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Kevin B. Smith
I got to play a lot of good games in 2015. But there are several games I would like to have played, but didn't get a chance to. In descending order of how many times I played them before 2015, they are:
Walnut Grove (34 plays total)
I traded my copy away for PACG Rise of the Runelords. It was a good trade, since I have already played PACG over 100 times. But I do miss Walnut Grove. I normally hate tile-laying, but WG does it well. And I love the feeding/heating each year. Maybe I'll pick up another copy at some point.
Legends of Andor (9 plays total)
My wife and I played several times, plus I played a few times solo or with others, but only the first 2 scenarios. My wife soured on the game, and the setup is a bit daunting, so I'm unlikely to take it to game night. Somehow I would need to get my wife back into it. She's not a big fan of dice resolution of combat, but she's OK with it in PACG. And although she prefers to win co-ops, she's OK losing half the time in both Witch of Salem and Forbidden Desert. I think she didn't like the scripted nature of the first 2 scenarios, where you were pretty much guaranteed to lose the first time (or few) tries.
So my plan is to play the 3rd scenario solo, to see how much it feels like the early scenarios, and how much it feels more like a conventional co-op. If it seems like something she would enjoy, I'll probably be able to get her to try it at least once. Hopefully we'll both enjoy it, and it can enter regular rotation. She enjoys fantasy-themed games, and highly thematic games, so there's hope.
The Game of Life: Card Game (4 plays total)
This game is a lot better than you would expect from a single-deck filler with the name "Life" on the box. It's not a fantastic game, but it has some solid mechanisms, and generates some fun storytelling. Ironically, although it is cheap, it's hard to find. I am reluctant to take it to game nights where food and beer are prevalent, which sadly has been the case for me for the last year. My wife doesn't love the mundane theme, so she'll only play occasionally. And I didn't try to push her into it in 2015. Don't confuse this with other simple card games with Life in the title--from what I have read, this is the only decent one.
51st State (3 plays total)
I have only played this a few times, but want to explore it more. The fact that you lose all your unspent resources each round bends my brain in really interesting ways. Ramping up your production without also creating ways to effectively use those resources is counter-productive. It's a bit of a pain to teach, so ideally I would find one or a few people interested in exploring it for several plays within a reasonably short time. Despite its violent post-apocalyptic theme, it's actually a very low-conflict game--much friendlier than the cute Imperial Settlers.
The Voyages of Marco Polo (.5 plays total)
As soon as I read about the "overpowered" characters, I wanted to try this mid-weight dice-placement euro. I got to play half a game at a con, and that convinced me that my initial interest was well-founded. My brain struggled in a good way, although there's a chance it might be a bit heavy for my tastes in the long run. I wish we could have finished that game, and I wish I knew someone who owned a copy. Now that it's back in stock, I could buy it, but honestly I don't have anyone to play it with right now. As soon as I get into a regular euro-friendly gaming group, if nobody else has it, I'll probably buy a copy.
The Dwarves (never played)
This looked awesome in Rahdo's runthrough, and I think my wife would really enjoy it. Unfortunately, the kickstarter campaign for the English version was very oddly structured, where you would have to basically buy the game twice to get one really good edition. I understand they did it to leverage their existing German customer base, but I really hope they end up releasing a simple affordable English version at retail. If/when they do, I'll almost certainly buy it.
Port Royal (never played)
I almost always enjoy a push-your-luck element in games, and I like tableau-building and "spend cards to play a card" games. So I have every reason to believe I'll enjoy this one. If I had a regular gaming group, I would already own it.
Royal Goods/Oh My Goods! (never played)
As I said, I enjoy push-your-luck. I also really love production chains (one example being that I love the misunderstood Vanished Planet). So I'm pretty sure I'll really enjoy this one as well. To repeat myself, when I get into a regular euro gaming group, I'll probably buy a copy.
Starship Panic (never played)
This is a PnP (Print-and-Play) cooperative game that just looks fun. I don't have the time/skills to build it myself, so I'm considering writing a software implementation instead. But of course I don't really have time to do that either. So I probably won't have a chance to try it unless it gets published (perhaps via The Game Crafter, LLC?
Kevin B. Smith
In 2015, I played 58 different titles, not counting expansions:
Most played game of 2015:
PACG Rise of the Runelords (52 plays).
My wife and I finished our first campaign at the start of the year (Lini + Merisiel), and after setting it aside for several months, we completed a second campaign late in the year (Seoni + Merisiel). I would totally be up for yet another campaign, but we'll probably wait several more months.
