to look at the Necromicon and becomes delayed (but spawns two clues).

Heat Wave Singes the Globe - loss of health for Patrice and delayed for Harvey (he already was). And of course, more reckonings, gates and doom.

Round 8
Patrice - moves to Sahara and rests. Through the gate there, she meets an ancient Egyptian warrior that teaches her a chant to work against Nephren-Ka and she closes the gate.
Harvey - was delayed. He gets done with his research but is attacked by a Lloigor and succomns to his wounds. His friend Norman Withers (also from Arkham) joins the party.

The World Fights Back - normally a good event for investigators, but the Cthulhu mystery  expires and causes Patrice to go insane. Doom is down to 1, there are now 7 gates on the board. Tony Morgan joins the investigation team to replace Patrice.

Round 9
Tony - move + focus token. Sees the King in Yellow play and learns a ritual spell.
Norman - move + boat ticket. Meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyale and ends up spawning clues.

Silver Twilight Aid - also should be a good event, but the gates push the doom track and Nephren-Ka awakes. Now, three mysteries have to be solved AND we have to deal with the big bad himself. Not looking good. Each investigator grabs a clue from the aid.

Round 10
Norman - heads to Alexandria. He sees a blasphemous King in Yellow play (it was showing everywhere) and gains a glamour spell from parts of the play.
Tony - moves to South Africa + gains focus token. Plays poker and amazes everyone, gaining an ally.

Curse of Knowledge - investigators lost clues and Norman became cursed. I really needed those clues.

Round 11
Tony - moves to The Nile River + uses his special ability to gain some clues from his focus tokens. He tries to advance the mystery, but he is ambushed by a Spawn of Sebak and then a cultist and fails to advance the mystery.
Norman - tries to use his ritual and fails + grabs a focus. Despite his curse, Norman manages to spy on the Black Brotherhood and steals the Book of the Dead!

And the Mythos phase finishes off the game.

As per my normal M.O. I had too many gates on the board and ended up with too much doom. This time I wasn't avoiding the gates. The monsters that spawned were really not bad to deal with OR were placed somewhere other than the gate location, but I just couldn't seems to get lucky at the right times. I had a good bead on finishing the third mystery, but "ran out of time". Part of that was having to spend clues to fend of the stupid Cthulhu offspring. Even if I had wanted to fight them, they were way out of the way since I needed to be in Egypt focusing on mysteries there. The starting prelude also hurt - the stupid Dunwich horror spawned three extra gates on me. I finally played a game with only investigators I have never tried. None seemed special, but neither were they broken or worthless.

I did find it funny that there was so much other "lore" - Dunwich, Cthulhu, King in Yellow all got mentions despite not really being part of the main story. Good times!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Eldritch Horror - Oh the Horror

Eldritch Horror. Oh how I enjoy this game. This is one of the very few co-op games that I enjoy playing, in large part because of the story. Because of this, I have a fair bit of the expansions (and there is still a fair bit I don't have still). It quickly became apparent to me that the normal storage solution wasn't going to work. In fact, this is a regular question, complaint, or comment from the game's fans - storage is an issue. Even this review of one of the expansions pokes fun at the storage problem facing those brave enough to dive into the game.

My initial plan for storage (after my first big box expansion purchase) was that I took a large FFG box (BattleLore IIRC) and mixed it with the lid from the Mountains of Madness box. This gave me enough storage space that I could create a number of card trays out of foam core and still keep everything together. The result was really good if I say so myself. If I had stopped getting expansions at Mountains of Madness, then I could have lived with the solution. But the expansions kept on rolling out and I had literally maxed out all the space my solution had provided.

As I continued on acquiring more stuff for the game, the replacement plan was a wooden artists box and the Broken Token card system organizer. I kept the small rack I had built out of foam core for the non-condition small cards, but the other cards all moved. The standard cards went into the artist box along with the character cards. This box is a pretty good solution, as there is a space for the boards and manuals as well. Having moved on from foam core to 3D printing, I printed out a set of racks for the condition cards that fit into one of the small box expansions. A box from the Broken Token houses the dice and counters. I ordered a Cthulu rack for the large cards from Etsy and also printed off a bunch of gate stands for the board. The problem? I was out of space - again (I own two large box and three small box expansions currently).

Not only was I out of space, but everything is in 5 different places. The Cthulu rack doesn't fit in anything. All the 3D printed stuff is in a random USPS box I had sitting around, the condition cards are in one box and other stuff in the artist box. Plus the bits in the Broken Token Box. I'm not just at my limit, I'm a little over. The last expansion I got for Carcosa has a at least 9 new types of conditions, which meant the racks I have are no longer sufficient. I could do another set in a small box, but that's just one more box! Time to find a new solution.

So the goals of a new storage system:
* More space for future expansions (currently there are two more big box and one more small box expansion that I don't own). I have no illusions about FFG being done and while I'm not planning to acquire more at the moment, this project seemed like a fun distraction.
* Reduce the number of containers/places that everything exists.

3D printing has been my friend and frankly is better than foam core if for no other reason than you can get good storage systems that have thin walls - millimeters of thickness are starting to matter! So I planned to look for solutions others might have come up with. No luck. Nothing I find really works for what I want to do, so I decide to go a different route than I have before and design my own.

So here is round 1 of the my new design.

I start with an extra AH:TCG (FFG "medium" box size). I decide what I'd like to do is take the rack design from the small box (condition cards) and expand it a bit so there are more spaces. I can make them longer to accomidate the new types of cards. I also have stacks of small cards in my foam rack that I'd like to do something with so I can get rid of my foam core rack. My initial thought (since I'm not a design guru) is to take an existing rack design I've used before and re-size it for small cards. After about 3 tries with the math, I think I get it worked out and using Tinkercad (online) I come up with a model that should be correct and print a few test copies out. They are ok, but not great. First, I only have room for 3 in the box (based on my original concepts that I had sketched out on some paper), but more importantly, they won't hold the stacks well - the stacks are simply too big. The second issue (I realize too late) is that I'd have no room for more cards and no good way to deal with the cards in-game. I really need a single tier rack (like the foam core one I have been using) that takes up less space.

