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Empty Nest Gamers

With our children now grown and out of the house, my wife and I have a lot more time to fill. This blog will feature our thoughts on games that we've played recently (with an emphasis on how they've worked for us as two-player games).

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New to Me March 2016

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This is a bit of a paltry entry. It's been a thin month for me, with only three new games and not enough time to write anything very interesting about them.

Next month should be much better -- Star Wars: Rebellion!


King Chocolate

(Image credit: din0derek)

Interesting production chain game with leeching and a spiffy tile-laying element.

I didn't like this much with two. It felt too zero-sum. It was much better with five.

I actually like the game more than my rating reflects, but everyone else in my group seemed pretty meh. Given how dry, abstract, and wonky the game is, I doubt that I'll get to play it enough to justify keeping it. Already leaving the collection.


Porta Nigra

(Image credit: MyParadox)

Solid and fun K&K medium weight euro; abstract but interesting.

I agree with others that this fills a similar niche as The Palaces of Carrara. Nice bits; lots of little decisions to make that are interesting and not too difficult; a multi-front race to edge out the other players for pots of points. Pleasant. May stick around, especially if it's as popular in my group as I expect (I've only played it with two so far, which was good but not great).


Dice City

(Image credit: William Hunt)

I don't know why I thought I'd like this.

Far too light and luck dependent. The graphic design reminds me of Imperial Settlers, in a bad way. The art style is twee and the font is too small to read across the table (or even on the table in front of you). Gone as soon as I can find it a home.
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Fri Apr 1, 2016 5:25 am
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New to Me February 2016

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Food Chain Magnate

(Image credit: toynan)

My favorite Splotter game, by far.

I've acquired, played,and enjoyed most of the games published by Splotter Spellen -- Indonesia, Antiquity, Roads & Boats, and Great Zimbabwe. They're all interesting and deep, with an emphasis on logistical planning. But they're also fiddly as hell, with tons of little bits to manage, often in crowded spaces. And they generally don't work well (or at all) with two. I've ultimately sold or traded away all of them.

I think I'll be keeping Food Chain Magnate. It's got the depth and logistical focus that I was expecting, but I found it much more accessible and fun to play than the other games I listed above. Less like a challenging problem to solve and more like a game. A fun game.

The game has two main elements.

The first is a classic Splotteresque puzzle. At the end of every turn, some neighborhoods on the map may want to buy fast food of various types (pizza, burgers, lemonade, beer, and cola). Whether a neighorhood wants to buy, what they want to buy, and how much, is determined by player-initiated marketing campaigns -- place a burger billboard next to a neighborhood and those folks will want burgers. But which player's restaurant will satisfy that burger demand? There's a formula for that. A neighborhood will only buy from a restaurant chain that satisfies all of its wants (i.e., if a neighborhood wants burgers and beer, it won't go to a chain that only offers one of those items). If more than one chain can provide the goods, the business will go to the restaurant chain that has the lowest total of cost + distance (e.g., if one player is charging 9 and is 2 tiles away, it will lose out to a chain that is charging 9 and has a restaurant 1 tile away). Ties are broken in favor of the restaurant with the most waitresses; if still tied, the player earlier in turn order sells the goods.

Money is VP in this game, and the lion's share of money comes from selling goods to satisfy neighborhood demands. So it's crucial to have the goods that are in demand, at the best price and location. This part of the game is interesting, but very procedural. There are no choices to be made at this point; you just execute an algorithm and see who gets to sell goods.

The second element of the game is what really makes FCM fun to play. It involves a deck-building system that is used to "hire" and use employees. Each employee is represented on a card and can perform a different specific function. Some need to be paid salaries every turn (entry level employees work for free).

At the beginning of every turn, you decide which of your employees will be "working" this turn, and which will be on paid vacation "at the beach." In order to be working, an employee must be placed into an available slot in your company's org chart. Your CEO can support three slots, which means that initially you can only employ your CEO and three employees. But "managers" provide additional slots (e.g., a management trainee provides two slots). So if you have a management trainee under your CEO, you now have four slots for employees (two unfilled CEO slots and the two provided by the trainee). See the image above for an example of how workers can be slotted in below managers.

Your non-management workers are the ones that actually do things for you (e.g., cook burgers, run ad campaigns, etc.) but you'll also need managers or you won't be able to grow your organization to support more than three workers.

One more key thing -- there are "trainers," who can be used to cause some workers to "level up" to more advanced kinds of workers. That is the only way to acquire those higher-level workers. Oh, and you can only train employees who are currently "at the beach." So you've got to sideline a worker for a turn in order to train them.

This part of the game is brilliant fun. You're building an engine, constrained by management slot limitations, salary costs, training capacity and scheduling -- all while competing with the other players to satisfy neighborhood demands for food and drink (demand that is being entirely created by player-initiated ad campaigns). This juggling act is interesting, fun, and challenging, without feeling overwhelming.

The two halves of the game fit together quite well. First players decide their work structures and perform their actions. Then the neighborhoods buy food and drinks to satisfy their demands -- nom nom -- and the players that sold those goods get paid. This continues until the bank is busted twice. Player with the most money wins.

And there's one more very important wrinkle, which elevates everything up to another level of painful fun. The game has 18 "milestones" that players can achieve. Each milestone states a condition that must be met (e.g., first burger marketed) and a special power that is provided to any players that achieve the milestone (e.g., +$5 per burger sold). The trick is that only the first players to achieve a milestone's condition get the reward. More than one player can achieve the milestone in the same turn, if they're jointly "first" to meet the condition. But after that, the milestone becomes unavailable to all other players. This creates a series of important races in the early game, to determine which players will have which special powers (most of which are very strong). This involves very interesting trade-offs that will have a major effect on your strategic direction.

I haven't yet managed to play FCM with more than two, but I'm really looking forward to it. With only two, the game is a bit zero-sum. One player can get a structural lead and run away with it. I imagine that it would be easier to prevent that with more players throwing wrenches (especially through marketing and price management).

I'm rating this an 8 right now, with the possibility that the rating will go up or down. If it plays great with higher numbers (without too much AP), the rating will go up and this could be a 10 (the game play mechanics are that much fun). But if multi-player is too slow and two-player turns out to be consistently one-sided, then the rating could drop a bit.

This is a "milestone" design. Brilliant.


Oh My Goods!

(Image credit: William Hunt)

Interesting resource-management filler card game.

Every turn, a variable number of resource cards are dealt into a common supply, in two phases.

After the first phase (when players still don't know what resources might appear in the second phase), players assign their worker to one of their production buildings. Players can also choose a card from their hands to "build" as a new production building.

After the second set of common resource cards are drawn, players determine whether their assigned workers succeeded in making anything. Each building has a fixed resource cost to start production and a separate resource cost to continue production. Start-up resource costs can be paid from the common supply (which does not consume those cards; they remain available to all players) or by discarding cards from a player's hand or from storage on production buildings. Resources paid to continue production can only be from discarded cards -- the common resources cannot be used for this.

For example, my Charburner building needs wood and grain to start up production of charcoal. It needs wood for continued production. On my turn, I satisfy the start-up cost from the common supply and produce 1 or 2 units of charcoal. I then discard three wood from my hand to continue production, producing three more units of charcoal.

Cards are played face down onto a building to represent units of the goods produced by that building (in the example above, 4 or 5 cards would be placed face down to represent stored units of charcoal). Each good type has a different monetary value.

One important thing about producing goods: some of the resource costs require "finished" goods, which can only be acquired through production. None of the common resource cards will provide those goods. So, for example, the shoemaker requires leather as a start up resource. To pay that cost, you'll need to have already produced leather at one of your other production buildings. This creates interesting chaining opportunities, with goods being leveled up to higher and higher value finished goods (e.g., cows->leather->shoes).

After producing goods, players have the chance to build the building card they chose earlier (if any), paying the monetary cost of construction by discarding stored goods. Stored goods can also be discarded to pay resource costs on production cards

You also have an opportunity to hire one or more extra workers, which will let you operate more than one of your production buildings per turn.

The game ends after a player has built a specified number of buildings. VP are awarded for constructed buildings, purchased assistance, and 1/5 for leftover monetary value in stored goods.

The game plays briskly and requires just enough planning and coordination to be thinky (without being draining). It strikes a nice balance for a fun thinky filler that's quite easy to teach and play. There's a healthy dollop of luck in terms of the common resource card flops and the cards drawn into players' hands, but there's also some scope for mitigation. If you really hate luck effects, this might not be for you.

Strongly recommended, in its niche.


