Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Next Next 15 (i.e. 26-40)

Ok, because I like giving half-second blurbs about games I like here are another 15 that I like that didn't make my top 25. Again, I'm listing these in alphabetical order. Much like 11-25, these could have have broken into that next group up just as easily.

American Rails
If you have played Chicago Express, then you already know a lot about this game. If you haven't, just know that this is the better CE. This is a 90 minute stock game with a rail theme and the right mix of mechanics which make it interesting as heck. It is not an 18XX lite game - seriously, it is the evolution of CE. When I first played this game, I immediately decided to sell/trade CE - this was that much better. A couple of my regular gaming friends didn't really like CE that much, so this hasn't hit the table in a long while for me, but it is still a great game. Unlike CE, the setup is variable and player determined. The action selection is improved / streamlined. It probably isn't the easiest game to find, but if you get the chance to play it, you should. If I got to play it regularly, it would probably have jumped up close to my top 10

Chaos in the Old World
I am not a Warhammer fan boy. Honestly, I could care less about the whole WH universe etc. That doesn't stop me from playing the games with that theme, nor does that stop this game from being awesome. Four asymetrical forces in something of an area control game (set in the WH universe) with different ways to win. Good stuff. Some factions feel easier to win with than others, but I think there is good balance here once players know the game just enough. It is slightly longer than I think it needs to be, but there is a fun game to be found. It is also a little Ameri-trashy with dice combat and lots of plastic bits (Ameritrashy doesn't bother me in the least, I grew up playing Risk). I have not tried the expansion, but I do think you need 4-players to get the best out of this game. Sadly, FFG lost the license to this one and I don't know if it'll get reprinted or not. I know finding the expansion is silly hard, but I don't know that I'd need to play this with 5 players either. I do think it is best with the full 4, but it is ok with three.

For me, Vital Lacerda's games apparently fall into the same range of how much I like them and probably for about the same reasons. CO2 (like his other games as far as I'm concerned) is an interesting blend of various euro-style mechanics that form the backbone of a dense medium-heavy game. This game is interesting in that the more players you have, the less actions each player has and the MORE you have to work together to accomplish things - there is no avoiding it. Even that isn't quite accurate. It isn't so much that you are working together, as you are in playing off one another. Since you can't do A to setup B, if you really just want B, you need to convince someone else it is there best use of their limited actions. I played this two-player once, and while it was fine, I rarely had to interact nor cooperate with the other player. Again, it was fine, but way more interesting with more players. I like the medium-heavy euros, but they are harder to get mulitple playings done, which is probably the only reason they tend to fall out of my top 25.

C & C: Ancients
I mentioned the Command and Colors system in my 11-25 list under Battles of Westeros. This particular version is a purer version of the system and the best of that bunch. Rather than a lot of fancy plastic bits, this version simply uses stickered blocks for the armies (which also means that if you buy this new, expect it to take a long time to ready it so you can play). I don't mind the wood blocks vs the plastic bits (in fact it makes setup and teardown somewhat easier). The blocks sometimes make it harder to see what a unit is, but that may just be from a guy with bad eyes complaining. My only real issue is that I don't particularly care about the setting, so it really is a little dry. For a lighter "wargame" I want to be a little more invested or interested, but again, it works and is the best of the rules sets (that I've played).

Gerdts has produced a number of games built around his usage of the rondel for selecting actions. Rather than a physical rondel shared by players, this game uses cards that each player cycles through to take their actions (almost a virtual rondel).  Players also acquire cards throughout the game that somewhat customize "their rondel". Coupled with a lighter engine building/area control kind of thing going on and you have a nice medium weight euro. If you enjoyed any of his other games (Antike, Hamburgum, Navegador, etc), you will likely enjoy this as well or even better than his other games. There are also expansions and maps (though I haven't had a chance to explore those yet). I hope to explore this a bit more as a two-player game soon. I like this game in my playings so far, and I think this is one that could possibly jump up a group too.

The Gallerist
The second Lacerda game to grace this list has similar notes as CO2. Here is a medium-heavy euro with a nice little mix of mechanics. One of the things I enjoy about Lacerda's games is that they are dense enough that you can't just math out a path to victory. There is planning (tactical and strategic) that is required and interaction with the other players. Another great game and this one is crazy in production value - THICK tiles and nice artwork. I find that the theme of each game fits the game, rather than feeling tacked on, which is nice and this one feels unique - you manage a gallery and are also trying to make your gallery the best by promoting the artist and their works.

I like abstract games and this one is classically good. GIPF is both the name of the first game as well as the name of the full series of abstract games with weird titles. I lot of people like PUNCT the best of the series, but I prefer this one by a nose. I love the clever plays it offers and the shifting board. Great little fast two player game when I'm in the mood. There are also a number of little expansions for this that add a hair more variability but don't make things so vastly different that you don't recognize the game.

This is my prefered game from the Mask Trilogy - Kramer and Kiesling's action point series. I like the action point systems and I especially love the spatial aspect of this game. All the action point games have a similar flaw - downtime between your turns and plenty of AP. You can't really plan ahead, so by downtime, I mean downtime. A good game for occassional play. This falls down this far probably because I get a very very similar spatial satisfaction out of playing Taluva (despite the only real similarity being the shape of the tiles).