Back to the drawing board. Since the size (width) of the racks was right, I sort of use the basic layout as a template and start chopping it apart until I have a single open sided box. I don't want solid sides mostly because I want to minimize the printed material, so I cut out some holes in the sides and back. I then simply replicate the object and lay them on top of each other so that I'd have a single piece with 4 spaces. Now I had the rack I wanted that would hold the amount of cards I wanted.

In my planning, it appeared that I'd have space for some other things, including what appeared to be enough space for a box to hold the character cards (moving them from the artist's box should free up a lot of space). For this, I started from scratch and just built a pretty simple box and added a "bump" at the bottom to help get the cards out. A friend suggested a put a cutout on the side to make it easier to get the cards out and so I added that too. SOMEHOW I got it right the very first time. The box is exactly the right size (it could be a milimeter taller, so I changed the model, but I'm not going to print another just for that). Now I have two things that don't look like they fit in the box together at all. Well, I mean they do, but its hard to see where I go from here. Right? Well maybe. So I bring my stuff altogether and start planning for the next round. Just for grins, here is a rough idea of what I'm thinking:

So, stay tuned for round two, because the plan has already changed...

Hey! Be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!

Friday, July 06, 2018

Game Bling - Arkham Horror: LCG

Well, it has been forever since I posted about 3D printing and "enhancing games" (or anything about anything really, but I digress). At any rate... let's talk about Arkham Horror: The Card Game. I mean sure, here is a game that is 98% cards (the other 2% being a handful of cardboard tokens), so there must lots this game needs in the way of 3D printed things and other enhancements.

Well as MAGOs know, there should be sleeving! That is a little obvious I think. Maybe you don't think so, but knowing that you'll be shuffling cards and then adding new cards as you progress, I think this is a game where being able to hide the wear on cards to keep from knowing new from old is a reasonable case for sleeving. Yeah, you can probably skip the location cards and such and really just keep it to the player deck cards, but whatever works for you.

Whether you choose to sleeve your cards or not, the next question is -  do you upgrade the cardboard tokens? Here you have a couple of different options,  depending on how much you want to spend. The Broken Token sells acrylic replacements, as does Covenant (and I'm sure there are others too). The Covenant ones are really nice and their player tray sort of sparked this post - I'll get to that in a minute. I already have a nice set of wooden tokens (for Eldritch Horror, but same tokens) from The Meeple Source that I can use, so I am sticking with those.

Of course, there are also the tokens for the draw bag/cup. The GeekCraftShop (again, and others I'm sure), sell custom bags that are both nice and thematic. I actually prefer a digital upgrade here. There is an app called the Arkham Bag (iOS and Google). As far as I know, the app is free on both systems. The Arkham Bag is literally an app that emulates the token cup, eliminating the need for the actual tokens in the convenience of your handheld device! The app is easy to use and while some may not like electronic intrusion, I don't mind in the least.

So, let us go back to the cards for a minute. You would think that a (mostly) card based game would  provide you with a large box and insert to hold everything (like say the Pathfinder Adventure Card games). Well, FFG went the route of smallish box (and the expansions in smaller boxes or blister packs) with no real insert. I could buy one or make one from foam core, but when it comes to making box inserts, 3D printing is the way to go (if you have access to a printer). It is a bit more time consuming than just heading over to [insert your favorite organizer seller] and buying laser cut wood organizers, but you can regularly find all kinds of designs and print them on your own - relatively cheaply from Thingiverse. I found this cool set of insert pieces that fit in the original box. The original design was not made to hold sleeved cards, so I simply widened the card boxes a little and shrunk the width of the middle bins by the same amount to accommodate my sleeved cards.

While searching Thingiverse, I also ran across this nice player tray. It isn't really necessary, but I like the look and idea of it (I need something like this more for Eldritch Horror, but that's a different story). The character card goes in the middle, the columns of squares to either side hold the little resource cubes and the outside hold the magnifying glasses (clues) - all 3D printed of course. The bottom (or top if you spin the tray) hold the health and sanity tokens you have. Maybe not as nice as the Covenant one that got me going on this today, but decent enough (and really a small amount of printing material and a couple hours of printing) that I don't mind not shelling out a ton of money.

And in the category of - I didn't know I needed that! Arrows. A buddy of mine pointed out that having some arrows to point between the locations would be nice to make it easier to figure out travel in the game. I found some, though when I started setting them up to print, I found them to be a bit large. I don't really want to spread out on the table that much. So I shrunk them down so that they were only about 70% as long and 80% as wide. Perfect.

For those that are curious about how to change the sizes - it is pretty trivial. Typically, the files you find for the various print items are some sort of shape file - what you would get from 3D modeling programs. In order to print on your printer, you have to run the shape file through some other program that turns each shape into a set of instructions for the printer so that it can print each layer of the object. Remember, 3D printing is like making a 3D object from toothpaste - you lay down a thin layer of material and after it has hardened, you can build the next layer on top of that and so on. The software I use for our 3D printer is called Slic3r (I guess because it turns the 3D objects into slices). After adding a shape object to the print area in the software, there are a number of options for rotating and resizing the objects. It really is that simple - all you have to do is pick the correct axis to stretch. For stretching boxes that hold non-sleeved cards, it is just a matter of adding about 2-3mm in width.  I simply got out a ruler and started doing some basic math. Easy Peasy.

And her is one more shot of the completed printed player board and the little resource cubes (crates) and magnifying glasses. Can't wait to play again.

Hey - that's it for this round of bling my game! Be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!

Monday, June 25, 2018

Viticulture and Tuscany Review

The Punchboard Media Group has a "Big List of Games" that talks about games that we love and feel that others should play for one reason or another. Viticulture is one of the games that I nominated. As worker placement games go, it is one of my favorites and I really enjoy both the theme of the game and the huge number of ways that you can score points to win. I love that I can do something for a little bit and switch gears based on opportunities (or if I'm denied an opportunity). I like that I've enjoyed the game with differing numbers of players, as it seems to play well with just two players as well as four or more.

As an expansion of what I wrote for our Big List feature, I wanted to express what I enjoy about this game and present a review of Viticulture and its expansion Tuscany. And before I do that, I want to give thanks and a big shout out to all the folks that have taken time to post pictures of this game in one place or another - most of the pictures I use for on this blog have been previously posted by others. If you have ever found a picture that I've used and would prefer I remove it, I am more than happy to do so as I do not wish to upset anyone in any way.

