1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 Next » 
Onward and upward to our second session of gaming in our epic collection adventure! This one was an all day session at my home, complete with wife, 8 year old, twin babies and cats (who's exploits on the garden patio in full view of said children and gamers shall never be spoken of again). Strictly speaking, A Game of Thrones: The Board Game should have been the third game played in this session but we have decided that longer running games, and game that play two or three players will have single sessions dedicated to them. More on that another time. So on with session 2 of the LAL list, and this session's "Guest Lister" was our good friend and general compañero in crime (well gaming actually), Dean.
7 Wonders: First up this session was another of my games, and one that really should need no introduction, Antoine Bauza's phenomenally successful 7 Wonders. For those readers who have never had the opportunity to play 7 Wonders, what's the address of the rock you live under? I'll send you a copy... Seriously though, for those readers who have never played, 7 Wonders is a set collecting and card drafting game which is set in the ancient world, when great cities commanded power and architectural wonders were erected to transcend the ages. Players will each lead one of these ancient cities and through three ages of card drafting, build a civilisation, commercial success and military powerhouse to win the game.
Card drafting simply put for those who don't know, is where a player has a hand of cards, keeps one, passes the hand to the next player whilst simultaneously receiving the remaining hand of the player on their other side, then puts the kept card into play in the game, paying any costs depicted on the card (in 7 Wonders at any rate, other drafting games do not always require this). In 7 Wonders this happens over three rounds (or Ages) before the game ends and points are tallied up to reveal the winner.
Card types include resources which you can use to buy other cards and pay for wonders to be built, which in turn give you additional points, items or powers, military strength, which is tested at the end of each round and the people with higher strengths than their immediate neighbours receive VP whereas those with lower totals get -VP. There are also civilian card which simply give VP, science cards which must be collected into set to score, commercial cards, which give out money and points throughout the game or at the end of the game for various reasons and finally guilds which award points based on the colours of the games in each player's tableau and sometimes those of his/her neighbours.
We played as well with my Cities expansion which until now has been unplayed so I had no idea that it was in French until this session! Still, we were able to use the cards with no problem and these add various city cards to the game which can help to gain a considerable number of points if used correctly. My Cities set also came with 5 Leader cards which, while not as in depth as the cards in the actual Leaders expansion, also allowed for a bonus amount of points per card.
Our game was a bit of a slow starting one as we tried to figure out what the leaders powers were in the French rule book! However, once we were underway the game played smoothly. Lee, playing as Babylon, suffered a little as he struggled to get hold of resource cards and was forced to buy from me a lot of the time as Dean, his other neighbour had next to no resource cards either, however, he did manage to land a few science cards which scored for him, but then he lost points a few times to my military strength. Alan played a solid game as Gizah (I'm sure there isn't supposed to be a 'h' there) and managed to get plenty of funds from selling both Dean and I his resources, plus his military strength matched my own by the end of the third age and he didn't lose points there either. Dean was busy building up his Rhodes city card pile, which by the end of the game was considerable and allowed him to take second place, but it was me, playing in Ephesos that took the win in the end, mainly due to my wonders which were all point and money based, and my military strength of 8, which is a common tactic of mine. Endgame scoring was Lee on 29, Alan on 31, Dean on 46 and me on 48.
7 Wonders is a great classic game that I never tire of playing, especially with the various expansions. It plays up to 7 people but 4 or 5 is the sweet number I think, 7 can be awkward as it is more of a team game, while 2 player is downright awful and those out there who generally only play with one other person would be better suited to 7 Wonders: Duel which I will cover in another session post as I own this as well. If you have never played it, get out from under your rock and try it now!
A Conclave of Wyrms: Our second game of the day was one of Alan's, a trick taking card game called Conclave of Wyrms (as in the dragon sort not the garden variety) and a 2010 Z-Man published game by Daniel Blodgett with some lovely artwork by Melissa Benson. I'm not a huge fan of trick taking games and never have been so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one, mainly, I presume, because of the little scoring twists that the game contains (a landslide victory didn't hurt my appreciation of the game either).
Each player starts the game with an equal number of cards which are divided into colours and each colour is divided into three sets of three different aged creatures named Drakes, Dragons and Wyrms, with the Wyrms obviously being the higher number and the more powerful cards due to their age. Also in each colour there is a Lair and Treasure card which are low numbers, but which are useful for scoring points as I will explain in a moment. There are also five Knight cards which are bad unless you manage to collect all five of them and a supreme Queen, who is the mother of all dragons (I can see a Game of Thrones fan made promo in the future here).
To begin with, each round of the game begins as most trick taking games do, there is a dominant colour in the centre of the table (the trump card, one per round over 6 rounds and each round trump being one of the five possible colours, the final trump is always grey and therefore a non-trump as it were). Players place down a card each trying to win the trick, players must always play the same colour card as the first player to lay if they can, if not they can either throw down any card in any colour and sacrifice it, or they can play a Knight to override that and cause the winner of the round to lose points, a Queen which wins any cycle no matter what cards are played, and of course a trump card which will win them the trick if it is the highest trump card thrown in. A Treasure card will win the trick if it happens to be thrown in after a Great Wyrm (number 9 card) of the same colour, while a Lair card will cause all cards in the cycle to be removed from the game if all cards are the same colour. Then comes the interesting stuff, the scoring...
