Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Cult of the Not So New February 2009

Here we are in February 2019! Time to look back at the hotness from 10 years ago! 

BGG user JonMichael Rasmus (jmsr525) has been doing analysis of the games and their trends each month for what seems like forever. I like looking back, because frankly, there are lots of good games that didn't come out in the last two years, and lots of games you probably heard of that don't get played (for good reason). So sit back and enjoy this blast from the past. Based on information in the geeklist - BGG Top 100 Analysis February 2009

Prime Movers

  • Space Alert: +14 to #83. Space Alert is a cooperative team survival game. Players become crew members of a small spaceship scanning dangerous sectors of the galaxy. The missions last just 10 real-time minutes (the missions came on a CD, which required you to have a CD player). When this was released, everyone wasn't running around with a smart phone and bluetooth speakers - so a CD was a reasonable way to release the soundtrack. At the time, it did something new and interesting (and was a short co-op where you played in a panic) and how the heck is this still sitting at #168? I assume you can download the soundtrack now, but still...

Falling Stars

Well, technically there were no falling stars, but Mr. Jack fell 6 spots to #76 (a "falling star" was something that dropped more than ten spots). Mr. Jack is two-player game where one player is secretly moving Jack the Ripper and the other player is trying to catch the first player (think of it like a two-player Scotland Yard). A decent little two-player that has an expansion and a variant or two. The original currently sits at #447. If you want to give it a whirl, you can even try it online - http://www.hurricangames.com/en/games

Hot Lava Birth

  • Cosmic Encounter - this oldie but a goodie (seriously, this was I think the 4th or 5th edition of the game) was redone by FFG in late 2008, so received a resurgence and push into the Top 100 at #89 (currently #113). CE is one of those love it or hate it negotiation games where each player takes on the role of a faction (each having their own rule breaking power) that wants to take over the galaxy. FFG saw the potential of a game with a built in fan base and a good amount of expansion potential and ran with it.
  • RoboRally - I have no explanation for why this game from 1994 might have jumped into the top 100 (at #98, currently sitting at #366). If you have never played it (and it was redone in 2016) then you are missing out on one of the few "programming" games out there. The game setup is simple - put out a number of boards representing a factory. Program a handful of moves into your robot, then everyone executes the moves. Of course, you are trying your best to both foil the other player's plans while trying not to have yours screwed up. Its chaotic and some people love it. Others really hate the chaos and having their plans screwed up after their first planned move. I think it was too long for what it is and it has a little bit of a Mario Kart problem - if you can pull away from the group, you have the best shot at winning. Get knocked around a little and stuck in the pack and you are hosed for most of the game. Honestly, it defeats the purpose of the game if you get away with pulling off your moves every single round (leader) and its frustrating when you can't do anything. So, the chaos is fun for a bit, then I'm not sure where the entertainment is in this game.

Top Ten Trends

I like the top ten trends. Some of the PBM folks were talking about the #1 spots earlier and I had a fair idea of a number of them just because of this particular topic.
  • Through the Ages (+1 #7) - TtA kept on with its steady rise (though it never held the #1 spot). I've mentioned it many a time in the past - I was a huge fan of this for a long time, but after a number of games, it fell out of favor with me due to a couple of (IMO) serious issues. For a longer game, bash the loser sucks, especially with no way to recover once it starts. If you enjoy this, great, have a good time.
  • Swapping places with TtA in the top 10 was the super classic area control game - El Grande. El Grande has fallen outside the top 50 (currently #57), but is still a phenomenal game that everyone should play at some point (if you are a euro-gamer). 