Most played non-cooperative game (not counting solo plays):
Progress: Evolution of Technology (3 plays).
It's interesting that my 14 most-played games were all co-ops (12 titles) or solo (2 titles). This year, I wasn't in regular game groups, so my wife and I played a lot more, and we prefer co-ops together. As for Progress, I have really enjoyed my 9 total plays. I would love to find a person or two who also enjoy it, so we could really explore it over a couple dozen plays.
I also played Star Realms 3 times in 2015, not counting my hundreds of solo android plays. But I don't really enjoy in-person Star Realms, so I'm giving the award to Progress.
Best game(s) I first played in 2015 (tie):
Peloponnes Card Game (1 play, not counting a solo learning game). I definitely have to play this new arrival more. About 5-10 games should be enough for me to know whether I LOVE it or just enjoy it, and whether or not I prefer it over the original (which I rate a 9).
Uruk II: Die Entwicklung Geht Weiter (1 play). I loved the original Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation (rated a 9), but this new edition is much prettier, and is easier to teach. I really enjoyed my one play, but hope to try it another 5-10 times. The smallish box will work in its favor, but the name doesn't help sell it. Plus the people I game with most are into more thematic games, so these euro cube-pushers are less popular.
Other games I played in 2015 that I really, really want to play more of:
Burgle Bros. (6 plays). This arrived late in the year, so we haven't had much of a chance to play it. I really enjoy it, but my wife doesn't like it as much as several other co-ops, so it will be a bit difficult to get it to the table a lot.
Vanished Planet (4 plays in 2015). After over 50 plays total, I still really enjoy this game. It's not a great game for game nights (tricky to teach, and runs long with 4+ players), and my wife enjoys it but not as much as I do. I would love to play this one at least once per month.
Dead Panic (2 plays, not counting solo learning games). I really enjoy this one, but it hasn't caught on with my wife. I'm a bit wary of bringing it to game nights, because I would want to play without the rule that people who get killed turn against everyone else. I really want to play this at least a few more times, to confirm my feelings for it.
Level 7 [Escape] (2 plays). Another one that I seem to enjoy more than my wife, but I'm pretty sure she'll play it more. We got rules wrong in both of our games--it has a few too many little rules for our tastes. But we love the theme, and I enjoy the gameplay. Again here, I'm wary of taking it to game night because it's technically not a pure co-op, and because of all the little rules. Plus the box is unfortunately large. Still, I think I'll get to play this at least a few more times.
Phoenicia (1 play in 2015). Another game that is hard to get to the table, but I really want to. It would be great to find 1-3 players who would be willing to explore it for at least 5-10 plays. The oversized box doesn't help me get it to game nights.
Sail to India (1 play). I got this recently, so I'm optimistic that I'll get more plays. So far, it has met my (positive) expectations. The small box means it will get to game nights, but will it get to the table?
The Voyages of Marco Polo (.5 plays). We were playing this at a local con, and lost our table halfway through the game. That was enough to show me that I enjoyed the game as much as I expected to. I don't expect to buy it, and I don't know anyone who owns it. If I get back into a euro gaming group, I'll buy it if nobody else has it.
If you want to explore my plays in more detail, they are here: https://boardgamegeek.com/plays/thumbs/user/peakhope/subtype...
Kevin B. Smith
Last year, my wife and I really enjoyed playing through the entire Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords campaign. We are now in the middle of a new campaign.
Before we got the game, I wasn't sure how she would feel about it, and our first game (on a demo copy at a store) wasn't awesome.In that demo game, my wife was Lem. I figured she would love his flexibility, being able to use ranged weapons, arcane spells, and divine spells. Well, yes, but his strength is very low. Compounding the problem, I played as Seoni, who also has a d4 strength. We struggled fighting monsters, and my wife hated that feeling of being weak.
But she didn't dislike the game, and she knew I liked it (I had played a friend's copy a few times already). So she approved me trading to get our own copy of the game (I willingly gave up my beloved Walnut Grove). When we got the game, she studied all the characters, and chose Merisiel. Merisiel is pretty much a bad-ass. She can recharge or discard cards to add to her attacks, and can evade almost any encounter she doesn't feel like dealing with.
As a complement, I chose Lini, who is also one tough cookie. Her animal friends give her massive bonuses on almost every check, so Lini can close locations and acquire boons like no other character. She also has a ton of spells, including important healing.
I used the fan-made Adventure Guide to flesh out the story, sharing the backstory before and then after each scenario. Highly recommended!
