Tuesday, June 20, 2017

New to Me June 2016 --> Did it Stand the Test of Time?

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.

Last year, I only had one new to me game in June, which was only semi-new. Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition) – Road to Legend. I say semi-new because the game of Descent was not new to me at all, but FFG released their new companion application to the 2nd edition, and it changed things up for me. First off, I had only managed to get the game in its natural form (1 vs many) to the table once or twice. The picture here are my painting of the base Descent set, so I obviously have some personal investment in Descent and just beyond that, I really enjoy the game, so not getting it played bothered me a fair bit. I've always been a fantasy fan and a fan of dungeon crawlers, but this game has never really resonated with others like it has for me. FFG had released a couple of solo/co-op adventures for the game (materials from their Game Night kits) and while I liked those well enough, they were really static - static monster sets and basically just a single (hard) quest.

The Road to Legend app changes the original game by providing an AI for the monsters, allowing you to play the game as a co-op (which also means, solo). It is very similar in feel to the released solo/co-ops adventures in that the app provides instructions for how the monsters should activate and behave each round, but the monsters are not static for each quest. Instead of the monsters being the same for each quest or episode, the RtL app picks randomly from all the monster sets that you have available. So if you have a lot of expansions and monster packs (like I do), then you can run the same campaign or quest multiple times and get a different feel each time.

Not only that, but unlike the released co-op adventures, RtL wasn't a single adventure. The app originally came with one small campaign which everyone figured was just the teaser to get you to play Road to Legend and then buy future material. Well, we all did play that intro and were chomping at the bit for more. FFG then released a full campaign - for free! One nice bit - all the expansions and Hero and Monster packs also added additional side quests to the story, which also lent itself to the replay ability of the campaigns. You could play a campaign repeatedly and while some of the adventures would be the same ones (albeit with random monsters from your collection), the travel / side quests would be random.

The only downside to RtL was that there still was no way to solo / co-op play the actual campaigns packaged in the game. So despite my new found "game", I still wanted to play through all the material that I had purchased. So after a bit of hemm-ing and haw-ing, I broke down and printed out RedJak's Automated Monster Variant (RAMV). BGG user RedJak had come up with a system of automating the Overlord player (RAOV) that I had tried, but I just didn't care for tracking the Overlord stuff from session to session). With RAMV, you skip the Overlord and the system defines the monster behaviors for each adventure (or monsters for randomly picked ones in each quest). In essence, it did what Road to Legend did, but in a manually defined way. So RAMV gave me the opportunity to play through campaigns, while RtL gave me similar experiences with new material in an app. The truth is, I probably wouldn't have investigated RAMV without RtL. With the two, I had a new wealth of material to play through (probably more than one guy that doesn't play all that many solo games could play).

So has it stood the test of time? Heck yeah. In fact, RtL released an in-app-purchase called The Delve, which lets you play Road to Legend as a one-off randomly put together experience (think Diablo style dungeon delve). That really lets you dive in and for a quick fix, and lets you scratch that dungeon crawl itch.

Yep, I painted all this. All the monsters from the base game.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What Did I Play Last Week: June 6 - June 12

My fascination with the Race for the Galaxy app on the iPad has continued (as has my poor showing against the AI).

Race for the Galaxy
So a few more games of Race against my friend. We have expanded our horizons a little (and the game), by using the Gathering Storm expansion. I think I'm getting worse against the Hard AI. As I said last week, I've enjoyed playing on iOS, but I still have no desire to do so at the tabletop. The goals that are added as part of Gathering Storm help improve the flaws I have with the base game, but based on the way I've been playing, at least one thing is still true - after about 4 cards played, you can usually tell if you are hosed (with the expansion, I concede that it might be up to 6 cards now). At any rate, the speed of the app makes it a good time killer, but I don't think there is anything calling me to the table for this.

Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game
A couple weeks back, I discovered a solo campaign for Legendary, this past week, I played out the last three scenarios. I really like this game and am excited to play the next campaign. Heck, I'll probably run my own randomly put together one just because I've enjoyed playing this way )(though I'd still rather play it with others). At any rate, I beat down the bad guys and (at least in my head), there was a fun comic story that was played out while I was doing it. My last game was Shield and The Avengers working to save mutants from Loki and the Legacy Virus! Good stuff.

Have a great week everyone and be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Legendary Campaign Season 1 Parts 3 & 4

Hello True Believers! As previously blogged, I discovered a solo variant to Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game on BGG by BGG user Sky Zero. I just finished the last two scenarios of the campaign and here are the results.