Top 5 Winning Movers

These are the highest ranked games that have shown any positive position movement in the last month that aren't in the top 10. I especially like this portion of the article, because typically games that showed some kind of movement upwards in the top 100 were (and often still are) good games.
  • Command and Colors: Ancients - this was about the 5th iteration of Borg's C&C system and is one of the best. I don't have any particular love for this setting, but as a "light" wargame, the system is really well done. Well done enough to have at least 5 expansions. If you have not ever played any of the C&C games, don't let your attention wander to the variations that have minis - the blocks work really well here (the biggest drawback of this game is actually sticking the damn blocks).
  • Die Macher - game number 1 in the BGG database! Who wants to play a game about elections in Germany? Well, besides being a crazy brain burner, it is an amazing game. The theme sounds dry as toast, but it works perfectly (and what you do makes sense, despite being a dry-euro-cube-pusher). All euro-gamers should play this at least once. Even if you only try the "short" version.
  • Goa - I have never tried this game. It came out a few years before I got into boardgames again and by the time I arrived on the scene, the local group had pretty well played this out. As most newbies soon learn, there are so many games out there you don't know what you are missing (if anything). I've been told this is best with people of similar experience, so someday I'll need to find a copy and a group that has never tried it (or they need to release an app of the game).
  • Le Havre - Some find this game a little dry (it is), but I think this is one of Ewe's better games. It takes a few plays to get a handle on the flow and the main buildings that will come out, but after those few plays, this is a beast of a mid-weight engine building euro. I'd rather play Ora et Labora or Caverna to get my Ewe fix, but this is definitely in the mix.
  • Battlestar Galactica - oh BSG... This is one of the more popular co-op/traitor games, but its length and my lack of desire to play this kind of game has always kept me away. Love the source material, but not enough that I want to play it. I'd rather play One Night Werewolf for a quick fix of the traitor genre, and Eldritch Horror is one of the few co-ops I'd actively try to play, so this just isn't my cup of tea. That said, she still sits in the top 100 at #64
And that's all for this look back at BGG history and what was hot a decade ago.

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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Painting Descent - January

Just wanted to post a quick update as January wraps up. Over on BGG, the Painter Guild runs a monthly "Challenge List". For January, my goal was six figures: Bol'Goreth (a lieutenant), a set of four monsters (Volucurix), and a hero (Pathfinder Durik). I got them all done (finishing Bol'Goreth tonight). Here are my totals and the figures I finished for the month:
  • 57 monster figures done
  • 18 hero figures done
  • 8 lieutenants done
  • 6 figures done in 2019 through 5 weeks

Bol' Goreth
Volcurix
Pathfinder Durik

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Descent Session Report: Heirs of Blood Campaign - Part I

Prelude

As those that take an interest in Things of No Interest may know, I have a lot of Descent stuff. Like, a lot. Base set, two large box expansions, 4 small box expansions, a number of hero and monster sets, and the Heirs of Blood campaign book.

The original 2nd edition of the Descent base game came with a campaign - The Shadow Rune. At some point, Heirs of Blood replaced The Shadow Rune as the default campaign and they released the hardback book for owners of the original. I am one of these people.

However, without a regular group to play this, everything sat around while I was painting the figures. Then FFG released the Road to Legend app, which allows for the game to be played solo - much like the solo quests that FFG released for Descent, but rather than sets of cards specific to a setting, it was all handled by the app. And this was great and let me start really playing the game. Unfortunately the app has a couple of small drawbacks. The app has its own campaigns and handles travel on its own. This means that all the campaign material that come with the expansion boxes sits unused. It also means that a lot of the game material sits unused (all the overlord cards etc).

Prior to RtL being released, I found a solo system that had been developed by a BGG user - RedJak. RedJak had developed a system called the Automated Overlord Variant (RAOV) which was a set of rules and cards that gave an AI setup for monsters and for each quest of each bit of published material from FFG. This system was great, but maybe a hair clunky - keeping track of all the overlord stuff and hero stuff was a little much. RedJak also developed a system for creating random dungeons (DelvenDeep). Eventually the two systems were somewhat combined to create RedJak's Automated  Monster Variant (RAMV) which took out a lot of the overlord stuff and replaced it with a more streamlined event system. Interestingly, RAMV plays a LOT like the RtL app - except that you play the actual published campaigns.

So here we are. I decided that I wanted play through some of my actual materials. I already had all the RAMV cards printed up and ready to go. I also decided that I didn't want to have a set of figures in progress with painting needing to be used, so I decided that I was going to play the Heirs of Blood as the intro campaign, using only the base set - heroes, classes, monsters, shop cards, conditions, travel cards, and lieutenants. For the second half, I may end up adding in any monster and hero set that I've finished painting. One last note - I'm using the amazing D2E Campaign tracker this online tool tracks everything and is a great way to log your adventures.

Intro Quest - Acolyte of Saradyn

A caravan of monks that the heroes were tasked to protect had run into a goblin ambush on its way to the monastery. The heroes arrived just in time to come to the aid of a young boy that was fighting off the attacking goblins.
The heroes managed to fend off the ambush and saved what little valuables were left. They learned the boy's name was Tyrus and, as night set in, the heroes were met on the road by an elder-priestess of the monastery called Helena, who invited them to where her army was camped.

Acolyte of Saradyn is a little intro quest to get your juices flowing. The maps is tight and the goal is very easily achieved - defeat the "attack dogs" (Barghests). There are three villagers that you can rescue (one per round). I only rescued two, because I won before the end of the second turn. Yeah, it was that simple.