Millennium Blades
I like the idea of CCGs, but don't really love the actual spending of money on blind boosters and then chasing expensive cards in the aftermarket. So along comes a game that is exactly doing that. The game bills itself as a CCG Simulator. They could have called this: CCGs: The Metagame and been spot on. In the game, you spend wads of cash (literally) buying cards and building a tournament deck for a CCG called Millenium Blades. The game has a great sense of humor and most of the booster sets revolve around some theme which is lampooned. It is all very META and tongue-in-cheek. There are a LOT of cards and the variation allows for a fair amount of replay. But, the tournament play portion of the game is a bit meh. Not an all the time kind of thing, but worth getting out sometimes - especially for the CCG wannabes like me.

Mystery Rummy
I'm kind of lumping all of them in here. I definitely have favorites of the series, but in general, the games are card games based on set collection (i.e. Rummy). They are fun, but not special. Good filler really. Easy to teach and usually with enough options to satisfy experienced players. If you aren't a fan of card games, you can skip these. In fact, purists probably would rather get a standard 52-card deck and play Gin Rummy, but I like how theme works into the game in a number of them.

I actually love PitchCar, but... it is a pain to setup and is best with lots of players, which means you need some space and people that are fairly equal in skill for the game to be REALLY GREAT. It is also pricey and while it is playable and fun with just the base set, it goes to whole new levels when you add in multiple sets and the expansions. If you don't believe me, checkout - Great Pitchcar features you can build with official track. I really love playing this and so do my kids, but again - setup...

Here is a euro wargame that uses a VERY unique combat system in the form of the mysterious cube tower. The slight randomness of the cube tower replaces dicey combat and favors stronger forces, though it is stil random, so anything can (and will) happen. Some like the original game - Wallenstein (Shogun is basically the same with a re-theme and different map), but I like this version and the map a bit more. I also like the expansion set, which gives a couple more options to the players. It is a little long for what it is - maybe if we played it more often it would be faster.

Two games kicked off the Deckbuilder revolution in my mind. Dominion and Thunderstone. For me, Dominion was repetitive and bland. Thunderstone added a theme I enjoyed (dungeon crawler?) with more interesting mechanics. At first, I thought the game needed a little extra variation (and AEG did their best to mine that with tons of expansion sets and cards), but after playing it a fair bit online at with just the base set and then later with the first expansion added, I found that this game shines without all the extras - don't get me wrong, some of the expansions are very cool, but they aren't as important as you might expect. Some combos aren't as balanced and can lead to frustrating games, but as long as you are willing to adjust from completely random setups to adjusting them to semi-random, you can usually find an enjoyable game. After a long run with Thunderstone, AEG rebooted the franchise with Thunderstone Advance, which made a couple (very) minor tweaks to gameplay and setup. I'd still rather play the original, but if I have to go through the setup and teardown work, I'd much rather play Legendary, which is why Thunderstone is down here.

Twilight Struggle
For me, this is the king daddy of card driven boardgames. If you aren't familiar, the cards have multiple uses and some get reused throughout the game, and sometimes are removed from the game after use. That isn't what seperates this game from the pack - that's what makes this the a card driven game. Rather what separates it is the tight coupling of the game mechanics to the theme of the Cold War. There are three sets of cards representing eras in the game, and two of the sets don't enter the game until the mid and late phases of the game. In the early part of the game, the USSR has an advantage and the US really is just trying to stymie them and prepare for when things start getting better. By the mid and late portions of the game, the US is turning up the heat and USSR player has to hope they built up too much advantage to overcome. Add to this a lot of tension whereby either side could force the game into nuclear war and win on sudden death and you have a game where every play feels important. As often as not, you are trying to minimize a poor hand and trying to balance giving too much up now for having a better position later in the game. The game gets better the more you play and understand the cards and timing of the game. It is a longer game until you know the cards well, so having two players that know the game is best, which also means making it to the table is hard. TS has been released in electronic form on Steam and iOS/Android which means finding a game and learning it much easier. There is a lot of delicious tension and the theme shines, which makes this a wonderful game.

My third Lacerda game on this list. I love the theme and the game and mechanics. You own a vineyard and are making and trying to promote your wines (wait, that sounds like The Gallerist, but with wine rather than art...). Well, it isn't really just a re-theme. It is similar in being a nice medium-heavy euro that is dense enough to not be able to just math out.  For whatever reason, my friends that I have played this with a lot do not like this one at all. I need to play it 2-player with my gaming partner to see if she'll enjoy it and if it plays well with two. Again, this game has similar pros and cons as his other games, but I like the theme and gameplay here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Quick Descent WIP

Its been busy around my place lately, but I forced some time for painting yesterday to try and meet my personal monthly goal of completing a monster set and a hero from Descent.

I've been working on the Sorcerers for a while now. I've blocked in the major parts (robes and capes) as well as the fleshy parts. I decided to go with red robes and a dark blue cape, so for the leader, I went with copper robes with a red wash and purple cape (I haven't used the shade on the purple yet, so it is still a bit bright). I need to do the sash detail, boots, wooden staff parts, the beards, and a couple bags on their belts. The robes and capes will get a ribbon of gold around
the edges and I'm toying with adding some blue tint to the staff (ala the picture of the sorcerers from the actual monster card that comes with the set).

These figures have decent detail, but I dislike doing the same humanoid figure over and over again (though I only show two here, there are four in the set). Probably why it has taken me so long to progress on them. I get bored really quickly on them. The remaining details shouldn't take too much more effort, except the gold banding. Running those edges takes a while and I have to have not drank too much caffeine that day. Whoever modeled the 2nd edition figures loves their borders on everything. The borders alone may take a couple hours of work.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

After the Top Ten

In my last post, I enumerated out my Top Ten and some thoughts about them. Here then are the next 15 games, in alphabetic order (as the idea of trying to order out the rest seems, well, hard). I'd say that I find all of these games good in their own right and often better than others in the right situation or if I'm in the right mood.

