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!

Be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!

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!

Monday, August 07, 2017

Cult of the Not So New - July 2007

Wow! July flew by and I'm behind in posting this look back. Without further ado...

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 July 2007.

Prime Movers for July - Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery
This game continued its rise from the previous month, moving up a whopping 37 spots to #21. If you haven't played this excellent worker placement / action selection game, go find it or the revised version (Empires: Age of Discovery - renamed due to the license).

Still a thing?
AoE:III dropped at some point, but only down to #118. 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. I honestly think if the distribution and marketing had been better, this would have gotten a lot more attention, because it is a good game. Even when it got a revision I hardly knew it had happened, which is way too bad for a game this good.

Falling Star - Bonaparte at Marengo
Not a true "falling star" as it only moved down 9 places (falling stars are supposed to be ten or more places). 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.

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 July - Tide of Iron
Tide of Iron is/was a coffin box game from FFG that arrived on the scene at #46. I never have had a chance to sit down to play it despite hearing decent things about. A couple things have kept me from ever really trying to find out. WWII war games are not something that my regular playing partners (except for maybe Robert Bolan five years ago) have been interested in playing. I discovered Combat Commander first, which is one of my Top 3 favorite games of all time. When you find something that good, you don't need to try something else. And lastly, this is a huge box of a game, and I just don't have the room for another game system, especially one that isn't going to get any attention.

Still a thing? ToI currently sits at #512 and still has a number of fans. FFG published a fair number of expansions for it (as FFG does), but at one point turned over its license to another publisher for a while then took it back. Not sure that there is any kind of recent / active development on this. I still have a small itch to play it/try it, but a much bigger desire to go play Combat Commander: Europe, so
I certainly don't think I'll be making a dent in this rising again.

Top Ten Trends for July
Oh hey look, Princes of Florence (+1) and BattleLore (-1) swapped places in the top ten. Not very exciting

Still a thing?
Ten years later, they are sitting at #99 and #214, replaced by the newer hotnesses. PoF was an auction and tile placement "puzzle" and is still a decent game. While it isn't special now, it is well done and still probably deserves its rank. BattleLore was a foray into a new branch of Richard Borg's Command and Colors systems. The fantasy setting allowed for some new elements to be added and a lot of expansions to come out (which was something of a newer concept at the time, but one that Days of Wonder had been seeing success with in Memoir '44). I enjoyed BattleLore, not because of the fantasy or the spell card addition to the game, but to some of the other additions that were also made to the system that found their way into other C&C systems - Ancients, Westeros, BattleLore 2nd ed.

Top 5 Winning Movers for July (Highest ranked games that have shown any positive position movement in the last month that aren't in the top 10.)
  • War of the Ring - here is a grand war-game set in middle earth. I liked the movies, but otherwise am not overwhelmed with the theme material. Coupled with the length of this beast and I've never tried it. Fans rave about the game...
  • Wallenstein - The last few months saw a lot of action for the successor to Wally - Shogun, so it isn't really a surprise that the original got more attention too. At their heart, the two are the same, a different map being the main difference. 
  • Railroad Tycoon - the "glitzy" spiritual successor to Age of Steam. Talk about overproduced - the board was HUGE (and yet the track tiles were smaller than Age of Steam). When this came out, it was designed to appeal to the crowd that really wanted to play a game of excellence like AoS, but were put off by the stories of how ruthless and tough AoS was. RRT was more spread out and more forgiving (and looked like a real game, not one printed in my garage and thrown together with a bazillion tiny wood cubes). This game itself got redone later as Railways of the World - I'm unclear if that was part of the feud between Martin Wallace and everyone else doing AoS "stuff" or if they just wanted to rebrand this. 
  • Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery
  • Imperial - this rondel/stock game, while not as popular as Antike, was doing well at the time. Its biggest drawbacks - it looked like another wargame and it was on the longer side. Well, it was sort of a war-game, except that you didn't win by taking over the world, you invested in countries and tried to push them to victory as a way to increase your portfolio. Still a decent game, but a niche one.
That's it for July 2007 - check back soon for the August edition, which I'm going to try and get out on time this month!

Be sure to check us out at PunchBoard Media!