Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review: Spires

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Spires from the publisher as a review copy. I received no other compensation nor consideration and all opinions are my own unless indicated.

From the publisher:

A royal family with a penchant for towers has decreed the builders of the kingdom – the players – to perk up the kingdom's skyline with new spires. In answer to their call, players compete to catch the eye of the royal family and ultimately, the title of Royal Builder. Players must be careful though. If they build a spire taller than the royal palace, they'll be penalized instead of praised.
Spires combines hand management, a unique take on trick-taking, and set collection into a 25-minute game. 1-4 Players compete for cards in different markets to try to build out their tableaus.

What's in the box?

Spires is a card game that comes in a "bigger" small box. The box contains 108 cards, 1 good sized wooden marker for the first player and a multi-page glossy rule book. The wooden marker is a bit superfluous and could have simply been a card, but I believe was added as part of the original Kickstarter stretch goals. 
The cards have a nice linen finish are a of good quality and should hold up to a lot of shuffling and playing. Card art is clean and bright and simpler, though in a good way. The small amount of iconography is also easy to identify and understand. 

How do you play?

Though there is a solo variant included in the box, I have not tried it, as I feel that that sort of thing is more the kind of $1 app I'd play on my iPad instead of getting out a game and sitting down at the table. I am instead focusing on the standard play of the game which I've played with both three and four-player counts. 

Each player is dealt a hand of five cards and takes three "selection" cards numbered 1-3. In the center of the play area are three markets (also numbered 1-3). One card is dealt to each market (face-up) for the players to see. 

Each round, players will secretly select the market from which they wish to compete for the card at that market. When all players have selected, the selections are revealed and the fun begins.
  • If you were the only player that selected the market, you simply take the card and place it face up in front of you.
  • If two or more players selected the same market, they compete for the card by selecting a card from their hand as a bid for the market. Cards matching the suit of the market card are considered "trump", but otherwise, highest card wins the market AND all the cards bid by the players. 
All cards acquired are placed face up in front of the players in overlapping stacks sorted by colors, so that everyone can see how many of each color a player has.

After all markets have been settled, cards are replaced in the markets and then players refill their hands to 5 cards. This is the only place that the start player marker matters - the refill happens starting with the player to the left of the marker - during the last hand(s), players may end up with fewer than 5 cards. Once all the cards have been acquired from the markets, players must discard a single card from their hand, and then place the remaining cards from their hand into their stacks of cards. 

For each card in a stack of three or less cards, players get 5 points for each. For any stack with more than three cards, players lose a point for each card. There are also three symbols (crown, leaf, dagger) that appear on some cards - the player(s) with the most of each type of symbol (regardless of the stack that the card is in) gets a number of bonus points and the player with the most points has won the game.

Who is this game for / who will like this?

While this is a card game, it is not a traditional trick taking kind of game. This is a game with a ton of player interaction and if you are the kind of person that enjoys the psychology of Rock-Paper-Scissors, you will love this game. 

On top of the "guess what everyone else is going to select", there is some tricky hand management and set collection going on. While different from a lot of games, the game is simple enough to quickly pickup for non-gamers and should appeal to gamers and families as well. This is a great filler game to start or end a game night.

My thoughts:

There is a fine balance with trying to acquire cards (the bonus for the majority symbols often makes taking those cards important) and trying not to acquire too many cards. You are also having to balance that out with the cards in your hand. Holding certain cards can be devastating to your score at the end of the game, but a lot of times, you just don't want to win a market and all the cards that will come with it. In fact, competing at markets is just as often about trying to underplay your opponents instead of winning. When you can foist a card onto your opponent and make their stack of three cards (15 points) into four cards (negative four points) - that's a big swing. There is a lot of trying to figure out what everyone else is trying to do, what they might go for, and then what they might actually play. 

Add to this a couple of special cards - there are cards that are simply worth points, which you win and just set aside until the end. There are also cards that allow you to discard cards from the ones in front of you. That crap that your buddy just foisted on you? The discard card you win the next round can let you turn that stack of four cards back into a point scoring stack. 

Its fast and furious and with just enough going on that you have to puzzle out both what you want to do and what others are trying to do. Its one of the best new games I've played in a long time and this is a game I'd run out to buy or easily recommend. It is good with three players and outstanding with four players.

My one caveat? I don't think it will work as well with two players. Yes, with two, you reduce the number of markets, but this kind of game plays best when there are more players than markets. With four players, you have a guarantee that two people (minimum) will be contesting a market. This makes a large difference in your approach, because you may not want any of the cards, but know that if you pick one that another player does want, you can dump junk off onto them. This is especially delicious when three or more players choose the same market and only one player really wanted the card there in the first place. Suddenly, nobody wants to gain four or more cards. 

So there it is - a great filler game for three and outstanding (filler) game for four players. The play is fast, it is easy to pick up, but has great decisions that need to be made each round of the game. 

Be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Review: Fast Food Fear!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Fast Food Fear! from the publisher as a review copy. I received no other compensation nor consideration and all opinions are my own unless indicated.

From the publisher:

Monsters at the Legoblah! swamp prefer fast food nowadays. It’s quick, convenient and you can eat some of the most disgusting junk in the world. Business is good, but customers are extremely demanding; it is highly recommended you don’t keep them waiting. As soon as the customer’s order is in the kitchen, everyone must hurry to get it ready quickly. Having to explain to a slew of hungry customers why they haven’t got their food yet is no fun at all...

Fast Food Fear! is a cooperative game in real time for a close-knit team of 3-6 cooks: keep an eye on the hourglass and coordinate your teamwork to serve all the customers correctly and in time!

What's in the box?

Fast Food Fear! is a smaller box game that has 110 cards of good quality (euro-game standard, so not as wide as Magic cards), a two-minute sand timer, and rules (a single glossy color sheet folded in half into a booklet). Nothing special here as it is a simpler game and there are not a lot of components. The box also included a couple of small zipper bags for keeping the cards together. 