In October of 2012, a fledgling game company out of St. Louis ran a Kickstarter for a game about making wine. Now, I like wine and games and this game sounded ok, so solely based on just that, I kickstarted the game. The game funded and was delivered in May 2013 with a single expansion called Arboriculture. This game was of course Viticulture, a worker placement game about running a wine business (not making wine per se). I was even fortunate enough to have the designer of the game teach it to me at The Geekway to the West a week or two before receiving my copy.

In April of 2014, a new and related project was funded on Kickstarter - Tuscany: Expand the World of Viticulture. Tuscany was to be a set of mini-expansions that could be played semi-legacy style (you didn't change the world, but you could slowly introduce the expansions in a semi-logical ordering). This was also the point at which you could order both the game and the expansion packed together in a large sleeve (that looked like a wooden crate) as the Collector's Edition. Generally speaking, when I speak of "Viticulture" I really mean Viticulture and Tuscany together, and not any of the "Essential Editions" that came out later with a subset of the expansions that I'll be discussing below.

First let me talk about the original base game - Viticulture (or as I've come to call it, "Vanilla Viticulture"). The vanilla version of the game is your basic worker placement game with a theme of running a wine business - you plant vines, harvested grapes, made wine, aged the wine, and sold it. Along the way, you'd build up the infrastructure of your winery so that you could give tours, receive visitors, and make a little cash to hire more workers, etc.

Players all start with the same resources and a start player is randomly determined. Players start each round of the game by picking that round's turn order. Choosing to go later in the order offered the players increasingly better "bonus" items for picking a spot. Each of the various actions that are available to be used by all player's workers during a year are limited, so not everyone will get to do everything they wanted to do in a given game round, thus turn order is fairly important.

Unfortunately, I feel that the vanilla game is flawed. Players are all trying to do very similar things in the early part of the game: get an additional worker (extra actions are important in worker placement games), plant vines (you can't get grapes if you don't plant), harvest grapes (you can't make wine without grapes), make wine (you can't fulfill orders and score without wine). The route to some of these things might vary slightly (you might need to first build a trellis to support a certain type of vine before you can plant that type) but really, players were essentially trying to do A+B+C or maybe A+B+D. Early turn order (which was picked by randomly choosing a start player) had a huge effect on the game. In a game with 3+ players, you can end up going last multiple turns in a row and immediately being behind the other players (engine-wise).

On top of that, you are coupled that with the dreaded "luck of the draw". You see, there are a lot of cards in the game: vines, visitors (two decks) and orders cards. Players can get frustrated by any number of bad draws (only drawing one color of grape vines (red or white) when you have orders for the other color), only getting orders for expensive late game wines like sparkling or high value wines, and/or drawing visitor cards that don not help an early game player. These are some of the slightly frustrating things that I found made this fun game a bit flawed. Don't get me wrong, a hyper-competitive game is ok, but when you stack that on random chance, you can immediately be in a position of trying to catch up the whole game through no fault of your own. Otherwise, Vanilla Viticulture was a competent enough game with a good blend of mechanics that tied logically enough to the theme.

Based on what I just wrote, it is hard to believe I love this game. Again, what you have to understand is - I don't love Vanilla Viticulture - I do love the Collector's version (or maybe I love Tuscany). Tuscany is a masterpiece of changes that turn an ok game into a more varied and more complex game that offers players an almost overwhelming number of ways to score points and an asymmetric starting position that doesn't force everyone to do the same thing. It also introduced the Grande Worker, which gives everyone a "once per round I'm going to get to do at least one thing I want"-worker. It isn't all perfect and there is a lot of stuff in Tuscany, but I'm going to walk through each of the modules and let you know what I think - not just a description of the module, but what I think they each add (or don't) to the game.

Before I do that, I want to address the folks that hate games where they have to get an expansion to "fix" the game. I get that, and so did the designer of the game. Thus the "Essential Editions" came to pass. If you just buy the Essential Edition of Viticulture, you are getting a fine worker placement game with most of the rough edges sanded off. But if you want a deeper, more varied game, then you also need Tuscany in all its glory.

And here is what Tuscany is all about.

Grande Worker - this isn't so much an expansion as it is a staple and fundamental change to the game that is now part of the base game (essential edition). As I just described above, this basically lets you place your worker on any action (regardless of availability for a worker on the action). You may not get a bonus, but you don't get hosed out of something you really really need to do.

Mamas and Papas - no, not the group from the 60s, but another essential expansion. Yes, this expansion is also one that has been included in the Viticulture Essential edition. What this simple module does is vary the starting resources for each player. Each player gets a momma card and a papa card. One card gives you a couple of items and the other gives you an item and the option to take a bonus OR some cash. This changes the start of the game dramatically as nobody starts with the same needs for the early rounds of the game. Nobody should play Viticulture without using this module.

Properties (I believe the name has been changed to fields in the newer editions) - the purpose of this module was to solve the early game cash flow issue. Early in the game, money is not only hard to acquire, it is hard to acquire in quantities that make a difference. This module solves that by offering you the action to sell parcels of your land. The land has to be empty and once sold you cannot use the parcel unless you buy it back. It costs you actions and a potential plot of land for growing grapes, but the ability to trade off some land for cash to buy a structure or worker is more important in the early game and this module dramatically speeds up the early portion of the game. We always play with this expansion and it works exactly as it is supposed to.

Patronage - Each player gets a card that is two parts. Part 1 - sell any one wine token of value 5 or more and get 3 pts (you have to take a "fulfill an order" action to do so). The other portion is a unique goal for each player that can score you 2 additional points at the end of the game. You must do the first part to be eligible for the second. I am not a huge fan of this particular expansion for the following reason. The 2pt end-goal is strategic and I don't find Viticulture to be a strategic game, I find it more tactical, so by specifically adding 2pts to one specific goal, it makes your play more limiting (or, it rewards someone that happens to be tactically in a position to fulfill the result - ie. if you are lucky, the goal matches what has been available to you). And yeah, there is some luck. Anyone that has played Viticulture knows that this game has an "end game rush" - when one player edges up far enough to the end game trigger, it is very likely that the game will end within a turn. That last turn ends up being a mad scramble to get as many points as you can. The goal on this card (being only 2 points) typically isn't a focus in the scramble, but you may end up with the points out of pure luck as everyone else sells everything they have to score some points.

