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June - Half way there!

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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June done, and I’m at a halfway point with my blog catalogue of every month of the year. Highlights of the month were my eldest getting a First from University, and my wife finally landing a Yoga teaching job in London. She spent 10 days in Sedona, and this gave me the opportunity to have a good go at some solo games.

New Game Of The Month
This month the award goes to a game I’ve only played solo, and only 4 times, but each session was great fun, but also tense. My winner is the new addition to the Dungeons & Dragons series – Temple Of Elemental Evil. From the moment you open the box, the game pulls you into its world. The minis are fantastic, with a good sized flying dragon. I picked the game up for less than £40 from Boardgameguru, and didn’t pay postage as I picked it up last month at the Expo.

One point I’d like to make is this retails for significantly less than the comparative Fantasy Flight offerings, yet provides you with a full game experience – I also played Star Wars Armada for the first time this month, and was frustrated at how little of a game actually comes in the box, and at most without spending more money on it, you are going to get four or five plays out of it.

Anyways, back to ToEE. Create a random stack of tiles, with specific tiles placed somewhere between the 9th and 12th tiles. On your turn, you move, and then take another action, be it fighting, or moving again, or trying to disarm a trap, or using an ability. Then, if you are on an unexplored tile edge, you place another tile, add any monsters to it, and then they get a turn. If you can’t explore, or the new tile dictates it, you also draw a ‘bad stuff happens’ encounter card. Some of the tiles you draw have no monsters, some have two or three. Also, some add traps which need to be disarmed, avoided, or sometimes walked on as they tend to be where you want to be.

With an additional campaign story, and the ability to add additional ‘skills’ at the village (and have the odd adventure in the village as well) there is a lot of fun to be had from this game. So, this gets the big thumbs up from me this month, and I really feel like I’m going to get good value from it.

Best Session Of The Month
Most of the best sessions I’ve had this year have been at OGRE, one of my local gaming groups. We meet at the host’s house once a month on a Friday evening and (usually) get a really good small group of us. This month we tackled Game Of Thrones 2nd Ed, and I had Martell. Early stages saw me trying to take chunks out of Tyrell, but it was mostly tit for tat. Out of frustration at us being the only two players really participating in any conflict, we agreed to turn our attentions on to Baratheon and Lannister, and between us we managed to inflict a fair amount of damage.

Meanwhile, Stark and Greyjoy were just playing landgrab wherever they could. Lannister turned on Greyjoy and all but wiped him out. This left Lannister close to victory, but this was stopped by Baratheon, and Stark. Now Stark had the throne in their grasp, but lost out to Baratheon and Lannister. Then in the final turn, it actually looked like Martell might get the win, but due to Baratheon going before Martell, they refilled their hand, and were ready for the Martell attack. So, at the end of the game, Stark and Martell were drawn on points, and on strongholds, so it came down to Stark having better supply. A great but long evening.

Solo Gaming
4 Temple Of Elemental Evils, 2 Sylvions, 1 Captain Is Dead, and 1 Star Wars Armada. As you can see from the plays, and from the above comment I have a firm favourite here. Having said that though, Sylvion is good as a quick hit play, although I haven’t moved past the basic game as yet. Captain Is Dead can be played solo, but is more fun with a few more players in the mix. The play of Star Wars Armada was more of a test to see how well the game works. The game works fine, I just have a problem with what little you get in the box.

Games Added To The Collection
5 games added this month - Werewolf Daybreak, Specter Ops, Cards Against Humanity, Sylvion, and Ivor The Engine. Daybreak just gives us a little more variability to the base game. Specter Ops we played at my local group and really enjoyed and I’m a fan of these hidden movement games, and really enjoyed that this had variable powers as well. Cards Against Humanity I’ll come to in a sec, Sylvion I’ve mentioned, and Ivor The Engine for 3 reasons – nostalgia, recommendation and price.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
4 games gone this month, all sold to friends or via the BGG Marketplace - New Era, Navajo Wars, The Convoy, and Phantom Fury. New Era and Convoy I felt were both replaced by Imperial Settlers which I absolutely love, and with that in my collection, I don’t see the point in owning the other two – I’m really keen to play Imperial Settlers as much as possible, and won’t be touching them as a result.

Navajo Wars is a real sigh moment for me – I tried really hard to play it, played through the introductory scenario, read the rules from cover to cover, and made copious notes to help me play the game, but it just never came together in my head and clicked. I was deliberately hiding from it, and avoiding the cupboard it lived in, so it had to go.

Phantom Fury I played and understood, but ultimately found very repetitive and incredibly processional – the game requires you to be incredibly methodical, and I can see that this is an accurate thematic interpretation, but it never felt like fun, and my single session where I failed very near the end was too much like a bookkeeping exercise. Maybe solo wargames just aren’t for me – I’d rather be playing Temples Of Elemental Evil.

Other Gaming Stuff
We had a family game of Apples To Apples whilst my wife was away, and the kids mentioned that they’d really like to try Cards Against Humanity so I picked up a set. Before anyone registers their disgust, my kids are 21,20,18 and 15, so nothing too irresponsible there. I also picked up 3 expansions at the same time to keep some variety in there, and we’ve played twice this month, and had great fun with it – first time particularly was very funny, played after a bbq where beer had been consumed (by me). I can see why some people really don’t like this game, but we do, and I’m pretty sure it is going to become the game of choice in the house. After my son’s prom, he ended up playing it most of the night with his friends.

Music
Still getting a lot out of Painted Shut by Hop Along, and it is still my most played album this month. I’ve been listening to a few other bands, like Vintage Caravan and Phosphorescent, but just keep coming back to Hop Along. Great album, loose classic indie.

Books
I finished All The Pretty Horses, and am now making my way through the second book of the trilogy, The Crossing. This one is a lot darker so far, and a tougher read but I’m still finding it an incredible reading experience, and will happily see this through to the end of the trilogy.

Film
Well, I finally got to see Mad Max at the cinema, and I enjoyed it as much as I was disappointed by it. The film has a very consistent pace to it and is essentially a single chase sequence, with all character development taking place as part of the action. The main character (yes, Max) is actually almost a supporting role, and the true lead, Furiosa, is strong but ultimately shallow. As a piece of switch off entertainment, though, the film is perfect.

The film I saw this month that I enjoyed the most though was Chef. A simple story about a Chef who suffers at the hands of social media, and has to rebuild himself by going back to basics. It is also about his relationship with his estranged family, and with his closest friend. The music is an incredible addition to the film, and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack whilst cooking. No spoilers in saying it is a heart-warming story focusing on priorities and happiness.

TV
I’ve been watching the Channel 4 series, Humans, and have found that quite interesting, and I feel more involved with it than I did with Ex Machina. I tried Orange Is The New Black, but it was far too fluffy for me. We are now watching the third series of American Horror Story, but so far it feels that the storyline is weaker than the second series, and it is nowhere near as horror-filled as the first series. Still, my wife is enjoying it so we’ll see it through. I’m planning on trying her on Daredevil.

Video Games
I’ve really tried to get on with Project Cars, but the controls just feel clunky, like they’ve tried to make it too realistic – probably fine if you are using a wheel and pedals, but far too heavy for a handheld controller where the handling really does need to be a little more arcade like. As a result I’m playing Ride instead, and enjoying it a lot more – the handling for each type of bike varies nicely, but the overall experience is far more consistent than Project Cars.

On iOS, I had a quick crack at Fallout Shelter, but soon tired of it and the repetition required. It needs more variable events, and feels a little dull as it stands. It reminds me of the book Wool, though which is a positive comparison.

Next Month
Very little gaming in July as we are off to Bali, and need to travel fairly light. I might see if I can find a small light 3 player, but it is likely to be Lost Legacy or Lover Letter. Still, I’m really excited about going. We are staying in a villa in a village near Ubud, away from the tourist run. I’m looking forward to just getting away from the stresses of home life and work, and immersing myself in the culture.
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Wed Jul 1, 2015 11:35 am
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May - My Month In Gaming

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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With May now over, this is number 5 of 12 in the gaming year blog. I tried keeping a diary once when I was about 11, but managed about three weeks, so this monthly method is working far better than that did. Highlight of the gaming month was the UK Games Expo, my annual pilgrimage, but more on that later. Personal highlights included climbing the ‘3 Peaks’ and I’ve now logged 5 climbs of Ben Nevis, 5 of Scafell, and 4 of Snowdon. I need to go and do Snowdon again!

New Game Of The Month
Although we only played it through once, Evolution takes my game of the month award. We played as a 6, and it worked really well with that number. Calls to play again were met with silence at the end, and I was worried that the game had failed with the group even though I’d really enjoyed it, but then at the end of the night, 3 other players said they’d have happily played again, so it was a hit with 4 of the 6 in the group.

What I like about it is the interactivity – players can, between them, set the food level. Carnivores quite rightly munch other species. Want to stop them? Then you need to evolve a defensive strategy (like hiding in a tree). There is also an amusing element behind the species that you end up creating, our favourite for this session being long-necked, shelled tree-climbers, so a monkey/turtle/giraffe thing.

Look, the game is just fun – you kick each other about, you curse players for screwing you over, and you do your best to stay in the running. If you fail miserably, and make mistakes then you smile, and the entire experience doesn’t take long anyway. Most of what you need to know is written on the cards, and the game is easy to explain. Scores are hidden to the end, so there is only a general assumption on who the leader is, so that keeps the ap at bay as well. With 6, you also just all play at the same time, so there is very little in the way of downtime. Great game.

Best Session Of The Month
Last month my best session was Time Of Soccer. This month, my best session was Time Of Soccer. The slow player was replaced by a much more involved and faster playing player, and we trimmed about 90 minutes of the playtime (this just goes to show how much difference a single player can make). I built a really good squad, and won both the cup and the league by getting good players early, and then making money by getting my fan level high very quickly due to having the right support staff, and of course winning lots of games. I got lucky with the dice, rolling 4 6’s at one point to turn what could have been a 4-1 loss into a 1-0 win and I won the cup on penalties against one of the neutral teams.

We all enjoyed the session, and I’m really pleased to have a copy of the game in my collection. I still think the name is daft though.

Solo Gaming
3 games of Lewis & Clark, and 2 of Drizzt. Lewis & Clark was one of those games that I played once and just went ‘huh?’. The cards can be used in numerous ways, and also the Indian ‘workers’ can be placed to add power to the cards, or to take village actions, so there was a lot going on, and I didn’t do particularly well, getting bogged down moving into the mountains as the NPC Scout waltzed onto the end of the track. Second game I managed to make it through the mountain range by the time the game ended, and third game, with a few take-backs, I managed a win by about three places.

So Lewis & Clark has taught me not to write-off a game too early, and to invest a little time to get something out of it. It took me about 3 run-throughs of the rules before I knew what I was doing, but I know actually think this is a really good game, and one I’ll be hanging on to.

The Legend Of Drizzt is just always going to be my kind of game. I know this series has its issues, but I really enjoy them, I love the minis, and really enjoy the old school monsters and settings. I used to play a lot of AD&D with my brother, and we loved adding minis to the experience. Games like Drizzt, and the other 3 in the series let me do this with a set of rules, and minis and tiles, and I just love getting lost in the world they create. Yes, the rules are a little gamey, and it is just a killfest, but it’s a lot of fun.

Games Added To The Collection
Well, going to the Expo was always going to mean a lot of games were going to come into the collection. Pre Expo, I picked up Witness as a fun game to play with the family. I’d pre-ordered Temple Of Elemental Evil, Beasty Bar and the new addition to the Lost Legacy series from Boardgameguru, and Paul was kind enough to chuck Empire Engine into the bag as well. At the show, I spotted the expansion for The Captain Is Dead on their display. I was completely unaware the game was available in the UK, and was even happier when they showed me the base game, so I immediately purchased both. The game looks simply stunning, and I can’t wait to give it a go. I picked up the Savage Worlds rpg book on a recommendation from a friend, and even if I never get to play it, I’ll enjoy reading the book through.