That's ok, this allowed me to refamiliarize myself with the RAMV system and enjoy a quick playing.

After a lot of quests, there is a choice of quests to pursue, which allows for replaying the campaign with fresh adventures. I was presented with two choices (the choice usually goes to the winner of the previous quest, the Overlord or the Heroes). Having no idea what might be more interesting, I simply picked the first option - Siege of Skytower.

Siege of Skytower

The heroes were visiting a bastion overlooking the valley when it came under assault of the Overlord's forces led by Belthir and Sir Alric Farrow, with the goal of taking the bastion's tower. 
 As the Overlord's minions managed to breach the gate and take tower of the bastion, the heroes only choice was to retreat and fall back to the monastery.

Now things are getting real. The map was larger and there were a ton of things to setup. First up was the campaign travel steps. There were three travel steps:
  • In the first step the overlord would have normally gained a card. With RAMV and no overlord, the rules say to draw a certain kind of card, which said to replace the master monster with an agent (Merrik) in the first monster group.
  • Nothing happened
  • Each hero ended up failing a random test and started the quest with one less health and fatigue point. 
Swell, an extra hard monster (Merrik) instead of what ended up being a master goblin archer. Not quite the same at all. The quest already included TWO lieutenants - Sir Avric and Belthir, goblin archers and cave spiders, plus two random groups (which ended up being zombies and flesh moulders). Ugg. At the start of each round, the overlord side would bring in 3 goblins or flesh moulders (which were going to try and run off the map on the other side). Additionally, a new cave spider would get added at the end of each round (if one was available). All in all, a steady stream of things to deal with throughout.

For the heroes, the goal was to last 8 rounds without letting too many of the bad guess through. The map had three routes to the exit and three doors (only one of which could be shut at a time) that could be closed via remote switches. Sadly, the remote switches were guarded by zombies. 

The good news was, what looked overly hard at first, wasn't too bad. The goblins and flesh moulders only goal was to move off the map, so unless they couldn't move, they wouldn't attack. This meant really only having to take out the spiders and zombies. It also turned out that Belthir was just a story thing - he just flew around the map trying to move guys towards the exit in a faster manner. Sir Avric also wasn't going to attack, but only try to escape - he just counted for a lot more than all the little guys AND if he could be defeated, there was a good reward for the heroes. 

Starting to get overwhelmed!
Right off the bat, I ran a hero to the switches to flip them until I found the secret waterfall door. I lucked out and closed that on my first try, but that hero (my fighter) ended up alone and surrounded by zombies - they would later knock her out. The other two (thief and mage) took the responsibility of trying to thin down the spiders and anything that got through via the other two routes the monsters could use to exit. 

The first couple of rounds weren't too bad, but neither did I take command. I got rid of the master cave spider, but had a hard time getting rid of the others. My thief did manage to find a shield, which was a nice surprise. He has lots of ways to hide and defend himself (and as you'll see, it didn't matter). My mage had a lot of bad attack rolls and just slowly was getting beat up.

He's getting away and there are no heroes!
About halfway through, the flood gates seemed to just open up and the monsters started overwhelming the team. I had slowly picked off the zombies and turned to trying to kill off Sir Avric to win the end-of-quest relic. Though he didn't fight back, he was a bear to try and kill. While I was working on him, the spiders were working on my thief and mage and knocking them out again and again. Eventually, Merrik joined in and the spiders killed my mage and thief enough times that Sir Avric slipped through and I came up about one round short of beating him. 

I also ended up having some bad luck in that a RAMV global event reduced my ability to recover down to one die (instead of two), so my heroes were getting knocked out over and over with no real recovery.

With heroes down (and the damn fast goblins) a flood of bad guys got through and ended my chances for a quest win in the seventh round!

So, my first real quest (the intro REALLY didn't count) wasn't a win, but it was a success. RAMV worked really well for playing the defined scenarios. An interesting note - D2ETracker has stats on all the quests. This particular one favored the Overlord by a hair (52% of the recorded wins). The fact that my result was very close is a good sign for things to come. Until next time!

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Painting Descent - Pathfinder Durik

Let's paint this guy!
Thought I'd share what it looks like over time as I work through a figure, so I took some work in progress pictures as I painted this figure (recall from last time, the goal is one a week for the year, so I am technically behind so far for 2019).

 I always prime my figures - I don't trust the plastics and I've always had decent results with the gesso I use (ProArt black gesso). Gesso shrinks as it dries, so I don't feel like I lose detail on the figures and I don't have to deal with outside temp or conditions in order to spray - I just brush it on.