So at the start of the round, before cards are laid at all, each player will predict how many tricks they will win in this round, if they hit that number or go over it then all is well and they will get a bonus for predicting the amount of tricks won correctly. Get less tricks than you predicted and you don't get to score anything at all, even if you won some tricks. Once the round has finished, each player counts up their tricks and them separates their cards into coloured piles. For every matching pair of Treasure and Lair cards they have in a colour, they will score 25 points. Then, the players are looking for runs of dragons, such as three green Drakes or three red Dragons to score those. Finally, the cards are resorted again, this time into numbers, and Conclaves of Dragons are scored, so for example if a player has managed to collect four Drakes total, they will score 50 points, three Dragons will get them 25 points and so on with all scores marked clearly on the cards for ease.
Finally, players will lose 5 points for every Knight card they have collected, unless they have collected all five, in which case 100 points is scored, the Queen card will lose them 10 points, which each and every Great Wyrm card will earn them 10 points per card. The person with the highest score at the very end of the game is the winner.
Our game went wonderfully, for me at least, I am terrible at this sort of game normally and I never normally have a clue what I am doing, however on this occasion I managed to win myself a neat little pile of tricks every round but for one, while the guys were busy trying to get their trump cards out and secure the Treasure and Great Wyrm cards for themselves. End score was impressive with Alan scoring 145, Dean scoring 180, Lee on a perfectly sound 270 and me, quietly sitting in the corner totting up my points till they reached 620...!
This is a wonderful little game which has changed my way of thinking about trick taking games, it scores surprisingly low on BGG with a rating of just 5.7 which is a shame as it is a great underappreciated little game and well worth a look if you can get your hands on it.
A Fistful of Penguins: After some dinner and baby bathing and feeding, we were off again in the early evening with our third game, another game of Alan's called A Fistful of Penguins, a dice throwing, set collecting children's game (according to BGG) from 2011 by Jonathan Franklin.
Here you basically take it in turns to roll dice, each of which has a series of animals on it, which you then collect together and score. You can reroll dice by spending a plastic penguin token and while this is going on, your opponents will also each roll one dice and secretly place a price on it so that you may buy it to add to your set of dice in order to score more if you wish.
Each dice scores differently, penguins get you more penguins, squirrels allow you to steal money from the other players, kangaroos give you cash and kangaroo tokens to use in future turns, camels and lions score monetary values depending on if they are both in the dice result or just one of them is and moose, when paired with squirrels will also pay off, though you then cannot use those squirrels to get money from your opponents.
Its a simple enough game to pick up and play once you have read the rules over, and I can see my eight year old daughter enjoying this one, in fact I did own it up until the Expo last year and then I sold it, having never played it once. The components are interesting with nice enough dice, nice sharable score reference sheets and these lovely plastic penguin pieces, the game components are let down a little by shoddy plastic coins though which look out of place next to the nicer pieces in the game!
The score in this one was close, with Lee, Alan and I scoring fairly closely with 76, 74 and 74 respectively but Dean took the win on this one with 92 points after some nice dice rolls and sensible strategies. A nice little game, but one I am glad I sold on as I don't think I would get it onto the table much myself.
Ablaze!: Finally, our last game of the evening saw Lee's first list entry Ablaze! get to the table. A nice little abstract strategy game by Heinrich Glumpler from 2010, Ablaze! is one I have played before, equally badly as I did this time around. Some games I am excellent at and some I enjoy even if I don't play them particularly well, but this, well, I am terrible at this sort of game and therefore don't tend to go near them as a result. However, it is on the list! So here goes nothing!
So yes, Ablaze! This is a game with three separate games in one, we chose to play Wild Fire! in which we all play as fire fighters trying to get control and contain a rapidly spreading forest fire. Each turn a player takes a tile and places it next to the current hottest area, which is the highest total of two tiles added together.
Some may find this difficult, but it isn't the tile placement restriction that has you in a bind, it is where you choose to place your fire fighter pawns that does it. You must place them in a link, connecting to a water source, and you can only place them on a tile that has more than 2 sides left unattached to another tile and where there is space to do so.
Once the game ends, you add up the numbers on the tiles in each area that you have placed your pawns, and then you divide that result by the lowest number on those tile areas, so for example, if you are smart, you will try and place pawns on tiles which have relatively high numbers and make sure you get at least 1 or 2 in there to divide with, ensuring a high score. Or, if you are an utter numpty/tired parent of twin babies like me you can forget this rule until almost at the end and place your pawns on all high scoring tiles, then add them and divide by a high number and lose magnificently! I think this was cosmic payback for Conclave of Wyrms! Results on this one, I scored an amazing 14, Dean was third with 27, then Alan with 29 and finally the winner Lee with an impressive 40 points.