Scenario 3: Replace Earth's Leaders with Killbots
Mastermind: Dr. Doom
Villains: Enemies of Asgard and Radiation
Henchmen: Doombot Legion
Add Red Skull and Magneto Mastermind cards to the Villain Deck

For this scenario I decided to go with a couple of X-Men - Storm and Cyclops and added the God of Thunder himself to the mix - Thor! This looked like it would be a good combo of heroes and there'd be some synergy, but for whatever reason, it was a very mediocre grouping and this session was ridiculously close to be a loss. I kept the scheme scenario in check, but never could put together much fire power in any single hand until  I had nearly exhausted the hero deck. I managed to put together just enough to fight Dr. Doom my last two rounds, defeating his scheme on the last round. I managed to collect 40 points in bad guys and had a single bystander. Unfortunately, 7 villains escaped. This was easily the longest scenario I played out, as it took a whopping 25 turns to win. I kept Cyclops Optic Blast as I wanted something with a little zip (attack) for the last scenario.

Scenario 4 & Final Showdown: The Legacy Virus (12 wounds)
Mastermind: Loki
Villains: Enemies of Asgard and Brotherhood
Henchmen: Doombot Legion
Add Red Skull, Magneto and Dr. Doom Mastermind cards to the villain deck

I considered re-using Wolverine (who I like) but instead decided in my head that the "story" was better if Shield and the Avengers were sent to stop Loki while most of the X-Heroes were laid out with the Legacy Virus. I had Cyclops and Rogue in my starter deck, so they weren't completely out of the narrative. I brought in Nick fury, Iron Man, and Captain America. The first couple of rounds were hard and I was KO'ing SHIELD agents left and right. For the first time during the campaign, I bought Maria Hill in order to get some $$ back into my deck, so I could afford the heavies. Meanwhile, the Legacy Virus was getting nowhere. Captain America kept the wounds out of my deck and my deck's tech cards had put me into a "draw my whole deck" situation much like an earlier scenario. In 11 turns, I defeated Loki. I scored 53 points (I used all my bystanders to slow down the flow of bad guys). Only 1 villain escaped (though with a bystander).

Because this was the end of the campaign, I now had to face all four of the Masterminds, one at a time vs a 6 card draw in a final showdown! I only counted attack and disregarded the recruit values. I managed to put all four villains away once and for all.
  • Defeated Red Skull 14-11
  • Defeated Magneto 29-12
  • Defeated Dr. Doom 24-13
  • Defeated Loki 44-14
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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Cult of the NOT So New June 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 June 2007 / 2nd Quarter 2007 / 1st Half 2007.

Prime Movers for June - Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization
Yeah, this continued its rise, moving up 11 spots to #76. If you have read my last few of these look backs, you probably already know how I feel about this game (if not, I'll catch you up - I don't like this overrated game). Based on where it ends up in the future, I suspect that you get to read my complaining about this game for at least the next 6 months or more. Not sure there is a whole lot to say here, that I haven't already said before.

Still a thing? Sigh.

Falling Star - Leonardo da Vinci
This guy fell 9 places. Technically, to be a "falling star", the game has to fall more than 10 spots - this was the biggest loser this month ten years ago. This guy was here a couple months ago too. I read that Leonardo da Vinci is a worker placement game with an interesting bidding mechanism (well, maybe 10 years ago it was, who knows...). I scanned the reviews and it seems to have been your basic worker placement with a thin theme and average art. It was falling last time we saw it too.

Still a thing? Leonardo da Vinci continued to fall, and today sits at #848

Hot Lava Birth for June Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery #58 Notre Dame #61
Here are a couple of really good games. Age of Empires III is a really good game and it was not at all like the RTS computer game of the same name. I don't know how Glen Drover came up with a game that was attached to a randomly strange license (i.e. which came first, the license or the game). Whatever - it was a good game. Worker placement / action selection kind of mechanisms with some area control and exploration. Heck, with all the different ways to score points, it too is almost Feld-like. I ended up trading this because it wasn't getting played, but I would still happily play it if I was offered the chance. If there was a flaw, it was that you could get hosed on exploration. One bit of luck in the game could swing it. I feel strongly that Chad Jensen used the action placement setup from this game for Dominant Species.

Notre Dame is a Feld design - definitely a point salad game, but also at a time when his designs included some mean game mechanism that made the game punish you if you didn't manage that part of the system (ie In the Year of the Dragon). This wasn't nearly as brutal as In the Year... What sets this game apart was the card drafting / action drafting. I still enjoy this game from time to time.