All volunteers get to put their name in the raffle, and this year team leaders got first pick, so I grabbed Star Wars Armada (well, it solved the problem of who was going to take it) and when my name got drawn later, I also took Adventure Tours. All in all an amazing haul this month.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
Wow, so many. Clans sold here on BGG, and I sold Assyria, Australian Rails, Black Friday, Coney Island, Eaten By Zombies, Empire Builder, Gheos, Goblins inc, Highland Clans, Level 7 [Escape], Lifeboats, Myrmes, Quarantine, Race For The Galaxy (plus the 1st 3 expansions), Road Rally USA, Sentinels Of The Multiverse, Volldampf and Ys all through the Bring & Buy. So much more out than in again – a balance I need to maintain.

Of those that are gone, 8 were unplayed. Assyria was a good game, but missing pieces (I priced it cheap, and I’d added homemade replacements). Goblins inc was a poor Galaxy Trucker, Level 7 a poor Gears Of War, Myrmes too scripted, and Sentinels is so much easier to play as an app.

Other Gaming Stuff (also known this month as Expo)
Expo was brilliant again. This was my 4th year as a volunteer, and my 2nd as a Team Leader (the 3 men in shirts of purest green). I love being a part of this, and frankly am amazed at some of the moaning about it on here (although that is mostly from one person who seems to moan about everything on here, so no surprise really).

The same faces are there, and it doesn’t take long for it to be like we’ve all been together for ages rather than just a day or two. The general public are all friendly – I didn’t meet a single person who wasn’t chatty and grateful for any help we could give. It also struck me that the crowd generally is changing – there were far more couples than ever before (I remember females being a rare species at the old venue), and on the whole people seemed younger (or maybe I’m getting older). There were significantly less stereotypes present, that is for sure, so it was wonderful to see the hobby appealing to a broader crowd. Possibly this is the kick-back from Generation X-Box.

I didn’t get to play many games, but had a lot of fun on the Saturday night playing Werewolf with some of the other volunteers, and making jokes about badgers (you had to be there, really).

Music
Painted Shut by Hop Along is the best album I’ve listened to this month, and is one of those albums that really sinks its teeth into you. The vocals are gaspy and raspy and raw but also moving and full of emotion, and the band behind all do a good job of giving the album a real single take live band feel, but with the positives of that experience rather than the negatives so it never sounds grubby or messy, unless it was meant to of course.

I picked up the new Faith No More album, and although there are about 3 really good tracks on there, the album is short and covers a lot of old territory – a lot of the tracks sound like lesser versions of tracks on Real Thing.

I also saw Public Service Broadcasting at the Roundhouse this month. Great sound, fun show with lots of humour and I really enjoyed it. I don’t go to as many gigs these days, so I want it to be great when I do go, and this met my expectations. Camden Town is a dump though.

Books
I got to the end of JPod, and don’t really rate it. It always makes me shudder when authors put themselves into their books – it didn’t work for Stephen King, and it didn’t work here. Coupland sends himself up, but then backtracks and makes himself out as a superior being to the characters in the book – he becomes both judge and saviour, and it just grates.

I’m reading Cormac McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses, and it is a beautifully written book, almost poetic at times. I loved The Road (well, as much as you can love the book considering the storyline) so it really shouldn’t have taken me this long to get to the book.

Film

Still haven’t seen Mad Max yet – maybe at the weekend. I did watch Big Hero 6, and was left feeling a little let down – there were some clever moments and set pieces, but overall it felt like How To Train Your Wall-e.

TV
I finally finished Breaking Bad, and I'm still staggered by how well written the entire series was. Nothing ever felt forced or contrived, which is incredibly refreshing for an American production. Time to move on to Better Call Saul!

Some really interesting themes though - whether or not it is possible to enter into criminal activity, and not behave like a criminal, where a man's principals really are (what is more important - family, money, or personal success? - Walt chooses family last in this list). Also, the question of what money brings - he only ever uses it to make a few minor personal material purchases, and the rest is just a burden. Also, I enjoyed the moral centre of the piece being an on and off junkie, one of the few characters who cared more about people than about personal gain by the end.

Video Games
I’ve had a couple of sessions on Project Cars on the PS4, and although the racing is good and the cars feel weighty, the Karts are pigs to drive, and feel horrible and twitchy. Unfortunately with the rags to riches career, the Karts are the starting point. I’ve ended a couple of sessions after only a few races simply through feeling travel sick thanks to the Karts.

Next Month
I’m really hoping to get lots of The Captain Is Dead played. We’ve also got a Game Of Thrones game scheduled in – that could be interesting given the players involved.
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Wed Jun 3, 2015 12:19 pm
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All things April - Recreating WWII and other gaming nonsense

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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Introduction
Wow, April is already gone and this year seems to be moving really quick. We had a fun Easter, but no family gaming which is a bit of a theme now – I get some game ideas but usually chatting and video games get in the way. Still, going to two gaming groups and being in a Thunder Alley league helps.

New Game Of The Month
This was a close run thing between Time Of Soccer and Quartermaster General, but I’m going to give the nod to Quartermaster General. This has really struck a chord with my local group for the simple reason that there aren’t many games that give a faithful recreation of WWII in an hour and a half. We’ve played 3 times, and each play has been very different. The more we play, the more we see as well. There are still questions we are working through (and I mean game questions rather than rule questions). What should Japan do? Go after Russia or the US? When is the best time for the Brits to hit Europe? How do the Germans and the Italians best work together (and they need to)?

The game is so simple – every play we’ve had a few new players, and within ten minutes of sitting down they know the game, and are ready to play. One good tip for all new players is to take some time to look through their deck, and get to know what the balance is and what their cards do so they know what is coming up.

Quartermaster General ticks everything on my wishlist. Simple to learn and teach, but with agonising decisions. Plenty of conflict and tension, but also with co-operation and group discussion. Great stuff.

Best Session Of The Month
Although it was long, and frustrating due to a slower player, but the best session this month was a 4 player game of Time Of Soccer. We sat down to play at 7:30 in the evening, and finished at 1 in the morning (we had a pizza break in there) so the game went really long, but it all came down to the final week. My team won the cup, but lost the league when the two top teams played off against each other (the same teams that met in the cup final). After the points tally, I finished 2nd overall, but it was a really enjoyable session.

Solo Gaming
Time Of Soccer twice through, and with very different results – the first time out I struggled to do well, but didn’t take advantage of the money making opportunities (selling players, friendlies) so always had cash flow problems. Second game I addressed this, and ended up winning the cup and top of the league. I’m ready to go again, but this time with a higher difficulty level – I really like the idea that this can be tweaked to give more of a challenge.

I also played a couple of solo games of Expedition: Northwest Passage, and found it to be really enjoyable. This is more of a tile laying puzzle when played solo as the goal is to place as many tiles as possible, which means knowing where you can play the tiles that are available, and also where your boat or sled needs to be (and also knowing the best time to shift between the two. It was really satisfying to be moving both the sled and the boat to meet up just at the right moment to get everyone back on board, but my score was still pretty awful. Visually really nice though.

Games Added To The Collection
Roll For The Galaxy due to some of the reviews – I have a few issues with Race that seem to be addressed here, so I’m hopeful this is going to work well. Evolution because I enjoy games with some conflict and like the theme. Expedition: Northwest Passage because it looks like an excellent tile laying exploration game – I love maps (it’s what I do) so any game of this type is going to be a hit with me. Time Of Soccer – a football game recreating the Championship Manager pc game? I’m in!

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
Another good purge this month. I sold Guildhall simply because the price climbed up and I wasn’t going to miss it. I also sold Duel Of Ages II as it just didn’t click for me, and was going to be a hard sell to my group due to counters rather than minis and a slightly odd theme. I sold Hanabi and Innovation to another member of the group, so they are gone but not forgotten. Hanabi is a memory game and I have a shocking short term memory so I’m glad it’s gone, and Innovation needs a fair amount of plays to get the most from it, and this wasn’t going to happen. Space Cadets Dice Duel and Sylla have also gone, again because they simply weren’t getting played, and I have better games (I’d rather play Space Alert than Space Cadets, and Sylla is similar to a lot of games I already own).

Other Gaming Stuff
I’ve taken a break from painting now Imperial Assault is done. As a side note, the game wasn’t as great as I hoped it was going to be, but I’m sure once I get this in to my head, I can then start enjoying it. Also, now the weather is better there are outside jobs that need doing rather than sitting in the kitchen painting minis!

I really need to slim my collection down further though. I’ve got over 500 games listed, more than I’m ever going to play regularly, and all that happens is that in an effort to try and get as many played as possible I don’t give the time to the games I truly love. Where There Is Discord has only hit the table once, and I loved my first session, and hardly got to play the landing part of the game. Ginkgopolis rarely gets an outing, and it is an excellent game. I’d happily play Gears Of War at least once a month, but I’m so busy trying to learn and play new games that I don’t have the time.

So less purchasing and more selling should help.

Music
A really mixed month this month. I’ve been listening to a lot of the stuff I’ve purchased so far this year, so lots of Moon Duo, more Sleepy Sun, some Swans, Godspeed, and a little bit of Van Halen as well because life is better with DLR era Van Halen in it. Not much new though.

Books
Finished Rivers Of London and I won’t be reading any others in the series – this one was ok, but I don’t feel the need for any more. I read the rather incredible ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig – a moving and personal story about the writer’s experiences with depression and anxiety. There is a lot to be gained from reading this, even if just as an affirmation of life. I read Eeny Meeny, a fairly good whodunit which unfortunately lacked the twist these books need, and I also read the ya novel ‘This Is Shyness’ only because it had been recommended to me. I enjoyed the book, but it ended rather abruptly and anti-climatically almost as if the writer decided to suddenly wrap the story up. There was a single good set piece though that I enjoyed, and some good characters.

I’m now reading JPod by Douglas Coupland in an attempt to purge Worst Person Ever from my system. So far so good, and it is much closer to the style of his that I enjoy.

Film
No cinema trips this month. We watched Life Of Pi. I hoped I’d enjoy the film more than the book, but ultimately it was a forgettable experience. My biggest film moment of the month was the 2nd Star Wars trailer. My expectation levels are stratospheric at the moment, and you know I might even shed a tear during the first scene with the old crew together.

TV
Nearly done with Breaking Bad – there are about 5 episodes left, and I’ve stopped trying to figure out where this is going, instead I’m just enjoying every step of the journey. The dialogue is so good, natural yet snappy, the characters so rich. And it still manages to deliver those jaw dropping moments where I am stunned for a few minutes.

We watched all of Season 1 of the Following, and overall it was a good series. There were a few annoying characters, but only one of them a central character (Emma) otherwise the tension was maintained, and the writing was good. There were a few superb scenes where Kevin Bacon’s acting talent really shone through, particularly at one stage where he torments his captors. We are now on The Returned, and yeah, it’s ok, but slightly annoying due to some cheesy dialogue, and simplistic character reactions to situations. Also, the general reaction to a load of previously dead people returning to town seems far too muted. I’d be far more freaked out.

Video Games
The PS4 and Xbox are banned now – exams are looming for both my middle two sons and they just can’t resist the temptation, so I’ve put the consoles in my games cupboard (trust me, they’ll never look in there). I’ve got Ride on order, but nothing else going.

Next Month
Last month I wanted to get Time Of Soccer and Quartermaster General played, and my wish came true. May is UK Games Expo month, and again I’m volunteering which is always great fun but exhausting. I’m due there on the Wednesday, and will be driving back on the Sunday night. So, lots of gaming, lots of people to meet and catch up with, and lots of new games to look at and try. I hope to get in a go of the expansion for Quartermaster General, and I’m so tempted to pick up Clash Of Cultures. I’m not really looking out for much else – Beasty Bar, maybe Merchant Of Venus. What I’m looking for is to have fun.
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Fri May 1, 2015 2:09 pm
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March Gaming - Never judge a game by its name

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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Introduction
Now I’m through that difficult second month, I’m pretty sure I can keep this going for the rest of the year, and I’m hoping it’ll prove to be an interesting historical note of where my gaming was at in 2015.