Still, losing aside, Ablaze! is a nice, simple and cheap game, if you enjoy abstract then give it a try, or at least try it once if you aren't a fan.
So that was that for our second session, we're six games into the list and hope to add another this week. We were hoping to play more this session, but it's nice to be leisurely sometimes and just enjoy the hobby and the company!
So, until next time...
Guild of Dungeoneering
Availability: iOS, Android
Store Links: App Store, Google Play
Last weekend I met with a few friends to play games and for whatever reason we decided to play Wizards. It took us six hours to play and it has many of the rough edges that are typically smoothed over in modern game design. We had someone on the edge of victory who then lost all of their progress to a random encounter. We had someone get "Roll D6 take that many extra turns" while in the process of executing their five bonus turns which they'd acquired during a bonus turn. The game is roll and move for crying out loud!
Yet we had a tremendous time, which encourages me to write about game design choices that we've now abandoned and under what circumstances they could still have some life in them.
Gain a turn / Miss a turn Wizard's frequently has players miss or gain turns and even escalated it to "Gain D6 turns" on occasion. It's generally considered bad design not to let your players play the game. Miss a turn accomplishes this in the most direct fashion possible, but gain a turn often achieves approximately the same thing. In most games there's no practical difference between missing a turn and having every other player take an extra one.
However in reality it is someones turn at any given moment, so there's always a player who's getting to engage with the game on that level. So the real danger isn't so much stopping the game being played as providing even engagement between all players. It's also a problem that's related to other areas of a game - how bad is it for it to not be your turn? Well that depends upon whether you can do interesting things off turn, whether watching someone else play is engaging and how long their turn is likely to be.
In real terms it's better to miss D6 turns that are 30 seconds each than it is to have the same number of turns, but in a game that causes an opponent to stop and think about what they're doing for a few minutes. There's no reason that a game couldn't find a sensitive use for these sort of mechanics if it also manages to do a killer job of resolving downtime issues.
Roll X to continue On my first turn I got a random encounter that was "Stay here until you roll a five or six." so my first few turns consisted of not rolling fives and sixes. This is the big bad brother of "miss a turn" because in addition to not doing anything of substance with your turns, you don't know when it's going to end. Each failed roll does nothing to increase the chances of a subsequent roll being successful, so at any given moment the odds are that next turn is going to suck. You can't even go and make a cup of tea since the game is still obliging you to do something each turn.
Even in a post about finding the best in everything, it's tough to see the good in this mechanic. What it does that's different to simply "Miss X turns" is to create uncertainty and to create a long tailed distribution for the number of turns missed. It could come into its own if it were coupled with something that meant the moment of your reactivation was particularly salient for other players - to create interesting decisions along the lines of "I want to do X, but there's a risk that if I do she'll become unstuck this turn and then she'll Y me right in the Z. Is it worth it?"
It could only work in a game that had addressed the other issues around how dull missing turns can be, but at least in principle the exact moment that a player gets free could be a great source of tension.
Roll to see if you roll Wizard's sure loved it's randomisers. Each turn in addition to your movement die, you roll an encounter die to see if you get a random encounter. If you do you roll to see which one you get. The most common result on that table is to draw a card from a deck.
A game exists as a series of meaningful choices, but choice ceases to exist if the outcome is essentially random. A game that uses a randomiser to see if you can use a randomiser to activate a third randomiser is surely reaching the point that your decisions cannot possibly have mattered!
The thing is that there are different types of randomness. Generally input randomness is desirable, something that essentially puts you in a position of "You are in a randomly generated situation, but your tools are predictable, how will you get out of this one?" rather than "You used your tools, let's see what they did and whether you will succeed."
There's also an extent to which greater randomness is more predictable. A single random boon handed out to a player will give that player a large advantage, but several over the course of the game will wind up approximately evenly distributed over all of the players.
An otherwise crunchy game could get an interesting narrative element out of using a series of linked randomisers in order to generate the start state of a game, while presenting a serious skill challenge to players in terms of how they exploit the world generated through this method.
Side note During the writing of this article I found that my intuition regarding multiple randomisers isn't as true as it's always seemed to me. Given each player D6 bonus points provides an average advantage of 1.94, doing it each turn for ten turns provides an average advantage of 2.74. Intuitively I felt like applying an even randomiser in each direction would neutralise itself more effectively as the number of trails increases, but apparently not. Though you might view it as "A skilled player can get X more points per turn" so while a random factor every turn has a greater absolute shift, it's less likely to change the outcome of the game (X - 1.94 will be lower than 10X - 2.74 for most plausible values for X).
Paper tracking In this age of death by a bajillion counters there's something charming about a game that asks the player to go and find a pen. Obviously moving towards self contained games has been a good thing. It's nice to open a box and know that you're going to be able to play, rather than being flummoxed by a lack of some component or other that the designer assumed that you'd have.
On the other hand paper tracking is so fantastically flexible. Language can contain ideas of such power and complexity that they reshape our world. There are types of gameplay available to a game that is willing to assume that players can grab a pad and paper. It's also good for tracking complex hidden information in a manner that would be extremely component expensive to do with cards.