The gals cruised through the 30+ session adventure (we skipped the first intro scenario since we had just played it as Lem+Seoni). My wife quickly became addicted, and was regularly asking to play. We often played 2 scenarios in a day, and sometimes three. She is not a serious gamer, so that's saying a lot about how much she enjoyed the game.
Months after finishing Runelords, we tried Skull & Shackles. She chose Seltyiel, while I tried Alahazra, Jirelle, and finally Lem. We were in the 3rd box when we both decided to quit. It just wasn't as much fun as Runelords, and wasn't getting better. Our characters were OK, but the villains and locations were just frustrating. There were far too many tricky twists that just made it take longer to win, or made winning too dependent on the order the cards came up. I can see how it would be more fun for some folks, but it wasn't for us. Based on everything I have read, I suspect we would like Wrath of the Righteous even less.
Fast-forward a couple more months, and when I asked my wife if she wanted to try Runelords again, she quickly said yes. After carefully evaluating all the characters, she chose Sajan, and I went with Seelah. After the first intro scenario, she felt Sajan was a bit boring to play, and while Seelah was OK, I kind of wanted to get away from healers, since I had played them in 3 PACG campaigns (Lini finished, Kyra and Lem abandoned in the middle). So we decided to change characters.
In the end, she decided she really just wanted to play Merisiel again, and I chose Seoni. As with the first campaign, we skipped the first scenario (since we had just completed it), and took our new characters into the second one.
We just started box 3 (13 scenarios into the campaign), and we are loving it as much as the first time around. We have forgotten the details of most of the henchmen and villains, so we're experiencing the joys of adventure and discovery. Different cards are coming up, so (for example) items we had from the start last time still having shown up.
Merisiel is still a powerhouse, and my wife is really enjoying playing her again. However, she is having to play her completely differently, because she is with Seoni instead of Lini.
Not having healing makes a massive difference. Cards that you have to bury (remove until the end of the scenario) used to be terrible, whereas cards you discarded weren't bad because they could be healed. Without substantial healing, burying is pretty similar to discarding, which makes the more powerful "bury" cards more appealing. In the first campaign, Merisiel had almost no armor or protection. This time, she has armor, a shield, and a couple defensive items.
Meanwhile, I'm still learning tricks to play Seoni well. She has some significant strengths and weaknesses, and some are subtle. I'm getting to really explore the arcane spells and items, and am learning the art of getting the most out of a deck with minimal healing. I do have a Staff of Regeneration and until tonight had Father Zantus, but compared to Lini or Kyra, that's nothing. Tonight, I gave up Father Zantus (to Merisiel), feeling like I have been managing my health well enough that I could get more use out of another ally. Time will tell.
Merisiel+Lini only had to repeat one scenario, and finished most with plenty of time remaining. Merisiel+Seoni are having to work a lot harder! They have also only replayed a scenario or two, but they have finished within the last couple turns several times. Tonight's game would have been a loss if I had rolled less than a 5 on a d6 to temporarily close a location at the very end. Last night, we would have lost if the villain hadn't been at the top of a 4-card location. The games are filled with tension...and fun.
We're not using the Adventure Guide this time. I'm not sure how much of it is that we both enjoy the gameplay so much that we don't need the additional dose of theme, and how much of it is that we remember the important plot points from last time, and just don't feel like we need the refresher.
Anyway, the short version is that this game has awesome replayability. I have played almost 100 sessions of Runelords games, and my wife has played almost 50, and we both still eagerly play it almost every night. Some time after we finish this campaign, I'm almost sure we'll do another one. My wife might stick with Merisiel, but I'll choose someone else, and it will be a whole new game.
Kevin B. Smith
Since taking a new job last March, my gaming has been much more limited. The job itself is taking more time, and my longer commute doesn't help. I also moved away from both a gaming buddy (we got together almost weekly) and a gaming group. Fortunately, my wife enjoys some games, so I'm not entirely without gaming.
I'm not a fan of having unplayed games, and they are starting to pile up. Here is my current list:
Dungeoneer (Dungeoneer: Vault of the Fiends, Dungeoneer: Den of the Wererats). I have played the base game (Dungeoneer: Tomb of the Lich Lord) once, but competitively. I really want to polish a co-op variant, at which point all the games in the series should become fun travel games for us. I have draft variant rules written up, but haven't had a chance to try them yet.
Mousquetaires du Roy. Having studied the rules, I believe this would be a fun co-op for us, as it has an overall arc that is a bit different from other games. The drawbacks are: 1) it's a bit tricky to learn, 2) all 4 mousquetaires are in the game regardless of player count, and 3) it's unfortunately all about males (for understandable reasons).