Generally speaking, working from the inside out makes it easier to paint, so that means starting with the lowest areas - the skin. I wanted to start with the skin as I planned to dry brush after the base color and wash, and I'm sloppy about it, so not having to worry about overpainting is a good thing.

I picked a good grey/blue base color (Fenrisian Grey - Citadel) and thinned it down so I could apply a couple thin layers. After the skin layers dried, I needed to apply a wash. Citadel's washes are my preferred choice, but their blue is much too dark and their blue glaze is too bright blue. I have a number of Secret Weapon Washes too, but I don't like they way they flow as much as the Citadel washes.

I ended up settling on Secret Weapon Washes' Sapphire with a drop of Citadel's Drakenhof Nightshade and a couple drops of water to thin it. The color was just right and didn't darken the skin too much overall.

Once that dried, I went and dry brushed over the skin with an off white (Citadel Screaming Skull). The point was to reduce the blueness a bit while highlighting the face and areas like the hands. Once that was done, I went back and added a bit more of the wash to the recess of the eyes (I picked up an eye trick - the idea is to darken the eye socket area, which you will then add white for they actual eye. The extra shade in the socket area helps it to look more natural and less like "ping pong ball eyes). With the skin more or less done for now, it was time to move on to the rest of the bulk painting areas.

I have a nice tan color I like to base lighter colors and browns with from P3 (Rucksack Tan) that I've thinned down for my airbrush. I also use it to brush on (as I did here). I basically hit all the furs, boots and the areas I play to lay down a lighter color (the wraps on his wrists). After taking this picture, I decide that I'd apply another layer of the tan to the skins and just use washes to get the color I wanted. The nice part of this technique is that it's faster. I don't have to worry about a little bit of the black primer showing through the tan, once the wash is applied, it'll look just fine - uniform color looks unattractive and cartoonish because of the lack of shading and on things like furs, variations look much much more natural.

Now, the picture above doesn't show the back side, so I have some leeway in colorings, though the cape does appear to be fairly light. I don't particularly like light furs, so I went with a more orange color and plan to "lighten it" with some dry brushing.

So here we have the next phase. I applied two different washes to the cape/furs. Citadel Fuegan Orange to the upper part and their Reikland Fleshshade to the lower. I also took some straight (untwined) Rucksack Tan and went over the boots, one armband and the cloth between his legs.

I pulled the Screaming Skull back out and did the fur on his boots and the wristbands.

The fur edge of the boots I wanted to be dingy, so I washed those later with Citadel Nuln Oil wash. The boots, warps and cloth I wanted a more subtle shading to, so they got my go to wash - Citadel's Sepia. If the cloth had been wrapping a mummy or some such, I would have gone back and used a little bit of a light green to really make the wraps look good.

As you can see here, the furs already have a bit of a pop to them. The wash settles into the recesses and stains the original color (that color being the same as the boots here). Furs are soooooo much easier to do than cloth capes and robes.

After they dried, I went and dry brushed a bit of Elfic Flesh onto the orange fur. The light color stood out far too much against the darker orange, so I pulled the Rucksask Tan back out and dry brushed a little of that into the orange cape as well. The color of that blend was much better.

While I had the tan on the brush, I also barely hit the lower fur to help that along.

At this point there wasn't much left to do but some of the detail items - the necklace, some feathers, and the weapons on him. And of course, the eyes.

And there is the finished result. My picture skills are a bit suspect, but he came out pretty decently. He'll look really good on the table. And if you are wondering, I totally cheat on the eyes. After laying down a small amount of white, I use a micron pen to dot the eyes - saves me so much frustration. Time to get back to painting!

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Painting Descent (2019)

In a random discussion that was being had yesterday, I got to wondering how long I've been working on painting my Descent game. Much to my surprise, the earliest picture I could find of my Descent 2nd edition work - ie something that I had painted - was from August 2013! Wow...

All my painted monsters from the base set
I mean, this isn't the only thing I've been painting. Heck, this isn't even the only edition of Descent I've worked on in that same timeframe. But 5+ years is a lot of time to spend painting one game.