Shameless Flavour Text "Eventually Man entered the islands, and was made welcome. But man was deaf to the peace and harmony of the Elven ways, and nurtured a viper in his breast that was new to the islands ... the potential for Evil"
This sort of thing speaks for itself. It's tremendously naff and maybe can only be enjoyed as a product of it's time - but there's a part of me that thinks that there's a place for games to be utterly shamelessly themselves. There are a lot of games out there and there are worse reasons to stand out than melodrama.
Roll and Move Here's the big one, people say "roll and move" in a way that means "this is obviously a bad game of no quality". It's certainly a mechanic with serious disadvantages, a decent strategy can be completely undermined by poor rolls. A player can be bored to tears by taking dozens of turns to complete a meaningful journey because each step was so small. Movement is unpredictable which makes it impossible to plan ahead, reducing planning and engagement between turns. Roll and move is horrible.
Yet it's something that can be mitigated. Choice helps a lot, Wizard's suffers for it less than Talisman due to the hex grid allowing the player the choice of several places to go even on poor roles. Talisman suffers for it less than Monopoly because at least the choice of direction gives players some chance of going somewhere worthwhile. Monopoly ... no I don't think there's anywhere lower to go.
The nature of available options also changes the impact of this mechanic. I've played a few worker placement games recently that have used dice as workers, limiting where they can go or what they do based on the roll. I'm not sure that's much different to a hypothetical roll and move game in which there's always somewhere interesting to go - even on a minimum roll - and other possible moves are just expanding your options.
It's also something that's been abandoned rather than developed, but there may be space to do more with the mechanic in ways that mitigate it's problems. For instance a game in which players roll several turns of movement and then choose on which turn to use which roll - allowing a greater degree of planning ahead and mitigating bad luck both due to being able to plan for the bad rolls and the averaging effect of having several rolls to play with.
While it has a lot of inherent disadvantages to the aging system, there may be some life in it yet if explored in new ways.
A lot of what's come before has been surpassed and may well have been stepping stones on our path towards enjoying better and better games - but it's never good to dismiss something out of hand. Just as there's still a bit of life in some of the older games, there's still some life in their mechanics, just waiting for the right designer to come along and do something clever with them. Some of them have already started to be exploited in more recent games, but the untapped potential seems greater than what's been managed so far.
Preorder One Night Ultimate Werewolf now from www.beziergames.com
One Night Ultimate Werewolf
In the middle of 2015, Doug Garrett (of Garrett's Games and Geekiness) mentioned the Japanese game Age of Craft to me. He had just played it at his West Coast MeepleFest invitational (brought by Denis Begin and taught by Joe Huber), and while the players enjoyed it, it was difficult to play due to the small cards and the need to refer to a translated guide while playing. He suggested it might be something that Bézier Games should consider translating and publishing. I picked up a copy and found that it had a lot of really interesting elements, kind of a "Dominion meets Settlers" vibe, and that by itself it was pretty compelling, despite the components and language barrier. I found that the license was available and got to work on developing the game, discovering in the process that the core game could be used to create something really compelling and deeper than the published Japanese version.
At its core, Age of Craft is a dice-drafting game set in medieval times in which the dice faces are resources, and those very specific resources are used to purchase cards that provide various abilities, like producing more resources, exchanging resource types, and generating victory points. Players continue to obtain cards until they reached 20 points or a certain card type was used up, at which time the game ended. The game came with 29 different "random" cards, and each game you used only seven of them, so it had a ton of replayability built in.
There were a whole bunch of things I loved about Age of Craft:
• Dice as resources
• Dice drafting
• Tons of "random" cards (which we now call "variable")
• Engine building
• Seven different categories of cards
And those things were pretty much kept in the game, forming the core of what Colony turned into.
The first thing I did when looking at the game was deciding whether we were going to keep the theme or not. I'm fine with medieval/renaissance-themed games — yes, there are tons of these, but for good reason as the setting is rich with opportunities for various game mechanisms — but I didn't want this game to blend in. Add to that the fact that Dominion, which shares some DNA with Age of Craft, was also set in this broad thematic space, and it felt as though it could really be better by having a different setting.
Post-apocalyptic near-future games haven't been particularly overused in the boardgame world, and the idea of rebuilding civilization after some sort of cataclysmic event was interesting, and as the rest of the game began to take shape around it, it's hard to imagine a more appropriate setting. Near-future technology is fun as it takes the things we know and twists them just slightly with a bit of science to show where we might be headed. It also left the door open for some really compelling thematic followups, like the in-the-works sequel/expansion which Shall Not Be Announced Yet.
Naming the game provided another challenge, but Colony stuck out for several reasons: First, it's not really been used by another mainstream hobby game, and second, that's essentially what the game is about" building up the best possible colony. Finally, it also provided a great jumping off point for follow-up titles.