The cards mirror the box art - bright and humorous monsters and simple foods (hamburger, fries, drinks, tacos, fried chicken leg, etc). The game is in English, though the words are irrelevant on the food cards. On the actions cards, there are only a few types, I suspect that a quick translation and the graphic on the card might be enough to get a group through after a minute or two. 
## **How do you play?**
The setup is fairly simple. Each player gets dealt six cards (food and actions are all shuffled together). Then draw a number of monster (customer) cards equal to the number of players plus one and put them face up in the middle of the table where all the players can see them. In order to win, all players must work together to complete the orders for the monster cards. Each monster card has three or more different food items that that monster has ordered. A player is selected to begin and you start the timer. 

Player turns are very simple - you just take one of the three actions:
  • If you have all the food cards matching the food any monster on the table requires, you can discard all those cards and remove the monster from the table (you are now closer to winning!)
  • You can play an action card and then follow the instructions.
  • You can discard any one card from your hand
After you have taken your action, you draw back up to six cards and the player to your left takes their turn. Play continues until either the timer runs out, or all the monster orders have been finished. Players can (and certainly should) talk about the cards they have and what they should keep, pass (action cards let you pass cards around), when you should play the card that lets you flip the timer to get more time, etc. Teamwork is key. Two minutes will not be enough to get the right cards into your hand, so paying attention to the timer and playing the cards that give you more time at the right moment is important. 

Additionally, the card/food distribution isn't equal. Drink cards are far more common than say the sushi cards. so holding onto one is important if you have monsters that ordered sushi, but everyone holding a chicken legs may not be immortal or ideal at all. The logistics would be really easy if it weren't for the timer constantly draining. 

This is not on the menu

Who is this game for / who will like this?

This is a semi-frantic co-op game. After our first game (which we barely won), my kids and I figured out how to best manage our time and started beating the game without much effort. The beauty of this is - it is super easy to up the difficulty of the game by just adding more customers. Which also mean that it should be really easy to dial things down if you are having family game night and playing with slower players (kids, grandma and grandpa, or just folks that don't like to be rushed). 

If you don't like social co-op games or games that make you feel rushed, this won't be for you. If you enjoy lighter filler games, co-op games, or a quick adrenalin rush, this might be your thing. If you have younger kids (8-10), this could be the game to get and a fun gateway game. This is also exactly the kind of game I see getting played later in the evening at gaming conventions, or right before dinner time when everyone wants to play another game, but don't want to commit to something that might drag on. 

Our thoughts:

It probably isn't a regular gaming thing for us, but may just get a suggestion when we are looking for 10 minutes to kill while waiting for dinner to finish or such.  Both my son (14) and daughter (12) enjoyed it. I enjoyed it for what it was - a quick little family filler. My kids are a mixed bag (like lots of kids) when it comes to working together. Co-op games don't always go over well, but this was well received since the frantic nature of the game didn't lend itself to any one person really getting a chance to become the "Alpha". It is also fairly quick to play, so we ended up playing it a number of times in a row. I don't know if this has a lot of legs with my crew, but if the kids were younger, I could see them asking to play this all the time (or just playing it all the time with their friends). 

Be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!

Monday, October 09, 2017

What I've been playing - Sept 2017 edition

Apparently, I'm too busy (or lazy) to do this weekly. Actually fall is stupidly busy and typically ends up with a lower play count and less time for board gaming since the kids have a football and diving and then there is Husker Football and NFL games all weekend. It makes for busy times. That being said, there still was some gaming (albeit a lot of it was digital). Anyway, on with the report!

I had not heard of Paperback until it came out on iOS and I played it on my iPad. What is it? It is a deckbuilder and a word game rolled into one. You buy letters and make words. Words score you money to buy more letters and point cards (which are wild cards, but don't help you buy anything). It makes for a great game and is really fun - if you like word games. I do like word games and I like making words that use all my letters (even though it often makes absolutely no difference in your points for that turn). Plus, this game hits the major points for me - async gameplay and I can play vs my friends or the AI (and yeah, the AI cheats - hard AI has to cheat in a game where you make a combination of letters and the combo has to be valid...).

Biblios is one that I've introduced to my co-workers and we play occasionally at lunch time. Everyone enjoys trying to out guess the other players and the auction portion. Plus, the more we play, the faster we get at the game. This great little game has two parts to it - divide the pie / press your luck and then the auction/stock portion of the game. Lots of good play in a little game.  For years I had heard about what a fun little game this was, but never saw it played or heard about it from anyone I knew. When I finally got this in a math trade, I was quite happy. It was easy to teach and has been a hit with non-gamers. Also a plus - the card quality is really decent.

Spires came to me from the publisher and is going around the Punchboard Media crew for reviews. The best compliment I can give this game is this: I don't want to give it up. This is another I tried out with some friends from work at our lunch game and everyone liked it a lot. I'll be doing a review of this at some point, but it has a great little mechanism that I haven't seen in a while ala Edel, Stein and Reich. If you aren't familiar with that game (and I bet you are not) the mechanism has everyone pick a thing they want - the catch being that if you are the only one that wants it, you get it. Otherwise you have to compete with the others for it. Sometimes you want that competition (and want to lose it to force them to take the card) and other times, you really don't. There is also a set collection mechanism where you only want a very small number of different types of cards and getting more is bad (this is where picking what you want becomes much harder). This is the kind of game that is great when a friendly group wants to go head to head constantly and bluffing and guessing is the name of the game.

Follow Up - Legendary DXP

For those who are not familiar with the Legendary deck-building games, Legendary DXP (DXP = Digital Experience) is the electronic form of the popular Upper Deck Legendary system. It was originally released in tabletop form as Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building game. There is no Marvel license here, but if you are familiar with that game, this is the same game with a re-theme (again, in electronic form). 