All the monsters above (31 figures) and all the heroes (8) were finished in the fall of 2015 (the full base set of the game). Since that time, I've also acquired and finished painting:
  • All the lieutenants from the base game (6)
  • Skeleton and wolf familiar proxies (2)
  • Villager proxies (4)
  • Lair of the Wyrm expansion (8 monsters, 2 heroes)
  • Valyndra Lieutenant (LotW)
  • Crusade of the Forgotten expansion (9 monsters, 4 heroes)
  • Trollfens expansion (7 monsters, 2 heroes)
All my painted figures from Lair of the Wyrm
Then there is the currently in progress stuff:
  • Bol'Goreth Lieutenant (Trollfens) 
  • Labyrinth of Ruin expansion (13 monsters, 4 heroes)
All my painted figures from Trollfens
AND THEN, there is the waiting to be done stuff*:
  • LoR Lieutenants (3 + 1 hero)
  • Shadow of Nerekhall expansion (12 monsters, 4 heroes)
  • Manor of Ravens expansion (8 monsters, 2 heroes)
  • Mists of Bilehall expansion (12 monsters)
  • Guardians of Deephall expansion (9 monsters, 4 heroes)
  • Crown of Destiny expansion (9 monsters, 4 heroes)
  • Treaty of Champions expansion (9 monsters, 4 heroes)
So that brings me to a total of 64 monsters painted, 16 heroes painted + 6 misc. I only have 76 more monsters and 23 more heroes to finish! Ugh! I really hope that it doesn't take me 5+ years to work through. If I get through the WIP (work in progress) stuff, the LoR Lieutenants, Shadow of Nerekhall, and one of the Guardians, Crown or Treaty sets by the end of this year, I'll be really happy. That would be an additional 34 monsters, 4 Lieutenants, and 13 heroes. That seems like a really reasonable amount for a year right? That's like one figure a week for 2019 - heck, if I can do two a week, that's all of them. Yeah, right!

I'll get there eventually. It seems like a small thing, but the game is certainly more entertaining with all the colorful figures on the map than it is with piles of red and white bad guys chasing down a couple grey figures. Which would you rather play?
With paintWithout paint
It drives me crazy playing the game now with painted guys and generic unpainted guys. I'll still do it, but halfway through I start thinking about how I'll paint some of the unpainted stuff. As usual, I'll try and post stuff here for anyone to see.

If you want to see all the work I've done on Descent and keep an eye on what I'm getting done, you can visit this list on BGG

*NOTE: this is just a count of the stuff I own. There are still nine more lieutenants, and five more expansions that I don't own (roughly 44 more monsters + 9 lieutenants + 20 heroes). 

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Cult of the Not So New January 2009

Hey! It is 2019 and it has been a while since I've done this, so it is time to look back at the hotness from 10 years ago! 

BGG user JonMichael Rasmus (jmsr525) has been doing analysis of the games and their trends each month for what seems like forever. I like looking back, because frankly, there are lots of good games that didn't come out in the last two years, and lots of games you probably heard of that don't get played (for good reason). So sit back and enjoy this blast from the past. Based on information in the geeklist - BGG Top 100 Analysis June 2009

Prime Movers

  • Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries (+20 #75) - When this was initially released, you could actually only get it in Nordic countries (or Europe or some such). I was lucky enough to have a friend travel overseas and grab me a copy (which I eventually traded). In the last year or so, this map made its way online and we've given it some more play. Really a decent map for 2-3 players (it has a similar flavor/feel to the Switzerland map). It might have REALLY shot up if it had been released in the USA, because at this point in time, (except for maybe Power Grid and Age of Steam) games didn't have tons and tons of variants/expansions as a rule. This currently sits at #121, which isn't too bad for a TtR flavor.
  • Battlestar Galactica (+18 #29) - I have never played this game. I liked the show well enough, but (at least with our regular group) this game was too long for my taste - and I just don't love co-ops. I know, this is a traitor game, but that doesn't make it better to me (I'd rather play something shorter like One Night Werewolf or something).

Falling Stars

Well, technically none, but these two each fell 6 spots (a "falling star" was something that dropped more than ten spots). 
  • Through the Desert - One of Knizia's classics (and a great great game IMO). Infamous for the pastel camels that remind people of "wedding mints" (those cream cheese mints that are pressed into molds and then coated in sugar). This is a great area control game that isn't the same as what you'd think of in area control game. Currently at #445, this is one that isn't in most people's radar, but is still a good game. Trust me, this stands the test of time and deserves a look if you've never tried it (it is a top 20 game for me).
  • ZERTZ - possibly my least favorite of the GIPF series for a couple of reasons. First, it was solvable. The designer had to go back and add more rings in order to un-break the original design (later edition include a dozen extra rings). Secondly, the round parts look cool, but seriously, playing with a bunch of marbles is a pain in the butt. Currently the game sits at #525

Hot Lava Birth

  • Space Alert - Space Alert is a cooperative team survival game. Players become crew members of a small spaceship scanning dangerous sectors of the galaxy. The missions last just 10 real-time minutes (the missions came on a CD, which required you to have a player). It is funny because when this was released, everyone wasn't running around with a smart phone and bluetooth speakers. But, when this came out, it did something new and interesting (and was a short co-op where you played in a panic) and how the heck is this still sitting at #168? I assume you can download the soundtrack now, but still... Anyway, this broke into the top 100 at #97
  • Blood Bowl 3rd ed. - this came in at #98 (currently #277). This is a Fantasy Football minis game that had (and still has) a loyal following of players. Like a lot of Games Workshop minis games - you are either a minis person or not.