Still a thing? Notre Dame currently sits at #178. As I mentioned, I don't think this is a bad game in any way, but as was the case with a lot of Alea/Rio Grande games in the Big Box series, the availability probably contributed to it dropping over the last 5 years. And while I don't mind the negative game element (rats in this case), I get the feeling that the general game buying population prefers their games not have that element (Ewe's designs got less and less "demanding" after Agricola for example) and Feld's design evolution seemed to reflect that. AoE:III also fell at some point, but only down to #118. While this was getting popular, it was originally published through the now defunct Tropical Games and then was only available through Eagle Games IIRC. This made it a little harder to come by. It also was in an oddly sized (oversized) box. Don't ask me what that has to do with the price of tea in China, but I do recall disliking the box.

Top Ten Trends for June
Twilight Struggle +1 #5, El Grande -1 #6, Shogun +1 #10

More top ten shuffle! Poor El Grande was beginning its slide out while the new hotness was taking its turn in the spotlight. Shogun had been a winning mover for months before, so it was no real surprise that it finally broke into the coveted Top 10. I've mentioned this before, but if you haven't played El Grande, you owe it to yourself to go find four friends and play. You can play for free on yucat√°.de!

Still a thing? Twilight Struggle continued its climb over the next 10 years and is currently at #3 on the charts - a spot well deserved. El Grande, while still a classic, has fallen out to #49. Ten years after breaking into the top 10, Shogun now sits outside the top 100 at #111. Shogun is still an excellent game with one of the coolest gimmicks ever designed for a game. Games like this are one of the reasons I enjoy this retrospective - I hope I'm highlighting games that a new generation of players may not have had a reason to look into.

Top 5 Winning Movers for June (Highest ranked games that have shown any positive position movement in the last month that aren't in the top 10.)
  • Commands & Colors: Ancients - One of the best of the C&C system games. While I don't care that much for the theme/period and so on, mechanically, one of the best. Blocks look boring? Honestly, they made this one of the easier ones to manage/play. I'd still rather play Battles of Westeros, which I think ended up being the best of the system variations.
  • Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition (Second Month!)  - still the king daddy of space empire games.
  • Hammer of the Scots - A true block war game that I still haven't played.
  • Crokinole - One of the best dexterity / skill games ever made. Pricey equipment limits access for a lot of players, if you see someone with a board, ask to play. When you own a nice board, you don't just want to show it off on the wall.
  • Pillars of the Earth - A solid worker placement game that is supposed to be getting a reprint in 2017! Does it still hold up? New players may decide for themselves. It has been scarce for a long time now.
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Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Legendary Campaign Season 1 Part 2

As previously blogged, I discovered a solo variant to Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game on BGG by BGG user Sky Zero. Today I continued into scenario #2
  • Scenario 1: Negative Zone Prison Breakout
  • Mastermind: Magneto
  • Villains: Spider Foes and Masters of Evil + Red Skull
  • Henchmen: Hand Ninjas and Masters of Evil
Interestingly, the campaign had Magneto, but not the Brotherhood (as defined on the Mastermind card). I debated for half a second and just went with it as defined. The first thing to decide was the three heroes I'd play with for the scenario. I really wanted to keep a matchup that thematically wasn't just odd. Because of the Spider Foes, I started with Spiderman (he also worked as an Avenger, at least  in my head). Because of Magneto, and to up the attack factor, I went with Wolverine. Because I had kept Rogue - Energy Drain (red) from the previous mission, I needed a hero with some red options or Rogue was going to be useless. I decided to go with another Avenger - Black Widow. An odd Avenger group, but one that matched up to all of the bad guys pretty decently and thematically.

This group didn't sound like it'd have the ommph I'd need to take out some big villains and the first couple rounds of buys felt like I was loading up on only really cheap cards. This particular scenario (prison break) also looked like it was going to go south almost immediately. For the solo play, you draw two villains a round. The scenario is a loss if 12 villains escape. Scheme twists? Each forces a draw of two more villain cards. It took only two rounds to fill out the city and for the first bad guy (Green Goblin and a bystander) to escape. The villains were also fairly tough and I wasn't sure I'd get to enough attack heroes before a bunch of them escaped. A couple turns in though, I had 8 attack and took out Magneto for the first time. In a huge stroke of luck, I rescued 8 bystanders with that! The importance of that being - the solo rules let you spend a bystander to avoid a villain draw. Using those cards to stymie the flow of villains let me quickly get to a point where I was pretty much drawing my whole deck each time. Black Widow and Spiderman were adding bystanders to my pile (and it turns out that one Black Widow card had attack equal to the number of bystanders you had rescued, so she was dishing out huge amounts of damage).

The game went from looking dire to suddenly over. In only 8 rounds (note, I mis-counted the previous game, forgetting that I played one more round than I had discarded heroes) I had wiped out Magneto. I scored 36 points (9 from bystanders). For the rest of the campaign I choose to keep Black Widow - Dangerous Rescue (red). With two more scenarios, my next couple heroes probably will need to be beefy attack guys, but my two ladies provide a decent way to thin the deck and slow down the villains. Maybe I can figure out how to go all Girl Power!