The other issue I have with this module is that it forces a player to get a medium cellar (needed to get wine of the right value) and make at least one wine of enough value to activate the card. I've played games where I've been able to effectively ignore making wine by scooping up a lot of points in all the actions other players are ignoring as they focus on wine. I don't think this unbalances the game, but it does "encourage" all the players down that one main path - which was a main complaint I had about Vanilla Viticulture, so we typically skip adding this module.

Advanced Visitors and New Visistors - I'm lumping these card expansions all together. We use ALL the visitor cards all the time. The additional cards level out the unevenness of the cards from the original game and make it more likely that any given card draw isn't a dud. You can still get cards that don't help you of course, but the likelyhood is lower with a better mix. Additionally, there are so many ways to get cards with the other expansions in the mix, it is simply easier to just shuffle everything together rather than worrying about trying to pull something out or only use one set or another.

Extended Board - this is something of a major overhaul to the game and a really good one. A whole new board replaces the original. A good portion of it is familiar, but there are a lot of little changes that really expanded the game. For familiar actions, some of the bonuses have changed or moved (thus, depending on the number of players, bonuses may or may not be present or might be different than the original board). I have found all of these changes are great and when you are getting blocked on certain actions, there always seems to be something productive you can do instead. This all sounds like a lot of changes, but I don't think that teaching a new player the game with this board is unreasonable by any means and I think this board really opens up the game for the better.

* Four Seasons: the game board is now divided into four different seasons of actions. These groupings make the flow of the game more interesting by breaking up the action groupings into similar items and makes the changes in the wake-up chart work really well.
* Different wake-up chart: this change goes hand in hand with the different seasons. At the start of the game, a random players picks wakeup position (as before). After that, the person that first runs out of workers/actions at the end of year picks up all their workers (making those spots available) and then gets to pick their wakeup position for the next year (if you take the last position, you are required to take position #1 the following year). This change makes a big difference in your planning and for players with less workers than their opponents, it give you an opportunity to aggressively plan for the next year. Having less actions (or less actions during the important scoring action during the last season) means getting to make an election for turn order before other players. Additionally, there are seasonal bonuses for your position (ie after each season you get a specific type of card or bonus rather than a single bonus for that wake-up slot). The new wake-up chart is far more interesting as the seasonal bonuses makes choosing your turn order much more interesting of a choice.
* The grey card - this new icon appears in a couple different places and just means that players have their choice in selecting a card or cards (ie you can pick any color card when you see a grey card).
* Influence Map - there is now an action on the board that lets you place influence (each player gets a number of influence/star tokens) onto a mini map of Italy. Each region on the mini-map gives the player a bonus (some coins, a card, etc) immediately and then at the end of the game the player that has the most influence in each area scores points. Yep, they added an area control mini-game to Viticulture/Tuscany.
* Trade Action - this new space replaces the sell grapes action with an action that lets players trade 2 cards, 3 coins, 1 VP, or 1 grape for any of those items. Have 2 worthless cards? Trade them for new ones. Need 3 coins and don't need that silly 1 grape sitting there aging? This action helps to open the game up some more (and in the case of cards, is another way to mitigate bad draws).
* Sell Wine Action - there is now a space that simply lets you sell a single wine token for points. You can get more points for blush and sparkling than red and white of course. This action space helps out players that can produce certain types of wine, but just can't seem to get the right order cards (or keep missing out on the action to fulfill orders).
* Victory Point track change - the game end is now 25 (instead of 20) points and the track goes beyond that. With the plethora of new point scoring options, you won't notice games being any longer.

Honestly, the influence portion of the map might be the most dramatic change, with the way that you choose turn order the second biggest change. If you are teaching the game to a new player, using this board shouldn't make learning the game any harder as the new player wouldn't be unlearning anything and the different option aren't hard to understand, they are just different than the original game. Yes, there are lots of little choices/things to do, but that is mostly true in any worker placement game. I really enjoy the new board and don't see us ever going back to playing without it.

Special Workers - ok, this is another module that has a lot of moving parts, but I think is very worthwhile to use. Don't let the variety of special workers overwhelm you - they add a little extra variety to each game, but not an overwhelming amount. When you play with the specialized workers you only select two (at random) to make available to players. They cost an additional Lira (regardless of how you acquire the worker) to acquire. Players still have a cap at 6 total workers, so you aren't going to flood the game with actions. The special workers can be used as a normal worker if you can't use their special power. Here is a quick description of the various workers and my thoughts:
* Farmer - when you place the farmer on an action, you can gain any of the bonuses for that action - regardless of player count and whether the farmer was placed on a bonus space. This is a nice worker that can speed things along in the game (the faster you get stuff or actions, the faster the game goes).
* Mafioso - when placed on a non-bonus action space, you can take the action twice (within the rules - so you can't harvest the same field twice in a year). This can be useful for a few of the actions (like giving a tour, trading, making wine, or fullfilling orders). Not a bad option, but not as useful as some others.
* Chef - the chef can bump any other non-chef worker off a spot (and back to that player) to take an action. This worker also speeds that game along by allowing multipler players (or even the same player) the ability to take an action on top of what the Grande worker gives you. Returning a worker means players will get more actions, which in turn can mean a bit faster game play.
* Innkeeper - when you place the Innkeeper, you can pay 1 Lira to another player on the same  action space to steal a random card from that player (not applicable in a 2-player game). I mostly play 2-player games, so we haven't used this worker, but I don't know that this is an overly useful change up to the game except to increase conflict.
* Professore - when you place the professore, you can retrieve a previously placed normal worker, from that same season, back to your available pool. This worker is really great for speeding the game along as it frees up a used space (making any possible bonus available again) and effectively increases your worker pool.
* Soldato - when the Soldato is on an action, other players must pay you 1 Lira to use that same action. On the flip side, another player can use that action (if they pay) even if there are no available spaces. This worker can help speed the game up by allowing players to use an action that doesn't have available slots. It is likely that the money is only an issue in the early game, so reasonably, this shouldn't be slowing players down much. Not as interesting as some other special workers, but can speed the game up by making actions available that wouldn't be there otherwise.
* Politico - when you place the politico, you may pay 1 Lira to gain the bonus on that space again. This one is really a fairly limited use kind of worker and while it has a couple of interesting placements, overall is one of the least interesting of the bunch.
* Oracle - When you place this worker and draw cards, you can draw an extra card of the same type and discard one of the ones you drew. Effectively, this is a card draw luck reducer. I find with all the other options that are available on the Tuscany expansion game board that this worker is one of the least interesting of the group. It doesn't hurt to take them, but a lot of the other workers are more interesting to play with.
* Merchant - If you place the merchant after all the other players have passed in a season, you can draw a card of any type. Pretty limited appeal and use. In a two player game, we have a lot more opportunities for this worker's use, but overall it is not all that interesting unless you are going for a visitor heavy strategy.
* Traveller - You may place the traveler on any open space in a previous season (regardless of availability of the actions spaces) and immediately take the action. This is a fantastic worker that can help open up the game. Well worth getting and playing with.
* Messenger - a little like the inverse of the traveller. With the messenger, you can place the worker in an action in a future season. When you get to that season, your first action is to take the messenger's action. This lets you "reserve" a spot you need down the road and helps to solidify what you can do. Another worthwhile special worker.