Ave Caesar
I love racing games. This one is especially fun, fast, and full of pull out your hair (or punch your buddy) kind of actions. The game is fast enough that the urge to clobber your friends goes away quickly and then you are on to the next race. This is also a really great game for non-gamers and a fair number of players. That's also the downside - it really needs 6 players. I think the original game had better tracks than the reprint, but they were nominally different.

Battles of Westeros
The Command and Colors system of games are really fun battle games (I can't really call them wargames). This one is easily my favorite of them all. One, I love the theme. Two, I think they really made good improvements to the system that make it much more interesting and less likely that you want to do something but can't because of a bad run of command cards. Otherwise it is much the same. If you generally like the system, this is one of the better ones. Sorry, there are no dragons or Others.

Carcassonne the Castle
I like Carcassonne well enough, but it really is a "who can be the bigger jerk" kind of game. There are also too many expansions, which make the game a little long. This version is for two players only and has the added bonus of you trying to score exactly a certain number of points in order to get tiles which give you advantages in future turns. This, coupled with easier placement rules really adds some fun tactical play to the mix. If this was somehow not a two-player game, it might have cracked my top ten. As it is though, it is really a great game.

I am fortunate enough to own a very nice Helinski made board. These boards are not only works of art, but the vehicle (literally) for playing one of the best dexterity/skill games out there. The game is fast, exciting and tense. It is also superb as a partners / team game. The need for a pricey (or at least well crafted) board takes it out of my top ten. Also, being a skill game, it is hard for non-owners to learn to play well. Much like a pool table, owning a nice board is a huge advantage.

Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2nd ed)
I may have mentioned my fondness for this game once or twice before in other blog posts... I have always been a fan of fantasy and love the concept of the dungeon crawl. I know I'm not the only one, based on how many dungeon crawl games there are (table top boardgames, video games, RPGs, etc). The original Descent was fun, but long and slightly flawed. Well, they revised it and fixed a large number of those flaws. Then after releasing an insane amount of stuff for me to paint (because you have to play with painted figures), they released a companion app to let players play without an overlord (the app explains how the monsters will behave via an AI) AND to play random dungeons. It isn't the perfect game, but it is a lot of fun. With so many expansions, there is a ton of variety available. About the worst thing I can say about the game is that it takes up a ton of space and there isn't a good all in one storage solution.

Dominant Species
Here is another incredible game by the designer of one of my favorite games. It is long and meaty and fun. It also is best with 6-players with at least 5 hours of nothing better to do. There is a LOT of "take that" (you are fighting to be the dominant species after all), and you will be up one second and down to nothing the next. You'll feel like you have no chance, then suddenly you do. Sadly, there is a ton of counting that you have to do and it isn't easy to just glance at the board to know who is doing well, because the system for determining that is in flux all the time (it is based on matching player features to board features and you and the other players will be changing both a lot). Because of that complexity, making decisions in the game isn't always easy (especially for players with AP). That aside, it is a great, complex game that rewards being able to manage (survive) the chaos.

Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia
I don't know if I've ever said it before, but I'm not as excited by the whole worker placement craze as some people are. They normally sound appealing, but a lot of them fall into the same trap for me - that is, the first thing you need to do is get more workers and then after that, there are not many paths to victory. And yet... I really like the concepts in this game. You can certainly get more workers, but you can lose them (you also can only get a couple more and they aren't hard to get). I also like that there are lots of ways to "score". Except that this game doesn't have points. You are trying to achieve various goals and achieve a certain number faster than your opponents. To do so, you have to cooperate a bit, take advantage of your positions, and have a little luck. And while it is fun, there is no way to stymie anyone. Either you did it faster or you didn't. Looks like one person is a ahead of you by a couple goals? They probably will stay that way.

A Game of Thrones: The Boardgame
I read the books first. There, I said it. When I first discovered and played this game, there was no HBO show, only the books. Man they did a good job with this game! But first the bad news - this game needs 6 players. Period. It will take you about an hour a person, unless you play with Jay Moore, Robert Bolan, and Nathan Winchester, then they will let Nathan win in like turn 3. Don't hold that against the game, it isn't the game's fault. This is a marvoulous diplomancy/strategy game with a number of really good mechanics that play off the theme and tie it all together. All the factions are asymetrical and yet balanced (except maybe Stark, who seems doomed). When you win (unless you are Nathan in the previously mentioned game), there is a true sense of accomplishment. You'll probably need to play diplomat at points and you'll eventually need to stab someone in the back before they do it to you. If you dislike confrontational games, stay away. The 2nd edition of the game has a couple expansions that change the game up a little, including one variant for 4-players. It isn't quite the same.

This is an older game from Knizia and is a glorious masterpiece of an auction game. There is strategy and a press your luck aspect to the game (along with your standard Knizia kind of math). Despite my love of this game, it really only shines with 5-6 players. You also have to find people that like auction games. If you can find that combination, you will be rewarded with a wonderful game. One more thing of note - I have yet to find a production of this game what wasn't flawed in some way. Most of the productions have HORRIBLE art - horrible in that the scoring track is unusable. Or pieces that don't really fit onto the tracks well. It can't be that hard can it? I haven't seen the newest Grail Games version in person. The board looks ok, but that doesn't really solve the scaling issue.