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Game. My wife loves mysteries on TV, and we enjoyed the surprisingly-good NCIS: The Board Game. So I picked up Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Gumshoe, and Ellery Queen. Gumshoe turned out to be too intricate and seemingly capricious for our tastes. SHCD was fun, but my wife thought it felt like a whole lot of effort. So I'm not sure if we'll play Ellery Queen, or just trade it away unplayed.
S-Evolution. My dad and his friend are long-time fans of trick-taking games, so I bought this to play with him/them. I don't enjoy abstract games or traditional card games any more, so I'm hoping this will allow us to meet in the middle (trick taking with theme). Unfortunately, I haven't been up to visit my dad since, except for 2 quick trips where gaming wasn't an option.
Burgle Bros.. Arrived yesterday. Looks like it should be a fun co-op for us.
Peloponnes Card Game. I have been a longtime fan of the original Peloponnes, and owned a copy with many expansions. As soon as the card game became available, I ordered it, and gave away my Peloponnes. I have never really liked the Peloponnes expansions (other than to increase player count), so I won't miss those. The card game box is small (I'm a huge fan of smaller boxes), and I won't miss the fiddly resource tracking of the original game. The card game is very similar in play, but has enough differences that I fear I might get confused about the rules. So I need to really study up, and play a couple practice games, before I take this to a game night.
I suppose some people are laughing and saying "Ha! He only has 6 unplayed games? That's nothing!" Yeah, it's a reasonable number. But it is growing, which makes me uncomfortable. I definitely slow down my game-buying when it happens.
However, I have recently become more comfortable with the idea of games remaining unplayed longer, if it makes sense. For example, I really want to play S-Evolution with my dad. I could try to rush it to the table with someone else, but that would miss the point. So I'm content to just let it sit there until my dad and I can play it.
I'm really eager to play Peloponnes the Card Game, but I don't want my first play to be marred with rules errors. So I'm willing to wait until I have had the time to really get it right.
Burgle Bros and Mousquetaires should be a lot of fun, but I don't want to push too many new co-ops at my wife in a short amount of time. We recently got Pandemic: The Cure, Level 7 [Escape], Dead Panic, Prophecy (co-op variant), and Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game, and I want to play those more.
Plus we love Vanished Planet, Witch of Salem, and Forbidden Desert, and want to play those more. And we just started a second campaign of Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords – Base Set, so that's going to take a lot of time. And we would like to revisit other games that we enjoy but don't play that often, like Star Trek: Expeditions, Lord of the Rings, Legends of Andor, and Break the Safe.
With all of those other options, I'm (now) OK letting those new games wait until the time is right. They will still be there, and we'll have a lot of fun with the other games until then.
Perhaps the only thing worse than an unplayed game is one that was played before it was time, resulting in a bad experience.
 My copy of Peloponnes was a gift from some friends in Florida several years ago. They were moving, and since I loved the game, they figured it was a win-win to get it into my hands. When I decided to replace it with the card game, I was able to send it back to them in Texas (with one more expansion). Another win-win!
Kevin B. Smith
WARNING: This entire post is about programming to display hex grids. Although my code is in Java, the bulk of this post would actually apply to any language. Anyway, if programming is not your area of interest, You might just want to bail out now.
Ok, you were warned...
Over in my Games I might try to create apps for geeklist, I mentioned that I wrote some Java code to manage a hex grid as if it were a square grid. Derek asked if I could share the code, so here goes.
First, I'll mention that it is available as a Mercurial repo. If you have Mercurial, you can clone yourself a full copy with this command:
hg clone ssh://fxa.org://var/hg/terraprime terraprime
But if you don't have Mercurial, I'll post the actual relevant source code in comments below. Meanwhile, I'll explain the concept.
Before we start, you'll need to know the shape of the Terra Prime map: It's kind of an inverted V shape, with the home base at the bottom, and the outermost reaches of space at the top. Here's a screenshot:
Ok, so first I wanted to identify all the hexes. For my X axis, I put 0 at the home base, with negative X values to the left, and positive X values to the right. For Y, I made the outermost reaches of space row zero, although I'm not sure why. If I were writing the code today, I would be inclined to make the home base (0,0) and the center of the red hexes (0,3).
Taking a quick detour, you might notice that the hexes are not perfectly proportioned. To avoid baking my brain, each hex is 5 wide and only 4 tall. Doing that allowed me to draw the corners on integer coordinates on the square grid. Dead simple, and close enough for my purposes!