The graphic design on the original cards wasn't going to work for a number of reasons, so a great deal of effort was made to come up with a design that would work universally for all of the cards and be as functional as possible. The resulting design is evocative of the theme and super functional; you can spot the cost of cards to be purchased from across the table, the different kinds of cards are clearly colored (while this isn't important to gameplay, it's very useful for set-up), and the imagery used fits the theme and the mechanisms perfectly. The upgraded version of each card is framed in black instead of white, and the artwork between the 1.0 and 2.0 sides of the cards is tweaked just enough to be noticeable.
Once you've purchased a card, you add it to your tableau in front of you, and if you're short on space or just want to keep your tableau compact, you can stack cards up, displaying only the bottom part of each card, which shows both what the card does and the number of VPs on the card. It's a well-thought-out design that is incredibly elegant and flexible.
The best graphic design is the kind you don't think about; it just works, and our graphic designer achieved that with the Colony cards.
The first thought I had when playing the game, as a designer, was, "Whoa…this would be awesome with custom dice, with each face representing a different resource." I wasn't alone in this sentiment as playtesters, after or even during their first game, would also make the same comment. I tested this out and found that while it was an interesting concept and definitely enriched the theme, it made playability nosedive. The number one reason was because purchasing cards in Colony is done with exact resources: such as three 3s and two 2s. Changing those pips to three wood symbols and two food symbols made it significantly harder to both remember which resources you had in front of you, and also what each card cost. Add to that the fact that players have to learn the six new resources and what they look like, and you've got an extra layer of translation going on behind the scenes for virtually every action in the game. Games with custom dice took significantly longer to play and were more likely to result in missed options because players couldn't track what they could and couldn't do as easily.
There were other reasons why custom dice weren't appropriate for the game, and while I've seen comments from folks who haven't played yet mentioning it would be better with custom dice, they'll find out that once they play, the dice values fade into the background, and the focus is on how to use the resources they have most effectively and not on the resources themselves.
To summarize why there aren't custom dice in the game:
1) Our brains can track combinations of numbers much easier than combination of symbols, even if those symbols are meaningful.
2) There are several other ways that the dice are used besides resources, and one of the modifiers allows you to tweak the resources by one or two at a time.
3) Traditional dice patterns are amazingly clear to read from across the table versus any sort of symbol. Again, that probably has to do with our brains being conditioned to track numbers.
Drastic, Sweeping Changes
There were a few things about the original game that I didn't care for. The most prominent one was the mechanism in the game that prevented players from hoarding resources so that they could buy the cards they wanted on future turns. It was essentially a creative Settlers' robber mechanism, but due to its implementation, it could turn out to be incredibly frustrating: By saving up resources to buy the thing you really wanted, you were putting yourself at risk of losing many of those resources with a roll of the dice, thus scuttling your efforts and making you start over. It was frustrating instead of fun. At the same time, I realized that hoarding isn't a particularly engaging gameplay mechanism, so I came up with a warehouse card that everyone starts with that limits the number of stored resources to six in between turns. As all but one of the 30+ cards in the game can be purchased with six or fewer resources, it was functional but at the same time reduced the possibility of hoarding.
That change sparked another major addition to the game: unstable resources. Instead of all resources being storable, these resources must be used that turn, or they dissipate and aren't available anymore. All of the cards that produce resources produce unstable resources. In Colony, stable resources are represented by white dice, while unstable resources are represented by frosted dice.
That change resulted in yet another major addition to the game: upgradable cards. In Age of Craft, all cards were singled sided; in Colony, every card in the game can be upgraded to a better version of that card. For production cards, upgrading them results in producing stable resources instead of unstable ones. In order to upgrade, players must pay 1 2 3 4, and this allows them to flip a card over to its upgraded side. You can even upgrade the "Upgrade" card, reducing the cost for upgrades to 2 3 4. Upgrading the "Warehouse" gives you three more slots for resources, and most upgraded cards results in more VPs than the original side of the card.
Now that cards could be upgraded, it caused a dramatic overhaul of all of the cards in the game in functionality, cost, and VPs. The original Age of Craft game had some balance issues with some of the cards, and the cards from [Age of Craft that made it into Colony were almost all modified in some way in order to work well together. The balancing of cards in a game with such a large scope continued throughout playtesting, up until the second quarter of 2016.
As cards were modified, several of them were dropped, and many new ones were created. At one point in testing there were about fifty unique cards that were active, and this number was eventually winnowed down to 28 for the final version of the game.
In order to streamline the rules, each player's turn was divided into four phases, with the Activate phase being the time when players could use each of their cards (once per turn). This in turn resulted in the Construction card, which is a card that players can activate to build (purchase) new cards. Sometimes you'll have a turn in which you are saving up for a card you really want and don't purchase anything; if that happens, you get a CHIPI (Cybernetic Holder of Instant Production Income), which you can turn in on a future turn for a random unstable resource. If you upgrade "Construction" to version 2.0, you can purchase multiple cards in a single round, or if you decide not to, you get two CHIPIs.