Top Ten Trends

I like the top ten trends. Some of the PBM folks were talking about the #1 spots earlier and I had a fair idea of a number of them just because of this particular topic.
  • Through the Ages (+2 #8) - TtA kept on with its steady rise (though it never held the #1 spot). I've mentioned it many a time in the past - I was a huge fan of this for a long time, but after a number of games, it fell out of favor with me due to a couple of (IMO) serious issues. For a longer game, bash the loser sucks, especially with no way to recover once it starts. If you enjoy this, great, have a good time.
  • Caylus (-1 #9) - Caylus peaked at #2 in 2005 (about 4 years before this). People were sure it would overtake Puerto Rico, but it never did. Instead, Agricola became the newer hotness (and it did overtake PR). Currently Caylus sits at #47. 
  • Race for the Galaxy (-1 #10) - Race peaked the year prior at #8, and you are starting to see its slide out of the top 10. Interestingly, it currently sits at #48. I wonder if it and Caylus just slowly dropped as newer (better) games slid in over time. We shall see in coming chapters!

Top 5 Winning Movers

These are the highest ranked games that have shown any positive position movement in the last month that aren't in the top 10.
  • Shogun - Though it has been a while since I've done one of these, I've mentioned Shogun before. Gamers who are newer to games might only recognize this classic mechanic if you've played Amerigo - ie the cube tower (DON'T BUMP THE DAMN TABLE). A really fun Euro with a unique combat system (the cube tower). If you haven't played it, you should find this and play it at least once (if you've tried and played Wallenstein, you know what this is already).
  • Pandemic (Second month!) - yeah, ten years ago, co-op games were just starting to make a splash, so this was cool (or hot I guess). 
  • Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery - anyone remember that there weren't two games before this? Nope, this was named after the PC game (and it really had nothing to do with the game, in this case, it was pure marketing). All that aside, this is a really decent euro game with interesting choices. About four years ago it was redone as Empires - Age of Discovery, so you might have played it. If you haven't you are missing out on a descent game that is worth playing.
  • Combat Commander: Europe - STILL one of my all time favorite games. Let me explain... No, there is too much. Let me sum up. Buttercup is marrying Humperdinck in a little less than half an hour, so all we have to do is get in, break up the wedding, steal the Princess, and make our escape after I kill Count Rugen. Much like the Princess Bride, the reason this is one of my all time favorites? Every time I play, I come away with some fantastic session that gets retold over and over again. For a tactical-hand-management game about WWII, it cannot be beat.
  • Battlestar Galactica
And that's all for this look back at BGG history and what was hot a decade ago.

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Friday, January 04, 2019

Sleeve Kings - Card Sleeve Review

Welcome to 2019! We are here to start the year discussing card sleeves of all things! If you want to know why I care about sleeving - go check out my article from last year about To Sleeve or Not to Sleeve.

Full disclosure: I was provided with two packs of card sleeves from Sleeve Kings for review - I was not otherwise compensated.

Sleeve Kings ran a Kickstarter during 2018, which was fully funded. They should be fulfilling pledges sometime this month, and then their web store should start accepting orders. The premise for their sleeves (straight from their homepage):