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What Did I Play Last Week: May 30 - June 5

This past week I got in a few more games of "Race" on the iPad/iOS but that was it on the electronic front. The rest of the list are actual games played on the tabletop. Without further ado...

Race for the Galaxy
As mentioned, I played a bunch of Race this past week with friends. We expanded our horizons a little (and the game), by using the Gathering Storm expansion. For such a small set of changes, I suck. I was finally playing against the Hard AI at a better win clip, but the expansion has set me back a ton. I'm a bit conflicted on this game. I've enjoyed playing on iOS, but I still have no desire to do so at the tabletop. The goals that are added as part of Gathering Storm help improve the flaws I have with the base game, but based on the way I've been playing, at least one thing is still true - after about 4 cards played, you can usually tell if you are hosed. No biggie if you are playing an AI (two more minutes to end the game or just quit since there are no stats), but I'm not big on conceding games against real players. Nobody likes a quitter.

Ticket to Ride: The Card Game
My daughter wanted a re-match of this game after I thrashed her. My love, Alyson joined us for the first time she's played. The girls took turns hosing me and I ended up with a pretty mediocre result. My daughter got her revenge and destroyed us both. In fact she insisted I record the scores immediately - 145-68-53 For the record, the game is much different head-to-head than it is with a couple of players. We don't play it enough that I've figured out how to be good at it yet. Still a fun little variant from the real game that I'm enjoying more the more we play.

Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game
In my last post on this blog, I talked about starting a solo Legendary campaign. You'll have to head on over there for details. The Cliff Notes version: I found rules for a solo campaign which I started. I played it once and screwed up some rules, so redid my playing of that game/mission. I don't play this anywhere near enough given how much I like it (sitting in my top 10), so this is a great alternative. I really like this particular deck builder, in large part because the license is awesome, but also because the story is particularly comic like and fun. The last expansion set I added to my collection was the Guardians of the Galaxy set, and since my box was then full, I haven't grabbed any other sets. I have no driving interest in the Secret Wars or Civil War sets, though the new X-Men set caught my eye. Before that though, lets see how I feel from playing solo.

Thebes is like that one friend you had in high school or college. Not your best friend, or your favorite buddy, but when they were around, you always had a good time and weren't wishing they'd go away. At least, that's how I feel about Thebes. I often forget it is sitting on my game shelves. It isn't the first thing that pops into my head of things to play. But when we sit down to play it, I have a good time and remember that this is a fun family game. Who doesn't like digging for treasure? Yeah, it is luck filled, yet careful planning is important and helps mitigate that some. In a 2-player game, things are often really even. The thing is, it also is pretty unique (at least in my collection) as far as gameplay goes. I'm happy to call Thebes my buddy, even if he doesn't get much attention from me. Oh, and I won my game vs Alyson, but only 75-73. I had 15pts in conferences to her 1, but she was killing it at sites. She nabbed all but one of the top artifacts from each site. Sheesh.

Have a great week everyone and be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!

Monday, June 05, 2017

Legendary Campaign Season 1 Part 1

I just discovered a solo variant to Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game on BGG by BGG user Sky Zero. This variant is fairly straight forward. Setup like you would for a two-player game. The Hero deck will act / move like the Villain deck does - draw a new hero at the start of each turn and push the deck to the left, discarding the pushed off hero (he is called to duty elsewhere of course). What else? You draw two villains each round. You can use a rescuer bystander from your pile to reduce one villain draw each round.
This in and of itself is only semi interesting, but he also posted a set of campaigns. I've decided to give this a whirl, since I love this game and haven't played in a long while. I'm running the first season, which is base game only. At the end of each scenario (win or lose), I get to keep a hero from my deck to replace a S.H.I.E.L.D agent from my starter, but in doing so, I can't reuse that hero anymore. On top of that, I can't use the other heroes back to back in scenarios. Here's the breakdown of the first scenario:
  • Scenario 1: Midtown Bank Robbery
  • Mastermind: Red Skull
  • Villains: Hydra and Skrulls
  • Henchmen: Savage Land Mutants
I decided to run the first set of heroes as : Hulk, Rogue, and Gambit. Seems like a legit team up. Gambit and Rogue are having lunch in New York, team up with The Hulk to foil the Red Skull's bank robbery (and as hokey as that sounds, it also sounds like a comic book plot to a tee). Not real sure how the Skulls and the Savage Land Mutants got into the script, but who cares!