Ora et Labora
Ewe fans fawn over Agricola and Le Havre. Both are fine games, but I really prefer Ora et Labora. Ora introduced the dial mechanism (which was modified a bit for Glass Road) but is a super cool and easy way to add goods each round and track game rounds. This is a worker placement/engine game where you are trying to turn your goods into better and better ones while building your land out to both support you and score points. It is a bit more forgiving than Agricola and Le Havre, but is still meaty. It is a bit longer and there is a lot going on at first, which (like most of his heavy games) makes the barrier to entry a little higher. Really a good game that I haven't played in a while just due to weight/length.

Here is a really good deckbuilder, except the deck is really of a bag of workers tokens. You draw your workers and assign them to your buildings in order to accomplish things and score points. There are lots of ways to score points, and a good variety of buildings you can acquire to help make your approach variable from game to game. If you have some expansions, you can vary the available buildings each game as well. A really good game that just missed out on the top ten for me.

Another Knizia auction game, this auction is more "on rails" as you can only bid with one of the three point tiles you have available to you. This game has a fair bit of push your luck to go along with it, but it is not luck fest - skill wins out here. Why didn't this make the top ten? Like a lot of auction games, it is best with 4-5 players (ie not good for 3 or less), which limits the opportunities for it to get played. The other slight drawback - it can be confusing trying to remember all the scoring combos and what you keep and score at the end of the game vs what you discard between rounds. This makes it less likely to appeal to non-gamers. Lastly, though I listed this here, I think I like the slightly revised version - Priests of Ra better.

Here is a wonderful little abstract game with a 3D spatial aspect to it. Lots of good opportunity for clever plays. This might be best two-player. It suffers from the Samurai syndrome I described in my top ten list - which is, an unskilled player tends to throw the game to the person who plays after them - one reason I think it is best as a two player game. I do really enjoy puzzling out my turn and what I can do to block my opponent. This also just missed my top ten list because while it appeals to me, it has limited appeal to others, so I don't tend to think about playing it as much or as often as I should. This one seems to get better the more I play it though (at least in my mind).

Through the Desert
ANOTHER Knizia. This is also a good game from Dr. Knizia, that isn't quite as math-y as a lot of his games. It does have the familiar "Knizia says you can't score everything and win" thing going on, but it still holds up on its own. The game is also pretty quick - not really filler, but not a long game  either and there are good choices to make along the way. Plus one for having game bits that everyone will comment on as looking like they are meant to be eaten.

So there it is. Did you see how many Knizia games I liked? Four here and one in my top ten. Four? Yeah, he designed one of the above games, but I didn't mention it was his. You could say he was my favorite designer, but Ingenious (not listed here) might be the last game of his I really liked. He had a good run, but then didn't really put anything out that didn't fall flat for me.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

If These Are So Great, Why Not Play Them More?

Periodically I check and then update my BGG top 10 list. Over the years, I've updated it less and less frequently as I have found that it more or less has stayed the same. I have the same sort of arguments with my self about "would I rather play game X than game Y" in order to see if I can fight a game into the top ten and it has been getting to where only that 10th place ever seems to change.

Sometimes a game rides a fair wave of enthusiasm from me past the 10th place and then I tend to have the argument about where to place it and also about whether the new #11 should be ahead of #10 and so on, but overall my list has been fairly similar for a while now. And yet... If these are my 10 favorite games, why don't I play them more? All I can say is - it is complicated.

In years past there was a BGG March Madness tourney that put games head-to-head in a bracket and you picked your favorite between the two with the game with the most votes continuing on into the next round of the tourney. This is the same kind of system I use internally to rank these. So here is my list and my reasons for why I enjoy them and perhaps the excuses I have for not playing them more.

#1: Combat Commander: Europe
#2: Tichu
#3: Kingdom Builder
#4: Power Grid
#5: Samurai
#6: Viticulture: Complete Collector's Edition
#7: Ticket to Ride
#8: Steam
#9: Eldritch Horror
#10: Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game

#10 - Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game When Dominion hit the scene, everyone fell in love with deck builders. I thought the mechanic was neat, but Dominion itself was very meh. I much preferred Thunderstone (still do) over it. It wasn't too long before Legendary came along and for me, this might be the pinnacle of standard card-based deckbuilders.
First of all, I'm a huge fan of Marvel comics, so that was a big selling point. They did a great job of integrating the comic themes into the game. Next, the game itself is fun to play and I enjoy finding combos while feeling like I'm playing out a comic story. Is this game perfect? Nope, but I love it all the same. The only thing I really don't like is that it takes forever to setup and tear down. This game also hit a saturation point for me after Guardians of the Galaxy. No big deal - I have soomuch material that I think I'll be ok.

#9 - Eldritch Horror I am not a crazy Lovecraft fan. I read The Arkham Horror and found it interesting and the whole mythos is cool, but I'm not a crazy. I've tried a couple different Cthulu kind of games over the years, but none hit the mark until this came along. It is easily the best of the genre that I've played (sooo much better than Arkham Horror). This is really a great story game and great co-op.
I've about run the course of storage space on this one, but I haven't called it quits on getting expansions (though I'm nearly sure I wont ever know all the cards and stories of what I have now...). This doesn't hit the table as often as I'd like due to its length and the fact that others don't love it as much as I do, but if suggested, I'd pretty much say yes. 