  • Thicker Than Any Other "Standard" Sleeves - Most "Standard" Sleeves are 40 microns thick, a few are even 50 microns.  Ours are 60 microns thick! That is 50% more than most!
  • 10% More Sleeves Than The Other Guys - Standard sleeves come 100/pack.  We are the only brand offering 110 per pack!  10% more in every pack! 
  • The "Clear" Winner - Our sleeves are made from Cleartech™ Polypropylene.  Our sleeves are made from 60 micron thick sheets which are demonstrably clearer than the other guys.  You can actually SEE the difference.  Just as diamonds are rated on a clarity scale, even 100% polypropylene can vary significantly from product to product depending on how it is manufactured.  You will see the difference!  
  • Cheaper Than Other Brands  - Most brands retail for $3 or more per 50 pack.  We are offering ours for $2-$3 per pack for even the largest sizes and 110 sleeves per pack!
  • Buy Direct From The Manufacturer & Save!  - How are we able to offer these so cheap?  We ARE Sleeve Kings!  This is our brand!  We produce directly from the factory and sell directly to you.  There is no middleman!
  • "Tough As Nails" Guarantee We have created these sleeves with the most advanced polypropylene processing in the industry.  This means importing our polypropylene already in the right sizes from the middle east and then cutting and sealing our sleeves at our factory in China.  We have a special process to make our sleeve actually warp/bend before they split.  Our sleeves are guaranteed never to split.  Just how tough are our sleeves?  We dare you to try the "two finger challenge" on any other brand of standard sleeves and pull the sleeve apart to try to force the sides to split.
Ok, so the question is - do the cards match their claims? I requested two different sizes: small card and standard American. These are the equivalent to FFG Yellow and Green sleeves (41mm x 63mm and 57mm x 89mm). **Side note, if you ever need to know what size sleeve your game needs, visit this list at BGG). I choose these because I have sleeved Descent and it'd be easy to do comparisons against sleeves I know I have extras of and use regularly. 

The Sleeve Kings first claim is that their sleeves are thicker. According to the BGG Card Sleeve geeklist I just referenced here is the information for the various brands:
  • Arcane Tinmen: All sleeves are 80 microns.
  • Artipia: Standard sleeves are 40 microns. Premium sleeves are 90 microns.
  • BCW: Board game sleeves are approximately 100 microns. Other sleeves vary.
  • Blackfire: Most sleeves are 40 microns. Premium sleeves are 100 microns.
  • Docsmagic: Regular sleeves are 50 microns. Premium sleeves are 100 microns.
  • Dragon Shield: All sleeves are 120 microns.
  • Fantasy Flight: All sleeves are 105 microns.
  • Kaissa Games: Standard sleeves are 50 microns. Premium sleeves are 80 microns.
  • KMC: Standard and Mini sleeves are 100 microns. Perfect Fit sleeves are 45.5 microns.
  • LaTCG: Perfect Size sleeves are 63.5 microns. I have no information on their other sleeves.
  • Legion: Unknown thickness, but comparable to Fantasy Flight. 
  • Mage Company: 100 microns.
  • Mayday: Standard sleeves are 40 microns. Premium sleeves are 90 microns.
  • MTL: Soft sleeves are 40 microns. Thick sleeves are 90 microns.
  • Paladin (NSKN): All sleeves are 90 microns.
  • Sleeve Kings: All sleeves are 60 microns.
  • Swan PanAsia: Standard sleeves are 40 microns. Premium sleeves are 90 microns.
  • Tasty Minstrel: Unknown thickness, but comparable to Fantasy Flight.
  • Ultimate Guard: Classic Soft sleeves are 40 microns. Premium Soft sleeves are 50 microns. Supreme sleeves are 115 microns. Master sleeves are 160 microns.
  • Ultra-Pro: Deck Protector sleeves are 110 microns.
So they are thicker than some, but not nearly as thick as others. Also, of note - I believe Sleeve Kings is headed up by Seth (of Mayday games) but their sleeves are NOT the same as Mayday's nor are they made in the same factory or by the same process. So these are not Mayday sleeves, re-branded.

So, interestingly, unless you buy fairly cheap sleeves (or worse, penny sleeves), you will find the Sleeve Kings' sleeves thinner. I'll have to say, I didn't find this to be horrible. The sleeves are only 60% of the thickness of most premium sleeves, but they don't feel cheap by comparison. When you have a large number of cards, the thickness starts to be noticeable, and so stack height starts to matter.

On their second point - nearly all of the brands sell themselves in packs of 50 or 100, so you do indeed get more. Does it matter that much? Depends on how much of a MAGO you are... I will say this, if you are doing a lot of sleeving, the cost point paired with the amount of cards you get is really good.

Sleeve Kings on the left, FFG on the right
As for their next point - clarity. I found their sleeves to be slightly clearer. What I can't actually say is whether this was due to the reduced thickness or or the material or whatever, but they are slightly less cloudy than the FFG card sleeves (not that I find FFG sleeves to be particularly "cloudy"). Also, please don't try and judge the clarity based on my inability to take great pictures with my phone. In the picture above, you can't tell much difference and it really isn't that different in person either - as I said, it is slight.