New Game Of The Month

Easy for me this month – no competition for the top spot which goes to Imperial Settlers. This is a really satisfying engine builder – start with very little and build up an engine to give you more stuff to buy more stuff to do more stuff with. There are enough resources to make the game interesting but not too many to make it complicated, everything makes sense, and the game itself is fairly simple. I was initially also put off by the name (well, the Settlers bit) and should learn not to judge a game by its name!

The most appealing element to me is that you won’t do well to begin with, and the game awards knowledge and experience. There are plenty of those ‘now I get it’ moments when you see how various building combinations can work together, and that keeps me wanting more. Each time I think I’ve played well, I play again and see something else I missed before. There are also multiple ways of earning resources, either from cards played out, or cards traded into resources, or simply cards burnt for resources, so if there is something you really want to do, with a bit of imagination you can usually find a way of doing it. All this wrapped up in a game that can be taught in ten minutes.

Best Session Of The Month
This is a slightly harder choice, but we did have a really interesting 5 player session of 1812 Invasion Of Canada which I always enjoy playing. As per usual for our experience, the British side won fairly easily, but I really feel like we tend to play the US side badly – the temptation to take some early big point hits is fine, but can’t be sustained because it takes too long to get the reinforcements into play. I’d like to give it another go but as the US side this time (I played the Native Americans), and play more of a patient game, building a force two make consecutive strikes rather than a force that can only hit once, and then get punched back. Still, we had a really good game of this, and everyone got into the spirit of it.

Also, a couple of good Homeland sessions, and a fun Thunder Alley session at Kent Conquest.

Solo Gaming
Imperial Settlers got soloed four or five times, just to try all the different factions out, although I realised that it wasn’t so much the factions that effected my score, but more my own increasing understanding of the nuances of the game. But I’ve already said how much I like this game, and despite some initial surprise, I can see why it is popular as a solo experience.

My wife got me the Lord Of The Rings Card Game as a birthday present, and I played the opening scenario. I need to dip into this more, as I wasn’t overly excited by the opening quest, and hope the others are a little deeper and more involving.

Games Added To The Collection
As mention, the Lord Of The Rings Card Game as a birthday present, Imperial Settlers which I picked up in London, and Quartermaster General, supplied incredibly quickly by the always helpful and efficient team at Spirit Games. I also picked up Shadows Of Malice from Boardgameguru, but the rulebook is a real stinker so this one is going to take a while to get to the table. Picked up Lewis & Clark in trade as well, but I haven’t done any more than have a quick look at it solo.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
Yeah, lots of games gone this month, but nothing I’m going to miss badly. Android: Netrunner went because I don’t have a regular partner to play this against. Small World had got to the point where I found the game annoying as it never really develops and just seems to become a ‘bash the guessed leader’ which always involves whining. The Hunters was too simple for me – roll, check a table, roll, check a table, roll, etc, and although I had one fun command run, I didn’t feel any draw back to the game. Leader 1 Hell Of The North was ok, but ok games don’t tend to get played, and I’d set it up and run it solo once in the time I’ve had it. Zpocalypse was a mess of a game that could have been great, but with such a confusing and badly written ruleset was just too much of a chore to play. Dead Panic was more of a game than Castle Panic, but less of an experience because of it.

Other Gaming Stuff
I did manage to finish painting all my figures for Imperial Assault, and I’m pretty happy with the results. They aren’t going to win any beauty contests, but I’m really pleased with the Stormtroopers, and my Luke Skywalker is easily and immediately recognisable. I think in total it took me about a dozen sittings to get them all done, with each sitting taking about an hour. I also finished my box insert, using the plans supplied on here. As a plus, my last couple of trays looked really good, but I was completely new to doing this, so the first two trays I did are fine, but they ain’t pretty – it reminds me of how my Airfix models used to look when I made them as a kid – half model, half glue.

I’m going to need another project now and really should get going on my Gears Of War stuff, both painting and putting together a good box insert – it is definitely worth the time and effort, and it might mean I get it to the table a little more. It’ll also be good to get some clear definition between the hero minis. But I think I need a bit of a break from it at the moment – the last game I did before Star Wars was Mice & Mystics.

Music
I’ve got the latest Sleepy Sun album and have really been enjoying that, as well as dipping into the new Moon Duo album. As always, this just gets me back listening to ‘Back To Land’ by Wooden Shjips – an album that dominated my life in March/April last year when I was spending a lot of time in London. I’m really getting something out of these modern psychedelic rock bands, and WS and MD really are the top of the stack. If anyone can recommend a band that even comes close, I’d really like to hear about it.

Books
Ugh. Read ‘Worst. Person. Ever.’ By Douglas Coupland. He is without doubt my favourite writer, but this book was just awful. I get what he was trying to do, but couldn’t access it because I was just so distracted by my loathing for the main character. His writing is so well observed, and has almost always made me think in a different direction, and see life through a different pair of eyes, but this time out he failed to make me see anything.

I’m currently on Rivers Of London by Ben Aaronovitch, and it all feels a little Dr Who (no coincidence here as the writer did some writing for the series) with our hero and his sidekicks dashing around from one situation to another. The link is strong, so much so that how much you enjoy this book could be directly linked to how much you like Dr Who (and for me the answer is that I can take it or leave it – as it stands right now, I’ll leave it).

Film
We saw ‘It Follows’ at the cinema, and that was by far the best film I watched this month. The story was creepy and disturbing and the ‘horror’ of the story taking on different forms was in itself an interesting and disturbing element. The almost complete lack of adult influence in the film was a clever idea as the protagonists are all late teenage kids, and really the only presence adults have in the film was as the varying manifestations of the central evil spirit. Also, there were plenty of nods to Halloween both in the scenes (particularly the opening street scene) and also more notably the music. I don’t get any thrill from violent horror, but psychological horror gets me deep, and ‘It Follows’ got me, especially the scene when our ‘heroine’ is hiding in her room, and the evil spirit just comes through the door behind her friend.

TV
Still working through Breaking Bad, and I finished season 4. There were some fantastic jaw dropping moments in there, and the writing is just superb – the ‘I am the one who knocks’ speech was such a powerful moment, so well written, and really well played. I have no idea where this is going, and I’ve deliberately avoided finding out, but I have to say I’m starting to lose sympathy for Walt. I’ll miss this when I’m done.

We also finished Game Of Thrones season 4, and although I’m enjoying it, I’m looking forward to getting to where the story gets beyond the point I read to – I gave up on the books after the fairly pointless Feast For Crows where the story just got too unwieldy and the pacing dropped to a crawl. I lost patience with the writing here, having sat through a completely pointless book that will likely not be represented by the series but we’ll see.

Video Games
More GTAV, I’m a long way in now and should be finishing soon. I dipped my toe into Dragon Age Inquisition, but found the political world a little bit of a drag. I’ll come back to it after GTAV is through, as the combat system and character building look promising even if the story looks a bit hammy.

Still playing vast amounts of Ascension in its various guises on iOS. Otherwise nothing new there this month. If you’ve got Ascension on iOS and fancy a game, let me know.

Next Month
I’m really keen on getting Quartermaster General (again, what’s with the name? That sounds so dull) to the table – I think this will be a hit with my local group. I’ve got Evolution and Time Of Soccer on order. ToS looks like a great game, but I really don’t like the name (yeah, that again), something definitely got lost in translation there, and I’m slightly concerned that it might be difficult to figure out from the rules due to a poor translation – one of the rules states ‘Neutral teams not coach but repeated once every roll at them not to take any impact (be it in both cases in the same match)’ and I have NO IDEA what this means, but it feels like it is probably important.

There are a bunch of solo games I’d like to spend more time playing as well – Dawn Of The Zeds 2nd ed, Mage Knight, Lord Of The Rings Card Game, Galaxy Defenders and Gears Of War, but there is no way I’m going to get them all to the table, especially seeing as how I really want to get one of Dan Hodges’ games on the table soon as well. Also, UK Games Expo draws ever nearer…
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Wed Apr 1, 2015 3:47 pm
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Is it half bird, half bot, or half alien? February Gaming and everything else...

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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Introduction
This is now the second month writing this, and I enjoyed putting this together last time out, even if only for my own sake to be able to look back at my year at what the highlights were. As before, I’m really interested in feedback or suggestions on anything you feel I might enjoy that I’ve missed.

New Game Of The Month
Homeland is another game from the GF9 team that seem to have made a success out of taking tv show licences and turning them into great games. Spartacus is a great mixture of mechanics, and has some excellent varied phases – card play, followed by auction followed by arena combat (don’t play with 6 though – it really drags). Firefly is a thematic dice rolling pick up and deliver, Sons Of Anarchy is a nasty area majority game, and Homeland for me is probably the best of the bunch. It takes the crisis card part of Battlestar Galactica, and turns it into a game in its own right.

You may or may not have a traitor and a political opportunist, but it is in both of their favour to have things go wrong. If the good guys ‘win’ you then calculate the overall winner, and this could be the traitor. However, everyone gets a chance to rat out the traitor, so you never know until the bitter end, and if you finish the last round out of the scoring, you can take a chance and try and guess the traitor, so this game is close and tense right to the bitter end.

Best Session Of The Month
Yeah, this goes easily to Thunder Alley. We played the final four races of our 8 race championship this month, and the final two races were very close, very tense affairs. The group I’ve been playing this with are all great guys to game with, and we’ve had so much fun throughout the championship. Thunder Alley is an excellent game that does have its faults with player order, but we love it all the same, and the more we play it the more tense it gets. The drivers’ championship was won by 4 points, and the team championship was won by 1 point – amazing considering we had 5 players, and 8 races. We’ve already booked to start our next season in April.

Other good sessions this month – a really fun game of Zombicide where we had ‘Useless Doug’ who only got 2 kills in the entire game – my character racked up about 25. We played with 7, no downtime, and this game continues to be fun after playing it for a couple of years on and off now. A tense game of Homeland as well to round off a good gaming month.

Solo Gaming
The best solo game for me this month was Galaxy Defenders. I only played the first game in the campaign, and I’ve still got a lot of rules questions I need to check through (I’m hoping a rules read through will clear these up), but the system worked well, and made me consider my moves carefully. The game looks good, and most importantly flowed well – I didn’t need to stop to check tables or adjust with half a dozen modifiers. I also liked the system others have complained about – when you defend you roll a number of defensive dice equal to the number of hits you’ve taken. I’m fine with this, and it seemed to give fair results, but we’ll see how that goes as I play more (and I want to).

I also played Phantom Fury. I like the idea of the game, and it reflects an incredibly tense battle (more on this in a sec), but the game has a few issues. Firstly, it is in some ways a puzzle – ensuring the enemy can’t infiltrate your position means making sure you have troops in strategic positions. This may be historically accurate but it feels a little gamey to me. Also, every roll has so many modifiers to check – the regular assault roll has 9 modifiers that can be applied to it, and in my first game I had to check for each one each time. I’m sure this would flow more if I played it a lot, but it slowed my first session down to a crawl, and took me completely out of the game, making it really hard to build a strategy.

Final mention on solo is for SOS Titanic. I played a lot of this in the month, and I like the fact I can just set this up and play really quickly, and the game is over fairly fast. If I know I’ve got around half an hour to kill, I can set this up, play it 2 or 3 times, and then chuck it back in the box. I know it is a patience variant, but it’s fun and frustrating in equal measure. It reminds me how I felt about Friday when I first picked that up.

Games Added To The Collection
I traded for Galaxy Defenders and Phantom Fury, picked up SOS Titanic on the marketplace, and purchased Fantastiqa Rucksack edition, Machi Koro Harbor, and of course Homeland.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
More outs than ins this month (just). I sold Rattus and the two expansions I had for it. It was never quite the game I hoped it was going to be – the idea of rats spreading the plague, and population getting wiped out sounded more fun than pushing little wooden cubes around turned out to be, so I got a good price, and I won’t miss it.

Fortune & Glory again looked like it was going to be a fantastic game. I picked this up after playing it once, and thought it would be great fun to solo, but it was all too random and dice dependant, and also with what I felt were over-fiddly rules, so again the ride was just a little too bumpy, and the box too big. Sold for a good price, and again, I’m not going to miss it.