#8 - Steam I started out on Age of Steam and was full on committed. I had all the original maps and a lot of other expansions (fan made and official releases). When I first tried Steam, I was expecting something watered down. But after a couple playings, I realized it scratched all the same itches for me while being faster and more streamlined - so I gave up on AoS. I'd still play it, but prefer to play Steam. Either one is a nice meaty euro that rewards clever play and planning. That being said, other than a couple solo plays on my iPad, I haven't played this in FOREVER. Why? It plays best with 3-5 and my normal group isn't in love with it as I am. In fact, one of the guys I normally sit down to play games with - used to love it, but when we played together, we ALWAYS were in conention and being dicks to each other. Which meant the games were not quite as fun as we took each other out and let the others win. This is one I'd like to get played more, but I suspect it won't get nearly the playings I'd ever like.

#7 - Ticket to Ride So how does a game that is almost universally recommended as a gateway game beat out Steam? By being incredibly good and fun. I have the first 5 map packs, Europe and the Anniversary edition, so I have plenty of variety. It plays well with any number from 2-6. I've played a ton electronically and I'm still happy to play a game on my iPad or at the table. I can play with friends, my kids, and just about anyone. It is easy to understand how Alan Moon has been so successful with this game.

#6 - Viticulture: Complete Collector's Edition When I first read about this game, I backed it on Kickstarter (the original Viticulture). When I first learned to play it, it was from Jamey himself. What I found was a wonderfully thematic game. I'm so-so on worker placement games, but I loved this. The original game had flaws, but the expansions helped with some of that. So when the Complete Collector's Edition was announced, I sold my original purchase and bought in on the new set. Boy was that the right move. Not only is it a wonderful production, but it is fun as hell. The expansions offer a nice diversity to the game which lets you craft your strategy depending on what you have available to you. Things not working out? No problem, because there are plenty of ways to score points. Lots of clever ways to play and win. I especially like that this is good for two players.

#5 - Samurai I love this game. When I first learned to play, I was so-so on it, but the more I played, the better it became. I found the beauty in it with 2-3-4 players and am pretty good if I say so myself. It does have a flaw - players of unequal play level/experience really throw the balance off (severe player to the left of the new guy wins kind of deal). Otherwise it has a nice balance of tactical and strategic play. I'd be playing the hell out of this electronically, except that the developer let the account lapse and I can't find anyone to play this against.

#4 - Power Grid Power Grid and Age of Steam were staples for me back when I first started in this hobby. The group I played with was REALLY good at auction games and used to really stick it to you (me). Well, I eventually got better at auctions and then I saw what a spectacular game PG really was. In most of the March Madness tourneys, I could not find a game I liked better during voting (my top three usually didn't make it that far in the brackets). The number of times that PG has topped the tourney is a testament to how great a game this is. A lot of players feel this is just an exercise in math - I suspect that they don't play with auction masters. This is an auction and positioning game. If you don't see that, you are playing it wrong.

#3 - Kingdom Builder Kingdom Builder is another that I liked the first time I played, but it was only after playing a bunch that it clicked and I saw how great it was. People complain about the randomness of the card draws, but that is the point of the game - setting yourself up to score and making sure you gave yourself opportunities as the game went on. What I really like about all the expansions to the game - they don't make it more complicated. Nope, all they do is add different setups and abilities (ie more variety). I really wish Queen hadn't tied the electronic game to BSW, because this screams for async play, not real time in a flaky setup.

#2 - Tichu I grew up playing cards (it must be a midwest thing) - hearts, euchre, spades, pinochle, etc. The first time I played Tichu, it felt like home. When I started playing with people that were good and got over my fear of calling Tichu, I gained an even greater love of the game. This doesn't get as much play as I'd like because - it requires two teams of two. Chimera was released in the last couple of years and it is a three player game with very similar feel to Tichu, which helped scratch the itch, but doesn't replace the king of ladder games.

#1 - Combat Commander: Europe My number one game is Combat Commander: Europe (and Med, but not Pacific). No other game has ever pulled me into its story and given me as many memorable moments as this (next closest contender in that category might be A Game of Thrones: The Boardgame). Everytime I've played, I could feel the story. Crazy stuff happened. The chaos of war. It might have just remained fun chaos, but then I started playing against guys that were good at the game. I saw that you could try and manage the chaos to some extent. Wow did that open up the game. And still, the stories piled up. I ran a tourney at the Geekway a few years back, and every match had a crazy and awesome story. Unfortunatly, the game has a learning curve and a theme that isn't broadly appealing. I used to play my friend Robert on a regular basis, but then he moved away like a jerk. I hope to play this again on a regular basis someday, but for now, I still just remember all the crazy fun I used to have playing this.

And that's it. I could probably get by only playing games from my top ten. I like a lot of games and feel like there are games in my collection that are there for a reason, but if I had my way and got to only play 10 games, that would probably be the list. Again, #10 is a little fluid. I could probably list a lot more that could get swapped out for Legendary (Mystery Rummy Jack the Ripper, A Game of Thrones: The Boardgame, Crokinole, Medici, etc), but for now, it holds the coveted last spot.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Too Much Stuff

This post is probably both exactly what you think it is and not what you think it is.

If you think I meant that I have too many games, well... it is true (and I have committed to trying to reduce the collection size this year) that's not quite what I was shooting for here today. No, this is about expansions. I get why they are popular with the game companies - they have a dedicated consumer base already, are cheaper to produce (and they almost have to have a higher ROI or we wouldn't see so many), have artwork already in place (yes, new cards and such need new artwork, but things like card backs are already done) and maybe require a lot less development work to get out the door.