Sleeve Kings' sleeves are a hair wider
While we are looking at the above pictures, I'll take this opportunity to point out size differences (as opposed to thickness). Now, the Sleeve Kings' sleeves are all 0.5mm wider than most of the competition. Honestly, it isn't super noticeable. If you are sleeving a heavily shuffled card game (Star Realms or a deck builder like Thunderstone) and you only had one or two of the wider ones, you might be able to pick them out on width - I have noticed size differences in other brands before and in other games I've sleeved and it hasn't bothered me or been advantageous in any way I've seen, but if you are a MAGO, it might bother you if your sleeves are not uniform.

Interestingly and despite the width difference, the sleeves are actually snugger than the FFG ones. The are also shorter, leaving less extra sleeve at the top. Does any of that matter? Not that I can tell - it doesn't seem to make it easier to shuffle (you'll still have to avoid bridge shuffling since you will still catch cards in the opening). I honestly hadn't ever noticed the extra space on the sides of the sleeves using the FFG brand, but for whatever reason, Sleeve Kings do fit better (ie less space between the card and the sleeve edge). Sleeve Kings has made a point of stating these are not Mayday sleeves, but if you use Mayday sleeves - these fit a lot like their premium ones.

And now we get to the Sleeve Kings' final point, and one that they have made a big deal about - the strength (and quality of the manufacturing). Let me first say that with clear sleeves, I generally do not have an issue with ripped sleeves (I don't use penny sleeves as I've indicated a number of times). The sleeves I've had issues with are generally because of two materials (sleeves with an opaque back) that split when sleeving or after a bit of use. That being said, I gave their sleeve challenge a go, ripping up FFG and Sleeve Kings' sleeves, and here's what I found.

If you put a couple fingers in FFG cards and pull, they rip - right down both sides and without too much effort. These aren't bad quality sleeves, so don't get the idea that FFG sleeves rip if you look at them wrong, but it didn't take much effort to try to rip them.
FFG small FFG standard
Now, when I tried the same with the Sleeve Kings' sleeves, it was tougher. 40% of the sleeves I pulled on, I was not able to get them to rip down the seem and all I ended up with was a bunch of stretched out sleeves. The rest ripped, but admittedly with a bit more effort. Which is to say, their claim that their card sleeves are stronger on the seams appears to be true, and I agree that they are when using their finger pull test. As I have not fully sleeved up a deck builder/shuffle heavy game, I can't say how they'd stand up over time (as far as splitting goes when played with heavily).

Sleeve Kings Sleeve Kings Sleeve Kings

Conclusion

So, would I buy and use these instead of FFG sleeves? Yes, maybe. Sorry, that's a terrible answer. Let me explain why I use the sleeves I currently do and my main reservation. 

For boardgames with non-magic sized cards that I want to sleeve, I typically use FFG sleeves. For deck builders or LCG/CCG (anything "Magic" sized) I use Ultra Pro card sleeves. I don't think they are necessarily the best or that they are my favorites, but the price and availability are decent. I can find either brand all over the place - I can get Ultra Pros at Walmart if I want. FFG sleeves are pretty readily available at any FLGS and on Amazon. I long time ago, I compared Mayday premium sleeves to FFG and preferred them over the FFG ones for many of the same reasons I like the Sleeve Kings' sleeves (which I'll state here in a second). The only reason I don't use Mayday premium sleeves now - I couldn't get them. My FLGS carried them, but they couldn't get them back in stock, so they never had them and they were constantly unavailable online as well. I eventually decided that the (small) differences didn't matter as much as being able to actually get sleeves easily.

So that's really my only hesitation. If Sleeve Kings can keep up the supply chain (beyond the first part of this year) then I'd easily recommend these sleeves. As this is a new brand/company, there isn't an evidence either way except for my past history with Mayday (I also have no clue if Mayday ever got their supply issues worked out as I stopped using their brand). 

Pros

  • Sleeve Kings fit the cards better and they are shorter (less gap at the top of the sleeve.
  • They are 40% thinner than most premium sleeves without feeling cheap
  • They are stronger on the seams than thicker sleeves
  • Their cost is good. 110 sleeves @ $2-3 is a really good price. FFG sleeves are more than twice that cost.
Honestly, the thinner thing is really appealing. With a game like Eldritch Horror where you have 1300+ regular sized cards (assuming you are an expansion fanatic), storage is an issue. For deckbuilders this is also a problem. I've stopped buying Legendary expansions because I am out of room for more cards. I'd say if you are just starting out with a game you want to sleeve, these are a great choice. I don't think I'm going to go about re-doing/re-sleeving all my games, but if they are able to keep them in stock so that they are easy to get, I will likely choose Sleeve Kings for my sleeving needs in the future. 


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