Ok, so back to the bigger picture. Drawing hexes is nice, and would be enough for many games, but Terra Prime (like Catan) has tokens move along hex edges, rather than from center-of-hex to center-of-hex. So I also had to be able to refer to each corner of each hex. Conceptually, I set it up like this:
And thanks to the hex row/column scheme above, the hexes are just laid out next to one another. Thus, the corners of the green hexes look like this, with each legal corner represented as a + sign:
| | | | | |
+ + + + + +
| | | | | |
Moving the ship becomes simple: Just go up, down, left, or right. As if it were a square grid. And if the ship is on the left or right center point of a hex, it can't move left or right.
I'm not sure this would be worth doing with a map of a different shape. But it was fun to think it up. Even if I'm sure other folks have invented it on their own before me.
EDIT: Looking back at this, my explanation doesn't quite seem right. Or maybe it is, and I'm just tired at the end of a long day. Anyway, it works. Somehow.
EDIT2: Maybe it's really like this?
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Kevin B. Smith
It felt like I hardly got any gaming in last month, but I actually had 33 plays. I played only one new game, but got to play it 6 times.
Mostly I was going back and playing old favorites. Of the 9 games listed here, I have played each an average of 24 times! And every game I played this month (including the new one) has a rating of 8 or 9.
So it really was a great gaming month after all.
Within each category below, the games are listed roughly in order from favorite to least favorite.
New to Me
Break the Safe (6 plays)
"Surprisingly good electronic 'kids' game from 2003 that works fine with non-serious adults. Has a feel similar to Escape, but is pretty swingy." My plays.
Not New to Me
Forbidden Desert (2 plays; 29 total)
"Excellent thematic co-op. Straightforward rules, but has interesting decisions. My wife and I like it a lot better than Pandemic or Forbidden Island." My plays.
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords – Base Set (17 plays; 79 total)
"Clever deck management game with a good theme, and each hero plays quite differently. The gameplay is not as dull as some claim (it's NOT 'flip a card; roll dice; repeat'), but it's not fantastic either. The charm of this game, and the only reason it shines, is if you campaign over multiple sessions, watching your character grow, and eagerly awaiting new stuff to encounter. I went in with fairly low expectations, but it has become a favorite. "
I really thought I might enjoy playing solo, with one hero. I suspect going through with Lini or Lem might be OK, but I wanted to play Ezren or Seoni, since neither of my full campaigns had any Arcane spellcasters. At least in the first 3 scenarios, it is brutally hard to survive, and even if you do, you don't get good new cards. So after 13 tries, I gave up. Instead, I will finish up my second 2p campaign, and put the box away for a while. Eventually my wife and I will probably start a new 2p campaign. My plays.
Progress: Evolution of Technology (2 plays; 8 total)
"Clever and fun civ-themed tech tree card game. Not a good choice for AP-prone folks. Official solitaire variant is OK but not great." My plays.
Witch of Salem (2 plays; 44 total)
"Great light Lovecraftian co-op. Best without the 'portal secrecy' rule. Better story arc and less randomness than Elder Sign." My plays.
Star Trek: Expeditions (1 plays; 12 total)
"Solid, but not amazing. The plot cards are fantastic, dripping with theme. Other aspects of the game are just mechanical. Ship minis are great. If you don't play too often, the repetition of the plot cards is not bad at all. We're up to 10 plays over 2.5 years, and it still feels reasonably fresh. However, an expansion with more Stardate cards and especially with a new set of Captain's Log cards would be much appreciated." My plays.
Augustus (1 plays; 6 total)
"Fun and quick (30 minutes with 6p first-timers) game for gamers and non-gamers alike. More strategy than some say but obviously a lot of randomness too." My plays.
Thebes (1 plays; 7 total)
"Very thematic game with great mechanisms. Great as a 'next-step' game after gateways, but interesting for more serious gamers who are OK with some randomness." My plays.
Ra: The Dice Game (1 plays; 33 total)
"Yahtzee-style dice rolling combined with wacky Knizia scoring. I like it better than Ra." My plays.
For more details (mini-reviews) of every game I have rated, look at my game comments. I also record mini session reports for most of my plays.
An ongoing tip of the hat to Wes Baker (wesbaker) for creating a little ruby script that pulls play data off BGG. I started with his gist, and enhanced it to automatically create most of the content above. Sweet!