Warfighter got so much hype, and I’m still trying to figure out why. This is a remake of a bad game (Rise Of The Zombies) with really poor cards that feels like a print and play. The game was completely random, and I just found no enjoyment in it at all, so I traded for both Galaxy Defenders and Phantom Fury. OK, so Phantom Fury isn’t the greatest, but GD is a pretty smart game, so I’m happy.

Jamaica, Chicago Express and St Petersburg also all left my collection. Chicago Express felt too much like filling in a spreadsheet at work, St Petersburg was just never getting played (and, it seems to me, had a dominant strategy) and Jamaica is too light for me to really enjoy.

Other Gaming Stuff
I haven’t got any further with my Imperial Assault paint job. I picked up a Perspex sheet for Phantom Fury (and any other sheet maps I’ve got. I’ve been on the geek a fair bit, but am also spending a fiar amount of time over at Fortress Ameritrash – Barnes used to annoy the hell out of me here, but I do respect what he has to say about games.

Music
I’ve continued from last month with my love of Decemberists, picking up both their new album, and also Castaways & Cutouts, which has a lot of heart. I’ve also been listening to Arbouretum, Phosphorescent, and The Best Day by Thurston Moore, but hands down the best album I’ve heard this month, and in a very long time is Something Supernatural by Crobot.

New heavy rock and metal releases rarely inspire me any more – I grew up in a time when Slayer’s Reign In Blood, Metallica’s Master Of Puppets, and Holy Terror’s Terror And Submission were being released, and metal never really got any better than that for me. These were incredible discoveries for a 14/15 year old to make, and I still love those albums (more than I love the bands). So every heavy rock or metal release now just leaves me feeling a little empty. Then I hear Crobot, and it sparks off all the little wires that I thought were closed. This album makes me nod my head back and forth (in a little more gentle way than I used to). It makes me reach for that air guitar, and I love it. Yeah, it has all been done before, oh it’s good.

Books
Finished Anno Dracula, and it was a bit of a disappointment for me. The two main protagonists were interesting and well written, but the book spent too much time namechecking, and not enough time developing the story. So many characters just come and go from the book, and well over half of the story felt shoe-horned in. I feel like it should have appealed to my inner geek, but the truth is it just didn’t.

I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and although I enjoyed the walking part of it, and hearing about the trail as I love hill and mountain walking, the human part of it just annoyed me. I was never convinced that she was learning anything from her journey, our truly growing as a result of the experiences she was having – she seemed to be having the same issues the entire time, and the way she seemed quite predatory towards men a lot of the time just came across as though she was just desperate for male affirmation the entire time. I’m glad that she finally wrote her book, and has settled into a better life, but I didn’t feel like the seachange came from her journey.

Now I’m reading House To House by David Bellavia – a soldier’s account of the battle for Fallujah (the battle covered by Phantom Fury) and it is an incredible story, truly told from the eyes of a soldier. It is gritty, dirty, and compelling. The most unexpected and revealing part for me though is the author’s obvious parental love for his men. Moving and honest.

Film
I finally got around to seeing The Babadook. The idea of grief being turned into a monster was handled well, and with some really well executed scares. The tense relationship between mother and son, with mother getting ever closer to an emotional edge, and the son turning from irritating little so-and-so to being the level headed figure made for a great movie. However, there was one scene of a sexual nature that added nothing to the film, and instead took something away – one of those ‘what is that doing there?’ moments that just shakes you out of the film rather than dragging you in.

TV
Still going with Breaking Bad, and I’ve finished Season 3, and am part way through Season 4. 3 was superb throughout, with a fantastically tense ending – one of the most tense television moments I’ve experienced. We are now watching Game Of Thrones series 4, and I’m enjoying it so far, but I’m still at the point where I know the story (I gave up on the books after the turgid, pointless Feast For Crows). I’m looking forward to getting to the bits I know nothing about, and am happy to leave the books be, and to go with the show.

We watched the 2nd series of Broadchurch, and I loved the relationship between David Tenant and the superb Olivia Coleman. For me this redeemed a fairly dull murder mystery, and an irritating court drama. The chemistry between the two of them is just electric, they really do act like an old married couple without having any hint of a physical attraction. I’m looking forward to a third series with hopefully a new and fresh story away from the peripheral characters.

Video Games
All GTAV this month when I’ve managed to sit down and get the PS4 fired up. Not much I haven’t seen, but the game warrants a second playthrough, and due to some smarter moves on the stock market, I can afford some of the businesses I didn’t buy first time out.

On iOS I’ve racked up even more Ascension games. Ascension is the best straight out deckbuilder there is, and the iOS version is really well done. I’m probably playing about 20 games per month, every month.

Next Month
I’m off to Kent Conquest on the 7th, and looking forward to getting some new games played. I’d like to get Imperial Assault painted and played as well, but I’m not sure when I’m going to get the final figures painted at the moment – the diary looks pretty full. My birthday as well this month, but I don’t have anything on my wishlist I’m really after at the moment. Xia looks good, but I’m not going to pay stupid money for it – I’m happy to hang for the new printing. I’ve still got a lot of games to shift, so need to keep selling as well. Another play of Kanban would be good as well now that I’ve got it straight in my head. It is just a really tough game to teach though as there are a lot of rules questions during the game which makes it hard for the teacher (me) to actually focus on playing.
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Mon Mar 2, 2015 12:18 pm
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Sing oh January, oh! - My January 2015.

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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Introduction
I thought, as much for my own records as for anything else, it would be good to document my month. I’d be really interested to hear and comments, and particularly any suggestions on any part of the list.

New Game Of Month
Best new game I played this month was Coup Guatemala. Great take on the Coup idea, and I like that the numerous roles and combinations keep this really fresh – the original had dried up a bit for me. The art is good as well, so much better than the high gloss Resistance stuff that looks pretty awful, especially the Coup version – I’ve got the original artwork on that, but I know gamers who really hate the new look, and I think they aren’t far wrong.

Best Session Of The Month
Best game I played this month was Eldritch Horror. I had a try at Arkham a while ago, and sold it soon after – too many conditions to track, and different types of monsters reacting in different ways just made the whole thing feel a lot like work. I know if you put the time in it gets easier, but at the end of my first play of Arkham, the game felt like the beast I was trying to defeat, not the actual monster card provided.

Our session went really well, lots of interesting side stories, and a compelling main quest. The game is really well balanced – we won, but it was close, and it came down to a very tense final battle to seal our victory. I’ve added in Forsaken Lore, but I haven’t got the big box – I don’t feel like I’m falling on the same cards, and I’ve still in all my games only tackled one boss, so there is still plenty to see before I need to add more.

I played Dead Of Winter again this month – a 4 player with 3 newbies, and although I like the game, the best session I had was when I wasn’t teaching. This is a game you really need to lose yourself in, and having to hover above it because you need to help others manage their moves takes away from the immersion. Still, we had fun, we won as a loyal team, and three of the four of us hit our objectives. One small downside for me which has emerged before with this is that the final round can become a bit of an optimisation puzzle – If I go here, and find that, and you kill those, and then we put a card in here, then we win, and if we do anything else, we lose. It strikes me that all a traitor really need do with this is sit back and not really help. Having one player not pulling their weight would be enough to make it really difficult for the group to complete the game.

Solo Gaming
Zombiefest for me – I played a single game of Dead Panic with 2 survivors. The game ended when the first one ate the second. I had 2 of the three radio pieces, but just couldn’t cope with the Zombies on the board – I had almost all of them from the bag with the exception of about three, and that was too many especially when some of them gained two moves through an event card. The rules for this aren’t good, and I had a couple of occasions with no real clear idea of how to move forward. Still I’ve played enough games to wing it.

The other part of the fest was Zpocalypse, which promised more than it delivered. The final combat phase of the game again seemed to rely on the player to almost make it up as they go along, and the rules are poorly written and ordered, even the more recent set, and I’m sure there are some inconsistencies and contradictions in there. This took away from the game too much to make it enjoyable, and made me realise that really to solo this I need to play more than 1 team, but first of all I need to summon up the energy to try again.

I also soloed Eldritch Horror as well, but I hadn’t played for a while so stupidly did the bad stuff happens after each player had taken their actions, so needless to say I got completely stuffed.

Games Added To The Collection
A bit of a bundle of smaller games, expansions and a few pre-orders that I’ve been waiting on. I picked up Valley Of The Kings, Red7, and Coup Guatemala as smaller card games, Dead Panic as a cheap offer on Amazon (and I’m not sure it was worth it), both new Resistance expansions (well, it saved me having to buy Avalon), and for pre-orders, I’ve got my collectors Viticulture, and also a copy of Mushroom Eaters which just looks fantastic.

Games I’ve Said Goodbye To
I sold Glory To Rome, Battle Line, Forbidden Island and Cornish Smuggler this month. I’m not going to miss any of them – Glory To Rome I found just a little too frustrating for my tastes, and also slightly too much to track and it never really gelled. With Battle Line I just wasn’t playing it, and as it is out of print, it was worth too much to hold on to. For a quick 2 player card game I’d still always go to Lost Cities over this anyway. Forbidden Island has been outdone by Forbidden Desert, which I would rather play every time. With Forbidden Island, the order the cards came out in ultimately dictated if the players won or lost on the harder levels, and I played a couple of games when we had a game hinge on which card came out at the end.

Cornish Smuggler looked great, sounded great, but played like a headache. Fitting shapes of goods on to tetris-like cellars just took the fun out of it, and nobody wanted to give it a go. I played it solo and went ‘oh’. Then I tried to persuade my gaming group to give it a go and had no takers. I know someone who kickstarted this, and I think it went the same way for him. Shame, but it is gone now, so no matter.

Other Gaming Stuff
All Star Wars Imperial Assault here – I’m still painting my minis, and I’m about 2/3rds of the way through. I’m not the greatest painter, but I’m enjoying it, and have got some effects that I’m really pleased with. Drybrushing has really worked well with my AT-ST, and with the probes. I’m now working on the heroes, and so far so good. My other project here is foamcore for the box, and this is going ok – my cutting is a little wonky despite a good metal ruler and a sharp knife, and unfortunately 1mm can make a difference, and I’m not patient enough. Still, layer 1 is done and I’m half way through layer 2, so we’ll see how that goes. And whatever the result, it’ll still be better than the joke of a cardboard insert that is provided.

Music
January has been about 2 bands for me – Swans and The Decemberists. I picked up both To Be Kind and The Seer on CD, and I love them both – it really hits a spot for me, and is the kind of stuff I used to play when we experimented in the band about 12 years ago. Repetition can be hypnotic and powerful, and a slow build can be really lifting. With The Decemberists, it was seeing they had a new album that got me back to listening to Hazards Of Love (still my favourite of theirs), Crane Wife (love the second track) and The King Is Dead. Hazards and Crane Wife really remind me of the Genesis stuff I used to enjoy (the stuff before Peter Gabriel left). I also started listening to their back catalogue, and although Her Majesty sounded badly produced (could be Spotify) I thought Castaways And Cutouts was a really interesting album with some great acoustic guitar sounds. I need to listen to The Tain.

Books
I’ve been eating books this month. I’ll probably miss something, but according to Goodreads, I’ve got through This Boy by Alan Johnson, The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, The Humans by Matt Haig, Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson, and I’m currently on Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. Anno Dracula is as hard going as you want it to be – there are a lot of historical figures in there, and the book is constantly name dropping. You could quite happily end up reading twice as much simply by getting to know all of the characters, or, as I’m doing, you can just go with the story, which so far is ok – a (so far) likeable villain, and a couple of interesting lead characters are keeping this going, but it took its time to get going.

Of those I read this month, the highlight was the wonderful The Humans, a book about an alien who takes over the body of a maths professor to stop his discovery from aiding human advancement. That isn’t a spoiler – this is all covered in the first few pages. What made the book so good was the way the main character develops, and also the story behind the story – the author conceived of the idea whilst suffering from depression, and this really comes across in the story. The human world is an alien thing to him, and he notes our peculiarities. There is a quite wonderful list at the end of the book as well with some lovely ideas and comments. A beautiful and funny story.