I wrote a review of the game as it was on the cusp of release in August. Since then, I have been playing the heck out of the game (I've been in the top 5 players each week since launch). While I'm obviously a huge fanboy, there were some things I disliked about the game and thought I should revisit them now that we are two months down road - there have been a number of enhancements and patches to the game that greatly improved the experience. 
  • When you are asked to discard or KO cards, there is now a confirmation on each card - this has greatly improved things and makes it 100% better when you first learn to play the game. This was the worst thing about the game at launch - you often accidentally KO'd or discarded cards you didn't mean to touch or just wanted to look at.
  • Solo play has changed. At launch, solo mode was you vs 2 (dumb) bots. This made a number of the schemes unplayable as the bots did nothing to avoid the troubles of the scheme. Solo play currently uses a slightly modified rules set and it is simply you vs the game. Turns are timed at an hour each, so it is a great way to play the game and get familiar with the interface and the various cards. Plus it gives you something to do when nobody is around to play with online.
  • Speaking of online matches, this was one of the first improvements - being able to see others waiting in line for a match let you know if you are close to a match starting.
  • Gauntlets went from 5 player only to 3-5 players. This small change made getting into a Gauntlet match much much easier. A steady diet of Gauntlets is what pushes players into the top of the rankings, as Gauntlets offer the biggest XP payout.
  • Scheme details. At launch, there was not very good information about the scheme - often it was impossible to know how close you were to losing. Now each scheme shows the information clearly
Is the game perfect yet? No, but it is far better than it was two months ago at launch. At the end of this month, we should be close to a launch of the Android version of the app, which should infuse a large number of new players. I've talked to various developers on the project and I know they have a number of new features planned as well as talk about revising chunks of the UI to improve usability. Hope to see you online!

Be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Cult of the Not So New - Sept. 2007

Gah. Missed last month's ten year look back, so here we are already in Sept. 2017 and its time for a little thing I like to call Cult of Not So New 2007

BGG user JonMichael Rasmus (jmsr525) has been doing analysis of the games and their trends each month for, well what seems like forever. I thought it might be interesting to look back at what was so hot 10 years ago, so sit back and enjoy this blast from the past. Based on information in the geeklist - BGG Top 100 Analysis Sept 2007.

Prime Movers for July - Descent: Journeys in the Dark
Back in the fall of 2007, this guy jumped up 11 spots to #79. I'm not really sure why. The second expansion for the line (Altar of Despair) had dropped in the spring of 2007, so I doubt if that caused a late rise in ratings. I had to look back into the forums to find a post in mid Sept. 2007 that indicated that Kevin Wilson had finished the design for Road to Legend. At the time, this was what the Descent fans had been dying for - a campaign. The campaign model proved so successful that Descent 2nd edition would re-introduce it (with the same name no less) in their supplemental app to that game.  When the original Road to Legend was released, it was very popular - I expect we'll see this guy again before it drops out.

Still a thing?
Nope. The original Descent currently sits at #242. Though it had its faults, the original was an amazing game that was a sight to behold. Coffin box game LOADED with minis and cards and chits and tiles. Now, you can't buy a dungeon crawler without expecting to get a load of stuff in the box (and not just minis, but well done minis - the original Descent ones were good, but the heroes lack a lot of detail compared to the 2nd edition versions).

Falling Star - Bonaparte at Marengo
Not a true "falling star" as it only moved down 6 places (falling stars are supposed to be ten or more places). Last time I reported on this, it had slid less than ten spots as well. I've never had a chance to play this game, though I've seen it played a handful of times and it looks interesting as heck. The game itself got decent reviews, but was hard to come by even 10 years ago and is even harder to get your hands on now. I recently started listening to a Hardcore History pod cast about WW1 and at the start, the caster talks about the Napoleonic wars, which peaked my interest a little in this. I might have to take a closer look the next time I have a chance.

Still a thing?
BaM currently sits at #1031 - in large part I'm sure to the rather niche spot it holds (2-player war-game), the scarcity, and the fact that it was supplanted by Napoleon's Triumph (#320). Triumph is larger and broader in scale (covers more scenarios) and thus more sought after.

Hot Lava Birth for Sept - Time's Up! and Fury of Dracula
Time's Up broke into the top 100 at #98 and Fury (second edition) made it to #99. Time's Up is one of my favorite party games and is just plain fun. Everyone plays in teams and there are 3 rounds to the game. Everyone is guessing at the same list of people (other versions include books, movies, and songs titles too). Each team gets a limited time to get through as many as they can and then it moves on to the next team. After the list has been done once, the second round repeats except that clue givers can only give a single word clue (though you can be as animated as you like to help). The third round is more of the same, but no speaking at all. It is really good fun, and there is even a phone app, which actually works spectacularly well as both timer and the list. Fury of Dracula was a FFG reprint of an older game that had been out of print for a while. I have never played, but I was told it was essentially Scotland Yard with a bunch of other stuff added on. The couple of times I saw it being played, it didn't look like everyone was loving it, so I've never been inclined to see what the hype was all about.

Still a thing?
Time's Up took a fall out to #353 and Fury has fallen to #360. TU is still a great party game that I'd be happy to play anytime, anywhere. Fury has once again fallen out of print (and was part of the Games Workshop line of licenses that they took back from FFG). While not loved enough to rank up, it is going for stupidly high prices on the secondary markets again. Funny what a little time does for things.

Top Ten Trends for Sept
Die Macher moved up 1 spot to #10 - interesting bit of trivia for those that care: Die Macher is game #1 (literally the first game id) in BGG. If you have never played the game before, you should take the time (and you'll need a lot for that first play) to fry your brain and play this.

Still a thing?
Though a classic and still an amazing game, this odd game about running for office and German elections has fallen off to #159. This is still an amazing game that holds up, it is just long and a HEAVY brain burner. For me, this is a great game that I don't own because I'll never get it played more than once every 8 years.

Top 5 Winning Movers for Sept (Highest ranked games that have shown any positive position movement in the last month that aren't in the top 10.) Holy wargames Batman!