In Age of Craft, players started with a single card, which they could discard at any time during the game for resources equal to the difference between their score and the leader's score. This provided a nice catch-up mechanism, but typically didn't affect the game otherwise. In Colony, I took this to a whole 'nother level by allowing the players to discard *any* card once per turn, again for the difference between their score and the leader's in stable resources. Because this can be done multiple times during a game, it's no longer simply a catch-up mechanism, but instead it's this extra strategic tool that you have to know when to use (or if to use) at just the right time. Of course, discarding a card takes away the VPs you had for that card, so you have to leverage to resources you'll receive to compensate (and then some) for that. As the leader, you want to be careful not to get too far ahead of your opponents, or you'll give them a whole bunch of additional resources near the end of the game just when they need it, possibly enabling them to catapult ahead of you to victory. This unique mechanism adds a layer of tension to the game for all players and makes the last several rounds of the game fraught with excitement.
Age of Craft didn't have a score track, relying on players to do the math for themselves and other players throughout the game, both for purposes of seeing who is winning, as well as what they can gain from discarding a card. Colony has a scoreboard, which in the first few rounds is pretty much unnecessary…until you start to see one player leading by 2 or 3 points, and then the pressure to discard or not is on.
Speaking of reaching the total number of VPs in order to win, Age of Craft could end in a tie, one in which "all players share the victory". Anyone who knows me knows I HATE that (which is probably why co-op games aren't high on my list of game types I enjoy), and I even created TieBreaker in 2011 to solve what I see is a blight on the boardgaming hobby. For colony, you can never end in a tie because once someone gets the VPs required to win, the game ends instantly. This can mean that players don't get the same number of turns…too bad! The starting conditions actually account for this, and in the 300+ recorded plays of the game in the last few months of playtesting, players 1-4 were almost exactly evenly split in terms of who won, with about 3% difference between them.
All of these (and many more) changes took place in the first few months of design and development, reshaping Colony into a totally different game from its ancestor.
Interaction Between Players
I'm not a take-that kind of player. Targeted take-that mechanisms rub me the wrong way, both as the recipient (oh, that sucks) and the disseminator (now I feel a little bad about picking on you, even if you were the leader). Age of Craft had a bunch of attack and defend cards, and I definitely struggled to see whether they would have a place in Colony. I know some Euro-minded individuals felt the same way I did, and that any sort of attack cards would be a huge turn-off for them.
But the Age of Craft attack and defend cards were pretty clever as they were, and I made it a mission of mine to see what could be done to make them less "mean" and more like a reasonable strategic path. Attack cards in Colony are all about the attacker getting resources. However, some of the defensive cards in the game result in the defender getting resources, too…resulting in a little game of chicken as attack and defense cards are purchased. The powerful attack cards have some downsides — for instance, each time you use an un-upgraded "Pirate", you might lose it — and the defensive cards are relatively inexpensive…but they can derail a player's strategy, which is often more important than just taking a single resource from the opponent. The cost of attacking is simply the resources needed for the card as well as the missed opportunity of purchasing something else, so those cards, if you purchase them, have drawbacks as well.
And then there's trading. Some players love this, others not so much. In Age of Craft, players could always trade on every turn. For trade-minded players, this made the game incredibly long as negotiations and assessments of players' resources and game position added A/P that sucked the fun out of the game. In Colony, you can trade only if you have a card that gives you that ability, and only one trade per card is allowed. Further, everyone is incentivized to trade with you because there's usually a benefit for them in the trade, like a free resource.
If these kinds of interactivity interest you, there are a bunch of attack, defensive, and trading cards to add to the game; if not, there are plenty of cards you can put in the game in their place. It really does allow you to customize the game exactly to your group's liking.
I love it when you discover different aspects of a game that work well together. There are two, three, and four card combos throughout Colony just waiting to be discovered. As the game was developed, we discovered some combos that are truly awesome and incredibly satisfying to pull off. Some cards were tweaked to avoid being too powerful, but at the same time, if you're able to pull off a combo of cards every turn for a few turns in a row, you'll have your opponents wincing (haha) when it's your turn as they frantically scramble to figure out how to offset your devastating moves.
It's really hard not to list my favorite combos here — really hard — but I'm not going to because discovering them yourself is incredibly satisfying. Argh!
With a game like Colony, which has dozens of cards to pick from each game, you need some form of organization for them. The first comparison most people will go to is Dominion, which has a similar number of cards and, at first glance, a very nice insert — unless, that is, you're a gamer who wants to keep their cards clean and in good shape, and you use sleeves. Then the Dominion insert fails miserably and makes a lot of gamers very sad.
The Colony insert went through seven iterations in design and prototyping, resulting in what is likely the best, most functional insert available in any game. Not only can you store both unsleeved and sleeved cards, but the cardboard label insert is used as a cover for three hidden pockets that hold score markers, CHIPIs, and dice, and that label insert snaps into place in the plastic insert to keep those items from moving around when the box gets turned sideways or jostled around. Just close the lid and the contents are securely held in place until the next time you play.