Film
We saw Ex Machina at the cinema, and I wasn’t as impressed as I hoped I was going to be. I liked the idea of there being no real hero or villain in the piece – yeah, both guys are both idiots in their own way, and the idea of AI is really interesting, but I found myself thinking about the theory more than the film which I never really felt immersed in. It strikes me that when I watch something, I need to feel a connection to a character in some way, and here I didn’t – the annoying boss, the geeky worker, and the unhinged robot, none of whom engender any amount of connection.

TV
We got all the way through American Horror Story season 2. I watched this because my wife enjoyed the first series, and I have to say, this was so much better than season 1. Possibly in an attempt to make them more ‘human’ each of the main characters in the first season were irritating and unlikeable. They addressed and resolved this in season 2, with some excellent writing. We were provided with characters to invest in, and root for, and for once it didn’t all go bad for everyone. I’m not quite ready for season 3 yet though. I’m still working through Breaking Bad, and I’m really enjoying it now, despite a bit of a lull on season 2.

Video Games
I’ve been playing Driveclub, and although graphically it is well produced, and the scenery is stunning to look at, the physics feels almost too solid for me – the cars handle in a very rigid way and as many of the circuits are road circuits rather than race circuits, they feel very narrow and almost too tight – often there is little room for two cars making overtaking really difficult. I still yearn for a track based race game with a nice mixture of cars, and some fun competitions to get involved in.

I’m also playing through GTAV again, but on PS4 this time, and I’m loving it just as much second time around. There really is so much to see and do, and I’ve found more this time than I saw last time (which might be added features on this version. I’ve just picked up the Mad Max car, and it is the best car I’ve found in the game. I’ve got to the first set of Trevor missions, and he is without a doubt the least stereotyped and most interesting (and despicable) of the three protagonists. He’s the guy I want to play, and his missions for me are the most fun.

On IOS I’m playtesting Arnham, a game written by my brother. It’s a really well written wargame, and he’s done his research, studying a lot of the history of the battle, and recreating the actual troop lists and placement involved. The only downside is I’m playing this against my Dad who takes all of this really seriously, and keeps notes between moves. He could have a degree in this game. I’m still playing a lot of Ascension – I run about 5 games at a time, and I’m loving the addition of the energy shards in Vigil and Darkness. Still by far my most played iOS game.

Next Month
Well, I might actually get Star Wars Imperial Assault to the table after all this painting and insert building. I’d like to play more Eldritch Horror, and perhaps get back to Mage Knight. I’ve got the Mach Koro expansion on order as well as the rucksack edition of Fantastiqa. I’d like to get some of the heavier games that arrived for Christmas on the table as well – Mythotopia and Kanban would be good. Well, we’ll find out next month.
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Mon Feb 2, 2015 12:39 pm
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Going Solo in 2014

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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During 2013 my son got lured over to the dark side of video gaming with his friends, and away from board gaming with his dear old dad. As a result, I started to develop a much stronger interest in games that I could play solo, with some mixed results. With my toe firmly dipped during 2013, I was all set for a full year of solo experiences in 2014. I don't lack for gaming groups - I'm currently in 3, but sometimes I enjoy sitting quietly at home, and losing myself in a game.

In total, I completed 45 solo plays spanning a total of 22 games. 16 of these games are designed either specifically for solo, or with solo play in mind. The other 6 were games I was just really keen to play (Earth Reborn, Krosmaster Arena, Relic) or just games I wanted to learn and so played solo (Perry Rhodan, Pyramid Of Horus, Takenoko).

That leaves 16 games designed for solo play. So, in reverse order of goodness, I give you my solo plays in 2014.


16. Warfighter
When I first read the comments on this game, I couldn’t have been more excited about it. The principle looked really good – select and equip a squad, and then take on a mission, with plenty of variety on offer with variable locations and enemy decks to choose from. I’ve got Thunderbolt Apache Leader on my wishlist, the designer has a lot of solo design experience behind him, and it all looked positive. My only previous experience of a DVG game had been Rise Of The Zombies, which I’d played a few times and then traded away because the card draw just made the game feel too random for me – some cards were useful, but getting too many of the wrong card at the wrong time made the game far too tough. It struck me that really it just needed the right cards to come out in the right order.

So I opened Warfighter, and got everything ready, set up a squad as per the suggestion, and played what turned out to be Rise Of The Zombies 2. Oh. OK, after the initial disappointment hard worn off, I set the game up again, but this time I picked the squad, and the equipment, and I changed the location and enemies to just try and make it something new, but the same problem came up as I originally had with Rise – I’ve got a couple of location cards in hand, I’ve got some good ranged weapons, so there are a few cards I could really do with right now. Instead I draw a bunch more location cards. Yes, Warfighter gives me more I can do about it, but it really is the same game just reworked.

I’ve only played it twice, the second game actually went right down to the final act, but it isn’t the game I was hoping for, and I’m just not enjoying playing it, and can find no enthusiasm to give it another go. One of the other gamers in one of the groups I’m in has also picked it up, and he has suggested a group session, so I’ll hang on until then, but I can see this getting traded or sold.


15. Heroes Wanted
I played this once back in September, and it reminded me of a very simplified version of Mage Knight. There might be a good game in there, but my group aren’t particularly interested in giving it a go - I thought it would prove popular, but I think the artwork is putting players off. The issue here is that this game comes up against a game that is incredibly popular in my gaming group, and also with me – Legendary Marvel. If I want to play a super hero game with cards, it is always going to be Legendary that gets picked first over this or Sentinels (which I own but didn’t play in 2014).

The issue with it is that the game is almost too simple – there is often one good choice to make, and it seemed fairly obvious what the choice was when I was playing it. Still, I’ll hang on to it, and hope that I can get it played with more players before passing it on.



14. The Hunters
This game actually reminds me of the games I used to play on a pc about 25 years ago. I recorded 1 play of this in 2014, but it was probably one of the longer sessions – I picked a sub and took it out very early on in the war. The narrative part of the game was great – lots of missions in different zones, culminating in a final disastrous mission in about my 4th year where she finally sank, with all men lost.

So why only number 14? Roll to see what the encounter is. Look at a table. Roll for the ship type. Look at a table. Roll for day or night. Look at a table. Choose range. Roll for escort. Roll for detection. Pick your torpedoes. Roll for torpedoes. Check a table. Roll for another round. Roll, roll, roll, check table, check table, check table. Repeat this process for a few hours, and see how much fun you can have. There are decisions that are controlled by the roll of the die that would be more fun if they could be chosen. I just don’t feel like I’d see anything different if I played this again.


13. D-Day At Omaha Beach
Yes, I know, one of the greatest solo games designed. No rolls to make, everything is controlled by card draws. But oh, there are so many rules. Hundreds of little rules to remember and conditions to apply, and ifs and buts to worry about. I played this once, spent hours on it, and played it so completely wrong in so many ways. So yes, this might make me a bit of a fool, out of my depth trying to tackle this, but I’ve got a family, and a business to run, and I just can’t get my head around this at the moment. Shelved for now, but my first attempt was a complete failure.






12. Level 7 [Escape]
One play of this, the opening scenario, and it was fun enough. The rules seem overly complicated for the game, but I enjoyed my single playthrough. It took a long time to get this completely figured out, and I ended up writing out a rules reference to use to get this all in order. What concerns me though is despite enjoying my single session of this, I don’t feel the need to put this back out on the table at the moment.








11. Zulus On The Ramparts
Again, a single play, and again with no idea of whether or not I was actually playing well, but then without that there would be no learning curve, and no fun in investing time in the game. I played this right at the end of the year, and am keen to try it again. The downside is that at the same time I picked up another solo game from the same publisher that I’d much rather be playing. I will come back to this though, and I’m hoping it will get me back into playing Dawn Of The Zeds again.








10. Legendary Marvel
I’ve got a few expansions chucked in the box just to add a good amount of variety, and also villains that are actually a challenge to play against. I enjoy this, and find it to be a fun solo game to play. Again, though it suffers because I enjoy Legendary Alien more than this. Still a good system though, and the best superhero game I’ve played.









9. Race! Formula 90
I love F1, for me it is by far the most interesting of the racing series, and I’ve been lucky enough to be at some classic races down the years, most notably the race at Donnington that the late great Ayrton Senna claimed was his best race (and he was incredible). So to find a really good F1 game is a pleasure, and this is probably the first game on this list that I’d happily recommend. The solo experience isn’t as good as the group game but it is still fun and worth a go, even just to learn the game a little. The movement is well handled, as is car wear, and the robots move in a predictable but interesting way. Overtaking can be tough, and there are some interesting decisions to be made.





8. Pathfinder: Rise Of The Runelords
The game isn’t as good as it was going to be in my head, and the game itself can be a little repetitive across the various adventure packs, but with a little imagination, and also thanks to a levelling up system that allows for some interesting decisions this game does work quite well, and is worth the time. Play is fairly simple – I run two adventurers, and this seems to work fine.

Depending on the cards added this can be tough or fairly simple – I’ve yet to have a really close game, but it was good enough for me to be playing it throughout the year, and it was also the solo game with the most plays for me. I’ll keep working through this, but although I enjoy it, it isn’t as much fun as I wanted it to be.




7. Freedom: The Underground Railway
This game is a tough subject to make a game out of, but is a sensitive telling of historical facts. The game itself is well designed and incredibly tough. I played this through 3 times and am yet to be successful. My group is also interested in tackling this, but I find it rewarding as a solo experience, and can easily get absorbed in the narrative of trying to rescue people from the abuses of slavery. Probably more than any other game I own I find myself staring at the board trying to weigh out what the best decisions are. A really smart design, and one that deserves time and attention.

This isn’t a tough game to learn either – what is tough is playing it well, and trying to balance all of the various elements that need to be controlled. A grown up version of pandemic.



6. Legendary Encounters: Alien
The reason that Legendary Marvel only sits at 10 on this list. Alien is a fantastic design, and although it is only a few steps away from Marvel, those steps make a lot of difference. I’m a big fan of the films as well which really helps, but the design developments make the game more tense and involved – having the enemies hidden until you reveal them, leaving you unsure if you’ll have the strength to fight them, and also running the risk that what you’ll actually find is a facehugger that you just might not be able to remove in time are all an important part of what make this so great.

The staged scenarios are done well, and follow the films nicely, so the narrative part is excellent. I would have preferred film stills for the card art, but the comic style is a good second option. I was one of the lucky ones who got a full set (although I’ve had an issue in the past with a Marvel expansion, but this was eventually resolved). This is a great game, and even when I’ve completed all of the films, I’d happily go back and play it through again. The only reason that I didn’t solo this more than the 2 plays it got was because it was also a hit with my local gaming group, and I wanted to save the stories for playing through with them.


5. Flash Point: Fire Rescue
Although I only played this 4 times this year, I really love this game. The spread of the fire is randomised but feels real, and the way the game can move from having everything under control to total chaos very quickly just adds to the fun. I’ve got most of the expansions, but there is still plenty in just the base set to make the game enjoyable. Again, easy to learn and teach, well designed, and attractive on the table.

The different characters help keep the game interesting – often you’ll only need a character for a particular issue, and then you’ll want someone else. I tend to play with a few firefighters, and each game is different and fresh. The development of the game has been nicely staged – expansions add elements that make things more interesting without taking away from the original intended experience. A classic that I expect to be playing ten years from now.



4. Where There Is Discord: War In The South Atlantic
A big game – in size, in rules, and in the time it takes, but a great experience that tells an amazing story. I played this once in 2014, and the session took about a week to complete with me sitting down to play whenever I could find the time. I can still remember how involved I felt, how horrified I was when I lost a ship, how frustrated I was at having to please politicians, keep stability back at home as well as coping with international pressures.

I eventually lost just as the ground assault began – during the first round of battles, domestic opinion turned against the war, and that was it, game over, and everyone bound for home with the islands facing a change of name. But I don’t think I’ve been so impressed with a narrative than I was with this. A great telling of a conflict that formed a part of my youth, with important strategic decisions, and plenty of twists and turns.