  • Memoir '44 - for a long time, this was the gateway game to WWII games. Heck, maybe it still is. Memoir is built on the Command and Colors system (before it got really really good with Ancients and Battles of Westeros). The game is still fun and it is especially fun when you put it together with a second set and 8 players for an Overlord match. 
  • The Settlers of Catan - Catan and its 10 million variants and expansions never truly goes away. 
  • Tide of Iron - This guy had its hot lava birth earlier (July 2007) in the year, so not a surprise it was still moving up. Our second WWII game and the second most complex of the bunch
  • Advanced Squad Leader (ASL) -  the grand Avalon Hill game with a ton of scenarios and chits.  The third entry of WWII games in the list. Not sure what happened in 2007 (especially Sept) that caused a surge in WWII game popularity, but ASL popped up again for some reason
  • Dune - He who controls the spice... This was an older game in 2007, so why the movement? Probably because FFG announced they were going to do a reprint (which ended up being a retheme). 

Wow. Lots and lots of heavy games covered this month. My brain hurts just having thought about all these war-games and brain burners.

Be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Game Pimping - 3D Style

Just like Psy (that wacky Korean master of dance), you too can make your games cooler by adding some flair. Lots of people print out player aids and play mats for games that didn't have them. Some folks keep it simple and replace paper money with poker chips (highly recommended by the way). Some just change out the cubes or cardboard chits in their game for shaped wooden bits. Some people are crafty and like building card racks and box organizers from foam core sheets (for the record I have done all of these things at one time or another). But for the hardcore, there is another thing you can do - create your own accessories using plastic and 3D printer. Now, 3D printing isn't cheap. A cheap printer will run you in the $300US range plus the cost of printing materials. A cheap printer typically doesn't have all the bells and whistles and is smaller, thus limiting some of the things you can print out. If you use a service online, it can also be a little pricy, but if you have access to a printer or a FabLab of some kind, here are some ideas for you.

[ And yeah, it has been a while since I visited this topic, so I thought I'd throw out how versatile a 3D printer can be showing some examples of things you can print out if you have a 3D printer. The majority of the items I'm going to show can be found on the fantastic community site - if you want the files to print on your own printer (or if you want to have them printed from a site like Shapeways. ]

If, like me, you have a large game collection and hate having to lug a huge pile of boxes to game night, a 3D printer can offer you some help in the form of printing a compact game box that is both box and insert in one. While Codenames isn't a large box game, we can reduce the game's footprint a fair bit into a cool little box. Heck, there is even a round slot in the base of the box for the timer - this is a great design and is a fun project to start with if you are new to your 3D printer.

Maybe you have a game and expansions like Machi Koro. This printed box not only neatly holds all the game and expansions, but the dice and cardboard bits as well. This one is also a good project for a new printers, though it might be too tall for some printers (hey, there are a lot of cards in the game and expansions).

Boxes are among the simplest of designs to print, though depending on the design, they can use a fair bit of material and take a bit longer to print than some of the other things I'm going to show. Don't let that stop you from printing them, because they are slick.

Ok, how about something that makes the games easier to play? Here we have a tray for the two-player game 7 Wonders Duel. This game has a tableau of cards that overlap (which is important since you can't access/reveal cards that are covered). If you've played this game, you know that it can be a pain and is a mess. With a 3D printer, you can make life much simpler. This tableau/rack holds each card in place and is especially nice, since I can move the whole thing back and forth between the players to make it easier to see the cards that are available. It is also cool because this particular pimp is printed in pieces and put together like a puzzle, which means that when you take it apart, everything fits inside the original box (yeah, you'll have to toss the insert from the game if you didn't already).

Looks like they needed to print more trays than they did ;)
This next one isn't going to fix in the box, but is one of those things that once you have, you'll never be able to play without. If you've ever played Carcassonne, you know what a pain in the butt it can be when you are reaching across the table to place a piece and your arm (or sleeve or belly or necklace - I've people do all of that at one time or another) screw up the board. Well, don't put up with that anymore. In what might be one of the fastest and simplest prints you can do, you can make trays for the tiles that will keep your board together. These 3D printed trays each hold nine Carc tiles and interlock. They are also fairly thin (i.e., they don't use a ton of material) which means that printing out a tray doesn't take much time (of course, printing out a boatload of them does...). And yeah, you need way more of these than you think you do. Unexpected added bonus to Carc tile trays: if the tiles are all sitting in interlocking trays, then guess what? The whole game board is slidable! Yep, the person on the far side of the table can not only pull the whole map to them on their turn, they can rotate the whole thing if they desire (table space of course being a limiter here). Unexpected bonus #2: The Isle of Skye tiles are the exact same size as Carc tiles, so these work equally as well for each player's individual tableau - the ability to slide your tiles out of the way to handle the start of round auction stuff is awesome.

I talked about my adventures in printing these - card holders for Viticulture. One thing to note about 3D printed items. PLA (the plastic material that is a popular option for printing) is hydrophilic - that means it likes water and moisture, which makes it a great medium for acrylic paint and spray paints. I printed out a set of these in one color and then a quick spray of spray paint later and I have a rainbow set of card trays (not that having a set of black trays would have been horrible).  These certainly aren't as important a game accessory as Carc tile trays to playing the game, unless you are as OCD as every other game player I know about the neatness of card piles.

Remember when I mentioned that some people print play mats for games without them? What about games that need them? This tray is an accessory that you can print to help organize your play mat for Terraforming Mars. The little slots keep the cubes in place (which makes screwing up where a cube was a lot harder). The divisions between sections is nice as well. The designer of this tray also made it in multiple parts (for smaller printers) that fit together puzzle-like. If you like, print/paint them in different colors for the players.

For the record, I designed exactly NONE of these. All of these were shared to the community on Thingiverse and were free for me to use. Take a look, you never know what you might find out there.

Be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Collection Churn August 2017

Given the rate of change in previous months, things were relatively quite in August on the game collection front. I acquired a few new items, but they were really more or less late arrivals.