The system works pretty well. The double villain draw really keeps you pushing. Using only three heroes makes it nice to get some synergy going. Between the Red Skull and Rogue, I thinned my deck down to the point where I got to lay down some serious beatdowns for the last three turns and end the game. It only took me a measly 8 turns to win. In the meantime though I let 5 villains (with their four bystander hostages) run free. My approach was to thin and then grab for the green Hulk and Rogue cards to stack. Apparently worked ok. Gambit's deck really sucks. He helped me move through my cards and activate my Rogue card to deck-thin, but otherwise he kinda sucks.

I won of course, scoring 26 pts in defeated Masterminds, Villains, and henchmen. In the end, I thought about keeping a Gambit card since I can't reuse whatever deck I keep a card from, but I didn't like my choices. I ended up keeping Rogue (Energy Drain) to help deck-thin future adventures.

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Thursday, June 01, 2017

Collection Churn May 2017

I'm continuing to move in the right direction (I think) since I only acquired two games and sold or traded 9 (and 4 expansions). Without further ado, here is the collection churn for last month.

Acquired: Dice City, Scythe Collector's Ed.

Dice City is still (at the moment) unplayed by me. Brandon Kempf got and played this at Geekway 2016 and I saw a picture and it made me put this on my trade list in a math trade. He refuses to accept any responsibility for this landing in my collection. I don't honestly know that it will get played anytime soon. Right now, Yokohama is more on my "want to play" list than Dice City. I have not even looked in the box.

So, Scythe - I found a local (Phoenix area) gamer that was willing to trade his Scythe Collector's Edition for a reasonable set of stuff (see below). It worked out especially well since neither of us had to ship anything. I made a trade to get this for Alyson (my love) for her birthday. It was the first game we played at our first Geekway together (2016) and she really liked it, especially the deluxe bits. To take it up a notch (which is no small feat I might add), I 3D printed some tokens using black and copper filaments. I also asked Jamey Stegmaier if he'd sign the rules for her with a short dedication. He graciously agreed and she was quite touched. We haven't played her new game yet, but my friends tell me it works well 2-player, so I suspect we'll be getting plenty of plays in soon.

Sold or Traded:
  • War of the Ring Anniversary ed - I was part of the original order waaaaayyyyy back when they announced it. I don't know that I was looking to make an investment in it, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't planning to keep and play the hell out of this $450 beast either. Sold it to pay some things that came up last month (paying movers).
  • Kingsburg+Exp - I like Kingsburg, with the expansion. That being said, it never ever got played. They re-themed it with a Cthulhu theme (except you were the cultists), which was cool, but no expansion, so booooo. At any rate, this was taking up space and so was on the chopping block.
  • Ora et Labora - I love Ora, but it was part of the sacrifice for Scythe. I'll probably re-acquire it at some point. Good game, but wasn't seeing table time, so maybe it is ok it went.
  • Madeira + exp - I liked this meaty euro, but it was a little too dense to get regular table time, so it too was traded for Scythe.
  • Jambo + exp - Jambo is ok. I don't know that it ever struck me as SOOOOO awesome like it did a lot of people, so I traded it too. Most of its value came from the expansion which I never even opened. 
  • Taluva - Another that I loved that was sacrificed for my love's present. Taluva is a great game and will probably end up in the collection again someday.
  • Arboretum - the last of the stack of stuff I traded for Scythe. It is pretty, but we have lots of small card games to play.
  • Flick 'em Up + Stallion Canyon - My daughter loves this and is going to be mad at me, but I just don't really like this (though it sounds like the kind of thing I'd think was really awesome). It takes too long to setup and just isn't as fun to me as many dexterity games.
  • Pastiche - For me, Fresco is close enough to this that I don't need both and Fresco is the better game. My main problem with Pastiche is that there isn't really any way to make clever plays to do better than your opponents. You do better when the person before you sets you up to get extra cards. 
And with that I'm down to 239 games (plus expansions). I don't know that I have a particular goal in mind, but getting down to "not overflowing the storage" is certainly a target. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What Did I Play This Week: May 23-29

In a change of pace, I actually got to play a fair number of things AT THE TABLE in the last week. Finally settling in a bit from moving earlier this month. I really hate moving. I still have boxes of games and stacks not put away, but it is getting better. On with the rewind!

Kingdom Builder: Marshlands
I wrote about this playing previously The long and the short of it - I love Kingdom Builder, so another expansion is, in my mind, a good thing. This one, like the first expansion for Kingdom Builder, has some good points and some less interesting ones. Its hard to pin an exact thumbs up or down on this one without a bunch more plays. I also need to mix it in with the rest of the game that I have (we played with only this expansion) before I can tell if the new bits are just more of the same or special in some way (I suspect the former). That isn't bad to me since I like the game so much.