3. Codeword Cromwell: The German Invasion Of England, 8 June 1940
Another Dan Hodges design, another incredible experience. Whilst away on holiday in Cornwall this year, my wife and daughter wanted to go out for the day, and I had other plans, so I stayed in, and spread this out on the table. We had a sea view, and ironically I’d picked a day when the British fleet had decided to practice manoeuvres right in my view, just to add to the authenticity of the experience. I probably should have picked Discord instead!

Huge in scope, and again in board size, I managed to get through this and pack up just as my family returned. The game is immense, and there is so much to do, and so many interesting stories that come out of the game that I’d never do justice to – battles on the cricket pitch, heroic last stands, a brawl at the pub, infighting amongst villagers, all without even mentioning the German troops closing in on the church. The game feels like you are taking part in a film, making all the important decisions, and also trying to cope with everything it is throwing at you.

I’m sure my next playthrough will provide a completely new story, I’m sure there is still so much to see, and I know I made mistakes and should have made use of each characters abilities, but boy is there a lot to do and see here, maybe too much. This is a step up from Discord, but is worth the time and effort required.


2. Eldritch Horror
I originally picked up Arkham in trade because a friend was a huge fan of it, but it never quite hit the spot for me. I found it a little unwieldy and messy, and never really managed to get into it. I just thought it took too long for what it did, and eventually sold it.

Then along comes Eldritch Horror, and when I read the initial reviews, I realised that this could be the game I was looking for when I originally purchased Arkham. I was right – this is exactly what I hoped Arkham would be.

Moving the game to a global map adds variety and spice to the stories. The game is simple to learn and play, there are less strange effects, monsters are easier, and therefore it is far easier to get absorbed in the game rather than trying to cope with the mechanics. I played this 5 times in the space of a couple of months, and I’m pretty terrible at it, but I really enjoy the experience, and actually it is almost more fun when it goes wrong.

The artwork is fantastic, and the variety of stories and cards really gives this life. I’ve added the small expansion pack, and this just keeps it fresh and interesting. I need to play this more.


1. Infection: Humanity’s Last Grasp
I’d seen some positive comments about this, but the theme looked really dull, and theme is something that is really important to me. Why would I want to be tinkering about with proteins and molecules, and buying pieces of lab equipment? Antibodies and vaccines as an interesting theme for a game? Well, I gave it a chance, and I’m really pleased I did.

The magic of Infection is how the virus transforms as you desperately try to keep it at bay. Also, the magic is how simple this game is to play. Flip a card, and take the action in the mutation section of the card. Then take your player actions – buy proteins to complete sets, and when these are complete, remove molecules from the virus, and buy cards from those available. Then roll to see what happens to the ‘Death Marker’, replenish the proteins and cards. Repeat until either everyone is dead, or the virus is defeated. That’s it, pretty much. OK, there is more – some cards have ongoing effects, if the virus is on particular areas then the death roll is tougher, you can only use one piece of equipment per turn, the lab personnel break some of the rules, and more, but it is easy to learn, and challenging.

Decisions are often critical – what equipment to buy and when, what to let go, which parts of the virus to target, when to use staff abilities. This game crams a lot of anxious nail biting tension into a simple package, and for this should be applauded. Whilst it might not have the immense narrative, or any particular beauty it makes up for this in these other ways.

So why the number 1 game? Well, because of the tension, because from the very first turn to the very last you are constantly up against it. Because it is a balancing act – when to spend, and when to hold on, what cards to keep, and what to move to the bottom of the deck, what proteins to take and where to put them. Playing well might mean there are pieces of equipment you won’t need, but do you get them just in case? What is going to actually be available to you (some cards are removed to the box before you begin)? Do you buy a second piece to ensure something works, or do you trust the die? And what is the next card going to bring?

This game truly achieves so much with so little, and although it isn’t as pretty, or epic as some of the games on this list, it is the most approachable and accessible, and can comfortably be played in a single sitting.


Looking forward to 2015
Right, that’s the list for 2014. So what about 2015? Well, I’m currently getting beaten up by Legends Of Andor, and I’d like to try and get to the end of that. I’m determined to get Gears Of War back on the table, still the best solo game on the market in my experience. More of the games on this list, particularly the top 2 need to get played more. For what’s new, I had a brief desire for the Shadows Of Brimstone sets, but I’ve talked myself out of it thanks to a review on here with some comments regarding combat. I’ve got Viticulture due anytime soon, and I know that has a solo option. Other than that, I’ve got just over 70 games in my collection that I can play solo, so there is a lot to get my teeth into, and maybe, just maybe I’ll have another crack at Mage Knight.
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Thu Jan 8, 2015 4:33 pm
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Why I don't like 7 Wonders, and why I'm OK with this.

Steve Berger
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Someone in my gaming group asked me why I don’t like 7 Wonders, and I failed to answer his question other than saying something trite and dismissive. So why don’t I like a game that is so popular? It sits at number 17 on the BGG ranking, so the majority view is that it is a better game than Battlestar Galactica, War Of The Ring, A Game Of Thrones, and Steam. So shouldn’t I enjoy it? Am I missing the fun in it? When I look at the comments pages for the game, I’m on page 15 before I see any ratings less than a 10.

So it’s just me then?

I started thinking about the players I know who really enjoy this game, and realised they all had something in common – they were all good at memorising, and good with numbers, and this is where the game falls down for me. I start the game with a hand of cards. I’m not sure when I take my first card what it is I’m looking for. When I play Dominion (or Ascension, Thunderstone, Legendary, Trains, etc) I know what I’m after when I’m looking at Cards, and I don’t need to have memorised the available cards to best make my choice – they are usually all in front of me so I can make the best pick for the particular strategy I’m going to try out. With 7 Wonders, I have a bunch cards in hand, and no idea. Next round, I have a card played, and a bunch of cards in hand with very little idea. I continue in this state of frustration until the game ends.

My very first game of 7 Wonders was a complete disaster. We played with 7, and I sat between two experienced players who knew what was in the deck. Another player who thankfully doesn’t come along to that group any more was playing cards out without a care for what goods or items were or weren’t needed, and I sat and just gritted my teeth for the 40 minutes it took to play (which included the rules explanation). Once it was over, I was hoping I’d missed something – the greatness that this game obviously possessed because it was so popular, so I played again. Same issue, but at least I understood how the game worked now.

Fast forward a few months, and I played my 3rd and 4th games at the UK Games Expo, this time as a 3 with two players who were both friends and gamers. I won the first of the two games by simply collecting one particular thing that scored really high. Was it enjoyable now? No. The next game I played a similar way, and lost badly.

It then appeared at my other gaming group. A new group, a different number of players (5 this time) so maybe it would work? No – same thing again. With a couple of players having memorised the deck and the card combinations they were able to decide on the cards they needed and when the best time was to play them. For me this makes the game highly inaccessible. I’m still shooting in the dark, taking on a general instinct rather than a specific knowledge.

So I don’t like it because I’m an idiot?

No – I’m an experienced gamer. I can hold my own in most games. I’ve got a pretty good win ratio (I don’t keep track of it – I’m not that type of gamer) and I’m normally really good at seeing a path in a game pretty quickly simply through years of gaming experience over an incredibly wide range of games.

The drafting mechanic is one I enjoy – it works well in a couple of games that spring to mind – Notre Dame and Fairy Tales. So – Fairy Tales – why do I enjoy that so much and not enjoy 7 Wonders? Well, with Fairy Tales there is a path for you to follow. As you step along that path you are given the chance to divert if you wish, but you are always on the lookout for something. With 7 Wonders, you can start on a path, and never see another card to help you along it. There are almost too many diversions along the way – you need to know what both neighbours have in terms of strength and goods, and what you can or can’t use. You also need to know without looking at the cards what you need to make something into something else later on. With Fairy Tale this is simply unnecessary – the cards tell me what I need so I know what I’m trying to collect all the time – I don’t need to take a card now to turn something into something else later on in the game to do something else with it. This is all just too much for a small and quick game. If I’m playing a car racing videogame, I don’t want to worry about changing gear, or brake balance, or gear ratio adjustments during the race, or tyre pressures, I want to race and overtake and have fun (and hopefully win). Fairy Tale is the race, 7 Wonders is the mechanics, and the mechanics are dull, and take the sparkle out of the game.

So do I only like light, frivolous games?

No – one of my favourite games is the excellent Vinhos, and that has mechanics galore, but allows you the time to explore them, and enjoy them. You can ponder and develop. These mechanics are all relevant to the process of creating your wines and making your business work. With 7 Wonders at no point do I ever feel like I am building a civilisation (if that is even what I’m supposed to be doing). I’m set collecting. So with Vinhos, the game is enhanced by its intricacies. With 7 Wonders, they detract from the gaming experience. And then we get to the game end scoring which experienced players seem to need to re-read each time we play.

Maybe it’s the designer?

Ghost Stories is terrific. Really tough and rewarding, and tells a great story while you play. The tension builds really well, and when you get beat, it is usually a satisfying loss – you can often look back at pivotal moments and realise where the game went wrong. On the flip side, Hanabi doesn’t impress me either, but that is because it feels like an exercise in memory recall and odds calculation – something designed for use in classrooms rather than in a gaming environment. So, like most designers, some of his games I love, some I don’t.

Maybe I need to play it more to appreciate it?

Two issues here – one is I don’t think there is anything I haven’t seen, and secondly I don’t really want to waste any more time on it. I’ve played it five times with a mixture of different players, and each experience has been the same. This game is dry. It is a series of symbols that eventually, after playing through a few hands, amount to a score. For me it will never be any more than that.

So maybe it just isn’t the really great game it is hyped to be.

That sounds more like it. 7 Wonders is a game for mathematicians and programmers. I can see what attracts people to it, but it isn’t a light that this particular moth wants to fly towards. Gaming for me is about escapism from my working life which is rewarding but stressful. I don’t want to participate in a game that feels like I’m filling out a spreadsheet. I’m going to set up Zombicide, and take a chainsaw to a Fatty. This is a reason why I should probably avoid psychiatrists.
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Thu Feb 6, 2014 3:16 pm
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CO2 - a great game, or just a load of hot air?

Steve Berger
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I started writing this blog back in May 2011, and the very first game I wrote about was Vinhos. It was, for me, the best game released in 2010 that I own, but the downside is that it is really hard to get it to the table. Although I feel the game can be explained, and after playing it, all the mechanics pretty much make sense, explaining it to new players, or even returning to it after not having played it for ages is really hard work. My memory is pretty terrible when it comes to rules, so I always write out summary sheets in a style that suits me just to keep me going, and refresh when I need it. These usually fit quite comfortably onto an A4 sheet, and Vinhos isn’t an exception to this, but the font size is pretty small… Still, it is now the end of 2012, and I still think Vinhos is an excellent game.

I was equally impressed with the designer, Vital Lacerda. He commented on my blog, and thanked me for what I’d written, and in turn I thought I’d look out for other games he had designed. As it turned out, he was working on a game called CO2, but information was scarce as all forums discussing the game were all about the subject matter, and information on the actual game seemed sketchy. However, I kept an eye on it, and decided to hold back any comment until the game was published. The only decision I had made was that it was a game I was definitely interested in playing.

As far as the subject matter goes, I’ve sat through the arguments for both sides – on my wife’s side of the family are two environmental scientists who are both climate change lobbyists, and one conspiracy theorist who believes that global warming is a myth. Despite having listened to both arguments for many hours, and having heard the arguments and seen the ensuing tears and silences they create, my own feeling simply extends to a belief that it makes good sense to run a tidy ship, and whether there is an issue or not, we have a responsibility to protect. I don’t want to be the controlling hand, but I’d rather avoid any further discussion on this blog about it – there really are plenty of arguments already going on here, so go and find one of those if you strongly feel the need to comment – trust me, I’ve heard it all before.