Let's start with the outgoing items:
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft the Boardgame - when this originally came out, I was really excited. I loved the Ravenloft concept as kid (when TSR originally introduced it), and while I'm not really a role player anymore, I love me a good dungeon crawl. This isn't a bad game by any means, but I'd rather play Descent given all the time and effort I've put into painting my collection (plus, I think it is just the better game). For those not familiar with Castle Ravenloft, it is a slick co-op dungeon crawler with a random "dungeon" layout each time (the best analogy I can come up with is the Diablo computer game - each level is the same story, but the layout is random). 
  • Kingdom Builder + Nomads, Crossroads, Marshlands, and some mini-expansions - Kingdom Builder is a top five game for me. So why did I sell it off? See my notes in the acquired section below. 
  • Hare and Tortoise - once upon a time, I thought it'd be cool to own all the Spiel de Jahres winners. But the realities of limited space and games that never ever got played finally got a hold of me and this ended up on the sale block.  I think I only ever played the game once (and I don't think it was my copy). I was thinking it might be a good family game, but I don't think this would have ever gotten played.
And the acquired:
  • Kingdom Builder Big Box 2nd edition - As I mentioned, I really like this game. So much that when Queen games announced a Kickstarter for the Marshlands expansion, I jumped without a bit of hesitation. They also were offering an empty Big Box you could buy to hold everything. About a month after that, they announced another expansion (Harvest) and a different box. Well, I was a little annoyed, but they setup the KS to handle those folks that ordered Marshlands and Big Boxes. So, all was good with the world. I should have received everything by Nov 2016. Except that nobody did AND - Queen decided that the best thing to do was just ignore their customer base and not give updates or answer inquires. Around July of this year, they announced the game would be shipping soon. To make up for all the problems and delays, they simply shipped all backers a full Big Box (which has every single thing that has been released for the game). Since I didn't need what was essentially two copies, I sold off my original game and just kept the new. The general consensus of the backers was that Queen screwed up financially and had been using new KS campaigns to pay for previous campaigns and had screwed up badly at some point. While I might buy a Queen game again someday, I'll not be backing them through KS any more.
  • Fields of Arle - way earlier in the year (I think April), I made a trade offer for FoA. Then I moved and it took forever before I got around to getting the games shipped from my side. Well, I did eventually get my side shipped off. And then, it took forever before I ever heard back and got a delivery of FoA from the other side. Well, it did finally arrive. I like Ewe's later games and this was described as a really big sandbox game, which I think works well for me and my love, Alyson. We like Agricola ok and really enjoy Caverna. This is yet another farming game, but from what I hear, has less contention than most of his games (which some friends I have find disappointing). That's ok by me - I still have Agricola, Caverna, and Ora et Labora. 
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Thursday, September 07, 2017

What I've Been Playing August 2017 Edition

Well, last month was surprisingly hectic for whatever reason and not much writing has gotten done and not much hit the tabletop for me. One of the main reasons? Legendary DXP was released and I've been playing the crap out of that. My thoughts at the time of its release can be found here. Here we are a few weeks later (and at least three patches later), and I'm still playing the crap out of the game. There are still some issues that I have with the game:

  • Not being able to examine cards in the discard pile, KO pile, VP pile (yeah can "see" cards, but not examine them, and the layout of those piles hides the important details)
  • No confirmation on discards or KOs (which is more annoying when you are trying to look at your own cards and an event takes the card you have touched or are looking at). I'm used to it now, but this is a constant source of frustration for new players.
  • No needed information available on schemes including the number of "things" (wounds, villagers, escaped "things") that effect winning or losing
  • There are still a handful of card interactions that don't work properly (and like most software, a new release seems to fix some and breaks others that were fine before)
  • There is no log of things that have occurred - look away for 40 seconds and your hand can be drastically different because the game discarded for you and you don't know why. 
Like a lot of the players who have played the hell out of the game, I have gotten to a point where I tolerate that stuff because I like the game a lot and I know the cards enough to either avoid the issues, or I just know the game enough to be careful. Is the game better than the when it was in beta? Hells yes! Is the game better than when it was released? Yes. Is it still getting better each week? Again yes. The development team is working their ass off to fix issues and put out a constant stream of fixes. They are working on a revised UI to address a number of things that the community has said the game needs in terms of features. They have made themselves available to anyone that wants to voice their opinion on Discord and they are really responsive to suggestions and bug reports. I've seen (and experienced) them working with individuals to resolve problems. They chose to release at GenCon when things were not 100%, but have been trying to get past that and the stream of patches and marked improvement from launch week shows that. Do I think the game was worth $2-$5? Yes, easily. Is it a game of the year candidate? Not currently, but maybe it will be by the time it hits Steam in Dec or January. Is it for everyone? Nope. The limited platform (currently only iPad 4 or better) and online only (even for solo play) makes it a no for a lot of people. The limited player pool at the moment also makes finding matches hard at times, but I'm enjoying solo play a lot (it is a bit faster than playing with real people). In the next few months, Android users should get to play and PC/Mac users after that. That should make the pool much more interesting.

I've also been playing a lot of Paperback (the app, not the physical boardgame). For those that haven't heard of Paperback before, it is a deck builder meets Scrabble. If you don't like deck builders or word games, you can be done right here. For the rest of you - this is a great game and I think that because it is such a niche game, it hasn't gotten all the recognition it should (maybe recognition is the wrong term here because I believe it is currently the number one word game on BGG).

The idea here is that you have a deck of cards that will grow as the game goes on. Each card may have a single letter or sometimes a pair of letters (like "CH" or "ES") and a value. Some cards also give you the ability to increase a word or neighboring letter's value, get free cards, draw more cards etc. When you string together the letters to make a word, that word's value is totaled up and you have the ability to buy either new letters or VP cards (in the form of wild cards). You need those wilds to build bigger (longer) words, but those same cards that are your endgame score do not help your word's value during the game. You both need them and they clutter your deck.

It really is a clever game and has been a nice change of pace from Legendary. And while not required, its fun to see what words you can come up with when your hand is a "N", "T" and 4 wild cards. Sure you could just play "NOT", but its always a good time sending something funny to your opponent. There is a good AI (the hard AI basically cheats and pulls crap out of its dictionary) for solo games and async play for playing against friends for bragging rights. Also, playing against other online writers and editors from the Punchboard Media group is tough (though fun).