I finished yet another online game of Carc with my buddy Robert. He only lost by a little over 100 this time. He immediately sent me another game request, and insists he won't lose by 100 the next time. He definitely is learning (despite the scores). I don't mind Carc, but I think we need to limit the expansions to make the games faster. I like all the parts, but the games just take too long to finish when you have 150 tiles in play. Even if you are using the builder. And for online play, the dragon makes it slower too. So while I like being able to try and get back pieces and so on, the game length is dragging down my enjoyment of playing this.

Race for the Galaxy
More online play! I snuck in another win over a friend online. Very close game. There are still a couple of things I don't love about Race, and I wish the notifications were better in the application (and that it told you when your opponent was online, so you didn't take your turn and leave). That being said, I still can't beat the hard AI on a regular basis. Not exactly sure where my decision making weakness lies, but I haven't yet felt like I need to purchase any IAP (i.e. the expansions). I'm sure this will keep showing on my weekly lists for a bit, but it isn't consuming my free time, more like it is just there.

Though I didn't intend it to be, Memorial Day turned into something of a family game day for me. It was nice to get in a bunch of different games with just about everyone in the house.

7 Wonders Duel
While dinking around BGG the other day, I ran into a thread on 7 Wonders Duel that clarified a rule about the cards that have a good with a 1 coin on them. I've been mi-understanding this card. It means you can buy one of those goods for exactly 1 coin (regardless of whether your opponent has some or not). This was a revelation that I shared with my daughter (my main opponent). I asked if she wanted to give the game a go and she agreed. We went back and forth, and as we entered the third age, I realized she only needed one new type of science card to win the game. The top two cards of the tableau were exactly the same - a symbol she didn't have. I had to figure out how to beat her before she could get either card, which meant I started planning how to get multiple actions (I had a couple of those kind of wonders) at just the right time. Then I realized that she had The Messe wonder (which allows you to build - for free - a top row card, covered or not). Thankfully, she couldn't afford it, so I started working on slowing her down and hitting her with a ton of military. It came down to luck of the flip. I flipped a card that had three shields on it and was able to hit her for a military win right before she was going to build her wonder and win. This was the third time I've stolen a win from her right before she could beat me. She may never play this with me again.

My son wanted to play something, so I grabbed Splendor, which my daughter also joined us in playing. Both kids started slowly (for a change - they usually have great engines going while I flounder around) and I built up a good enough engine to grab good cards and then finally a bonus that gave me 15 while the closest the kids could manage was 8 or 9 points. Splendor is a fun game, but I need to play it more in order to play better. Normally one of the kids really smokes me in this game, so I was happy to sneak in a win over them.

Las Vegas
My daughter wandered off to make hamburgers for everyone for lunch, so I pulled out Las Vegas to play with my son and my love's son. I like this little dice game. It is generally quick and has a little push your luck. We always play with the optional "ghost player" using an extra set of dice, which adds just enough to the game to kick it up a notch while not making it longer or more than it should be. Me and the boys managed to get two games of this in. Through nothing more than shear luck, I won both games. My son somehow managed to score the exact same thing in both games and was last in both games (he, like many gamers, claim that dice hate him and that he never wins at dice games).

I finally got this to the table! Over the years, I've really stopped doing "flyers" on games. I tend to wait until the buzz is really big and I know more about the game before I jump. The few times I do, it generally works well (the only recent exceptions I can think of that didn't? Between Two Cities and Lanterns: The Harvest Festival). The flip side of that has been great games like Euphoria, Splendor, Orleans and now Yokohama.   I wanted the TMG "Deluxified" version of Yokohama based on two things - how much I enjoyed Orleans and how well I think they pulled off the deluxe version (and since these are one and done printings, I wanted to get a copy before the prices got stupid like we did with Orleans).

So I received my copy and reviewed the rules and watched the how to play rules. And then didn't get to play and didn't get to play. And then finally we sat down to play. And I had to go through the rules again. Thankfully, the game isn't too bad rules-wise. No, this game is pretty straight forward as far as rules go. The game is about running a shipping company in Japan and is your medium weight euro game. It is definitely Feld-esque in the number of different ways you can score (point salad for the win!). On your turn, you optionally do some stuff, take your required movement and related action stuff, then once again you optionally can do stuff (and by "do stuff", you might have the ability to take an additional board action or you can fulfill an order). In other words, your turns should be fairly quick. If the action is to take an order card or a technology card, it might take an extra minute to review your choices, but really it feels pretty quick paced.