Lignum

(Image credit: spielmaterial)

Somewhat cut-throat logistics sequencing game.

There are a lot of things to like about this game:

• Each turn begins with a resource acquisition phase, where players take turns moving a pawn down a resource track. Each space on the track provides some benefit (sometimes with an associated cost). Some of the benefits are in very limited supply, and it's first come-first, first-served. Turn order in the next phase of the game (which may be crucial) is determined by the order in which players complete the resource track. First to finish is start player, etc.

This creates a cool brinksmanship element. Looking down the path, you see some things that you *really* want (or desperately need). Do you race ahead to those, skipping over a bunch of valuable stuff, in order to be sure to snag the critical items? Or perhaps you're racing ahead because you absolutely must be start player in the next phase? That leaves other players free to mosey along, picking up all the bits you skipped over. This presents fun angsty trade-offs.

• In the second phase, you use workers (that you acquired in the resource phase) to cut down trees and store them in your wood pile. Then you need to transport them to your mill, using laborers or rafts or sleds (all of which are resources). Once they're in your mill you can move them to the sale area or send them to be cut into boards (once you have the necessary sawyers and saws from the resource track). Cut boards also get sent to the sale area. Then you get to sell wood (boards are more valuable than uncut logs).

• If wood in the sale area isn't sold, it's dried instead, increasing its value.

We played the expert game, which adds some special "deferred actions" and special goal cards (which pay big end-game VP if you complete an order with the right types of wood at the specified degree of dryness.

It's all pretty intricate, with the different subsystems being very interdependent. It's important to plan ahead, or you'll be wasting scarce time and resources. But it's very easy for someone to put a wrench into your plans, taking a resource that you absolutely needed or jumping ahead of you in turn order and snitching the last of the hard wood that you were counting on to fill a special order.

I admire the design and am glad to have played it (at 2p only) but was also glad to sell it and recoup its very high purchase price. If the rumored US reprint ever materializes I'd be glad to reacquire it. Good game; maybe great if it's in your wheelhouse.


Walnut Grove

(Image credit: fehrmeister)

Much better when given a fair shake.

In 2012, I tried Walnut Grove as a solo game and gave it a "meh" write-up (rating it a 6). That wasn't really fair, since I don't really like solo gaming.

I've now tried it with two and can say that it is quite good. It's a very clean design, with excruciatingly tight resource management and maintenance costs to manage. It also plays really quickly, with much of the action being simultaneous. I really want to play it with three or four.

Solid game!


My Village

(Image credit: nunovix)

Well designed dice drafting game that didn't really grab me.

This has many things in common with Village, its thematic predecessor. You're producing goods for sale, investing in churches, and traveling to distant places. Actions require an expenditure of "time," which drives you toward the inevitable death of your workers (which is not entirely bad, because it scores you VP).

But, mechanically, it stands on its own. The game's engine involves dice drafting (with some mechanisms to manipulate the dice to get the numbers you need). Each turn you select a pair of dice from a common pool and then use them to acquire a card or activate a power (some are starting powers; others only become available when you get a card). When you choose to activate a power, you get to activate every power you have that matches the number you chose. So getting cards with common numbers into your tableau is a big deal. Done right, it lets you significantly amplify the effect of your turn.

It's a good game, but not great. I'd be happy to play again, but probably wouldn't suggest it. I'd be fine selling or trading away my copy.
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Mon Feb 29, 2016 11:29 pm
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Armada Foamcore/Ikea Storage Solution

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In case you're interested in seeing some foamcore insert pr0n, here's where I wound up with an attempt at customized storage:



Everything through Wave 2 is neatly stored in that cube, with room for Wave 3.

Details are in this geeklist:

Armada Foamcore Storage

Cheers!
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Sun Jan 31, 2016 11:00 pm
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New to Me January 2016

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7 Wonders: Duel

(Image credit: sekwof)

Quick fun 2-player 7 Wonders that works.

My wife and I tried 7 Wonders with the 2p rules that come in the box. It was okay -- 7 Wonders is already something of a multi-player solitaire game, with the only interaction being the card drafting choices, military competition with your left and right neighbors, and resource sharing with your immediate neighbors. So whittling that down to one immediate neighbor didn't completely break the game. But it wasn't interesting enough to try it again.

I'm happy to say that 7 Wonders Duel manages to keep the look and feel of 7 Wonders but reshape it into a tight and interesting two player experience.

Card drafting has been replaced with a stacked tableau of cards each era, with certain cards overlapped by others (see the partial Era 1 structure in the image above). Each turn you acquire a card from the tableau, but can only select a card that isn't overlapped by other cards. This creates scope for looking ahead and interesting decisions about whether to take a card that will expose a card your opponent wants.

You no longer buy resources you need from neighboring opponents. Instead, you buy from the bank. But the cost of resources is increased for each resource of that type your opponent produces.

The endgame science card set collection scoring is gone. Instead, if you collect pairs of science card types (e.g., two cards showing "gears") you immediately get to choose an achievement token from a face-up set (which varies game to game). Some of those are pretty strong. Also, if you collect six different science cards, you immediately win. That really amps up the tension in the card selection part of the turn.

The military system has been replaced with a track that indicates relative military dominance, based on military cards played (e.g, if I have 3 more military than you, the military dobber is three spaces closer to your side of the table). If you can push your dominance level high enough, you can impose limited penalties on your opponent and score endgame VP. Push dominance to its highest level and you immediately win. Again, the prospect of a successful sudden death win amps up the card selection tension.

Instead of just having one Wonder card to build up, players draft four each from a game-variable set of available Wonders. Only 7 can be built, so this creates a little bit of a race to be the first to build 4 (if things develop that way in the game). Wonders each give you a different useful boost when built.

All of that creates a game that still feels like 7 Wonders (in a very good way) but is recast to make it a tense and enjoyable 2 player game.


The Golden Ages

(Image credit: Oblivion)

Relatively simple and short civ game that ticks enough boxes to be a very good example of the genre. Fun too!

This is a very clever design. The rules are relatively straightforward (for a civ game; still a bit on the complex side for a euro). Turns are short, leading to brisk game play. There's a nice arc of development, with meaningful player differentiation (based on acquisition of new technologies, purchase of buildings and wonders, the gradual exploration of the world map, and "civilization" cards that give players modest special powers as the game progresses through its four rounds).

There's a very smart passing mechanism that introduces some interesting timing pressure. Once you pass, others can continue to take actions but you'll get 2 coins every time play comes back to you. The longer it takes for the round to wind down, the more money you'll have to start the next turn. Also, the first to pass gets to choose the VP scoring rule for the end of the round (from a face-up set of 5 cards). This can be worked to your advantage if timed right. One card won't be chosen at all in the game; controlling that can be really important.

I've only played it with two, and it worked very well at that count. It's simple enough that I'm looking forward to trying it with my game group. I think it will shine a bit more brightly with more players crowding the map and competing for the best buildings and wonders.

One last note: I like Alexandre Roche's artwork, and the game generally has a nice clean look to it. But there are a couple of graphic design choices that I found irritating. First, none of the cards have their names on them. If you need to look up what they do, you'll need to scan through the pictures of the cards in the rulebook in order to find the one you're interested in -- rather than finding it alphabetized by name. That was a minor annoyance, but compounded the bigger problem that I had. Some of the wonder cards offer a purchase discount if you currently hold a particular civilization card. This discount is depicted on the wonder card with an absurdly small image, which is supposed to match the image on the civ card. I found that completely unhelpful, which meant I needed to look up the wonder card (scanning the rules for its image) and read its description. The description then states the discount by the name of the relevant civ card, which of course isn't shown on that card. Meaning I now need to scan the rules for the name of the civ card and see if its image matches mine or an opponent's. I understand that Quined made an international edition, and so didn't want to have to choose a single language to use in printing card names. But Stronghold's edition was English-only. It would have been a big help to put names on the cards.


Mombasa

(Image credit: Gonzaga)

Highly interactive and intricate heavy euro.

Mombasa is a fun game if you like moderately heavy euros (as I do). There are lots of different things to do and they interrelate in interesting ways. The most intriguing bits are:

A simple deck-building and hand-management system. Every player starts with the same deck of cards (with a couple of minor tweaks at the beginning of play to introduce differentiation). Each turn, players simultaneously choose 3 cards (later, this number might increase to 4 or 5) and play them face down in "slots." Each slot has its own discard pile above it.

All of the players' cards are revealed and then the cards that you played can be used by you to perform actions on the turn.