Overall, I like the special workers. They add a little variety to the game and generally speed the game up. Some are less interesting than others, but the little extra ability adds another nice consideration to the tactical gameplay.

Structures - this expansion module is a new deck of cards that are special structures that players can build. Each player can have up to two structures built and there is a money cost like other structures. All the special structures give players a point when built. Some of these provide a new actions, some provide an ongoing bonus, and the third kind provide a residual of some sort (not money) at the end of each year. These are great additional options for the players as new ways to approach the game. We don't always build them, but we always play with the structures deck so we have the option. Even the structures that seem unbalanced have not ended up being so in our plays - for example, one structure let a player acquire a worker for free (plus they got a coin) AND that worker could be used the same year. It sounds really overpowered, except for the 6 worker limit AND I simply had to adjust and build out my worker force immediately. The building cost 7 lira to build, so while there was definitely an advantage, it wasn't as overwhelming as I though (and in fact, I won that game).

The final three expansions are labeled "Tier Three" and are not meant to be added to the game together (ie, you only play with one of the three in addition to any other expansion modules you want to use).

Mafia - meh. For me, this was the least interesting of all the expansions of any tier. Each player gets a card that represents a gift (the cards are unique and numbered 1-9). The cards are attached to the Grande worker and when you place your Grande in the same place as another Grande worker, you and that other player swap cards. If you place your Grande where there is no other Grande, you can swap your card for a random new card. At the end of the game, the player with the best gift gets 2 points and the player with the worst gift loses a point. Sorry, this is just a bit random and not at all interesting. And for two-players (which is again, what I mostly play), its just silly.

Arboriculture - This module adds a new player board that lets players also grow tomatoes, olives and/or apples. The arbor cards can be drawn anytime you'd draw a vine card (including during setup). Arbor cards are planted in the same land plots as vines, though they don't count towards the field's value. When you harvest a field for grapes, you also harvest any arbor item as well. There is also a morale track and whenever you place your Grande worker, you move down on the track. if you hit the bottom of the track, you lose a point. If you push the moral track to the top, you gain a point. You move moral up by discarding any number of glass tokens (from anywhere you have them) and moving the track one space up for each discarded. So why is this module cool? Well, it was the first expansion ever made for Viticulture, which makes it a little cool just for that. But history aside, the extras allow players to make extra points selling tomato sauce and olive oil and if you are going to have a ton of grapes and an apple tree (or two), you can also have an easy way to create points for yourself by hitting the top of the moral track each year. Not game breaking, but a good set of new options for players (and really, ignoring the board completely is only a small 1 point penalty).

Formaggio - this module is on the flip side of the Arboriculture player board and like Arboriculture, is another way to score some points. For this expansion, players are going to make cheese which they can sell alongside their wines. You have to be smart about it, because a cheese that ages too much just goes bad and is lost. But not to worry, there are spaces that let you control the aging of the cheese and your ability to sell it with your wine. However, in order to get these abilities, you have to use your precious influence (the same stars you'd use on the mini map for area control). While less interesting in a two-player game, this module should open up the influence game a bit in when you play with 3+.

Lastly, there is an inclusion of Viticulture Automa, which is a solo variant. I am not overly excited about playing solo efficiency games, so I have not bothered to explore (nor do I really plan to), the solo portion of the expansion.

And there you have it. If that seems like a lot, it both is and it isn't. The rules for the game and the expansions are not overly complicated and while there might be a lot of options for a new player, after a play or two, your choices are generally easy enough to grasp. With all the paths to scoring points and the ability to change gears when things are quite working out, I have found Viticulture + Tuscany to be my favorite worker placement game and one that I'd play almost anytime at any player count.

Hey! Be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

To Sleeve or Not to Sleeve? Are you a MAGO?

If I had a nickle for every time that someone asked me whether or not they should sleeve the cards in their games - well, I'd have no extra money to speak about. Despite that, I'm going to take a little time to talk about why I spend the time and money to sleeve the cards in some of my games (I mean, the name of the blog is Things of No Interest, so if you aren't interested, feel free to move along ;) ). Board gamers seem to fall into one of two camps when it comes to sleeving cards with little in-between - either you don't care or you care way too much. Well today I'm going to try and convince you that there is a middle ground here people! It is ok and often reasonable to meet somewhere in-between!

Now the first group - these are people that know and accept that board games will get handled and they just don't mind a little wear and tear to their game - that's just part of it. As my friend Brandon said, "Games should be loved and show that love." I suspect that most of these kind of gamers played games during their childhood and that those games were found in their grandparent's closets or that their mom bought them from a garage sale and half the parts were missing from the game box being smooshed flat. Despite the condition of the game, they managed to cobble parts from other games or they just didn't care that half the money from Monopoly was gone and that they had to use the pawns from Sorry! rather than be the hat or the race car. What mattered was they got to play a game and had fun. It was important that they had a good time, not that everything was pristine. And let us be honest, there are a ton of games out there right now from the modern age where the condition of the game could be very rough and it wouldn't matter in the least.

On the other end of the spectrum, this hobby seems to attract a large number of people that are a little anal about their games and their collection. And I do mean collection as in I COLLECT stamps or coins - ie those that get enjoyment by acquiring the things and the game's condition is as important as having it is. The first type of gamer I mentioned? They have a collection of games that they play, they are not collectors. Now, I understand some of The Collector's arguments - games are expensive and we should take care of the things we own instead of looking at them as disposable and replaceable. Ticket to Ride is currently $45 on Amazon and that's a good chunk of change for a game - right?