Where it gets meaty is the number of options you have and the number of things you have to keep track of on each little short burst of a turn you get. There are a dozen ways to score points and you can score often. Because of this, its hard to know if getting 3 points and a couple goods is worth the same or less than an option of just 8 points. The game is fluid and quick enough, you can't really math that out beyond a turn anyway. Which is how I like games of this kind. We liked this game a good amount, though I think I forgot to collect points or coins from my technology or trade buildings about a dozen times during our game. The game setup supports a good amount of variability to each game and I'm excited to see if that also means you can take a number of different approaches to the game to do well.

Ticket to Ride: The Card Game
The last game I played on Memorial Day was a head-to-head game of TtR:The Card Game with my daughter. I like this little memory game, though it is definitely better with 3-4 players instead of two. We both should have been much more aggressive with taking tickets as we had huge stacks of train cards at our disposal. I managed to have most of the tickets with cities, so got a huge amount of bonus points. I also just flat out had more tickets, so scored a lot more than she did.

Have a great week everyone and be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Thoughts on Boardgame Expansions

Not my collection, but this is about how much HS stuff I own
After writing up my notes on Kingdom Builder: Marshlands the other night, I thought I'd throw out my random thoughts on game expansions.

When I first got into the Boardgaming hobby around 2005, expansions were nowhere near as common as they are today (unless you played Heroscape). Some games, like Age of Steam and Power Grid, had expansion boards/maps that could be used as an alternate playing board, but typically that was the extent, except for a few one off games. Anymore, it seems that most games are designed with an expansion ready to go to the printers the moment the base game arrives in the player's hands. And I get it - from the publisher's point of view it is a huge win. The expansion material might have just been part of the original design, but was taken out to keep the base game costs down, so selling an expansion is great for them as the development costs are really low. For games like Descent, Imperial Assault, Eldritch Horror, Dominion, Legendary, etc - you have a built in player base that loves expanding a game because they are die hard fans of the game (also of note, there seems to be an overwhelming number of "completion-ists" in this hobby and in some ways, the publishers are using that to their advantage). At any rate, I thought I'd share my train of thoughts on expansions by first exploring the kinds of expansions I see.

Solo, co-op or +players expansions - i.e. expansions that change the player counts of a game.
I don't really like playing solo plays of games, so for me, that isn't an appealing addon for an expansion. Solo play addons take the value of the expansion down because of that. For example - Orleans: Invasion. The expansion is a good sized one, and has more to it than a solo and co-op set, but they could have gotten away with just the new buildings and scenario as a smaller expansion instead of a "large" one that also has solo and co-op. Co-op options fall in the same boat for me as solo. If I wanted a co-op game, I would have bought that in the first place. A solo expansion is fine if it is a purely solo expansion (Archipelago offers a deck expansion just for solo play). Give me the option, but don't bundle it in with "real" expansion stuff.

Adding player counts is a mixed bag and really depends on the game. The original first edition of A Game of Thrones: The Boardgame was a five-player affair. The Clash of Kings expansion for the game was spectacular and added a sixth house. Frankly, the game was better with six players than it was with five. But that's not true of all games. Sometimes you have to wonder why the publisher thought another player would be a good thing. Kingdom Builder is a good game with 2-4 players (though the game is pretty tight with four). Their first expansion added an addition player set of pieces. Why add in a fifth player? The setup is the same (ie no additional board space), and downtime is an issue since you can't plan ahead with that many players, so why in the world would you add a fifth player? It does not make the game better in any way.

For deck building games, expansions are a must for this reason alone. If you only play the base set of cards over and over, it doesn't take long to figure out all the synergies and best choices. Make the variability of the mix higher and (in theory) your interest in the game should last longer. It must be true - look at how many different Dominion, Thunderstone, Legendary (Marvel), Ascension, etc expansions there are. AEG's and FFG both seem to have adopted a financial model built on you buying expansions. Deck builders are not the only genre where this works though. Kingdom Builder, Orleans, Power Grid, Eldritch Horror, etc - these games have expansions that change up the game experience with minor different tweaks and new content. The other thing this kind of expansion can do - fix weaknesses in the base game. Is there that one building that NEVER gets used in your games because it doesn't work well with other things? Add some new content that has good synergy with it and give players a reason to use it.

MOAR boards and cards!
Ok, we are talking expansions, shouldn't all of them EXPAND the game? What I mean by expandability is that we literally are expanding the game. New map boards in Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror expand the existing map. Scoundrels of Skullport for Lords of Waterdeep adds additional boards that give the players new places to place their workers. These kind of expansions typically introduce more complexity to the game as opposed to variability expansions that just change the game's content. You now have more options, not just different ones.