At the end of the turn, all players will choose one of their discard piles to return to their hands and then the cards played that turn are pushed up into their corresponding discard pile. This means that you have limited (but still meaningful) control about which of your previously discarded cards will cycle back into your hand and when. This mechanism creates a lot of interesting decisions about what to play, where, and when, as it requires you to think about building combos in your discard piles for eventual use when you pull them back into your hand. Fun stuff.

You can also use some actions to buy new cards from a face up market (which partially flushes and refreshes each turn). This lets you tailor the content of your deck toward certain types of actions. This creates scope to emphasize alternate paths and introduces more interesting card management decisions.

Highly interactive share ownership system. One of the actions you can perform allows you to move your marker up an investment track for any of the four companies that exist in the game. There are checkpoints along each company's track. Some give you money. Some require payment of money to proceed further up the track. Some unlock worker placement actions that are only available to players who have moved that far up that track. Some give you a "share" in the corresponding company. At the end of the game, you will earn VP for each share that you hold in a company, based on the value of that company at the end of the game.

The value of each company depends on how many trading posts it has out on the map. And that is controlled by another kind of player action -- exploration. When you explore, you get points that can be used to build a company's trading posts to the map. This is geographically constrained (trading posts must expand out from existing posts on the map, and cost more points to cross difficult terrain borders). Most importantly, you can pay an extra point to displace another company's trading post with one of the company that you're expanding. The displaced trading post goes back to that company's supply, potentially diminishing its share value.

This creates fun and interesting scope for emergent alliances and shenanigans. If two or more players are invested in the same company, they have a joint incentive to work together to increase or protect its value. Players who aren't invested in that company have an incentive to push its value down, by displacing its trading posts with those of companies that they are invested in. Good stuff.

Important VP subsystems. There are two major subsystems (diamonds and book-keeping) that can be pursued to net a significantly high number of endgame VP. These systems also unlock slots for your 4th and 5th cards (which allow you to play more cards per turn, but also complicate the hand-management part of the game by creating 4th and 5th discard piles, thereby diluting the value of pulling a particular discard pile back into your hand). The book-keeping system also allows you to get a series of small rewards as you progress, based on which "books" you've selected (using rules that are too intricate to explain here).

These subsystems are important. The VP they offer is large enough that it is risky to ignore them. This keeps players from simply focusing on the share ownership and company value manipulation, which would probably not be enough to carry a game of this length and weight on its own.

That said, those subsystems feel a little tacked. And the book-keeping system feels unduly complicated (and hard to explain). This is probably my biggest concern about the game.

Despite those minor misgivings, this is a very good game -- fun and interactive, with lots to think about.

I do wish they'd picked a theme other than colonialism. But views differ significantly on whether that kind of thing matters. If it doesn't matter to you, then no worries. (And I should say that there's nothing in the game play itself that directly evokes any particularly ugly bit of historical theme; it's all very abstracted.)


The Bloody Inn

(Image credit: W Eric Martin)

Sweeney Todd: the Card Game.

This is a solidly designed and reasonably fun card game, elevated by its morbid theme and darkly ugly card art (the art is quite well done and aesthetically pleasing; just a bit grotesque in its style; see above).

Players are innkeepers who have decided that a lot more money can be made by murdering their guests and burying the bodies in an "annex" (fortunately, they aren't baked into pies; maybe that will be an expansion).

The game's fairly procedural. To commit your crimes you must take a series of actions to prepare an annex, kill a guest, then bury the body. That's three actions and you only get two per turn, which can be awkward if police are present at the end of the round.

There are card synergies to manage, timing stress, and the fun of roleplaying a bit within the macabre theme (if it doesn't offend you too much).

I've only played once, with four, and it worked well. The winner blew us out by scoring a card that gave large endgame VP. None of the rest of us had any endgame VP cards. Lesson learned. (I'm a bit concerned that these cards might create a bit of an arms race; if one player gets one, everyone needs one or you're out of the running. I'm not sure about that, based on just one play, but it had that feeling.)

Good game, mostly carried by its theme (meaning you can probably stay away if that theme doesn't appeal).


Discoveries

(Image credit: vdutrait)

Pleasant, light, dice placement game with beautiful art.

This is a very well-designed dice placement game themed around the naturalist explorations of Lewis & Clark in the American West. The card art is really attractive, and it's interesting to see the extent to which the explorers are dependent on the kindness and assistance of the various native communities they encountered.

The game is fairly simple and quick to understand and play, with pretty brisk turns.

That said, it didn't really grab me. For me, it was good, but not great. I'll play if asked, but will probably be trading it on.


A Study in Emerald (second edition)

(Image credit: jsper)

Cthulhu-Victorian espionage mash up with enormous thematic flavor and interesting game play; unsurprisingly dull with two.

I'm reserving judgment on this until I get a chance to try it with the number of players it was designed for (4-5). At two, it was far too zero sum and flat to be interesting. Both times my wife and I played, we were both on the same faction, which eliminated a whole arena for competition. In short, not a good two player game, but I'm eager (and optimistic) to tr it with more. I'll do a full write-up when I've had that chance.
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Sun Jan 31, 2016 10:00 pm
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Best New to Me for 2015

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2015: The Year of the Toys


I'm mostly a euro fan. I love a quality 60-90 minute efficiency game with great bits and just enough theme to hang my hat on. The Voyages of Marco Polo, Nippon, Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King, and Orléans: Deluxe Edition were all great examples of new-to-me games of that type. Excellent stuff.

What I'm not usually interested in is "thematic" games, dudes-on-a-map, miniatures combat, or anything with tons of little plastic men. My wife generally dislikes those kinds of games, they're hard to fit into my game group, and I'm often put off by the juvenile art design and thematic elements.

So imagine my surprise that my favorite new games of 2015 were dripping in plastic toys and steeped in nerd-themes.




My clear favorite was Star Wars: Armada.


(Image credit: Shut up and Sit Down video)

In case you've been living under a rock, it's a Star Wars fleet miniatures game, with capital ships and squadrons of fighters (and now single-ship rogue "squadrons," like the Millenium Falcon). The game has some brilliant design work that allows for relatively simple game play despite an interesting range of variation between unit types (with lots of scope for customization of units with upgrades and officers who give special powers).

The game play has an engaging combined-arms strategic feel to it, that really suits the scale. And the classic Star Wars art design, with nicely sculpted and painted minis, provides a great thematic look and feel to the game play.

Brilliant.

[Sadly, if Asmodee moves to block online discounting of FFG titles, I'll probably take a pass on any future waves of Armada ships. I love the game, but I've already got enough to keep me happy. And the MSRP pricing is a notch higher than I'm willing to pay for more little plastic toys.]




The strong runner up was Blood Rage.



(Image credit: BoardGamesAsArt)


Here the art and theming is a little closer to my discomfort zone (Blood! Rage! Barbarian Women in Bikinis!) but the sculpting on the miniatures is so absurdly well done, that I'm able to look past it.

Perhaps more importantly, the game play is really top notch. This is an extremely well-developed game with elements of card drafting, area control, player asymmetry through customization, card-based diceless combat, and wonderful thematic integration (e.g., sometimes you want to lose a battle, because you'll get more points from sending your people to Valhalla). It's a near perfect hybrid of euro and Amerithrash, with a manageable level of length and complexity, and some of the nicest looking plastic toys I've seen in a game. The only reason I haven't played it more is that I felt compelled to paint the minis (and I'm too OCD to play with half-painted bits). Considering the mountain of miniatures that came with the game, I hope to be playing again some time before 2017.
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Honorable Mention


I also got a surprising amount of fun out of social deduction games in 2015 (another niche I usually don't find myself in). Codenames, Monikers, and Spyfall were all very smart, well-designed, and fun, with significant crossover appeal (i.e., popular in my game group and with nongamers). Although I haven't yet tried it with non-gamers, I also really enjoyed Mysterium (using the original rules).

Happy New Year!
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Fri Jan 1, 2016 1:01 am
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New to Me December 2015

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Nippon

(Image credit: Sentieiro)

Very good heavy euro, with many interlocking parts.

I was initially drawn to the theme of Nippon -- the industrialization of Japan -- as I'm a big fan of development games set in the industrial revolution.

This is a good one, with lots of features that I like. You can build factories that produce different types of goods (each factory also provides a unique bonus power); install machinery to improve the output of your factories when they operate; operate factories to produce goods; sell goods to foreign markets to fulfill contracts; or sell goods locally to gain influence in the various regions (which score area majority VP three times over the course of the game). You can also build trains or ships to boost your influence and VP in the area majority scoring.