Except that in 1983, Ticket To Ride would have only cost about $17-$18 (adjusting for inflation). A little research shows that Risk was about $14 in 1983, Civilization from AH was $17 and Trivial Pursuit was a whopping $30. So sorry, I don't really buy the "I'm protecting my investment" argument for sleeving the cards of your games. Modern games cost about the same as the games we used to "not take care of" in our youth. If you fall into this extreme of gamer, please just admit that you want your game to remain pristine and move along. You are allowed to feel like this if you want.

Now I fall somewhere in-between. I am that rare bird - the moderately anal game owner - a MAGO. A MAGO has some games that are worn (box, parts, whatever) and they are happy to own because they like playing the game and it doesn't matter if the box has tape all over it. In fact, they may have (GASP) thrown away some of the boxes. A MAGO also has some "special" games - games that they have purchased expensive custom box inserts to hold the game components, sleeved the cards, bought upgraded bits so they didn't have to use cardboard tokens, etc. A lot of times it doesn't really makes the game better - it is more like buying a hotel for Boardwalk in Monopoly, you do it because it looks or feels cool. Don't get me wrong - some of those upgrades or accessories do make the games better. Sometimes upgraded bits vs tokens help players see at a glance when the guy across the table has a pile of yellow things instead of a stack of tokens with art you can't quite discern and which might be more than one type of thing. Sometimes that box organizer doubles as a bits tray that makes setup and passing bits around in the game much faster. A MAGO will often justify upgrades as "making the game better or faster or easier to play".

So how does a MAGO justify sleeving cards in their games? Well, this MAGO says it depends (he also says it make the games better when he does). First off, I am do not sleeve the cards to a game like Tichu, Mu, Parade or Arboretum. A single deck of cards that should be getting worn evenly? That's ok, no need to sleeve those. And not all games that have cards as one of the components need sleeving either. Games like Agricola have a lot of cards, but the cards are not being handled constantly, shuffled and re-used in such a way that some wear on a couple makes any appreciable difference in the game. What about say - Concordia? Each player has a set of cards that they reuse constantly through the game. Well, that's true, but the cards aren't a secret - nothing is being given away to the advantage of another player if one player color has a slightly more worn set of cards.

In contrast, a game like Race for the Galaxy provides a number of really valid reasons why you might want to sleeve all the cards. First, the player action cards are secret and they get used a lot. You don't want another player to be able to figure out what card you are going to play based on any wear or mark a card may have received from "aggressive handling". Ok you say - I'll give you sleeving the player action cards for RftG, but ALL of the cards? Yep, there is a valid reason why you might want to sleeve all of the cards. If I knew that I was only going to ever buy and play just the base set of RftG, then sleeving the cards would probably just be a waste of time and money (except for the player action cards). For example, San Juan (which is in a lot of ways a different theme'd RftG) was never sleeved in my collection. The cards were worn. No big deal. Except that in the case of RftG, we know there are expansions. If I buy the base game and play it until there is wear on the cards, then I mix in a set of expansion cards and those cards are all shiny and new - knowing the top card of the deck is new (and thus from the expansion) can influence player choices.

Newer games, these days, don't generally have this particular issue I'm going to mention - but some editions and printings between older base games and the expansions have cards that have different texture/finishes and sometimes the colors on the backs don't match. The original Thunderstone game was HORRIBLE in this way and the only way to effectively hide the differences in not only the wear, but the very different cards themselves was to sleeve them.

And this is the camp I fall into. If a game has cards that can give away information due to wear or differences because of printings, then I will tend to want to sleeve the cards. BUT - I'm selective about it. As an example, take Eldritch Horror. For EH, I have sleeved all the large cards (in clear sleeves). FFG prints a lot of cards for sooooo many games that you don't typically see differences in printings/expansions, but I did want to avoid early parts of the game looking worn in comparison to later expansions. I did not sleeve the mini cards though. Even though you randomly get conditions or spells or whatever, you really don't handle the cards much and I didn't want to add all of the extra thickness to the storage of these cards. I'm also comfortable enough in my MAGO-self to admit: EH does not need to be sleeved. The cards are of good enough quality and are not handled enough for wear to be an issue. I looked it up on BGG and there are 1323 large cards if you have all the expansions for EH. At $3 per 50 for decent card sleeves, you save an additional $80 by not sleeving this game ($80 which can be spent on buying wooden heart and brain token upgrades so you don't have to use the cardboard ones, and on filament to 3D print gate stands and card racks to hold the cards).

I am still going to sleeve cards for games that both have expansions and get a lot of handling such as Marvel Legendary, Pathfinder ACG, and LCGs like Arkham Horror. You just handle and shuffle the cards enough that I don't want there to be differences as I add cards. I just don't like knowing that the next card I could draw is definitely a new card that is probably more powerful than the older dreck. That doesn't mean you need to do the same - again, these are your games, do whatever you like with them.

I will make just one plea to you all - if you are going to sleeve, please don't use penny sleeves. Those are just tacky. I don't even know what kind of statement you are trying to make using that crap. I want to protect my investment, but not really? Games are expensive, but I'm cheap? I like Dominion? Sorry, I just don't get the penny sleeve. If you are going to sleeve, buy some decent ones.

Hey! Be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!

Monday, June 11, 2018

13 Years on BGG and 13 Great Games

According to the BoardGameGeek, the end of June marks my 13th year as a member. So rather than my sort-of-annual Top Ten or whatever, I think this year I'm going to do a list of 13 games that I love.  And rather than ranking them or ordering them, I'll just go in alphabetical order - because while I could order them, I love them all for one reason or another and what might get pulled out and played could vary for a lot of reasons.

Combat Commander
I've mention this as one of my all time favorites many times over. Not only is this an incredible squad level war-game, it tells a narrative like few other games ever have for me. When I look back at 13 years of hobby gaming, most of the vivid game memories I have involve this game. If you felt sucked into Saving Private Ryan well, this game is like playing the movie as a game. I understand that this may not be for everyone, but for whatever reason this game is special to me. It is one of those games that I don't always think to suggest, but the second I start playing it, I wonder why I don't play it more.