Speaking of - be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

New to Me August 2016 --> Has It Stood the Test of Time?

I realized that I do a lot of looking back on this blog. I don't think I'm trying to revel in the past, I'm just trying to shed some insight on games that were hot at one point for some reason or another. Maybe because they brought out some new mechanics or because they were like another game I liked, but were cleaner and shorter. Maybe its just because it is easier to look back at something I played since I don't tend to be on the bleeding edge of new games coming out like a lot of other gamers. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the looks back at some games that might have been on your radar at some point (maybe still are). Just because a game isn't Cult of the New today, doesn't mean that it isn't worth seeking out.

BGG user Martin G does a monthly list - New to you a year ago (date) --> Has it stood the test of time? This month's list can be found at here. A year ago in August, I tried a handful of new games and have not really played any since for a variety of reasons. I'm going to cover all of them and my thoughts about their longevity.

DC Comics Deck-Building Game: Rivals – Batman vs The Joker
Two things, I like comics and I like deck building (except for Dominion, which I hate). My son likes both as well and I had purchased the original DC Comics Deck-Building Game for him the previous year for Christmas. Regular readers probably already understand - I love Legendary: Marvel, so I didn't really need another superhero game, but my son likes DC a little better and Ascension (which the DC game is a lot like) is good enough, so I got him this. For his birthday, one thing he got from me was this little expansion to the game. In this variant, you are trying to put together enough attack to knock down the other guy three times. It was an interesting twist to the game, but we haven't played since last year. Again, the game itself is fine, but tends to get lost in the shuffle of other games. I'd rather play Legendary. My son prefers something like Epic where we draft decks and then fight. So this sits on the shelf. Would I play it if he asked? Heck yeah, but not because I was jonesing to play this game.

Mystic Vale
First, I don't own this game, a buddy does and I haven't had a chance to play it since he showed it to us. Second, another deck building game! I think, generally speaking, I like AEG's deck building games. This one was a fine game, though my love (Alyson) and I were schooled by my buddy that taught us the game (which I think would be the case in most deck builders where one person understands the cards/flow and the others don't). Mystic Vale differs from most other deck builders in that you are building the cards themselves. The cards are translucent (think Gloom) and fit in large sleeves that let you create the combos on the resulting cards. It was an interesting next step/evolution in the genre. Alyson and I both liked the game, but at the same time, I've been looking to reduce my collection a lot rather than acquire new games that would sit around and not get played. While I'm sure Alyson would have played this with me on occasion, my kids wouldn't have been interested, so I didn't seek it out. I think of all the games I played for the first time this month last year, this is the one that stands out the most as one I still have interest in.

Flick 'em Up!
I am a fan of dexterity games. Pitchcar and Crokinole are at the top of the list and when I saw FeU! for the first time, I knew it would be a game I'd love. My daughter got to play it before I did and she fell in love with it, so I traded for it. And then it sat on the shelf for months before I finally got it setup last year. I didn't love it and I'm not sure why. I think because it is so dang fiddly. Pitchcar can be a bear to setup and put away, but the gameplay itself is dead simple and yet requires a great deal of skill. FeU! certainly requires skill and patience to not want to flick all the set piece off the table. It felt like I was chasing the little bullets after EVERY shot (and unlike the errant disks of Pitchcar, the bullets roll and roll and roll). I don't know, the game just didn't flow for me. I ended up selling my copy off despite my daughter's disappointment, but nobody ever wanted to play it anyway.

Sushi Go Party!
I had played (and I own) the original game. This is really just MORE of the same (literally). There is nothing wrong with Sushi Go! - it is a perfectly good card drafting game that is on the lighter side. A couple years ago, this SG! was really the hotness. But the appeal of the game is what keeps it from having legs - play it enough and you've seen all there is to see. Having a bigger (though not dramatically so) set of cards didn't make the game all that new. Yeah, a little more variety, but again the game is what it is - a filler that plays a fair number of people. Good for a crowd looking for a lighter game or as a filler at game nights.

Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction
I kickstarted this little card game without knowing a whole lot about it. When I got it, this is what I found -  a clever little game where each turn you figure out how to chain the cards you have in a way that lets you best collect material you need to win the game. You could call it an engine game, except you don't keep the engine, you get new cards each hand, so the engine is always different. So really, it is kind of a puzzle game. There is no game level strategy, you just combo each hand as best you can. Which makes this game interesting for about 15 minutes and then you were just doing the same thing. Now really, the game is only about 30 minutes unless someone is super slow, so it isn't like you are bored forever, but it just didn't hold my interest long enough. I'm still interested in the actual board game where I'm sure you actually do create the engine, but I didn't care all that much about the diet (i.e. card version) of that game.

And that's it - a whole lot of stuff that I felt was pretty mediocre. Oh well, they can't all be the greatest game ever.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Legendary DXP (pre-release) Review

Fair warning! This review is based on the last BETA build we received. It is (to the best of my knowledge) not the final version sent to Apple. A number of issues I mention may have or should have been addressed by the release date.

For those who are not familiar with the Legendary deck-building games, Legendary DXP (DXP = Digital Experience) is the upcoming electronic form of the popular Upper Deck Legendary system. It was originally released in tabletop form as Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building game. There is no Marvel license here, but if you are familiar with that game, this is the same game with a re-theme (again, in electronic form). 

I received an invitation to join the early preview (i.e. beta testing) of Legendary DXP a few weeks ago and wrote a preview of the iOS application. This week the game will be released to the Apple App store (coinciding with GenCon). The final release version has been sent to Apple and the Beta testers currently have access to what is essentially the same release - of course, the development team is working like crazy this week to minute server fixes and possibly a patch which would follow the initial release.

As I mentioned, the release this week (Aug 17th) is only for iPads. The development team has said the tentative release schedule looks like Android users should get access to the game around October, and the game should be available on Steam around December. The game is built on the Unity engine, so the singular code base should make for the same experience regardless of platform (of course, your performance milage may vary depending on your device). iPad 4s are being set as the low bar, but currently iPad 4 users in the Beta have been less than thrilled with the performance.