You've got to spend money and coal to buy infrastructure and operate factories (respectively). Those are real bottlenecks, which have to be carefully managed.

The distinctive feature of the game is its action selection mechanism. Meeples in six colors are distributed to the various action spaces (three per space). On your turn, you either take one of those meeples and perform the associated action or "consolidate." When you take a meeple, you add it to your player board.

When you consolidate, you discard all of the meeples you've accumulated on your player board through action selection. If you have accumulated 3-6 meeples, you get to take a bonus tile, valued 2x to 5x respectively. The bonus tile gives you an immediate infusion of cash, coal, or knowledge. More importantly, you get to place the tile as a VP multiplier for end game scoring. There are 9 different end game VP scoring possibilities; your bonus tile multiplier placement determines how much they'll be worth (e.g., if you place the 5x tile on the space for factories, you'll get 5 VP for each medium or large factory you've built) .

The catch is that you need to pay the workers that you discard during consolidation. And the pay depends on how many colors you've collected before you consolidate -- 3,000 yen per color. This constrains your action choice in interesting ways, as you're always trying to avoid taking new colors of meeples in order to avoid paying higher labor costs at consolidation. But sometimes you do anyway, because you really need to perform an action or you're trying to collect enough meeples to get a high value multiplier tile. This creates interesting turn angst and some modest opportunities for screwage (by denying opponents the colors that they'd really like to use).

So far, I've only played it two-player with my wife. It works well as a 2p. Things are sufficiently tight, but not problematically zero sum. Even at two, the game runs a bit long (90-120 minutes) and it seems that adding more players will increase play time proportionately. That might make it too long for play with my regular game group, which is too bad. I suspect that some of the choices that the game presents would be more interesting with more players, as players would need to choose their battles more carefully.

My only complaint is that the trains and ships seem a bit tacked on. That might just be inexperience and group-think speaking, but everything in the game seems to depend on getting goods produced for sale, and trains and ships don't contribute anything toward goods production. They're also pretty expensive, for the relatively minor bumps that they add in the majority competition and scoring.

All in all, Nippon is a solid medium-heavy euro that's pretty squarely in my sweet spot. I expect it's a keeper (unless it gets stale with two and I can't get it played with more). Very good game!





Codenames

(Image credit: MyParadox)

Mechanically simple team deduction game with huge replayability.

The rules for this game are very simple. Put out a random 5x5 array of word cards. Divide the players into two teams (red and blue). Each team has a captain. The two captains get to see a randomly chosen diagram that shows which of the word cards belong to which team (see above). There are also neutral word cards and a black assassin word card.

On a turn, a captain gives a clue consisting of one word and one number (e.g., "fish 3". The number part of the clue indicates how many of the word cards relate to the clue. The captain's teammates must then guess at least one word card that they believe matches their team's color. If they guess correctly, they can make another guess (up to x+1 guesses, where x is the number given in the clue).

The point is to guess all of your team's cards before the opponents guess all of theirs.

If you ever guess the assassin card, your team immediately loses.

The fun in the game comes from trying to come up with meta-clues that will include lots of your teams cards, without risking a misunderstanding that will lead to a wrong guess. But if you're too clever, your team mates might
miss your meaning entirely.

This is a quick, smart game that supports lots of players in team play (which I like). There's a large deck of word cards, and each play will present a different configuration of red and blue spaces, so it ought to be hugely replayable.

An instant classic. Thinky fun.


Catacombs

(Image credit: zefquaavius)

Fun disk-flicking dexterity dungeon crawler with excellent art.

This caught my eye when the first edition was released. I was intrigued by the blend of dexterity/flicking and dungeon crawl theming. But the art was a bit lackluster (to my taste) and I wasn't sure that the boards would lie flat enough for the game to really work.

The new edition has completely new artwork (from BGGer Kwanchai), which I really like. It's got his signature highly-stylized look which elevates the whole aesthetic of the game for me (I rarely like more realistically drawn fantasy art). That reimagining of the game's appearance got me to give it a try and I'm glad I did. It's exactly what you'd want from a dexterity game with a silly theme -- fun.

I had no problem at all with the physical design of the game. And the theme is very well integrated into the mechanics and components (e.g., small monsters are harder to hit because they're physically smaller targets; missiles are handled nicely as small discs that you bring on to fire and then remove; the boards are two-sided, with evocative art and big round "bumper" columns that fit snugly into holes in the board; there are "families" of monsters that share a common look and game play elements). I laughed out loud at the gelatinous cube and its effects (though I haven't tried it out yet).

Silly, but great-looking fun silly. Not overly complex. It might run a touch long; you could maybe adjust the length (and the difficulty level) by playing with fewer rooms.

A keeper. I'm looking forward to the expansions.



Raiders of the North Sea

(Image credit: shem84)

Viking themed order fulfillment game with some nice twists on worker placement.

As with Catacombs, I really like the stylized art that's used in the game. It's clean, attractive, and gives the whole package a coherent and distinctive look (and the metal coins are surprisingly nice).

Game play is pretty straightforward. You have viking meeples of up to three colors. On your turn you either use buildings in the village or go on a raid. To use village buildings, you place a meeple in an empty building and trigger that building's action, then remove a different meeple from another building and trigger that building's action. To raid, you place a meeple in an empty slot in a raid location, pay any associated cost, and reap the benefits (VP, plunder, and a new cube).

Different locations require different colors of meeples. At first you just have black meeples, so you can only use the black locations. Raiding gives you access to gray and white meeples (with gray coming from the easier locations). This essentially unlocks new worker placement and raiding locations.

There's a card-based subsystem that lets you either discard cards for a one-time use or add cards as members of your raiding crew (where they add strength and special powers). The total strength of your crew (which includes some dice rolling) determines how many VP you get from raiding.

It's a solid design. At two players, it felt pretty zero-sum and I'm not sure if I'm interested in playing it at that number. I haven't yet tried it with more, but will soon. Looking forward to it. Good game.



Grand Austria Hotel

(Image credit: henk.rolleman)

Very tight dice drafting, order fulfillment game, with a bit too much luck for my taste.

This is a medium-heavy efficiency euro, with a theme of operating an early 20th Century Austrian hotel. Every round, a handful of dice are rolled and then assigned to the matching numbered action spaces. Players take turns choosing a die from one of the action spaces and performing that action. The number of dice in the action space determines the strength of the action (e.g., if there are three dice in the strudel/cake space when you choose, you can take a strength three strudel/cake action).

Each turn, you also choose a customer card, from an available tableau. Customers have different demands for food and drink in your cafe. Once that's been satisfied, you can move them to a room in your hotel (at which point, they score VP and trigger a special power on the card).

There are a lot of things to manage in the game. Rooms have to be "prepared" before they can be occupied. Guests have colors that must match the room colors. Food and drink need to be delivered to guests to match their particular needs. Staff cards can be hired to provide special powers. There are bonuses for filling contiguous blocks of colored rooms. Every few turns the Emperor shows up and you either impress him (earning a bonus), leave him indifferent, or earn his disapproval (and a penalty). There are also common goal cards that can earn you big VP if you complete them before others.

Everything is very tight and actions are few, but if you build a good synergy engine things can really hum along. That's the kind of play that I usually like, and if the game goes your way it's a lot of fun.

But if your luck peters out or is unbalanced between players, the game can be very frustrating. You can get burned by the dice, guest cards, and staff cards, which can't always be mitigated by the luck-softening bits of the design. That can be annoying in a game of this weight and tightness.

A bit of a mixed bag for me.



Rhino Hero

(Image credit: eVanDiesel)

Quick card tower building game. I'm undefeated!

On your turn, you add a new "floor" to the tower by placing one or two bent cards on the current roof, with placement details specified on that card. Then you place a new roof. Some cards have special powers that change things up. First player to get rid of all their cards wins (or the player with the fewest cards when someone knocks the tower down).

I've won both ways. Just saying.

Happy New Year!
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New to Me: November 2015

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With the Thanksgiving holiday and a bunch of other distractions, I had very little time for gaming in November. Only three new-to-me games this month. All were good, but none stellar.


Orléans: Deluxe Edition

(Image credit: punkin312)

A light-medium "bag building" game, with a fun central mechanism driving a fairly straightforward efficiency euro.

There are seven different kinds of workers. Your supply of workers goes into your personal draw bag. On a turn, you pull a number of your workers out and use them to pay the cost of different actions on your personal player mat. Then the used workers go back into your bag.

For example, the "monastery" action requires a scholar and a trader and produces a monk. If I've pulled a scholar and trader from my bag I can send them to the monastery to recruit a monk. Then all three (scholar, trader, & monk) go back into my bag.