Now, when I say Combat Commander, I really mean - Combat Command:Europe and Combat Commander: Mediterranean. They are two parts of the whole game. For the most part, the other expansions are just an extensions or groupings of scenarios with a bit of extra content. I absolutely do not mean Combat Commander: Pacific - in Pacific they changed when the random events happened, which made it into a a much more "system" war-game that didn't have the same drama whatsoever. It is really a very small change, but it was noticeable and just not my thing. War is supposed to be chaotic and crazy and frankly, a bit of the chaos is why CC:E is too good.

I am lucky enough to not only own a Hilinski board, but one of their boards that has wooden pegs (they switched and started doing metal pegs rather than making the pegs for the boards). The picture here is of my board - Notorious.

For those that are not familiar with Crokinole, it is a dexterity/skill game played on a large wooden board. The surface is very smooth and slick and players take turns flicking small disks around the board. At the end of a round, any of the player's disks which have remained on the playing surface are scored based on their location. Therefore, on a player's turn they are attempting to either position their pieces near the center (by launching from the edge of their play area), or attempting to move the other player's pieces from the board (like shuffleboard). It may sound a little dull, but it isn't. It is fast and takes a fair bit of skill. Against players of similar skill levels, the games are quite tense as players take turns making amazing shots.

This can be played either head-to-head or in teams - team games are great fun. Not only is the game really excellent, but the board like this is a generational item. Someday this will belong to my daughter and become a part of her family.

Eldritch Horror
What is Eldritch Horror? It is a Cthulhu/Lovecraftian themed co-op. Readers of this blog probably already know - I'm really not a co-op guy. I'd rather play something where I get to outplay the other players than play a game where some Alpha player tells everyone what to do. EH is not that kind of game.

Eldritch Horror is story. It is almost a choose your own adventure (remember those books?) story except that multiple players are experiencing a common CYOA and their stories are just part of a larger narrative. This single narrative (and a cleaner set of rules and gaming experience) is what make this game a huge leap forward over Arkham Horror, which I find tedious and boring. If you aren't interested in the theme, you won't care much for this game. If you like the theme, then you will probably love being a part of the narrative as you battle strange monsters, cultists, and a never ending sense of spreading doom across the world.

A Game of Thrones
I was introduced to the AGoT books very randomly as a recommendation by a Borders employee. I found the series amazing. Later, I discovered boardgames and one random day, I found a copy of the first edition AGoT:TB at Barnes and Noble for 75% off. I literally knew nothing about the game, but it was cheap and looked cool. I read through the rules and thought that this was going to be fun. I got four other guys to play one night (the original game was 5 player) and I was blown away at how good this game was. It was (and is) amazing. I immediately found the expansion (6-players and ports!) and have enjoyed this game, the expansions and revisions since.

First, forget the theme of the game. Sure, it adds a good amount of flavor if you are familiar with the material, but the game and its systems are what make this game amazing, not the setting. This is a battle for control of the world of Westeros. It is amazing because the way the game is setup, you are in conflict from all sides from the second you start the game. And no, you will not have the ability to go it alone - or if you do, you have to be amazing at staying out of the way of the other players. You are going to have to create alliances and at some point stab someone in the back before they stab you. But again, this is more than just a "Diplomacy" game. You have limited resources and you need more if you want to rule. How you manage those resources dictates how you compete in all phases of the game. You may not have the most armies, but if you wield control of the right things in this game, you may have the kind of influence that will keep others off your back by granting them favors against your strongest enemies.

I have never played a game where six asymmetrically different factions were so well balanced and the various control systems in the game were also so well balanced. The game doesn't tell a story, the gameplay and the experience are the story. The fact that theme material is based on a story that I really enjoy is icing on the cake.

Kingdom Builder
If you based what I like on the games on this list so far, you'd think that I need a great story or narrative to love a game. Wrong! Kingdom Builder is an amazing game that is one of my all time favorites. Why? Well, because despite being fairly simple (no matter what you add in terms of expansions, the complexity really doesn't change much) it is a wonderful puzzle game. That is to say - the player that does a better job (tactically) of figuring out how best to score is the one that wins. Because of the variability in what scores and what actions are available from game to game and a small bit of randomness in where you can place each turn, the puzzle is always new and fresh. And really, that's all that this is. It is fast, accessible and clever - without anything that might be called a story or even a theme.

Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game
And now that I'm done telling you that I don't need a story and theme in a game, let me tell you about this one. For those that have been keeping up with this blog, you already know that this is another of my favorite games. It is a deck-builder pure and simple. You and your friends against the system, but it is only loosely a co-op. Really, whether the "game" wins or not doesn't matter. Who scored the most points matters.

Once upon a time, I would have said that a big reason that I loved this game was the theme. I really enjoy Marvel comics and I read them a lot as a child and still do read comics from time to time. This game is a fun way to re-play some of the classic Marvel storylines and create your own hero team-ups to do so. But here's the thing. The game was re-done in electronic form with a completely different (fantasy) theme. Guess what? The game was still amazing. It is just a well oiled engine for a deck builder. Yes, some combos are unbalanced (for or against you), but the game still entertains me. And yes, despite how easy it is to play on my tablet, I still have a (very) full box of Marvel Legendary stuff that I pull out and play from time to time. Really, the setup and teardown efforts are the only big complaint I have with the game.

In the last year and half, this has become one of my household's favorite games. Orléans is a bag-builder-euro (which means that instead of a deck of cards, you put your stuff into a bag a randomly draw things from the bag each round) and the reason that we like it so well is that there are lots of different ways to score points. That being said, it doesn't feel like a Feld point salad - it feels more cohesive for some reason that I cannot explain. We've acquired a number of the mini-expansions, which give us a fair bit of variability in the buildings that are available each game, which has kept us from pursuing any one dominant strategy. We also really like that it seems to scale well from 2-4 players and aside from setting up and putting away a bazillion pieces, the game itself plays pretty quickly for us - we can play back to back 2-player games in just over a couple of hours.