The game, for me, is no more controversial than Power Grid or Pandemic. It is a subject matter, and no more. It isn’t trying to deliver an environmental message any more than Vinhos is trying to make you drink wine. Surely the point is this – is it any good? So….

Is it any good?
Well, this should be the conclusion to the review, but it is the first question we all want to ask when we play a game. Am I wasting my time playing this? Should I just go and play something I already know I enjoy? CO2 is going to take you a while to learn, and it has a lot of little nuances that many players seem to be finding difficult to come to terms with so the first game may well be a difficult experience in which you aren’t going to start the game with a clear strategy. Get through that, and there is a deep, fascinating game just waiting to be discovered. Not only are you playing against others, but you are playing against the game as well. So the answer to this question is yes.

Playing against the game? Doesn’t that make it a co-op?
There are a number of games where you play against the game that aren’t a co-op – Year Of The Dragon is a loose example. The only difference here is that if you don’t make a half decent job of it, then you all lose. However, building the power plants required to stop you from losing the game is what provides the victory points, so by focusing on the objective you benefit. But you really are doing your own thing, following your path when you play.

OK, so I’m interested. What is it all about?
This is how I see it, and I apologise for any inaccuracies (or emissions). There are 6 regions on the board, and each region needs energy. If the players don’t build green power plants, then the region will build its own fossil fuel plant. Each fossil fuel plant causes the ppm chart to increase by either 20, 30 or 40 points. If the ppm chart reaches 500, the game ends with no winner. Each region starts with a fossil fuel plant, so you begin with a certain amount of ppm.

Each decade counts as a round of the game, and the game is played over a number of rounds according to players, so either 5 or 6. Each round there is a supply phase where players earn money, and regions build a fossil fuel plant if they need to, and an event card is resolved. This is followed by an operations phase where players in turn select 1 action from a possible 3 over a number of turns dependant on players (from 2 to 6 – the more players the less turns).

The first action is to propose a plant in a region. Each region has 3 spaces for proposals, giving 3 different benefits (gain CEP, resource cubes, or gain/move a scientist). Each region has 3 plant types that it will accept, so you need to make sure you match up.

The second action is to install that proposal. Again, a simple action – pay a CEP, flip the proposed tile, and take the benefit it shows. These are the same for each type so you either get cubes, or CEP, or money, or a mixture.

The third and final action is to construct an installed project. You need to have expertise in the type of plant matching the cubes it requires to build it, and the money and cubes it needs. You remove the installed tile and place the built plant on the region with your disc on it to show you built it. You also gain 1 expertise point in the plant type, and you might have gained control in the region which allows you to use the CEPs with some limitations.

Also during your turn there are 3 other free moves that you can make, although you can only do these once each. These are to move your scientist (although sometimes you are forced to do this so lose your free move), buy/sell CEPS in the market, and play 1 card.

Well the actions sound simple but CEPS? Scientists? Market? Cards? Cubes?
Cubes are simple. You need them to build, and sometimes you pay them if an event card requires that you do. Scientists go to projects, and from projects can then go to a range of summits where they can gain you expertise which allows you to construct in the first place. The market is where you can buy and sell the CEPs, and any CEPs that come into play come from the market – however they go out from the game to the supply off the board unless you sell them, in which case they go to the market. The cards give you bonuses when you take particular actions, or can be discarded for a second bonus if need be. There are also UN cards which give you additional victory points, and can be taken if you’ve built the corresponding plants on the card.

But what are CEPs?
Errmmm, well, purple discs that you can buy or sell. Each region has them, and you start with 2. You pay one when you install a project. CEP stands for Carbon Emission Permit. You buy or sell them for money. It is possible to manipulate the market with them a little as well, as every time the last CEP is removed from the market, the price goes up, but you can’t sell them on a turn when the price changes. I’ll be honest here – I really struggle with grasping how these fit with the game. I see what relevance they have, but they feel like a really abstract idea in a game where the mechanics otherwise fit quite nicely.

So is that everything?
Well, almost. There are a few other points – each player has a goal card they are trying to achieve to gain additional points at game end. The energy supply phase can cause a player to lose a CEP if there is no green plant built for the decade. Players controlling regions can use the CEP in the region, but they can’t sell them. Unless you are using a scientist bonus on a proposal, or on a card, you can only move your scientist once in your turn. You might need to pay off an opponent’s scientist if they are in the way, and these can be moved back to personal supply or on to a summit. You also get a bonus from a summit, and can take expertise at the end of your turn. At game end, you get 1 victory point for every 2 coins, and when you take your income you can share it between money or victory points. Also at game end, most cubes as well as most UN cards pays an additional 3 victory points. There are more points, but I’m not trying to cover everything here.

How does it play?
My second play probably took half the time of the first play. When you see how it all gels together it makes perfect sense with the exception for me of the CEPs as mentioned earlier. It is an engine building game as you need scientists to earn expertise. You need expertise to make money, you need money and cubes and expertise to build, you need to build to make victory points and also to make sure the ppm track stays under the 500 limit. Where you propose is important because the placement gives you a bonus as well as deciding what the bonus will be if the tile is installed. Also, can anybody build it? Do you want them to? Well, if you place a scientist on it then yes.

The game builds nicely as well. To begin with you can only propose, and slowly you gain limited options for installing before anything is available to construct. You need to play your game, but also keep the game itself in check. Each region has a limited number of spaces so later in the game there may be no point proposing in a region as it is full of green plants – however you can overbuild the oldest fossil fuel plant if the region is full, so this might be a good move. You want to take control in a region as well, but the plants that give you control are harder to build needing higher levels of expertise and more resources. Expertise tracks have bonuses on them, so deciding where to send your scientists makes a difference. Also, a scientist on an incomplete summit is no use to you, but equally you don’t want to miss out on the potential bonus, so getting that balance is important.

Does this just generate AP?
Yes. I’m not an AP player – if in doubt I go where my instincts tell me. I don’t reason a move out to the nth degree when I play – I try and just figure out if it is a good move or not in general terms, and then go with what feels most optimal or beneficial. Having said all of this, I’ve played CO2 solo, and struggled in the same way as I do with Mage Knight deciding what is the best move from the options I have available, no matter how limited.

A typical thought process for me tends to be as follows…
Well, I need to build, but I don’t have the cash I need. What plant do I want to build? Hang on – if I sell a CEP I’ll have the cash. But do I need to do that yet? If I wait until next turn I can move my scientist over to that solar project, and then I’m going to get a CEP bonus and that will empty out the market pushing up the price so I’ll be able to sell for more – I’d be better off proposing. OK, what do I need? Well, cubes would be good, but do I need the money? Well, if I do where am I going to build it because I only earn for the CEPs in the region – Asia would be good, so a solar in Asia and then when I install it I’ll get 3 cubes. Fine – decided. Oh, hang on, Asia doesn’t want Solar. And I could really do with another Scientist because I moved the last one onto a summit tile when I constructed the project, and now I need to complete it. What is the other topic on the summit? Biomass – but I don’t really need the installed bonus for that. Where do I build it anyway? Why did I move the scientist there in the first place? I’m sure there was a good reason at the time. Oh – I see why – I wanted to build in Europe, and it was the easiest plant to build with what I had. But Europe won’t take biomass. Hmmmmm.

Right, so you get the gist. Only 3 actions to choose from, but with 5 plant types, 6 regions, 3 propose bonuses, 5 expertise tracks, 5 cards, cubes, money and CEPs all coming into the equation there is a lot to decide.

Solo? Did you say solo?
You can play this game with a single player running a single company. I don’t enjoy playing games for a high score though, and despite quite a few solo games of Le Havre just to do this, I find a solo game far more satisfying when I play one against the game with a win or lose objective – Gears Of War, Ghost Stories, D-Day Dice and Mage Knight fit nicely into this for me. With CO2, it is possible to beat the game solo, and record a score as you would in a game like Ghost Stories. The difference here where it is lacking on Ghost Stories though is that most of the information is known, and the only uncontrollable aspect is the type of fossil fuel plant you draw if you fail to build in a region and one is required, and you know it will be in a 20 point range. What is interesting is using the opportunity to overbuild a coal plant which produces 40 with the hope of drawing something out of the pile that is only maybe 20 or 30. I’ve got to the end of a solo game in this position – if I draw a 40 I lose. Of course, I drew a 40, but I’d made a bad decision along the way by making and proposing a project, but not building it by the end of the round in an area which then filled and had the oldest plant being gas and only producing 20. So, all in all a good solo challenge that boils down to optimisation, market manipulation, and reasoned placement, but if I’m perfectly honest has a limited life span. It is, however, a great way of learning the game.

What about strategy?
It seems there is likely to be an optimal path, but not a single optimal path. Much like Container, what you do is restricted by what your opponents do, and the opportunities that are available to you are available to everybody. If you install a forestation project with the hope of constructing it to take control of a region you can’t lock it out for yourself as every other player gets a go before you, and anyone can construct it. You can, however put yourself in a position where you are the only one that can build it if you concentrate on a particular expertise, and keep ahead of others. If someone goes head to head with you on a particular expertise track though you may be better moving your efforts elsewhere and ploughing your own furrow. Summits are important for gaining expertise, but don’t get stranded on one with your only scientist. Picking up UN cards is important as well, so you need to prioritise your moves – even if you don’t want to construct just yet it might be a good idea for the bonus points. And not forgetting you have a company goal to consider. Your company goal card can also be discarded at any point for $8, which can make a real difference in a squeeze.

How is the presentation?
Everyone has their own opinion of the board and the artwork. I’ve seen views stating it is outdated, isn’t practical, and is just unattractive. To me, it is stunning – far better than the fruit machine appearance of Vinhos. I love the colours, and how bright it all is in contrast with a lot of other boards. There isn’t any superfluous information, and it is easy and quick to read. I can see if any plants are missing with a fairly quick glance, and it is pretty obvious if a project is proposed or installed. The wooden components are standard euro quality, and the card stock seemed fine to me – there isn’t a lot of card handling anyway as you only get 5 cards to play during the game. The box is about the right size, although it could have been smaller as the folded board takes up less space than the box size, and a box sized to the board would have fitted all of the components, but that doesn’t really matter. All the tiles are of excellent stock – they feel nice and solid, and will last without issue.

So what is the bad news?
There is little to truly fault in this game. Not everything is obvious from the rules, and they need to be read firstly to understand the game, and then for a second and possibly third time to make sure you are playing the game absolutely right. Even then, there was something in the faq that I was sure wasn’t covered in the rules (you can’t sell CEPs from a region you control – the rules simply say you can use CEPs from a region you control when you need to spend them, but it has now been made clear this excludes selling). Also, the market has caused some confusion – the simple rule of thumb is that CEPs always come from the market (except when refilling the market), and always go to the supply (except when you sell them).

Some complaint has been made that the decades aren’t written in the regions so you can miss that you haven’t built a plant for the decade, but I haven’t experienced this and for me it is always easy to very quickly scan the board. AP could be an issue as well, but I’ve covered that. But nothing else springs to mind. The maths is easy, working out if you’ve scored all of your points is easy. The expertise track is on one edge and corner of the board, so the player sitting near it could cause a problem if discs got knocked as you can’t retrace the moves for that. Also, the iconography on the cards isn’t clearly defined in the rulebook – it is possible to work it out, but when you are new to the game the symbol for victory points isn’t obvious at all. Also, the cards often show the action next to the reward, so again for those new to the game it can look like two rewards especially when the action is a reward. Reading across the board might be a problem as well.

So this looks like a long list of faults, but it isn’t and there is absolutely nothing here that hindered playing the game to any great extent.

Is it better than Vinhos?
No. The design hasn’t significantly evolved from one game to another. There are some familiar touches in CO2. But it isn’t a lesser game than Vinhos either, and I’m happy to have both. Playing CO2 makes me want to play Vinhos again, and playing Vinhos would make me want to play CO2. They are different enough but you can feel the designer’s touch on them, much as you can with books and films. Vital Lacerda is an exciting new talent in the boardgaming world. With Martin Wallace seemingly losing his touch, it is welcoming having someone cut from a similar cloth stepping in to ensure gamers continue to see well designed games coming to the market, and I hope Vital continues to design new and exciting games. The challenge he faces is taking this onwards to the next step, but his ‘difficult second album’ is a wonderful piece of work, so well done and thank you.