For us gamers, they are great too - they can expand existing game worlds (Arkham/Eldritch Horror, Mansions of Madness, Descent, Combat Commander, Memoir 44), add needed diversity (Smash Up!, PitchCar, Ticket To Ride, Power Grid, Kingdom Builder), new mechanics (Aquaretto, Eldritch Horror (again), Viticulture, Fresco, Carcassonne, Alhambra), additional player counts (sometimes reduced player counts if the game didn't support 2-player or solo when it was released), expanded libraries to keep the game fresh (every CCG and LCG), etc etc.

But I'm not here to talk about a Power Grid or Age of Steam maps. Nor the next NetRunner or Game of Thrones LCG set (though those may fall in this realm of discussion I guess). No, I'm going to talk about - when is enough, enough? How many Smash Up decks do I really need? If Epic taught me anything, its that a well designed game can offer a huge amount of enjoyment without needing a bazillion expansions. But that isn't necessarily a good enough argument against the expansion craze. I think Eldritch Horror is a wonderfully designed game (better in every way than Arkham Horror), but if you only ever got the base game, I think your enjoyment of the game would go down after not so many plays. Why? Because at its heart, Eldritch Horror is something of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book and if you remember those, you could only read one a few times before you landed on the same stories over and over again - that's why there were a bazillion of those written. The same basic problem exists for EH as well. Once you mix in a couple of expansions, the card mix is high enough that the repeat stories will still happen, just not anywhere near as frequently as without the expansions.

And here is where we start to have problems. Storage. You knew that was where I was going with this right? Currently there are three big box (same box size as the original) expansions and four small box expansions for Eldritch Horror. That is somewhere in the realm of 200-250 full sized cards per large expansion (plus 100-150 small cards) and 100-150 full (plus 50-100 small) sized cards per small expansion. Now, I don't have the last big nor small box expansions, and this is what my collection of this game looks like:

That right there is a wooden artists case with a Broken Token card organizer. That is not all the cards. I have one of the small expansion boxes with a 3d printed rack that has a subset of the small cards. I suspect that if I got the two expansions I don't have, I'd pretty much fill this box and have to move the non-card things to another box. So what do you do if you are normal Joe Consumer and don't want to also buy a box and organizer? Spread out your collection over all the expansion boxes? That sucks and makes setup/pickup painful. It is doable, but this game is mostly cards, so that works ok I guess. What if you are a fan of other FFG games? (and FFG is not the only perpetrator here, but there are in my collection) - like say Descent 2nd edition? Aside from the base game, I own:

  • 12 Lieutenant Packs
  • 2 Big Box expansions
  • 4 Small Box expansions
  • 2 Co-op expansions
  • 4 Hero and Monster sets
That doesn't even come close to fitting well in the boxes the game came in. Here is what it looks like for me so far:

Map pieces sorted by number to make building maps faster
More map stuff from an expansion 
Quest books and a lot of cards from expansions
Under the lid of my tackle box - lots of card boxes and rules
The Plano trays and a foam tray for all the monsters and heroes
Did I mention there are still like 5 Hero and Monster sets, another small box expansion and numerous lieutenant expansions I don't have? Where the heck are you supposed to put all this stuff? Would it fit in all the original boxes? Probably, but it'd be a huge pain to try and sort through every box to try and play the game. Come on already FFG, give us some way to store all of this. I'm sure Imperial Assault players feel exactly the same way. Having to keep all the boxes is a pain - having to use them all even worse. I'm not sure where having to come up with a custom solution fits. 

For the record, the only thing on my radar for Descent is the newest small box expansion. Maybe the lieutenants (eventually, if I work through the campaigns that far). If you didn't notice, I like to paint the figures, so I have about three years of work left to do in those pictures - I don't need any more (also, if you want to check out the pictures of the painted work, there is a link on the right of the page to my Geeklist of the paint work I've done already). Currently, I still have to paint 22 monster sets and about 15 more heroes. Oh and half dozen lieutenants. PLENTY.

Seriously, it'd be nice if FFG (or someone) would make a nice coffin box with custom dividers that could hold this monster. Queen games is the king (or queen) of making a coffin box for their games and packing everything into them. Kingdom Builder, Alhambra, Carcassonne, Fresco, Escape!, Shogun, etc - more companies should look into this sort of thing.

So how much is enough? For me it is starting to look like: when I've run out of space. I have a HUGE variety of stuff for Descent. If I only played The Delve (random dungeons in the Road to Legend app), I'd have more than enough variety. Same thing for Eldritch Horror. While I love the expanding story, I'd really have to play the hell out of the game to start knowing all the cards at this point. So maybe I've reached the point of enough. Maybe I just need to play this stuff some more so I can justify buying more and finding yet another solution to my storage nightmare (speaking of - have I told you about all the tote bins and Plano boxes I have in my garage with my Heroscape collection...)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Catan (The Artist Formerly Known as Settlers)

In Catan (formerly The Settlers of Catan), players try to be the dominant force on the island of Catan by building settlements, cities, and roads. On each turn dice are rolled to determine what resources the island produces. Players collect these resources—wood, grain, brick, sheep, or stone—to build up their civilizations to get to 10 victory points and win the game.

Hmmm. Doesn’t sound all that interesting, but I guess the intro writeup paragraph on BGG doesn’t have to try and sell you on the game - most people have probably heard of (if not actually played) Settlers of Catan (now called Catan, which is super odd given that everyone I know calls the game “Settlers”). Catan came out over 20 years ago and is still popular and selling well (along with 10 kazillion expansions). This game is often considered THE Gateway game, and for some longtime gamers, it probably was their intro into the world of Euro style games (though the randomness of the dice and cards makes it very Ameritrashy). 