Kevin B. Smith
I'm not doing the 10x10 challenge again. I'm glad I did the 2014 10x10 challenge, but it was hard. But if I were going to do another 10x10, here are the games I would like to see on it (in no particular order):
After 52 plays, this fiddly swingy game is still my only 10. I'll use whatever I can to get it played more, including putting it on another 10x10 list (it was part of my 2014 10x10).
This was also on my 2014 10x10, but I mostly played it solo. I would really like to play this more with other players.
The Game of Life: Card Game
Surprisingly good and fun 2-3p family card game which I have only gotten to play a few times. Don't confuse it with the other (inferior) Life card games.
Legends of Andor
I have played it 9 times so far...and still haven't even gotten up to Legend 3, which is the one with a randomized setup. I haven't seen the dragon in play, and haven't gotten to play the back side of the board (the mines).
The USS Ocius
This is a real-time co-op where you have X minutes to survive and repair your spaceship. Yeah, similar to Space Alert, Damage Report, Space Cadets, The Captain Is Dead, and Red November. Of all of those, it's probably closest to The Captain is Dead, but even then the actual gameplay is quite different. I'm not yet sure how much I enjoy Ocius, so would like to play it several more times so I could give it an accurate rating.
This is a bit of a gamble, because I have only played twice so far, and both were solo controlling 2 pawns. I'm pretty sure I'll like this better than Castle Panic, but the only way to know is to play it.
Progress: Evolution of Technology
I have really enjoyed my 8 plays of this so far. I need to try the solo game again (my first solo try was underwhelming). And after I get comfortable with the base game, I have 3 expansions to explore.
Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game
Legendary Marvel was on my 10x10 last year. I sold it, because I believe Encounters will be better for me in every way. I have played Encounters twice, and want to play it more.
Tiny Epic Defenders
I'll probably play this one 10 times even without the challenge, but I'm really looking forward to it.
Well...that's 9. I would have to think more about what final game might fill out the list. If there were a list. Which there isn't. Maybe there will be in 2016.
Games I wouldn't put on because I'll play them more than 10 times anyway:
Witch of Salem (wife loves it and asks to play)
Forbidden Desert (wife loves it and asks to play)
Games I would love to play more, but wouldn't list because they don't solo that well, and I probably wouldn't get them to the table 10 times:
Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation
Games that I might really enjoy, haven't played yet, so would be too big of a gamble to put on the list:
The Golden Ages
Shadowrift (I have only played a mediocre solo variant)
Pandemic: The Cure
Escape: Zombie City
Zombies Keep Out
Shadows of Brimstone
Kevin B. Smith
The main lesson I learned by putting Witch of Salem on my 2014 10x10 list was: My wife absolutely loves this game. She asks to play it. She never seems to get tired of it.
For those of you who don't know, WoS is a game in the Lovecraft/Arkham/Cthulhu universe, but it's not by Fantasy Flight Games (the folks who did Arkham Horror and Elder Sign). WoS shares several thematic aspects with those other games, but it definitely feels like it's not quite in the identical world as them.
Back in 2012, I was placing an order for Walnut Grove (another game on my 10x10), and needed to add something to the cart to get free shipping. WoS was on my wishlist, but I had some reservations about it, based on the mixed reviews I had read. A local store had a demo copy, so I had been able to play one game of it with a friend. It seemed promising, so I ended up adding it to the cart, partly because there was only one copy left in stock. Thank goodness I did!
The elephant in the room is the "portal secrecy" rule. In the rules as written, players are not allowed to say (or even hint at) what they saw when they examined a portal. It might have been a rift that must be sealed to win, or it might have been a blank wall that must not be sealed. The rule is there to reduce the chances of an alpha player taking over the game, but frankly, it's a bad rule, at least for us. When my wife and I play a co-op, we want to play it together. We want to help each other, and we want to discuss strategies and options. Not being able to talk about the portals removes a huge part of the fun of playing the game in the first place. Additionally, the game has a reputation of being really hard to win, and has no (official) way to scale the difficulty down. Eliminating the portal secrecy rule, and allowing open discussion of whether they are rifts or blanks, neatly solves both problems. It makes the game winnable, and encourages social interaction. We have played with secrecy a couple times, but will never do so again by choice.
I have played 43 times now, and have won 22 and lost 20. When I play a co-op, I don't mind losing a fair bit, but I also don't mind winning most of the time. What makes it fun for me is not knowing whether or not we will win. It's about the tension. WoS has that, although it has blowout games (wins and losses) a bit more often than I would like.