This is like deck building, in that you're acquiring new resources that get "shuffled" into your discard pile for future use. But here the resources are disks that get tossed in a bag -- no constant shuffling! The game also has a "deck thinning" mechanism, where you can take workers that you don't really need anymore and send them abroad (permanently) to work on "good deeds." This earns you money and, if you complete a good deed, a VP scoring marker. for money and potential VP scoring. It all works very well.

The rest of the game is surprisingly straightforward. There's a bit of engine building mixed with VP acquisition (in different flavors), but none of it is very complicated or deep.

The game play is pleasant and quick (once you get your head around it).

My wife it and I liked it as a two-player and I'm looking forward to trying it with more. Good game!

[By the way, while I like the stickered wooden worker disks that come with the deluxe edition, and the coins are quite nice, the wooden "goods" are kind of a pain. You're supposed to randomize goods placement at the beginning of the game and, in a 2 or 3 player game, remove some goods from the supply randomly. That's trivially easy with cardboard chips, but very difficult with distinctly shaped wooden bits. I wound up using the cardboard chits just for the randomization steps and then replacing them with the wooden bits for game play -- that was a nuisance. In the future, I might just use the cardboard. Anybody want to buy a set of wooden Orleans goods? PM me.]



Ships

(Image credit: Oblivion)

Tightly interwoven resource management game with strong timing considerations.

When I sat down to write this blurb I found it hard to start, because I couldn't think of a shorthand way to describe the game's mechanics. So I went to the BGG game page to see what mechanics were listed for it. Guess what? There's only one -- area movement -- and that seems incorrect to me. So I guess I'm not the only one having trouble describing the game's mechanics.

Here's the general flow: On your turn, you use some of your available cubes to perform actions. You can acquire stuff, sell goods for money, place ships, or retrieve your spent cubes so that they're available for use again.

Placing ships is critical, because this allows you to also put cubes and disks into the current area of the world map on the board. These immediately give you some stuff (based on the space where you placed them) and will also produce VP when the current area is scored.

Ships are placed into a tech advancement track (around the outside of the board). The available regions for map placement also advance, from the middle-east out to the "rest of the world."

To place in the next era of either the ships track or the world map requires that you spend a specified number of navigation tokens (which are one of the kinds of stuff you can get with actions or map placements). Advancing the ship track scores VP for the player who did it and penalizes players who have obsolete ships further back in the track. Advancing on the world map closes the current area to further placements and causes it to be scored. Area scorings ramp up significantly in value, so it's much more important to do well in later scorings than earlier ones. You definitely need to keep cubes and especially disks available for placement in the later regions.

The game has some very interesting things going on. Most notably:

• Cube management. You need to take care to manage your available cubes, because you need them to place on the map and to generate actions. This creates some interesting bottlenecks.

• Technology timing. There are two ways in which the "ages" in the game advance, on the ship tech track and on the world map. You need to manage the timing of those advances so that they happen when you're positioned to come out better than your opponent. This involves some interesting planning ahead and brinksmanship.

• Special power cards. At the beginning of each of the three main ages of shipping (galley, sail, steam) a dozen face-up cards are placed out in a display, where they're available for the players to acquire (no more than one per turn). These ramp up in value across the three ages and the later ones are quite strong. The fact that they're all on display and available to any player reduces the luck of the draw and introduces interesting choices.

Everything in the game is pretty tightly bound together, so you need to manage your resources carefully, and keep a close eye on what you and your opponent can do.

I've only played it with two, and it works well at that number. It's easy enough to monitor your opponent's actions and opportunities and look ahead to future possibilities. I'm unlikely to try it with more than two. I think the information overhead would be too much. Also, it's possible to string together actions to produce a fairly long turn, which could make downtime tedious at higher player counts. To make matters worse, it seems likely that the game state would change quite a bit between turns too, making it much harder to plan ahead when it's not your turn, leading to more AP.

But at two, it's interesting and fun (for a moderately heavy euro). Good looking too!

[Here, the limited edition wooden bits are quite nice and easy to integrate into play. Not sure that they're worth what I paid for them, but they're good looking and they work.]



A Game of Thrones: The Card Game (Second Edition)

(Image credit: jotara)

Clever LCG dueling game with very strong Game of Thrones theming.

I was always intrigued by the First Edition of this, but never got a chance to try it. So I'm not in a position to compare the two editions.

What I can say is that 2d Edition is a very clean design that's immersive in its theming.

Game play is pretty straightforward. At the beginning of a round, each player chooses one of their "plot" cards, which will give them a certain amount of money, initiative (for determining start player), reward value (which determine how many bumps you get for winning a fight), and hand size for the discard phase at the end of the round. Many plot cards also have a special power that applies during the round.

Once plot cards are simultaneously revealed, players have a chance to spend money to buy characters or locations (there are also "event" cards that you can play at a specified point in the turn order; these often cost money to play as well). Then, in turn order, each player can pick up to three fights with an opponent, one each in each of the three flavors: combat, intrigue, and power. Players tap characters to generate strength in the trait that relates to the type of fight, on offense and defense. (Tapped characters can't be used to attack or defend later in the same round).

A successful combat kills a defender card. Intrigue forces a random card discard. Power lets the attacker steal a power token from the defender. If an attack is won unopposed, the attacker gets a bonus power token from the bank.

After both sides have done all of their challenges, then there's another chance to win a bonus power token, by having a greater combined strength of untapped characters + money on hand than your opponent.

Then money gets discarded and players discard cards down to their hand size for the round.

The game is won immediately when one player reaches a certain number of power tokens.

I've only played it two-player (there are add on rules for multiplayer). It was fun. The cards are very thematic (though some of the art is a bit cartoonish -- especially the women). The game play is very clean and easy to understand.

But the game was marred for us by runaway leader outcomes in every game. The luck of the draw had a large effect. I suspect that this would be less of a consideration with experienced players. I also suspect that those who play Magic or other dueling games wouldn't be bothered by blowouts. They'd just shuffle up and play again. But my wife and I are more inclined toward balanced incremental euros, and were a bit put off by the repeated blow-outs.

I'm glad to have tried it, but probably won't be sinking more money into the expansions.


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Tue Dec 1, 2015 1:00 am
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Blood Rage

(Image credit: BoardGamesAsArt)

Am I going to break down and paint these things?

First things, first: wow. The kickstarter miniatures are pretty amazing. They're extremely well sculpted and they look insanely great in play. When it was time to deploy my fire giant (trashing a friend's leader and warrior in the process) it was so much more satisfying to put this big nasty monster out on the board. The toy factor is very high with this one, and very well done. (The rest of the components are okay, except for the choice of font on cards and player boards; I found it hard to read.)

Moving on, the game play is strategically interesting and a lot of fun. Each round, players draft a hand of cards from the set available for the current "age" (the game lasts three ages).

Cards come in three flavors:

(1) Upgrade cards let you improve your clan generally or improve one of the types of figures that you control (leaders, warriors, ships). Upgrades are also the way that you acquire monsters.

(2) Quest cards let you select an end-of-the-age majority control condition for one of the provinces on the board. If you're dominant there at the end of the age, you get VP and can upgrade one of your stats.

(3) Battle cards are used to improve your position in battle. They can boost the numerical strength of your force and/or provide a special power. Some of these are very tricksy.

Once cards are drafted, players take turns performing actions until all pass. Actions may require the play of a card and/or cost some amount of "rage" (your action point currency, determined at the beginning of the age by the current value of your rage stat). The actions are:

(1) Invade. Place one of your available figures onto an edge-province on the board. Leaders invade for free; all others cost rage equal to their combat strength. The maximum number of figures a player can have on the board is equal to their "horns" stat.

(2) Move. Pay one rage to move any number of your figures from one province to any other province.

(3) Quest. Play a quest card face down. This is a precondition to scoring the quest at the end of the age. Quests in hand don't score.

(4) Upgrade. Pay rage equal to the strength shown on the upgrade card. If you're upgrading a figure type (including acquiring a monster) you may immediately invade with a figure of that type for free.

(5) Pillage. You can only do this in a province in which you have at least one figure that hasn't yet been pillaged this age. Going around the table, all players have an opportunity to move one unit into the province at issue, until it is full. All players compare the strength value of their present figures and add any value shown on one simultaneously-revealed battle card. High score is the winner (and gets VP equal to their "axes" stat). If the person who took the pillage action is the winner, they also get a bump to their stats. Winners keep their figures in place but discard all battle cards played. Losers' figures go off board to Valhalla, but they get to keep their battle cards.