So in summary?
A great game. I believe it has replayability, and if I don’t play it for 6 months I don’t think it would be too hard to come back to and re-learn. I rate it a 9 at the moment, and it could go to a 10 if it plays well with varying numbers of players and the play time is within the range needed for it to get played during a gaming session once everyone is comfortable with it, and also if I can maintain my current level of enthusiasm for it. Sometimes, I’m blown away by a game for the first half dozen plays and then it starts to lose its shine, and sometimes a game keeps me just as enthusiastic on the 20th play compared to the 2nd or 3rd. I’m happy enough with the subject matter, and never feel like anybody is trying to force feed me a message about the environment any more than Pandemic makes me feel like I need to worry about the spread of disease. I’m not worried about scientific inaccuracies in the game because I don’t understand them in the first place.

It doesn’t break any new ground in the design, using many standard mechanics, but in a smart way. The interactivity isn’t intrusive but could cause a player to have to reconsider their strategy to some degree. A bad player could sink the game for everybody, and I suppose if you were obviously losing you might be able to scupper the game for everybody, but then if you did that, I wouldn’t want to be gaming with you – I don’t think playing to lose so all players lose is a viable or acceptable strategy, no matter what, and the game doesn’t feel like it was designed for that – heck, in terms of the game you are damning the world just because your company isn’t doing so well!

CO2 isn’t a game for everyone – I know gamers who won’t like it, and who I wouldn’t play it with for the reason that they would find the experience frustrating, or it would be too dry, or too long, or with too much information to have to consider. If you’ve been crazy enough to read the entire blog then hopefully you already know if it is for you or not! Oh, and I apologise for the really bad pun.
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Wed Nov 28, 2012 3:06 pm
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An alternate gaming reality

Steve Berger
United Kingdom
Sevenoaks
Kent
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There have been many changes over the past few years in the gaming world that I’m not sure have improved where this hobby is at the moment. Some changes are positive, but others are not, and seem to me at least to be a step in the wrong direction. So, what happened in the alternative reality, where we all saw sense? Well, I see it like this…..

*

7 Wonders was released at Essen, where the publisher only fulfilled pre-orders, so therefore driving the desire to play. The publishers thought this was a really clever move, having seen the interest in this pre-spiel, the latest must have in the boardgaming world. During the first day, with most of the pre-orders collected, they were rushed off their feet collecting a long list of names for people who decided that yes, they needed to have the game, it must be theirs.

That evening, in the Hotels around Essen, games rooms were full of a small group of gamers smiling and looking generally very pleased with themselves as they unwrapped the shrink from their pre-ordered copies of 7 Wonders. ‘Look’ they said, ‘doesn’t this look fantastic. Look at the cover art. Can’t you feel my thrill and general smugness?’. The rules were quickly read and understood – in fact most of them had read the rules online already, and were all primed to play. Because the game took 7 players, and this was seen to be a good thing, and played really quickly, which again was understood to be a great idea, it wasn’t long before almost everybody who wanted to try this managed to give it a play. As the evening rolled on, the numbers wanting to give it a go were dwindling, and those owning it were, with slightly embarrassed looks on their faces, tucking it back into the box from whence it came, and going off to play something interesting instead.

The following day, there was a long queue of people cancelling the order they had placed the previous day. As a result, the publishers had to re-consider their decision to create a load of expansions. You can now pick up a copy of 7 Wonders on eBay for a few pounds, and it sits in the rankings between Connect 4 and Cities And Knights Of Catan.

And the gaming world is a better place for it.

*

A bright spark designed a particularly average game. He enjoyed it, and his friends and family liked it enough to play it a couple of times, mostly because he was important to them, and they loved that he had created something, even if it wasn’t really that good. When he sent off the idea to the games publishers, nobody would bite. He received a letter back saying that it was an ok game, but really, with better games like Vinhos, which had just entered the top ten on BGG, there wasn’t a market for it, and none of the publishers had any intention of just flooding the market with any old tat.

Our hero was determined not to be downcast though – his family and friends all liked it after all, so surely there would be gamers out there who would also enjoy it. What to do? Then, the light came on in his mind. ‘I know’ he thought, ‘I’ll get the gamers to pay up front for it. If I can get a bunch of orders in advance, before the game is even printed, then that will pay for it.’ The more he thought about it, the more ideas he had, and he created a website for the game, telling everybody enough information to make the game look exciting, but ignoring some of the problems he had in the design that he never quite got over, and which, well, weren’t that important, surely? Why does it matter that one of the cards was overpowered? That one of the races in the game was actually better than all the others, and always seemed to win? Surely roll and move was still a worthwhile mechanic, and a little bit of luck in a game was a good thing. Even he had to admit that the game looked and sounded fantastic.

He woke up one night and leapt out of bed, racing out to the spare room where the laptop was charging in a quiet corner. He switched it on, and started making changes to the web page. $50 gets you the game. $60 gets you the game, and a signed photo of me. $75 gets you the game, the photo, and an extra race! All I need to do, he thought is take 1 of the 5 out of the game! So easy, he couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of this earlier. He was on a roll now. $100 gets you the photo, the additional race, and a bigger box! For $150, I’ll give you all of this, and I’ll hand it to you (if you come to my house to collect it) but he typed that bit in a small box on a different page. For $250, I’ll do all of that, and you can have dinner with us when you come to my house. For $500 I’ll even teach you the game after dinner. He was getting really excited now. For $1,000, you can marry my cousin. He later deleted that one, even though he’d got a backer for it.

So where does this story end? Well, the money came flooding in. Eventually, he found a really cheap printer in China, and the games duly arrived. The colours on the board weren’t anything as lively as they had looked on the files he had sent them, and all the playing pieces were varying shades of brown, and they had used something akin to Izal toilet paper for the cards. The board was warped, and it all smelt a bit odd, but that was ok, wasn’t it? At least the rulebook looked fine, and Google translate had done a really good job of creating the rules in German, French and Italian. Just to be on the safe side, he had translated the English version into German, then from the German into French, and then the French into Italian. This just seemed to make sense at the time, even if the rules did now contain a word, which when translated back into English, meant ‘rhubarb’.

OK, try again – where did the story end? I can tell you it had a happy ending. The full print run was sold, he signed a few thousand photos, just left the additional race in the game anyway (who would know) and had 217 people around for dinner one night. 94 of them stayed to play the game, and when they opened their boxes, our hero faced death at the pointy end of 47,000 small wooden pieces in various shades of brown. The police were called, but no formal charges were made – using this method to sell crappy games was outlawed though, but that wasn’t the happy ending I was thinking of. The happy ending is that one of the people that stayed for dinner did, in fact, marry his cousin, and they went on to have a happy life.

And the gaming world is a better place for it.

*

A Few Acres Of Snow was released by Martin Wallace on to the gaming world, and was received with an almost unanimous love, and appreciation for taking the game mechanics from Dominion, and doing something really smart and interesting with them. Martin Wallace was recognised as an all round clever chap, and given a hearty pat on the back and a knighthood.

However, one morning, a smart lad, Johnny, playing against his Dad realised that there was a particular move you could make that almost guaranteed an English victory. This lad emailed Sir Martin immediately, and was called to the manor house where Sir Martin now lived to sit opposite him on his vast feasting table to explain how this particular strategy worked. ‘My bad’ muttered Sir Martin ‘should have spotted that in the extensive playtesting we undertook.’ The 2 of them spent the next three days working on a fix to keep this excellent game playable for all, and eventually after 70 hours of playing, they figured it out, made a few minor changes which could easily be implemented without any unnecessary nonsense. Gamers worldwide sighed with relief, all agreed that it didn’t have to be perfectly balanced anyway, and got on with enjoying it rather than constantly moaning that a game they had seen played at their games club once was broken just because they had read it on a forum somewhere. Sir Martin was then given a government grant, lottery funding, and 1,000 willing playtesters to work on his next invention, Mythotopia.

And the gaming world is a better place for it.

*

Caylus – what a wonderful and fascinating game, and what a great idea for a mechanic with placing workers on the Board in order to take your actions. It seemed clever, and was enjoyed by many. Caylus climbed high in the rankings, and received praise for the clever ideas it contained. A few other games were then designed off the back of it – Carson City used the idea, and was again well received. Then, Stone Age was released, and people laughed – this was just taking it too far. A love hut? Rolling dice to collect resources? Don’t be silly.

A few games companies started receiving ideas from designers about using worker placement, but generally they were told to stop being so foolish. Caylus was perfectly good enough in its own right, and didn’t need to be redesigned 100 times over. Could we set it in a controversial topic, maybe around the Manhattan Project? No. What about a fantasy theme, and instead of goods, we could call the cubes fighters or thieves or magicians? No, just no. The designers were told firmly to go away and come up with new and interesting ideas instead. Don’t tread where others have walked, go walk somewhere new.

And the gaming world is a better place for it.

*

Fantasy Flight had done well with the Runebound world. Descent and Runebound were perfectly good games, and had given FFG financial success. Opening an FFG box felt something akin to looking into a toybox as a child. FFG recognised this and came up with two more ideas to add to the range, both using very different ideas, but set in the same world. The first was one of their big box series, and was to be called Runewars. It looked fantastic, the pieces were amazing to look at, and the game play had some really exciting ideas behind it, some new, some taken from other excellent games. The second game was a deck builder, taking the dominion principal, but making it different enough to warrant existance by adding scenarios, and different races with varying abilities. This was clever, and would provide variety and enjoyment to all gamers who like this sort of thing.

In development of both of these games, it was realised that there was an awful lot you could add to both games. With this in mind, a meeting was called at FFG head office. A young junior exec was present – think of Pete Campbell. He waited patiently whilst all of these ideas were pushed around the table for his moment to strike, and at the point where his moment came, he stood up, and pulled out his A4 notepad. He grabbed a black marker with determination, and wrote on the pad a single word – one that would strike fear into the hearts of gamers the world over. That word was ‘Expansions’. He practiced writing it at least 100 times the night before, and had decided to go with only one capital letter, but had emphasised with a single flourish of underlining. He looked at it, and was very pleased with himself. Christian pushed himself backwards slightly in his chair, giving him room to cross his legs, and he raised his eyebrows at our Pete. ‘Explain’ he said. ‘Well, what you do is, you take all of this ideas we have knocking around, and even some stuff that you’ve already agreed to put in the base set, and you put it in expansions, and lots of them. You can then charge a fortune to give people all of this excellent content that they probably need to get any replay value out of the game. If each person who buys the game then buys the expansions they need, they’ll have all spent twice the amount they wanted to in the first place. It’s great!’.

Christian put his hands on the table, and stood up, leaning towards our young Pete. He looked him straight in the eye and said ‘what type of company do you think we run here, Pete?’. His fists clenched tighter, anger now coming through in his voice. ‘You want us to deliberately withhold content just so we can charge people more money? No, damn you. This business is what it is because of gamers. They trust us, they buy from us, they respect us. We give them games, complete games, full games with everything they need to play them, and to get full enjoyment from them. I don’t want them playing something twice, and then wanting more content. I want them to buy from us and play the game 100 times before they even think about wanting additional content. Pete, I don’t want to see your face around here again. Go clear your desk, and get out of this building you slimy maggot.’

Silence filled the room. ‘I never want to hear an idea like that in here again.’ A voice from the corner chirped in ‘But Boss, Pete does all the proof reading on our rulebooks. We need him for that.’ ‘Don’t worry’ replied Christian ‘I’ve been on to the phone with some guys from Rio Grande. They do pretty good rulesets, and they’re going to send a couple of their guys over to keep as going until we get somebody who actually knows how to put a decent rulebook together’. They then went on to agree to release all of the Lord Of The Rings card game as a single boxset with all the scenarios in it to play though the entire story from start to finish, which was nice.

And the gaming world is a better place for it.
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4 Comments
Fri Jul 6, 2012 3:28 pm
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