The game can be very swingy, especially with the Necron card in the creature deck. If he shows up 2 or 3 times in a game, it's almost impossible to win. Sometimes he only shows up once, and depending on the timing, he might not even cause many problems when he does drop in. The nasty "loss die" (which you roll a couple dozen time per game) can also be crushing, or almost harmless.
Comparisons to Elder Sign are inevitable, since both games are on the lighter side, and play in about an hour. For us, the theme in WoS is much stronger than in ES. Having the map is great, and the creature images in WoS are about 20 times larger than those in ES. The flavor text in ES is almost unreadable, and if you do read all of it, the game becomes far longer than it deserves. As for the mechanisms: Many people (including my wife) aren't thrilled with the yahtzee-ish dice rolling in ES, and somehow WoS feels less frustrating for her.
Importantly, WoS also tells a coherent story every game: You must research and expose all the Ancient Old Ones (OO's) before Necron becomes too strong, or you will lose. But you must also examine all the portals, and seal any rifts (of the 6 locations, between 2 and 4 of them will be rifts). Meanwhile, you must defeat creatures to prevent them from taking your items, driving you insane, and/or strengthening Necron. Finally, to actually win the game, one player has to travel to R'leyh and subdue the OO, and then another player must go to Miskatonic University and seal the final rift. Even though that plot never changes, it is a lot more fun than ES's simpler "win enough challenges to gain enough elder signs to defeat the OO".
My gaming buddy who did the 10x10 with me didn't own a copy of WoS, so he relied on me to get his plays in. We played most of our games together, and then I loaned him my copy so he could finish the challenge.
Thanks to my wife, I ended the year with 22 plays of WoS. And if she had had her way, that count would have been even higher. As was the case with Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game, this is a game I would have played 10 times with or without the 10x10 challenge. But I'm still glad it was on there.
Kevin B. Smith
When my buddy and I were negotiating our shared 2014 10x10 list, I proposed Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game. I had already played it almost 20 times, so I knew I enjoyed it. It was a bit of a risk for my buddy, because he had only played it twice, and he didn't love it immediately. But it grew on him.
I ended up playing it 26 times in 2014, including a mix of multi-player and solo games. Speaking of solo, I find the base game solo rules to be good, the Dark City expansion solo rules to be very good, and the Golden Solo Variant to be absolutely excellent. As with several other games, the solo mode wasn't a factor in our decision to put the game on our list, but it turned out to be very helpful when we were feeling crunched for gaming time.
A couple of my friends own expansions for Legendary, but I never felt the need to buy them. Having played well over 20 games with just the base set, I still feel like there are several heroes and schemes that I haven't played, or have only barely played. The masterminds and villains are looking a bit familiar by now, but I can live with that. I figure I could play the base game another 20-50 times before wanting the expansion.
Another reason I haven't rushed to buy the expansion is that I'm one of the minority who prefer the way the base game used the same art for every card within a hero's deck. Many people (mostly comic fans, I think) complain about it, but having the same image on all the cards makes teardown MUCH easier.
At this point, I should mention that I have no love for the comic book theme. I never got into comic books as a kid, and haven't seen very many of the superhero movies. I don't dislike it. It's neither a positive nor negative aspect of the game, for me.
What I don't like about Legendary, however, is the semi-cooperative aspect. It really feels wrong thematically, and just isn't much fun for me. Fortunately, I have only played 2 sessions where someone was actively caring more about points than getting a group win. In many cases, we just played to win, completely ignoring points. But usually we would play for the group win, and then afterwards compare points, just out of curiousity.
So it can be played as a pure co-op. Except that there are a lot of cards that are only really balanced if you care about points. And except in certain circumstances, having bystanders in your victory pile means nothing. The game was really designed to be semi-cooperative, and that's too bad.
There are some other flaws in the game: First, the names of the villain groups is very hard to read. Second, it's sometimes hard to tell whether text matters or is just there for flavor. Also, the way cards trigger off cards that you already played is a bit counter-intuitive and thus is a bit tricky to teach. Star Realms streamlined that nicely by having cards trigger regardless of the order they were played.
Finally, I have to mention the setup and teardown time. Lots of people complain about it, and I'll admit it's a bit daunting. However, the reality is that it only takes a few minutes to set up, and a few minutes to tear down. Anyone who says it takes longer either hasn't actually timed it, or isn't organized, or is moving very slowly. The only time setup takes me a long time is if I'm letting the group pick the configuration instead of just using a randomizer.