The game will be free to download, but will only come with limited cards. During Gen Con it will be on sale for $1.99 to unlock the rest of the content. After Gen Con the price will go up to $4.99. There will be in-app purchases that will allow players to buy in-game decorations such as card sleeves, game boards (mats) and so on. Also, if you purchase during GenCon, you'll have access to an exclusive card sleeve (Android and Steam users will have their own window as well).

For those unfamiliar to Legendary, it is a deck building game. Each turn your hand of cards will deliver an amount of purchasing power and/or an amount of attack. A steady stream of heroes is available to purchase as well as a steady stream of villains for you to beat down. Finally, there is a mastermind behind it all who is trying to pull off his plot scheme (i.e. the game's scenario). The heroes and villains and mastermind and scheme can all be randomized to vary the game and the games. 2-5 players (or bots) team up to stop the mastermind and if the mastermind can be defeated, then the points each player has scored over the course of the game determine the winner. Otherwise, everyone loses or ties. Based on the details of the scheme, a loss can happen in varying ways - too many villains might escape or the players take too many wound cards or simply run out of cards in the villain or hero decks.

Legendary DXP looks good so far (to be fair, I am playing on the large iPad Pro, but still...). The art team has done a good job with all brand new art made just for this version of the system. The art is bright (mostly) and the text is generally clear and easy to read (again, I'm on a very large screen). There is a small bit of iconography, but it doesn't take long to learn. For those familiar with Legendary: Marvel - Alamyth is the city, Guild Hall the SHIELD Helicarrier, Mayor Shufflebottom is Maria Hill, Villagers are Bystanders, etc. 

The game has a number of different play modes that will be available. Quick Match will setup between 3-5 players together in a match (depending on how many players are waiting in a queue at the same time). Solo mode will let you play against 2 bots (always 2), though in solo mode, you can select (or randomize) the scenario and mastermind. There is a mode for playing vs friends (you can also include bots if you like) and finally a daily Gauntlet / Tournament. The Gauntlet pits you and four other players against each other, with all prizes for all players based on how you finish. Quick Matches, Solo play and Gauntlets all earn you silver coins for prizes. Winning Gauntlets may also win you bonus animated or "foil" cards.

Finally, there will be Challenges (daily/weekly/hourly?) that players can attempt (though they hadn't been revealed during the Beta).

Friend mode will let you play against friends or bots, but no coins are earned for those matches.

One thing to note, this game is REQUIRES online play. That's right, since there are ongoing tournaments and prizes, the development team elected to control the game logic by putting that on the servers, not your device. You cannot even play solo without a connection, even if you wanted to play without the chance of earning anything. There has been a fair bit of suggesting on this that perhaps solo should be a future enhancement, but I suspect that is not being seriously considered.

Because the game is online only, a couple of things should be noted:

  • Your turns are timed. You get 2 minutes to take your turn. When your time is up, your time is up. 
  • When other player actions require you to show a card, discard a card, or KO something (or anything where you need to do something) - you get a 15-20 second timer to make your decision. If you don't, the game takes your top card(s) from your hand as your "choice".
So you really need to pay attention to your game when it isn't your turn.

The animations are slick and fast (too fast at times). The main issue I have with the animations is that all too often it is too busy - too much happens quickly and in rapid succession which can make things hard to follow. I highly suggest you resist all urges to try and get a better look at anything when it is not your turn. There still seem to be some unresolved animation issues and occasionally a card gets "stuck", blocking your view (at which point all you can do is kill the app and quickly restart - something you may end up doing a lot).

You should also note that there is not currently a confirmation dialog when discarding or KO'ing cards, which can lead to a lot of frustration when what you really wanted was to view a card or select a different card, but you accidentally touched the wrong spot on the screen. After a few frustrating games, you'll know better, but you won't enjoy accidentally KO'ing your favorite card when you really just wanted to dump some crap.

I have a few other user interface complaints that I suspect will change over the next few months - mostly that you can't view everything you'd like. You can look at the KO pile, but the cards overlap and you can't "pull one out" to see the card itself. There still is no way to view things like the wound stacks which makes some scenarios hard to know if you are going to lose.

My biggest complaints with the user interface is that the designers tried to do something a little different or more stylistic and while it has style, the style gets in the way (which is an issue since there is a timer and no confirmation when you have to get rid of cards). This isn't the first deckbuilder to hit the app store - Ascension, Star Realms, Pathfinder, and Race For the Galaxy all do a number of things better than Legendary does when it comes to the user interface. At this point, things like not being able to clearly see all the cards in your hand or that I should have to confirm a KO before I lose a card forever shouldn't be something I have to point out isn't done well.

And so with all those complaints, you'd think I don't like the game. Wrong. I love this game. Despite the home-brew fantasy setting, the game is still a lot of fun. Yes, I'd like it that much more if it was Spiderman, the Hulk, Thor, Rogue, etc, but the game engine itself is still fun. And make no mistake, the cards are the same as the original game, just re-themed, so game balance isn't what the developers have had to work on.

One thing a lot of folks don't like about Legendary is the amount of time it takes to setup and tear down - with the game being electronic, you can knock out a game in about 15-20 minutes (on average) vs a pair of bots. 5 player games are more likely to be around 25-30 minutes. A welcome reduction.

I've wasted $2 (or more) on a lot of crap games for my phone and iPad, and even with some of the issues, $2 is a bargain for this game. I'll be one of the first in virtual line to grab the game and login for some gaming goodness. I've played a fair bit already and can't wait for more material (just like the real game).

I do expect the launch to be a bit rough. We'll see if the servers can handle the load and if the players can forgive the bugs at launch. I suspect that they'll be a lot of complaints like mine above (and LOTS of complaints about online only and iPad only at launch). Have a little patience, because there is a decent game here and it should clean up and be available on other platforms soon.

See you in the Gauntlet!