The basic play of the game is simple. The board is setup with random placement of land (each land type generates on of the five basic goods, except for a single “dead” tile) and random placement of a number on each space (again, except for the dead tile). Players take turn setting up their initial settlements and roads and then begin. Each turn players roll the dice and whatever location(s) that match that number generate a good for each settlement touching that location. The player whose turn it is can then spend their goods and/or attempt to trade with other players. Then they pass the dice to other players. If a SEVEN is rolled, the player moves the Robber token to a location and then steals from a player whose settlement is touching that location. 

Players get points for building other settlements, upgrading their settlements, getting development cards (which have armies, structures worth VPs, or one time abilities), and for having the single longest road or army. First person to reach 10 points wins. 

The key proposition / mechanic of the game is bartering with your opponents for the goods you need to build out your network of settlements so that you don’t have to depend on your enemies for the goods you need to win the game. Of course, you are essentially gambling here - do I give up two wood for one sheep, since my wood has a 6 on it and 6 is likely to be rolled, giving me the replacement goods I’ll need shortly? So bargaining is about risk taking between the players.

So why am I writing about Catan at all? Again, the game has been around for over 20 years and most of anyone that reads this will have played it once or twice already. Well, because it was my most played game in February. You see, I have children (currently ages 13 and 11) and they love the game (though I always seem to beat them). My daughter especially likes the game. I took her along to a game day at a friend’s place a while back and he owns the 3D Collectors edition which she fell in love with. Now I wasn’t about to spend $700+ for Catan, but…

My employer bought a 3D printer a while back for his employees to play with. I spent a load of time downloading and printing out a complete 6-player (the 3D Collectors set is only 4 players) set for the game and then hand painting all the pieces. The pieces all have magnets in the bases so that the whole things holds together and frankly, it looks really cool. I gave this to my daughter for her birthday and we recently have been on a bender (4 whole games in the last month) of playing with this set. 

(yes I know there is a bad placement in there, I was just taking a picture)

So back to my kids and I playing. My kids have played a lot of games from my collection and so they didn’t need a gateway game like this, but the capriciousness of the dice really seems to tickle them. Last night, my son couldn’t stop laughing at how many 3s were getting rolled (which benefitted my daughter with sheep, but since that was the ONLY good type she was getting, made it really funny to my son). I used to feel that playing a bad game was just bad, but I’ve come to treasure the kids wanting to play any game with their old Dad, so I tolerate this game. It is certainly easy to see why this is a gateway game that appealed so well to Americans that grew up on Monopoly. There are dice (and the general non-gaming public seems to be confused about boardgames without dice so thumbs up here) and negotiations. There is certainly more depth to it than that, but this is not going to be mistaken for being in the same class Agricola, Power Grid or even Ticket to Ride to the hobbyist crowd. There is also nothing horrible about this game. If you have never played, give it a go with some non-gamers or your kids and you might find out why this has been around so long.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mystery Rummy

Game Thoughts

Like Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy, but not. Yeah, it has been a while since I last used this blog. I tend to go for a bit and then don't feel like I need to say anything (or I'm just lazy). At any rate, a buddy mentioned that maybe I should start this up again, so here we are again...

For a variety of reasons, I've been re-examining my collection and decided that maybe it was time to start thinning the heard. While I think my massive game collection looks super cool on the shelves and all, there are some problems. Namely - I'm running out of room. Also, I really don't need all these games. I play a small fraction of them and while I enjoy them, there are plenty I don't really need. So this year, I'm going to try and put some effort into seriously playing some titles and see if I can figure out what I really think about some of these games.

Mystery Rummy Series

The Mystery Rummy Family is a set of card games  by Mike Fitzgerald (occasionally with other contributors/designers) based on the classic Rummy game. The "standard" for play is along the lines of: 
  • Each player has a hand of cards and tries to play melds and layoffs (cards that match other players melds) to score points.
  • Typically there are two kinds of cards: the generic "set" cards and special cards. The special cards typically are limited to only a single card play by each player each turn. Specials might add to the value of specific sets, or let a player draw extra cards (or hunt through the discard pile). They might adversely affect an opponent. In some sense, these are the ones that make this more than standard Rummy games. 
That's it (in a nutshell). Draw, play and discard. Each game has its own twists and quirks which I'll explore in a second. First let me say - I have not played every one of the games in the "series" - there are a couple more out there. That being said, what I'm doing is exploring the games I own, so that is all I'll be speaking on in this post. 

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp was an early entry in the Alea Small Box series of games and is really a fun little game. When players play a meld (the set cards are famous old west outlaws), you increase the reward/bounty on the outlaw. At the end of the hand, if there are enough points played for an outlaw, then the collected reward is distributed for that outlaw. Depending on who contributed points (played cards), the reward may be split between players. Sometimes, the reward goes up, but the outlaw wasn't "captured" (because not enough points played for that outlaw), so the reward carries over to the next hand. The reward money is essentially your points for the game and the first player to a set amount wins. The special cards can increase payouts for an outlaw, block an outlaw from being eligible for capture, help you dig for cards, etc. 

I really like this game best with three players. Players are really fighting to split bounties and block players from a big cash payout. When played two-player, it is pretty easy for one player or the other to make out like a bandit and win the game quickly from one lucky run of cards. With four players, it drags on a little long.