Power Grid
Whether you love or hate Power Grid doesn't matter - I love it. There are a lot of complaints that this game is just an exercise in math. Wrong (well, there is a bunch of math, but there is math in a lot of games) - this is an auction game and a positioning game. People that dislike this game tend to dislike that they can't figure out how much to pay for a power plant. Hey guess what? You can go play that crappy offshoot of this game - First Sparks (aka Power Grid for Dummies) if you don't like the auction. This is an amazing game that pits the players against each other the whole time. Positioning in turn order and placement on the map change each game and it is in understanding those two things and the other players at the table that determine the value of the power plants. Maybe that's why this game shines for me - winning truly means having bested the other players, not having played the game system better than other players. That distinction is small but important and what makes this an amazing game.

This game took me a lot of playings online (it used to be part of before I saw how great this game was. This is an abstract game for sure, and other than the initial layout of the game and the order that you receiver the orders you can place each turn, there isn't a bunch of variability. This is another game where you best the other players by playing better than they did. Interestingly, this is a game that has no expansions or different maps. What I find the most interesting about this game is that your approach to the game depends on the number of players. The things you try to do in a two-player game are different when there are three players and different again with four players. Because the game isn't a perfect information abstract (there is randomness) and because there is not a good way to handicap the game, it does suffer if all the players aren't of a similar experience / ability level. But when players know the game, it is a great fight.

Steam: Rails to Riches
Once upon a time, Martin Wallace made a train game called Age of Steam and heavy-euro fans had a great time. Then, whether because he wanted to clean-up the system or because of a legal fight with Winsome games (the original publisher), Martin revised his game into Steam.

The revision met with mixed reactions. Die-hard AoS fans disliked that the new game felt too easy and watered down, while those that wanted to like AoS, but found AoS to be frustrating for new players and too long to play really liked the new system. While I loved AoS, I really liked the changes. Things felt more streamlined and less cobbled together. What changed? The auction for turn order/actions went away and was replaced by an action selection system that determined player order. The money system was also made more accessible and some of the fiddly oddness regarding the way debt impacting earnings was changed into a form that is much more understandable for players. There are a couple of other changes, but fundamentally, the building track and moving goods portion of the game was essentially the same. All in all, Steam became much more accessible than AoS had been, and (in my mind) was still just as fun, just not as "hard". It scratched the same itch, but could be introduced to new players. For players that have not had a chance to play this kick-ass game, there are electronic forms that are really well done and if you have the chance, you should grab a copy and play.

I grew up playing cards in my family. Lots of Pinochle, Spades, Euchre, Oh Hell! etc. I love trick taking games. When I was first introduced to Tichu, a whole new world opened up to me (Tichu is a ladder/climbing game, which is similar, but different than trick taking). Why is Tichu so good? Well, if you simply said it is like a trick-taking-partnership game, you'd have sold me. But saying that isn't enough. One of the reasons that Tichu is so good and has more tension than other trick takers is the gamble - calling Tichu. Calling Tichu is done before you play your first card and if you go out first, your team gains 100 points. If you fail to go out first, you lose 100 points (hands score a total of 100 points between the teams based on the tricks you take, so the bonus is a decent reward). The other reason that Tichu is so fascinating is in how you play cards. You can play single cards, pairs, triples, full houses, runs of 5+ cards, and super sets (called bombs) - straight flushes and four of a kinds. On top of that, there are 4 special cards. All together, the experience is different from other card games where you want all the tricks.

Ticket to Ride
There is a really good reason that Ticket to Ride has sold millions of copies and expansions on its way to becoming the gateway game franchise. Ticket to Ride is just that good. The game mechanics are simple (and even the expansions and different maps generally only add a small amount of new complexity) and easy to understand - on your turn you have three simple options and you do one of those things and then its the next player's turn. Short turns keep all the player's involved and what is fascinating is that despite this simplicity, the game is entertaining for experienced gamers and non-gamers alike.

For me, I like that I can get anyone (including my kids) to play this game with me and I don't feel like I'm settling on something just so we are playing together. I also like the huge number of maps and variants AND that all of this is available in electronic form. Bonus - the online version of the game is excellent and one of the best implementations of a boardgame ever.

Coincidently, Punchboard Media has an "essentials" game list being put together (read here), and Viticulture is on the list, so I already had a write up for this game (though this might beat that particular article to the internet)!

Viticulture is a Top 10 game for me and easily my favorite worker placement game, but - not plain vanilla Viticulture. This is an odd game in the way that it was released and re-released, and re-done with different versions having different expansions etc. When I refer to Viticulture, I do not mean anything less than Viticulture Essential Edition, and in my head, I really mean Viticulture Collector’s Edition (which is Viticulture + 80-billion Tuscany expansions). The reason for all these variations in releases is a long side story about promising kickstarter backers not to re-publish a particular version of the game, which I don’t think they do anymore.

Anyway, at its core, vanilla Viticulture is an ok worker placement game that is flawed by a couple of problems: everyone starts in the same place and is trying for the same things, which makes luck of the draw heavily influence the game (there are a lot of types of cards and they play a large part of the game, but when there is only one path to playing (at least at the start), it makes early draw luck important). This type of worker placement game (where everyone is just fighting to do the same thing in the beginning. ie you have to get that extra worker early on, because an extra action/turn is so important - if I have to do A-B-C to viably compete, just start the game there and don't make me go through those steps) is the main reason I don’t love a lot of WP games - I hate having to play a certain way. I hate when there are only a couple of viable paths to winning or scoring points.

Fortunately, a couple of expansions changed the game (for the better) and were packaged together to create what became the Essentials edition. What the changes did was make the starting state for each player variable, which meant that each player could approach the early game differently. By adding in a number of other expansions, you dramatically increase the ways that players could score points, and thus changed the paths to winning. Now, instead of having to do and acquire the same things (extra workers, money, buildings) at the same time as everyone else, players had options. Now you have a worker placement/engine game that was more tactical and fluid and had the luck of the draw much more evenly spread out. Players can easily see a LOT more cards, which meant a lot less frustration. Even if one type of card drawn frustrated you, you could trade those for money or points or other cards or grapes, etc. In fact, you can win the game never making wine. And while this is a game about running a wine business, the things you are doing to win are parts of all the other things around the business. It is a well married theme and with the full set of expansions available, you can make the game as complex or different from game to game as you want. Maybe you don’t make the wine, but you just grow grapes and sell them and give tours to tourists (and sell cheese and olives in your tasting room). I also like how well the game plays regardless of player count. I’ve played a fair number of 2-player games of Viticulture and we love it as much at that count as with 4-5 players.

And there you have thirteen of my favorite games! Be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!