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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Collection Churn July 2017

It is that time again - let's look back at the games that have come and gone from my collection during the last month! My overall goal this year has been to (literally) reduce the size of my collection. Both from a pure numbers standpoint as well as perhaps looking at reductions in the space things take up.

Let's start with the "out the door" games:
  • Eclipse Ship Pack 1 - I had acquired this a while back and honestly, didn't care that I got it, it was just part of a bundle. I was happy to trade this off. 
  • Small World Tales and Legends - Small World is ok and I thought this might up the interest level, but I never broke this out. I sold off the base Small World (still have Underground and a ton of expansions, but they never get played either). 
  • Quarriors (et al) - Once upon a time, I had a fair bit of Quarriors, and it got old, so I sold it. Then my son asked about playing it, but it was gone. So in a math trade a few years ago, I ended up "getting it back". We played a couple of times, but it still didn't attract much interest in the house, so I sold this lot as well.
  • Tsuro - I got this game a long time ago as something that was simple and that the kids could play. They liked it (still do) but it is shorter to play than Love Letter and less interesting as far as I'm concerned. Someone wanted to buy it, I was happy to sell it. 
On the flip side, this was one of the first months this year where I had a number of games come in. Acquired were:
  • Ora et Labora - this is one of my favorite Ewe games. I find the mechanics and player interactions to be just right. I had traded my copy earlier in the year to get Scythe and knew that I wanted it back, despite not playing it that much. Periodically I look for matching trades for certain games and I was able to find one that really worked for me - trading Eclipse Ship Pack and the Small World: Tales and Legends deck. Happy to have this back in the library (now to just get it played)
  • Biblios - I kept hearing how great this little game was and so I ended up getting it in a math trade. It is a good little game (both in size and scope). It was a good trade. I'm planning to do a writeup on this soon.
  • Windup War - The publisher asked PBM if there were folks interested in doing a review. This sounded like a fun little family game, so I volunteered. Thankfully it is literally a small game. I should have a full review ready next week with my thoughts on the game.
  • Fast Food Fear - Another smaller box game that came for review. The kids just started school, but hopefully we can get some plays in soon.
  • Argent: The Consortium - Level99 has a kickstarter for a new edition going, so they sent out a review copy to folks that hadn't played the original. Hoping to get this played soon so I can do a proper review.
So, I kind of went in the wrong direction last month, but a fair bit of that was due to review copies coming in. And of those games, three are smaller (and even Ora isn't a hug box). Excited to see where next month takes us.

And that's it for last week! Be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

What Did I Play Last Week: July 24 - Aug 8

Yeah, I missed an update last week for games played, so you are once again getting the multi-week edition of what I've been playing lately.

After I traded for this little gem, I have kept it at work where we play occasionally at "lunch". This is such a great little game that we often play twice and have started digging at different approaches to our games to keep each other guessing. If you haven't played before, it is (to my mind), a stock game. You spend the first half of the game taking turns distributing cards (there are 5 "stocks", money cards, and cards that let you change the value of the "stocks"). Then the second half of the game is an auction for the cards that didn't get distributed. Its fast and interesting and a good amount of bluffing and player interactions.

Ticket to Ride: India and Switzerland
My daughter, my love Alyson and I played the iPad version of TtR and covered a number of maps, including both Switzerland and India. Interestingly, I won both of these maps with exactly a score of 113. I love Switzerland and normally dominate this map against Alyson unless the ticket draw is just horrid. I'm not sure why she ever wants to play this one with me. She likes India a good bit, but my daughter and I kept taking routes she needed and she ended up with a handful of routes she couldn't finish. Nobody really made loops, as we were too busy jacking each other's lines.

I finished another online game of this with Brandon and Robert. I have mentioned before that a certain blue cube card feels broken and the more that I play and have that card in game, the more certain I am of that. I believe we all had equal numbers (Brandon might have had 1 more blue cube than Robert or I). Even so, it make the randomness of the game much more uneven. I think I might actually like this game more on the table than online (but probably won't find out if that is true for a long time). Otherwise, this is a cool little deck builder / bag builder.

Lost Cities: The Boardgame
Lost Cities: The Boardgame is one of the best gateway games ever made. The mechanics of the game are stupidly simply and yet the game has interesting choices and a little bit of angst. For all the love the card game version (which came out first) gets, I'm not sure why this game seems overlooked. At any rate, I pulled this out to play with Alyson, her daughter (who doesn't normally play a lot of games with us) and my daughter. With where we sat, I ended up "ahead of Alyson" and "stole all her cards". Oh yeah, I also ran away with the game. I like this because you can play just one quick round, or the more satisfying full three rounds. Either way, good game packed into a reasonable timeframe that is appropriate for non-gamers and gamers.

Say Anything
Alyson's daughter got to pick the next game and she has been dying for the family to play Say Anything. I played it, but for the record, I don't like this kind of game. And by this kind of game, I mean the "supposed to be hilarious, popularity contest". Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity, Dixit, etc. I understand the appeal, but they are just not my kind of game. This one is especially grueling with a mix of kids and adults. This particular game is slightly better than some others because you also get to vote on the answers that others put out as the one you think the judge will pick. That doesn't fix the basic problem that I don't want to try and figure out what someone else thinks is amusing or the "right" answer.

That's What She Said Game
And right after I tear into Say Anything and why I don't like it, I have another game that is exactly that kind of game. TWSSG is really just Cards Against Humanity, but pretty much just the sexual innuendo version. We had a get together with some old work friends and someone brought this (because we used to say TWSS a LOT at work). It wasn't any better that we were all drinking. Again, I get why other people like these games (they are obviously very popular), but it is just not my thing.

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
At least we can end on a good note. When Alyson and my daughter and I played a series of TtR, our last map was Nordic Countries. I feel this is similar to Switzerland as a tight little race map. Mostly I chose it because none of us play it very often so it feels fresh and not "canned". Of course, we all started "stealing" each other's routes and there was plenty of general chaos in trying to get the cards we needed to "Finnish" up (see what I did there?).

And that's it for last week! Be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!