After all actions are done, quests are scored for that round (any incomplete quests that were played to the table are discarded).

Then Ragnarok destroys one province on the board (the affected provinces are known from the beginning of the game). Any figures in the destroyed province earn bonus VPs and are off to Valhalla.

All figures come back from Valhalla and the next Age begins.

This is a relatively straightforward and very solidly developed game. We had no rules questions and nothing seemed wonky or overpowered. The very large set of upgrade options and secret battle card powers allows players wide scope for customizing strategy and tactics. There are lots of fun and interesting possibilities.

The card drafting prevents luck from playing too great a role and leads to some enjoyably difficult decision making.

This is a great game. I have no complaints at all. I can't wait to play it again.

(And, yes, I'm going to paint the miniatures. Wish me luck.)


Moongha Invaders: Mad Scientists and Atomic Monsters Attack the Earth!

(Image credit: King Bing)

Coulda been a contender!

What bad timing for Moongha to finally show up! Any other month, I would have had much stronger praise for the game. But I can't help but compare it to Blood Rage, and it falls short of that mark, in both game play and aesthetics.

Like Blood Rage, Moongha is a dudes-on-a-map game, with area influence scoring and combat elements. And it also has big plastic miniatures.

Players are mad scientists, out to destroy the major cities of the world with monsters that they've created and control. Players can also position human heroes and military units to interfere with other players' monsters.

The heart of the game is a clever action drafting system. Each action has a box on the board. A certain number of objects (tokens or figures) are placed into each box at the beginning of a turn. The number of objects placed in each box is determined partly by a dice roll and partly by a chart. Players then take turns removing one object from a box and performing the associated action. With one exception, once all of the objects have been removed from an action, that action can't be performed again that turn. This creates some timing and blocking tension, which is fun.

The exception: you have the option of using your turn to place your sole "pass" token into an action box. On a later turn, you can remove the token and perform the action it had been placed in, even if that action's box doesn't contain any objects. This allows you to do something crucial that has already been exhausted, but it requires you to use two turns to do so.

A turn ends whenever all players have passed in a row. Adding or removing a pass token counts as a pass for the purpose of that rule. This creates some brinksmanship surrounding the use of pass tokens that was interesting and fun. When do you place? When do you remove? What if your placement triggers the end of the turn and you never get to remove?

The number of objects placed into the action boxes increases over the span of the game, creating an interesting arc where later turns are considerably longer and more eventful.

The game ran a bit long, but we had a good time throughout. It's a solid design. But it's slightly longer, less fun, and less attractive than Blood Rage, so it definitely got upstaged this month. Good game though.


Tiny Epic Galaxies

(Image credit: mgcoe)

Fun little space empire dice roller.

Tiny Epic Galaxies is an engine building VP race game. The central mechanism is dice rolling. On a player's turn, that player chucks however many dice they have in their pool (which can increase as you get more advanced). Then the player takes actions by selecting a die to trigger an action of the type shown on the die. Each other player than has a chance to "follow" and perform the same action, but this costs "culture" (I think that's what the action currency was called.)

Between actions, the active player has the option to reroll remaining dice (spending "energy" to do so, IIRC).

There are planets with special powers that players can trigger by landing on them. Players can also try to colonize a planet by moving ships up a conquest track on the planet. Colonized planets provide VP and give you exclusive access to that planet's special power.

It was fun and interesting. The luck of the dice kept things lively without feeling dominant. It's a good game in a small package.


Between Two Cities

(Image credit: jameystegmaier)

Card drafting and tile laying, in cities you build together with your neighbors.

This was an enjoyable card drafting and tile laying game, where you place square city tiles of different types to maximize the scoring value of the cities that you're building. It's got the traditional don't-build-housing-next-to-factories type scoring rules, which work well enough.

The interesting novelty is that you're building two cities, one to your right and one to your left (you're between them!). You build these cities cooperatively with your neighbors on either side.

Only the two players who have jointly built the highest scoring city are eligible to win. As between them, the winner is the one whose second city is most valuable.

That was neat. The game played cleanly and quickly and the shared construction added an interesting wrinkle. I would play it again if asked, but probably wouldn't ask for it.


Guns & Steel

(Image credit: huffa2)

Clever micro-Civ card game.

Guns and Steel is a civ-building game played with a couple of dozen cards.

Each player starts with a fixed hand of cards, and the remainder are set out in a pyramid-shaped display (with the more "ancient" cards in the lower rows).

On your turn, you must first play one card face down in front of you. This shows the card's resource face. It's now a resource of the specified type (e.g., food, iron, oil, etc.) available to be spent to purchase cards from the central display.

Then you must play a card face up and may activate its special power (stated on the power side of the card).

Then you may buy a card from the central display, by exhausting resources in your tableau or created through use of a special power. Each card has a fixed cost (in specified types of resources). Importantly, if the card is not on the exposed bottom face of the pyramid, you must pay extra resources (one per card that is "supporting" the card that you're buying). So you can drill up to get cards that aren't on the bottom, but it will cost you.

If your hand is down to 1 or 2 cards, you refresh it by taking all power-side-up cards back into your hand. Resource cards can be left on the table or returned to your hand, at your option. You then check to see whether you've met the conditions to claim any of the available "wonder" cards (which give you VP).

That's pretty much it. There's resource chaining and conversion. Some fighting (which lets you nerf other players' resources or steal their wonders). Lots of special powers on the cards.

It was fun enough (two-player). I'd like to try it with more, to reduce the zero-sum quality (especially with respect to military, which is an arms race with two). But it didn't particularly grab me.


New York 1901

(Image credit: ladybug3)

Bad first impression...

New York 1901 is a straightforward card-driven tile-laying game, with a city building theme. It's got a clean design and very nice aesthetics.

I had a bad first play. Early choices put me in a situation where I needed to draw certain cards to be able to do anything. I didn't get the cards I needed. So I spent the last quarter of the game locked up and unable to do anything constructive.

That was pretty frustrating.


Tides of Time

(Image credit: Random_Person)

The distilled essence of zero-sum.

Tides of Time actively pissed me off. It's brutally zero sum and it strongly rewards card counting (which I don't enjoy, even with such a small card set). I admire the design, which is very smart, but I don't ever want to play it again.


Broom Service ? ? ? ? ?

(Image credit: sabakh)

Answer unclear, ask again later...

I've only played Broom Service with 2, which I didn't enjoy. But given the nature of the game, I didn't really expect it to work with with two. If I get around to trying it with 3 or 4, I'll revisit the game in a future NTY entry. For now, meh.
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Sat Oct 31, 2015 10:30 pm
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Star Wars: Armada

(Image credit: Shut up and Sit Down video)

I am going to spend a lot of money on this...

This is a really well-designed, light, fun, miniatures game involving Star Wars fleet actions. Remember that scene at the end of Return of the Jedi, with Admiral Akbar's rag-tag fleet going up against a wall of Star Destroyers, all surrounded by swarms of fighters? This is that.

I really like this game and hope to play it a lot. Here's what impressed me the most:

The capital ships feel like capital ships. They're big. They maneuver clumsily. They have order queues (which require some forward planning, increasing the unwieldiness). They have shields on their four different facings (which can vary in starting strength and get worn down separately). This invites maneuver, in order to get at the weak spots or consolidate fire on one zone and just pound it. They have big banks of main batteries, and separate anti-fighter defenses. They come in different standard builds (for different capabilities) and can be further modified in numerous ways by assigning upgrade cards, creating lots of scope for specialization.

The fighter squadrons feel like fighter squadrons. These are not just smaller ships. Most significantly, they can pin other fighter squadrons, keeping them from moving away to attack capital ships. This is one of the main missions for your fighters, to screen your capital ships (and fighter-bombers, which you're going to try to slip past the fighter screens to get in close and hammer opposing capital ships). In other words, the game encourages the use of "combined arms," with different units performing different functions in support of each other. Fun!

The combined arms element is reinforced by the fact that capital ships can use orders to activate fighter squadrons out of the normal turn sequence. (Ordinarily, fighters are activated after all capital ships and can only move or fire. If activated by a capital ship's order, fighters activate immediately and can move AND fire.) A capital ship must be within a fairly short distance of fighters in order to issue them orders. All of this means that there is a good tactical reason for fighters to stay close to their supporting capital ships, at least at first -- fighters supported by a capital ship are significantly more effective and can strike before their opponents. Fun!