The Set-up App, and the Awesome Meta Rule
With all the variable cards in the game — you play with seven types, and there are 28 types from which to choose — you might not be sure which set to pick. The rules have a great starting set, and three additional tested sets for different types of players. Instead of having a deck of random cards to determine which cards to choose (you’re *so* much more sophisticated than that, right?), there’s a free Colony set-up app for iOS and Android phones and tablets that provides a random set of cards for each game. You can also specify which cards you want to see more often, all the time, or not at all, even while providing you with one card of each type (or not…that's an option in the app as well).
If you play multiple games of Colony in a row (and you very well might want to do just that), there's a special meta-rule you need to follow. The players who *didn't* win each pick one variable card to get rid of and a new one to replace it with. This way, the player who won by taking advantage of a card (or combo of multiple cards) has to find a new way to play next game, and each of the other players gets to pick a card they really like or that suits their particular play style.
An Honest-to-Goodness Strategy Dice Game
In general, I really like games in which you can plan out what you want to do based on where you start a game, or how things start to evolve around you. Each game of Colony starts you off in a different potential direction, and you have to evaluate what your options are each turn in the midst of planning your long-term goals, all the while being aware of what each of your opponents are doing.
Colony redefines how dice are used in games, with a randomized starting point for each turn — the active player rolls three dice, then they are drafted around the table — instead of the dice determining what you can do. The dice are merely a gentle nudge in one direction or another, but what you do with them — whether you store them, modify them, or use what you have to purchase something as you get them — is up to you. It allows for both short- and long-term strategic planning, as well as a pivot when you find yourself with a set of resources that could provide you with an alternative strategic direction as necessary.
Colony fills the void of a deep, strategy game with dice as a central part of it. The more you play, the more you discover additional nuances and combos that are really satisfying to pull off. I can't wait until everyone starts to get their hands on Colony when it is released at SPIEL 2016!
This week on Tabletop Tales I look at what I believe is one of the most beautifully produced games on the market. The fantastic King of Tokyo...
Last week I managed to acquire a copy of, if not one of my grail games, then certainly something that I've always had my eye out for, The City. This is a small card game from Amigo, designed by Thomas Lehmann and is a pure "Race" game where you build your tableau by paying for the buildings depicted on the cards by discarding other cards and then generating income (more cards) and VP's based on the abilities and features of the buildings.
It's stripped down, very fast and very satisfying.
There are minimal icons and yet still plenty of great little combos and interactions between the cards and their features. It's a brilliant little filler or warm up for some serious Race/ Roll for the Galaxy action. It takes about 15-20 minutes for someone to reach the 50 point endgame trigger and has a satisfying escalation in that short time. Whilst luck of the draw is a factor this is not a "serious" strategic game, it is quick, fun and compulsive. It will take 2 minutes to learn and offers huge replayability if you enjoy it.
This is actually a game that Mrs B had played previously and I had not (there's not very many of those at all, I can tell you!). Although by played I mean absolutely taken to the cleaners by Messers Boydell and Bateson at one of their games nights. She didn't think too much of the game back then but would like me to point out to those two that she won this game pictured - evidence above - and isn't a total chump, she just needed a bit of time to think about what to play - not a luxury afforded when playing at the pace they do!
Another reason that perhaps aided Mrs B was that the copy I purchased has been lovingly pasted up into English by the previous owner as the game has only been available in French and German language I believe (certainly never in English). Whilst the game is perfectly playable with a simple crib sheet, it's just much easier when it looks like this. Admirable job Simon, should you ever be reading this!
Should you ever have the opportunity to purchase or play a copy of this I'd highly encourage you to do so and if you have ever liked any type of multi use card / tableau power building game then you absolutely must.
Obligatory appropriate song link follows...
As a 41 year old man I'm not really the target audience for The 1975 but I think they're excellent - an interesting mix of indie rock and 80's pop.
I loved their first album, all the energy, and themes of lust and teenage angst shining through on a track like "Sex" but I adored their tongue in cheek pop sensibilities allied to funky guitars on gems like "Chocolate" and especially "Girls" - one of the great pop videos for that one!
Their second album ups the synth sounds and the pretentiousness but is well crafted avant-garde pop and whilst I don't like it as much I love that they're doing something interesting.
Certainly a band I'll keep my eye on.
If you think you might enjoy ladies in their underwear playing guitars then hit play below!
When I was but a youngster, mid-to-late 1970s, the family made it's annual journey across England to Norfolk where the bulk of my Father's family still lived: from Newport in South Wales, through Ross-on-Wye and over the Cotswolds to Stow-on-the-Wold; Banbury and Wisbech, Peterborough, King's Lynn and along the straight, leafy A-road to Cromer. It would take us the whole day and several stops, with five of us crammed in to an Austin Allegro, an Estate Mini or a Vauxhall Viva (my father got through cars like they were sweets); one early year, four of us (pre-little brother) even made it in an MGB! Such a journey could not be completed in one go and so we'd stop in Stow-on-the-Wold to stretch our legs/buy comics and Banbury for lunch. One time - this would've been 1977 - the comic I bought was 2000AD Prog 2: the one with the M.A.C.H 1 stickers that made it look like you were a cyborg with some skin peeled away! Free gift aside, this comic was unlike anything I had ever seen before: it was certainly no Whizzer & Chips, no Beano or Dandy!