Viticulture might have done this better than any game I can think of recently. The full Tuscany expansion is really a large number of mini expansions, most of which truly expand that game (some are more cards for existing decks, so those are variability expansions, but most of Tuscany change the game by adding new options). Tuscany definitely ups the complexity level of the game. After you add enough of the mini expansions, the number of choices you have on any given turn is fairly large. However, I have found this to be a "really good thing" in Viticulture. Having so many different ways to score points or accomplish your tasks starts to make it a bit of a puzzle game - how can I do my task (sell wine, harvest grapes, etc) in the most efficient way possible while being a stumbling block to my opponents? And that's not to say that others aren't doing it well too. As I said, Waterdeep's expansion adds new areas and complexity to the game, but it is awesome and really opens the game up, making it better. I mentioned earlier the first edition A Game of Thrones: The Board Game really needed that first expansion. Besides adding another player house (Martell) to the game, the fixes that the Clash of Kings expansion brought (ports - which fixed such a major flaw in the game that it became printed on the base game map in the 2nd edition) coupled with the other additional options really made the game a better game.

Sometimes, the expansion that expands isn't great - it just makes the game longer or more complex. Sadly, pretty much everything that came out for Zooloretto is kind of in this boat. Zooloretto is good because it is a nice family game that was easy enough for kids to play, but had enough good choices for gamer adults to enjoy. The expansions just gave you more and more and more options. Instead of three things to do with money, now I have twelve. Sorry, that defeats the easy access of the original game and still doesn't make it more of a gamer's game. Have you played Carcassonne? Have you played Carc with 8+ expansions? What about Alhambra? Sometimes more isn't better, it is just more.

Look at all those cards.
Oh the horror!
What do I want in an expansion?
For me, variability is the thing I tend to care about the most when deciding on whether I should get an expansion. When I really like a game, new content or different options from the ones you normally have open up the game in interesting ways. For a game like Eldritch Horror, new cards mean the likelihood of any game's story being like one of the previous games is much lower. I have so many Legendary sets (and I think I only have like half of them) that I could play the game for a week or two straight and barely have scratched the combinations of possibilities.

Expandability is ok at times, but not when it adds complexity and then fails to make the game better somehow. If it means you can try a lot of different paths to winning, not the same tired formula every game - that's great. For a game like Alhambra, I've found this isn't quite the case with its bazillion mini-expansions. A few of the expansions are good and make the game more accessible for players, but a lot of them just make it longer or more convoluted. When they don't make the game more interesting or efficient, then you don't need them.

Carcassonne and its expansions are a mixed bag for me. The expansions add new and interesting ways to play, but they also make the game longer and more complex. I guess it depends a lot on how much you like a game when deciding to grab this kind of expansion.

Expansion issues?
Back in the day... you used to get a new Power Grid map and you'd toss it in the box with your base set. Done. Have you seen how much stuff there is you have all the Descent 2nd edition expansions? No way that fits in the base box. Or the base box and the expansion boxes (mostly because the hero and monster packs come in blisters, but whatever). Queen Games started doing "Big Box" releases (and often you can order an empty big box if you collected all the stuff along the way) which would keep everything in one (albeit large) box. A lot of enterprising folks either build or buy storage solutions for games to keep everything together (because really, if the expansion is integral, it needs to be altogether for you to play). Storage concerns for the never ending stream of expansions is a real thing.

You can also have too much. Sometimes I think publishers keep trying to churn out stuff until they "Jump the Shark". I think most publishers end up doing this with their deck building games. At what point is enough, enough? When money is involved, I suppose enough is when it doesn't look like one more will make money, but for me, it depends on how much I like the game and how much I'm going to actually play it along with how much is it actually costing me.

Another issue with expansions - what do you do when it is easy to discern new parts from the old? If you are playing a deck building game like Thunderstone (and I mention Thunderstone, because the original game was a horrific offender here), then all the cards from different sets need to match. The backs can't be different colors, nor can the finish of the cards be different, lest you are able to tell if the next card you draw is a new one or an older one. Even if the printer gets them all the same (and FFG is really good about this) - the older cards are probably going to be worn looking while the newer are nice and sharp. You can sleeve all the cards (and I'm a sleever because of this very problem), but that is an added expense to both the base game and each expansion.

Last note in my head. Hey! Every game doesn't need an expansion!!!! Seriously. Sometimes a game is just good as it is. Leave it alone. Samurai is one of my top five favorite games and it does not need a new map nor does it need an expansion for more players or secret powers. It is brilliant exactly as it is. Don't you think it is a little sad that only a few of the BGG top 20 games don't have expansions? Again, I understand that the publishers and designers want to make money, but are they trying to make the best games possible, or the best cash cow they can? I have no problem with expansions, except when I play the base game and it feels broken or incomplete. An expansion should feel like an option. I should be able to enjoy a game and not need an expansion. If I need it, it should have been in the game in the first place. If it makes the game I love, more enjoyable, then it was a good expansion.