I ended up selling my copy of Legendary Marvel, mostly because of the semi-cooperative aspect. As much as I enjoy it (especially solo), I think Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game is going to be better for me in every way: It's a pure co-op (at least if you play 2p where a single death means everyone loses). I really like the way the hive cards progress face-down. And the theme is better for me and my wife. I'm not a big Alien fan either (never seen any of the movies), but we both generally like space/sci-fi. Oh, and the "Coordinate" keyword makes it more of a cooperative experience too. I have only played Encounters a couple times, and haven't picked it up yet...but I know I will at some point. Just waiting for the right trade or auction to come along.
Kevin B. Smith
When I first heard about Walnut Grove, it sounded good. One of my favorite parts of Agricola was having to feed your people, and WG has that. WG is often referred to as Agricola+Carcassonne, but since I dislike Carc, that didn't help. Fortunately I quickly realized that's a terrible comparison, since in WG you only lay tiles in your own farm, and don't have to make the features align. If anything, Agricola+Alhambra would be more accurate. But even then, about the only things WG and Agricola have in common are the farming them, and feeding.
I was a fairly early buyer of WG (April 2012), and really enjoyed playing it. It is a low-interaction euro, which is great for me. There are some races for items in limited supply (notably buildings and improvements), but otherwise you pretty much do you own thing. Now, I will say that those limited items can absolutely mean the difference between winning and losing, so it's not like WG is true MPS (Multi-Player Solitaire). If you don't watch your opponents, and preempt or react to them, you'll lose.
Anyway, WG was a 9 for me for a while, but slipped to an 8. Partly because I started to favor co-ops and more thematic games, and partly because it was a bit hard to get to the table. Despite a short play time, it didn't really go over all that well with my group at that time.
The main complaints were that it could feel too punishing, and that you only get 8 actions all game. It can be punishing, especially if you come in with an Agricola mindset, and try to grow your workforce quickly. In WG, workers are very expensive to maintain, and it's easy to get yourself into a situation where they are barely producing enough to sustain themselves...or in some cases, you can actually lose ground each round. I *like* that. My second least favorite part of Agricola is that you are generally forced to grow your family as early and often as possible. As of the end of 2013, I had played it 24 times.
My 2014 10x10 buddy also happens to be a fan of WG, so this was a title we were both happy to see on our list. Unfortunately, the two of us never actually ended up playing it together in 2014. Although we didn't consider it when adding it to our list, its excellent solo mode allowed us to play it even when we were struggling to find the gaming time to play 10x10 games. I did get to play it once with someone else, and I expect my buddy and I will play it together sometime in 2015.
It was great to play WG again, and to be reminded of what a solid design it is. With only 9 tile placements, 8 field-worker placements, and 8 town actions, every decision is huge. Winning scores are typically in the 20's, so every point counts.
From a strategy standpoint, my tips are:
Spoiler (click to reveal)
1) To avoid feeling punished, don't add any workers for a while. I have won games with only my original 2 workers. (In one of those, the second place player, with just one point less, ended with 5 workers). The most common number of workers that I have seen win the game: 3. Remember that if you end with 4 workers, you spent 25% of your town actions recruiting them.
2) Be patient with tile placements. Never place a bad tile. Even if your draw sucks, place a good tile that you don't need now but will need later. Don't close off your food areas too soon. Trust that decent tiles will eventually show up.
3) Once you know how to survive the brutal winters, the key to high scores is the improvements. Based on what is available, map out a strategy at the beginning of the game. Make sure you are able to afford to buy them, and in a non-solo game, make sure you buy them before your opponents do.
One of the designers of WG (Touko Tahkokallio) also designed Eclipse. Both games share the "draw VP chits out of a bag" mechanism, and both games have vocal critics because of that. In WG, throughout most of the game, whatever coin you draw is fine, because they all have equal value when you spend them. It's only when you hold coins for end-game VP that their value matters. Sure, there are times when you draw from the bag as your final action, and get four 0's, or four 2's. But remember that YOU knew the odds when you decided to take that as your last action. You chose a gamble rather than a sure 2 or 4 point move, so you have to live with the consequences.
As a side note, I saw a guy draw a 2 in the second round. He didn't want to spend it, so the rest of the game, he bent over backwards to hang onto it. He probably wasted 10 points throughout the game just clutching that 2-point coin.
Touko also designed Principato, which I have not played. Reading the rules, I see a shared design aesthetic between the two games. The only reason I haven't picked up Principato is that it has a heavy majority scoring aspect (military, a la 7 Wonders), and I rarely enjoy that in a game.
Summary of Walnut Grove: Quick-playing, low-interaction, very tight, moderately thematic farming euro. Highly recommended, if you're into that sort of thing.
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