My life changed when I opened those pages for the first time...
There were no jolly japes, no scrapes or tricky-situations-over-a-scrumped-apple; there were no 'Dodges' or daft single-frame cartoons. There were spacemen, futuristic fascistic policemen, Rollerball basketball and - sweet grandmother preserve me - flesh-eating dinosaurs:
I don't think my parents approved and only a few issues later my 'weekly subscription' had been stopped! Fast-forward to the early 1980s and I've managed to secure myself a Saturday job in a butcher's shop in Monmouth: 0700 to 1700 for £1 and hour plus an extra fiver from the boss AND a massive bag of meat for me to take home to my Mum. I rediscovered 2000AD and reserved it for weekly collection (around issue - prog - 350) just before I went in to work, and it would wait for me in the staff room until it was time to cook everyone their fried breakfast. As the sausages sizzled and the bacon crisped, I would catch up on Slaine, Halo Jones, Strontium Dog, Judge Dredd, the Ace Trucking Co., Nemesis the Warlock and many others.
About 20 years ago, I stumbled upon a huge box of back-issues in a Cheltenham game store and he sold me all-but-thirty of the progs I need to fill in the 1 thru 350 gap...for £20! The box was so heavy I paid a fiver to catch a taxi back home (all the one mile distant!).
About four years ago, amid a rather dry-and-barren phase for the comic and each issue now setting me back £3 per week, I decided to stop; I packed away the first 10 years worth and GAVE away the rest (1200 issues) in an act of outrageous generosity.
This week, yesterday in fact, the momentous Prog 2000 arrived through the post; that's almost 40 years of sci-fi, horror and/or dystopian cartoon strips written and drawn by some of the most famous names in the medium. A comic that has shocked and delighted and innovated continuously and that survives, even now, in the digital age. As I settle down to read this landmark achievement, I will try and transport myself to feeling 9 again: squashed up against the vinyl door of an Austin Maxi and open-mouthed, drop-jawed at the utter cool of Judge Dredd.
Splundig vur thrigg!
R.I.P., Arnold Palmer...
Got the gaming day warmed up with a four-player game. This one was pretty close the whole way and I fell only two points short of the eventual winner. Much better than I often do in this one... :-)
We finally got our long-awaited five-player battle of this classic area control game -- and what a great game it turned out to be. The tide ebbed and flowed for several players and when the last set of Action cards for Round 9 turned out to not be very good ones, it made that crucial final round all the more interesting. I easily made it past 100 points, but fell four points short of the overall victory.
Lords of Vegas
Speaking of great five-player games, we had another one here. One player got out to a big lead and we didn't quite have enough time to whittle him down. I managed to wrest control of a nine-tile casino from him, but it didn't score enough points before the "Game Over" card came up.
In my mind, this is the only version of Munchkin that I enjoy playing. This is primarily because it isn't quite as over-the-top silly as the others and has a good thematic feel to it. We had five players for this one. I got a few nice cards early and was sitting as high as 24 strength, but could never draw any monsters any higher than Level 2, so I couldn't get the big pile of Treasures necessary to challenge for the win.
Nice to see this old classic card game picking up some new players. I won a couple of games teaching a new player how it goes, but he enjoyed the game quite a lot. There's a reason that I've been an avid player for several decades.
Ogre: Objective 218
Another two-player game with a new player. We had three games altogether, with me winning two of them. I'm experimenting with new tactics for the Ogre card and having some interesting results.
Baseball Highlights: 2045
Two-player game with a new player that turned out to be a terrific battle by the end. I went down 3-1 in the World Series and fought back to tie it up at 3-3. The decisive final game went down to the Home team's final card with the score tied at 2-2. Unfortunately, as the Visiting team for the game, I had to play a card that would have stopped the Home team had it been the final defensive play. As it turned out, however, I needed to cancel two hits to win and could only manage one.
Legendary Encounters: Firefly
Full five-player game featuring Episodes 9 (Ariel), 10 (War Stories), and 11 (Trash). Our first attempt ended in our getting rather decisively mangled, but the second try produced more success. We had to fight desperately and keep healing main characters that kept getting knocked out. At one point, we were down to only one active character, who managed to win the second Episode by defeating Niska. But, as it turned out, we couldn't achieve the final Objective in the final Episode as we were unable to beat Yolanda. Very tough going, but great fun.
Other games played today included: Dice Masters...
Everything is up in the air at the moment as to if I’m attending Essen 2016. More than likely I won’t be, but that doesn’t stop me from fantasising about all those sexy new games being released.
Last year I made the Essen 2015 want list in which I stipulated the rule of no expansions, having looked at the 2016 release list I can’t help, but want some of the expansions being released. So I’m breaking my own rules and throwing cardboard to the wind….Ouch! and saying anything goes.
Without further ado, in no particular order, this is my top 5 Essen 2016 want list
1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 Next »