Another thing I really like is the very simple and abstracted way that fighter squadrons move and fire. Because they're so tiny at the scale of the game (much tinier than the models that depict them), facing is irrelevant. When you move, just pick up your squadron and place it anywhere within its movement radius. Facing is also irrelevant for firing. This makes sense thematically and really speeds up play. Anti-fiddly!

Components. The models look great and really evoke my nostalgia for the original films. They're star destroyers! Chasing Leia's little courier ship!

And the integrated dials in the miniature bases significantly simplify book-keeping. There's still some tokens to place, but the designers have done a good job of decluttering your table.

I've always had an interest in fleet-action sci-fi miniatures. This game scratches that itch with a fast playing and clean design that feels right, with great physical components, and the absolute best franchise for a game of this type. X-Wing was good, but I find this so much more interesting. The scope for tactical decisionmaking and cinematic story arcs is so much grander.

The only negative is that I'll be spending too much money on it (also my wife has no interest in this kind of game, which is a shame).

This is an excellent game.



Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King

(Image credit: MiWi)

Carcassonne tile placement combined with player pricing and sale of tiles.

This is a light-medium tile-placement game distinguished by its clever and fun money-management system.

Every turn, players receive income, based on the tiles that they've already placed in their individual array of square tiles.

Then each player draws three tiles from the bag and places them in front of their player screen, where everyone can see them. Behind the player screen, the players set a price for each of the three tiles, by either assigning it some coins or by giving it the ax (literally, there's an ax token). Player screens are then removed, axed tokens placed back in the bag, and players have a chance (in turn order) to buy a single tile from another player.

To buy a tile from another player, you pay them an amount equal to the price that they set. E.g., if a player assigned $2 to a tile, you could buy it by paying that player $2 (they also keep their assigned coins).

Any unpurchased tiles are kept by the player that drew them, but that player must pay the coins they assigned when pricing the tile. E.g., I assigned $2 to a tile. It wasn't purchased by anyone. I keep it, but discard the $2 I placed to price the tile.

At the end of each round, there is a scoring, based on special scoring tiles (which are drawn randomly from a larger set at the beginning of the game). This random set-up scoring system should provide serious interplay variability (which I really like).

The pricing/buying system is very simple, but produces a lot of interesting player interaction. Price your tiles too cheaply, and they'll get bought up, leaving you with little money and only one tile to place (the one you bought from someone else). Price them too high and you'll get to keep them, but will pay through the nose to do so. As with any game that involves pricing things that other players will buy, you need to read what everyone will need in order to figure out the best pricing. This isn't too difficult, because players don't have a lot of tiles and the icons are pretty clear.

This is all very fun -- interesting and interactive without bogging down too badly (although I could see AP players ruining the game).

A very good game.


Artifacts, Inc.

(Image credit: mechanicalfish -- great work Ryan!)

Multi-player solitaire dice placement, tableau building game that is fun and easy to play.

Players are each running an archaeology "company" (hence the "Inc."), competing to get the best stuff and sell it to museums.

On a turn, a player rolls dice and then assigns those dice to matching spaces on cards. This activates the cards' powers. Dice can be placed on cards in your own personal tableau, on a small set of "public cards" (which are sort of last ditch places to use your extra or crappy dice), on museums (to sell artifacts), or on the open ocean to conduct an archaeological dive.

One important actions is "buy," which lets you acquire a card from the available market rows and place it into your tableau. These new cards give you VP and some kind of bonus (e.g, a new action space to use, more dice to roll, engine building discounts and powers, special VP goals, etc.)

The game ends when someone reaches 20 VP, so there's a bit of a race feeling to it.

I've really enjoyed this game, with 4 and 2. It has a nice arc, with interesting choices about whether to use your actions to build your engine or grab VP. There are three main sources of VP (ocean dives, buildings, and the sale of artifacts to museums), so you've got some room to specialize or change course.

There's nothing groundbreaking about Artifacts, Inc. but it's very good at what it's doing, providing a medium weight and length tableau builder with a good amount of card-based choices, in a small and attractive package.

My only worry is that the game could bog down with AP players. There's a lot of cards to choose from at any time and a lot of small decisions to make about how to structure your turn. We took advice I read somewhere on BGG and added dice to the game. This allows players to roll ahead of time and start planning their move before its their turn. (That's possible because this is largely multi-player solitaire, with interaction limited to competition for cards and spots in the museums/dives).

Good stuff!


The Ancient World

(Image credit: mechanicalfish)

A great looking, interesting, well designed game that I cannot win.

This is a tight worker placement game that involves buying buildings and killing monsters to complete sets of colored banners (which are worth 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, or 11 VP at end game, depending on how many you've collected in a particular color).

To build buildings you need to pay money (and possibly scrolls) and have space in your "village" for another building. If you're out of space, you can buy more. Buildings give you a banner (sometimes 2) and some kind of special power.

To kill monsters, you need to have military units of the right strength and you need to pay them. Each time you activate a military unit, it's required pay goes up. You can solve that problem by retiring them and replacing them with a new unit that you've bought. Retired units give a small advantage to their replacement (passing along knowledge and experience).

You can get more workers, but they need to be fed or they won't work (this requires access to food, which some buildings provide).

You can buy more military, but you've got limited slots for them.

You can buy more village space, or get gold, or scrolls.

You can scout ahead (look at the top cards on the building deck) and then reserve one for future construction by you.

Lots of interesting and fun stuff to do.

The game is tight and there is plenty of room for dick moves (mostly by blocking worker action spaces or taking something valuable before another player can take it).

It's great looking, if you like Ryan Laukat's art style (which I do).

As a design, it has a lot of strengths. But I'm not sure how long it will stay in my collection. The problem is me. I can't figure out how to do well at the game. It seems pretty clear that monster-slaying has to be emphasized. Every game I've played, the winners were those who did best at that part of the game. But even recognizing that, I haven't been able to get that part of my strategy to kick in sufficiently. I like the game enough that I'll keep trying for a while, but I'm afraid this might be one of those games that has a steep learning curve, and it might have important subtleties that are easy to miss (repeatedly).

Keeping it for now.
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Thu Oct 1, 2015 3:57 am
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Dark Moon

(Image credit: derrickec -- brilliant design work!)

A really fun hidden traitor sci-fi survival game with tight game play and brilliant retro graphic design

You thought the mining gig on Titan would be dull. Turns out, not so much.

A few days ago, two crew members got infected with something and went nuts. The Commander had to shoot them both. But before they died, they managed to disable part of the station's shield generator. The resulting spike in radiation took down a couple of the main control systems. It should have been fairly easy to repair. But new problems keep cropping up and you're starting to wonder whether someone is intentionally interfering with the work. Everyone's on edge. You'll need to watch your back.


I really had a blast playing this game (two times, back-to-back, which is very unusual for my game group). Its mechanics work very well to create a thematic sense of paranoia and suspicion.

Every turn, a player can take an action (e.g., attempt to repair a broken system) and must then confront a task (which provides an opportunity for every player to contribute toward the success or failure of the task). Failed tasks can bring new system malfunctions, sometimes catastrophic ones. Success advances progress on a series of event cards. Uninfected players win if all events are completed without any of the essential station components fully crashing. Infected players win by fully disabling one of the essential systems before the events are completed.

Everything is driven by dice that the players roll behind their screens. Players then choose dice to place in front of their screens, to determine whether some action or task resolution is successful.

When players are called on to contribute dice toward some goal, they choose one from behind the screen. Some die faces are positive (2/6), but most are negative (4/6). If a player consistently puts out negative dice, suspicion will grow. But that could just be a string of bad luck, which is not so improbable given the way the dice are weighted toward negative results. But still...

Players can call a vote to "quarantine" a player that is suspected of being infected. Quarantined players are partially disabled, losing some of their dice and having limits on the actions they can perform.

On their turn, the infected players can choose to reveal their status. Revealing allows the infected player to immediately damage some of the base's system (unless they're quarantined when they reveal, which is why you want to lock them up). It also changes the actions available to the revealed player, providing a new range of things to do to directly harm the station.

The game design is really clever. Everything hangs together tightly and thematically. The kinds of mind games that the game's system produced were hilariously fun and thematic. In our second game, we all (wrongly) suspected one player of being infected and quarantined him. He stayed locked up for the rest of the game, frantically trying to figure out how to convince us that he was on our side and could do much more good if he wasn't tied to the f*cking couch!

[NSFW]



If you like hidden traitor games, I really recommend this. It played in about 90 minutes for our first game and a little less once we knew the rules well. It's got a great physical production, really clever system design, and was a huge amount of fun. We were laughing and arguing almost from the start. Great game!