Jack The Ripper

This is the first in the true Mystery Rummy series and one of my favorite in the family of games. It plays well with 2-4 players, though we like it the best of all the series for two players. It also feels like one of the more balanced games in the series. Their are good counters to playing certain cards and it leads to a little bit of holding cards and bluffing once players understand the game.

In this game, the set cards are suspects in your Jack the Ripper case. At the end of the hand, if a suspect has more evidence against them than any other suspect, they are declared the ripper and those cards played are doubled in value. There are special cards that make a suspect ineligible for the doubling of points and other special cards for victims. If all the victim cards are in play, then there is a special "Ripper Escapes" card that can be played immediately, which scores that player a whopping 35 points (1/3 of what is needed to win the game) and then only that card and the couple of points from the played victim cards count for the round. Of course, the victim cards are how the players draw additional cards, so there is a fair incentive to play them, but once you get closer to having them all in play, you want to be careful about the last one. My only complaint with this game? The cards might be the stiffest cards I have ever played with. They are really really hard to shuffle well.

Murders in the Rue Morgue

The second entry in the Mystery Rummy series is based on the story by Edgar Allen Poe. The set cards are clues or scenes from the story and are paired up for scoring purposes. Each time a set is played, a player chooses to bury a card from the draw pile or the top card of the discard pile. These buried cards will go to the player who manages to go out during the first pass through the deck of cards, thus encouraging players to try and play fast. What discourages a player from going out quickly is that the big point scores come from holding both set of the paired sets (having both is a bonus). There is also a card that scores decently if both sets are in play (regardless of who holds the sets). The buried card mechanic also makes it so that you can flush a card from a set that you know your opponent(s) are trying to get, thus stymie-ing them. 

While fun, this entry in the series suffers from a lack of special cards. The special cards mostly boil down to "draw" cards or the bonus cards mentioned before. This simplifies the game play a bit and makes it a hair less interesting. This is good with two or three players, but probably is best with three.

Jekyll and Hyde 

The third entry in the series is strictly a two-player affair. In this game the sets are split up with some being Jekyll sets and some being Hyde. One or two of the sets go either way. The trick is, you can only lay down a set matching the current "state". The state is defined by a two sided card (one being Jekyll and the other Hyde of course). The special cards mostly revolve around flipping the state back and forth (potion cards) which also gets you extra draw cards. For scoring, you score double for the sets matching the state when someone went out. If you can manage to only place sets of one type and it is the matching one, you shut out your opponent. 

But that's it. Which has (IMO) made this the least interesting version in the series. It is certainly the easiest for a new player to pick up, but honestly, the other games aren't really that hard to learn. Huge thumbs down on this one.

Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld

Al Capone varies the standard formula by having variable size sets. The sets are various underworld bad guys. The sets range from only 4 cards total to 8 or 9 for Al Capone himself. You get a bonus for collecting the whole set (with the larger sets worth more points). The special cards have a nice variety and some that let you steal cards that your opponent(s) have already laid out. This can lead to a bit of playing "chicken" and holding out your cards for a big layout (of course, if you don't play them, you can't score them, thus the game of chicken). There are also some "go fish" kind of cards to try and find those underworld bosses that your stupid opponent is holding onto. If you can manage to nab all the Capone cards, you shut out your opponent for the hand.

The forth in the series is interesting in that it is a really good partnership game. I've been told to avoid it with three players. With two, it is ok, but the play takes on an extra dimension when you are working with a partner. With two players, the game feels a lot more "standard" as it is hard to dig for all the cards in the set. With a partner, the big layout means giving the other team a chance to do the same AND match up on what you played AND possibly steal from you, but it also means your teammate can end up dropping their hand as well for a quick finish. Lots of good stuff going on that take the series to the next level. You are far more likely to hit the sets when you have another player feeding you (and you feeding them). 

Escape from Alcatraz 

Alcatraz probably varies from the standard formula a bit more than others in the series. The set cards fall into two types - plans and escapees. You can play no more than one escape to the table per turn. Unlike the other games, the deck is only the set cards. You can only play a meld if there are more escapees in play than there are currently melds in play. The special cards only come into play when you play a meld or layoff on an opponent's meld (and you can only get that once a turn). When you get an action card, you simply turn it over and follow the instructions (usually there are options for what you can do). The next big variation is that you do not score points for playing the melds and layoffs. Instead, you score by foiling these plans. Once there are at least 8 cards for a set in play, you can foil a plan by playing an escapee (from your hand or from the yard) with the cards you have in play under your "Foiled" card. Other players may do the same for their cards matching the set. When the round ends, you score only for the cards that you have under your foiled card. 

My problem with the game is that it really is pretty dull with two players. It is also frustrating in that you can only get to the action cards by playing a meld, which is predicated on there being an acceptable number of escapees in the yard already. Therefore, if you never draw an escapee, you can get yourself somewhat locked out of getting to play your melds. Basically, it feels like there is more chance and less control. All these games have chance (they are cards games), but when the control mechanism are minimized and the luck of the draw is higher, it takes away from the enjoyment of the game. Though it probably doesn't sound like it from my description of the gameplay, the game's theme and what you are doing actually do go along fairly well. It just isn't that entertaining to actually play it. I've played it with two and with 4 players, and in both cases, it felt like three was probably the correct number here. I want to give this a couple more tries (something I never feel towards Jekyll and Hyde), but thus far haven't been terribly impressed with this attempt at something new to the series.