ZhanGuo

(Image credit: bovbossi)

A smart card-driven, medium-heavy, build-stuff-for-points game, riddled with clever and difficult trade-offs.

It's 230 BC, and players are helping to unify China by placing palaces and governors in the five provinces and by building segments of the Great Wall. All of those things provide victory points in various euro-standard ways (some of which vary from game to game, based on randomized set-up).

The game is driven by a very interesting card play system. On your turn, you must play one card. You can either play it to your personal tableau or use it to take an action.

Playing a card to your tableau gets you some influence of the same color as the card you just played (which is good) and possibly some "unrest" in the region where you played it (which is bad).

Playing a card for an action allows you to perform one one of the basic game actions:

• Place an "official" in your tableau.
• Move officials around within your tableau.
• Install a governor into a province on the board (costs officials but eliminates some unrest).
• Acquire workers (requires that officials be in the dedicated recruitment area of your tableau and creates unrest).
• Build a palace (costs workers; awards VP and influence).
• Build a wall segment (costs workers).

That's all pretty straightforward. But here's where it gets more interesting: whenever you play a card for an action, you might also trigger any related special powers on your tableau cards). In order to trigger them, you must play a card that is either higher or lower than the last card that anyone played to perform an action (each card has a unique number on it, from 1-120). Some actions require that you play a higher card; others require a lower card.

For example, suppose I play a card in order to get workers. For workers, special powers are triggered if I play a higher card than the last played. If so, all of the worker-related special powers in my tableau are triggered.

The powers on these cards are great and you really want to trigger them as often as you can. If you have a strong tableau and you manage it well, you'll get more benefit from the special powers than you will from the base action. It's critical to do this well. Good luck with that.

Once everyone has played all the cards in their hands, there is a tricksy little "rewards" phase, where players have a chance to cash in influence for bonuses (which get stronger each round, becoming critical toward the end of the game). I won't explain all of the ways that this subsystem is clever, but it really is.

After the last round is complete, there's end-game scoring. Most points wins.

This is a brilliantly designed game. It's extremely tight with constant trade-offs. You only get six cards per round, for five rounds, so you'd better hurry up and get stuff done. But you also need to build and manage a strong tableau. And beat your opponents to the best stuff.

My wife and I have played it with two and it works very well. The games are very close, despite the fact that we take different strategic routes (based on how we've built our tableaus).

Components and art are the high quality I expect from What's Your Game.

Great stuff!


Trains: Rising Sun

(Image credit: EndersGame)

Very fun light-medium deck-building game with a meaningful route-building component.

This has been described, somewhat dismissively, as "Dominion with a board." That's apt, as far as it goes, but the intergration between the deck-building and the construction of routes on the maps is extremely well done. My wife and I played this four times in two days and would probably have played again if we didn't have other demands on our time.

Play is brisk, with little down time. The route-building involves terrain costs and soft-blocking (making it more expensive to build in developed spaces), and every action that builds infrastructure requires the player to draw "waste" cards and add them to the deck. These cards do nothing but clutter up your hand. Fortunately, there are some cards that let you dispose of waste in various ways. And if you draw a bunch of waste in your hand, you can choose to spend the whole turn dumping those waste cards back into the supply. The waste-management subsystem adds a lot to the game, making it more than just a race to build VP.

The graphic design is clean and attractive. The game play is surprisingly thematic. And there is another card set and expansion maps to increase the already considerable replayability.

The Rising Sun base set (which we played) includes maps specifically scaled for two-players, which I really appreciated. I've ordered the 2d map set, which also includes 2p maps (including California!).

This is a very good game for the niche that it fills.


Quartermaster General

(Image credit: Mouseketeer)

Light, team-based, card-driven WWII game of grand strategy.

This is high abstraction WWII game with six players on two teams (the Axis, comprised of Germany, Japan, and Italy, and the Allies, made up of the US, the UK, and the Soviet Union).

Each player has a unique deck of cards, with a different mix of eight types of cards:

• Build Army (lets you place an land space adjacent to one of your supplied units.
• Build Navy (same, but for placing a fleet in a sea space)
• Land battle (destroy an enemy army in a land space adjacent to one of your supplied units.
• Sea Battle (same, but destroy a fleet in an adjacent sea space)
• Status (play face up in front of you to acquire an always-on special power).
• Response (play face down to create a "trap" that can be triggered for a one-time effect when a specified condition is met)
• Event (trigger a one-time event)
• Economic Warfare (similar to an event, but with an emphasis on forcing a player to discard cards)

The mix of cards in the players' deck are tailored to their strategic situation and produce a surprisingly thematic play experience. We had the US building industrial infrastructure for the first half of the game and then crossing the seas to launch overwhelming attacks. The UK hung on for dear life, repelling invasions until the US was ready to attack. The Soviets took heavy losses until it got its feet under it, then became a juggernaut. Etc.

I played Italy, which has a reputation for being the least fun position. I did okay, building a fleet in the Med, invading North Africa, and twice assaulting the UK from the Atlantic. The UK had response cards to fend me off. If he hadn't the Axis would likely have had an early and decisive sudden death win. Unfortunately, Germany burned through his deck a little too fast, leaving him exhausted in the late game. And Japan turtled too much (despite a lack of pressure from the US and me repeatedly urging him to take India and press the Soviets from the East). In the end, the Axis ran out of steam, the Yanks invaded Western Europe and rolled over Germany and Italy.

The game's interesting and lively (though we had some APers in the group, making the game drag on about a third longer than it should have). I'm interested to try it again.

Two concerns: (1) We ran into an irritating number of cards that required on-the-fly interpretation of ambiguities. (2) We were impressed by how things played out in very historical ways; but I worry a touch about whether that means the game could become scripted. Neither issue was enough to seriously affect my enjoyment.

Good game!


Trambahn

(Image credit: Andre1975)

A well designed abstract card game for two, with an attractively pasted-on streetcar theme.

There are four streetcar lines in 19th Century Munich (red, yellow, green, and blue), and you're trying to do a better job of managing them than your opponent.

On each turn, you start with a hand of six cards. You can play these cards in a number of ways, in the following order:

(1) You MUST begin your turn by playing one or two cards onto one of the four passenger terminals (one for each line).

(2) Next, you MAY play cards from your hand to color-specific columns in your tableau. These "stations" must be played in increasing numeric value (1-10). You can have more than one column in each color.

(3) Then, you MAY play cards face down to your money pile (each counts as 1,000 Marks).

(4) Finally, you may spend money from your money pile to buy a train and place it at the head of a station column. Each column must have one train (and one only).

Finally, you refill your hand for the next turn.

Whenever someone places the fourth passenger on a terminal, that color immediately scores. Every column of the matching color, for both players, produces VP equal to the multiplier value of its train (2-4) times the total VP value of the cards in the column. After the 10th such scoring, the game ends. Most VP wins.

My wife compared it to Lost Cities, but with more going on (money management, train multipliers, and manipulation of the timing of the scorings).

It's a well designed game, with attractive components. But it didn't blow me away. That may not be the game's fault. I'm a little burnt out on head-to-head two-player card games right now.


Nations

(Image credit: TimarkP)

Did not enjoy this as a two-player game.

This is a very well-put-together card-based civilization game. I suspect it would be a lot of fun with more than two (though I also suspect it would be too long at higher counts). Ultimately, my wife and I really didn't like it as a two-player game. I disliked it enough that I'm not going to bother discussing its mechanisms. Instead, just a quick note on why it didn't work for us:

In my first play, my wife got a solid edge on military superiority. As a result, she had a cake-walk and I was continually struggling to do much of anything. Second game, the exact opposite happened. Neither of us enjoyed being on the short end of the military stick. And it wasn't much fun holding the long end and watching my wife repeatedly stymied.

It seems obvious that "stability" is intended as a counterweight to military dominance (it negates some harmful effects of war and has some effect in end-of-round events). But in our two games, it was insufficient to balance the game. There are too many good things you can do with military that your opponent cannot do (wars, battles, colonies, and dominance of the end-of-round events).

We were especially bothered by the zero-sum nature of the events. Suppose an event says something like: player with most military gets two food, least military loses two food. In a multi-player game, that's not too big a deal. You can try to fall in the middle, or just ride out a loss by doing something else valuable. But in a two-player game that's a mostly unavoidable 4 unit swing. And there's a lot of that kind of stuff. Add in the dominant military's stronger position to take colonies and win battles and wars, and the other player is really hurting.

Not every game plays well with two. This one didn't.
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Mon Aug 31, 2015 10:57 pm
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