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My Gen Con 2008, Games I Bought, Played and Looked at, Surprises and Disappointments
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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Time moves too fast for every one of us. Yet another year has flown past, and with it another Gen Con trip. This year we were able to stay in the Marriot hotel, which is pretty much as close to the convention center as you can get. It was very nice, although the high price ($300+ per night) and the fact that they gave us a room with a single King-size bed (our group was three adult men) made the sleeping arrangements somewhat awkward. We did get one rollaway bed, but my unfortunate bedmate discovered that I sometimes flop around like an H2O-deprived fish when I sleep in strange places.

The past year has also seen the birth of my first child and my parental adventures as she aged through her first birthday. Between work and raising my daughter, my gaming time, and my gamng needs, have been drastically altered, and because of this the type of game that I was looking for this year was changed as well.

In the past I had the time and luxury to go after whatever the biggest, beefiest and component-heavy gamers game was out there. Last year my number one want for Gen Con was StarCraft: The Board Game. I also grabbed the expansion for the World of WarCraft board game. This year, my mantra was 'less is more." I was on the hunt for component-light, explanation-easy, family and non-gamer friendly games. My gaming time has mostly been relegated to playing at family gatherings, running the occasional game for the kids at the library where my wife works, and planning for games that I'll be able to play with Claire when she gets a bit older.

And so with this altered agenda in mind, games that I would have been amped to try out and probably buy in the past, like Agricola, were sadly not even on my radar. At least for now, the hardcore gamer in me has been detained and is patiently awaiting a reprieval. In the meantime, here's what I poked around and saw during my couple of days at Gen Con 2008.
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1. Board Game Designer: Gary Gygax
 
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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Sad
This was of course the first Gen Con since the death of founder and gaming legend Gary Gygax. Various memorials were in place, and they were nicely done. I think Mr. Gygax would have liked the enormous d20 planted just outside the main entrance to the exhibition hall, into which attendees could toss dice of their own in honor of the departed. There were also several gaming sessions in place to honor the man, including non-stop sessions of 'The Tower of Gygax' D&D module with hourly start times. On Saturday, a moment of silence for Gygax was observed in the exhibition hall. Although I left Indy on Friday and was back home, I joined the masses of gamers at the stroke of noon and observed my own moment of silence for the man who launched one of the most influential games of all time.

I bet wherever he is now, Gygax is rolling natural 20s every time.
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2. Board Game: Jamaica [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:364]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Game of the Show.
-Surprise
-Bought.

This game was a huge surprise for me. First, I had no idea even of its existence - the stunning artwork on the board and game pieces drew my eye to the single demo table it occupied in Asmodee's booth. Second, after some internal debate about whether I even wanted to spend the time in a demo (since I was on the fence about the $60 price tag - high for a light family-style game)I was surprised again to discover one of the best games I've played in a long time, and by far the best game I played at the convention this year.

Jamaica might be the best-looking game I've ever seen. The level of quality on everything from the four full-color rulebooks (each printed in a different language) to the cards, counters and boards is extremely high. All games have artwork; Jamaica's cards are works of art. The icing on this visual tour de force is the absolutely perfect interior box design which holds every single component firmly in place in a neat and well-organized manner. Along with being the best-looking game I saw this year, Jamaica has the best storage system possible.

So, visual quality and box engineering aside, is the game any good? Yup, it's great. It can be explained in a few minutes, it uses easy to see icons for every action, and it plays quickly. You only have to make a couple of decisions per round and every possible action, from loading goods onto your pirate ship to combat with other players, plays out quickly.

I can easily see Jamaica becoming my new top gateway game for my non-gamer friends and family. It's got lots of features from other games - resource management, board positioning, combat, dice-rolling, card-playing, and yet it's all so easy and fast that gaming newbies won't ever feel lost or unable to make progress. Jamaica, as you've no doubt already gathered, comes highly recommended.
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3. Board Game Publisher: Privateer Press
 
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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I'm a Warmachine player so I had my sights set on grabbing the latest book for my tabletop game of choice. Unfortunately, Privateer was debuting their latest game, Monsterpocalype, at the show and they were using a single line to purchase anything. And the wait for that line was over an hour by the time I got to their booth. Privateer keeps getting bigger and better every year. This time around they had added several demo tables for Monsterpocalypse, and they had a few new Warmachine models from the new book on hand. But their big focus was definitely Monsterpocalypse, and I'm going to have plenty more to say about that a little later on.
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4. Board Game: Warmachine: Legends [Average Rating:7.81 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.81 Unranked]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Bought
My Warmachine playing opportunities have dwindled down to almost nothing over the past year, but that didn't stop me from picking up the latest expansion book. These books are great even if you don't play Warmachine - they feature great artwork and creative new units, as well as compelling fiction that keeps the Iron Kingdoms world moving forward.

In related Warmachine news, tabletop gaming accessory supplier Gale Force Nine finally had their amazing Warmachine terrain sets available in mass quantities for a reasonable price. GF9 has astonishingly lost their license from Privateer to make official supplemental products for Warmachine, and when their current license expires so will their ability to sell these terrain pieces. GF9 used to make very high quality counters and tokens for Warmachine. Now they're relegated to making generic tokens which come with a key-card that can be used to assign token icons to various spells for gaming purposes. The sets also have a very nice melee range measure with sides for 1/2" melee and 2" range measurement. The funny thing is, these new sets both save the trouble of needing to buy specific token sets for each Warcaster you own and are probably more useful thanks to the easy to see large icons. Privateer needs to come to their senses and license GF9 to make official stuff again, though, because I have a hard time imagining them making anything better (and in fact the Hordes tokens that Privateer put out were very disappointing).
 
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5. Board Game: Monsterpocalypse [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:876] [Average Rating:7.24 Unranked]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Looked.
-Disappointment

Ah, the collectible game. I'll admit up front, I have a personal policy not to buy into any collectible games; I've sunk too much money into them in the past than I care to think about. Sure, I'll sometimes buy a starter and a few boosters of a new game so I can play it casually with friends. However, if any company could possibly persuade me to look into getting involved with another collectible game, it's Privateer. I'm a longtime Warmachine player and I believe that game has the best rules set for a tabletop wargame, not to mention the best miniatures and gamebooks.

Monsterpocalypse might be a good game. I can't speak to the gameplay at all since I didn't play it and haven't had a chance to look at the rules. The miniatures are painted very nicely. What I can convey about this game is my immense disappointment at Privateer's chosen method of distribution for the giant monsters that are the core of the game.

The base game has twelve monster figures. You need one monster to play the game. A monster booster contains one monster and its corresponding powered-up version, randomly packaged. At Gen Con Privateer was selling Starters and Boosters although only six of the twelve monsters were available. The most you could buy was one starter and four monster boosters and four unit boosters. So, each booster had a 1/6 chance of getting any particular monster. I watched my friend open his four monster boosters and starter only to receive three of one monster and two of another.

I understand the basic idea behind making a game collectible. What I don't understand is why you'd sell $13 boxes that contain a single random playing piece (you need both forms of the same monster in the game, hence they are essentially one game piece). Privateer needed to make the monster packs non-random. And they needed to fix the mega bags they were selling at Gen Con to ensure than people spending $130 got a decent assortment of monsters for their money. The unit boosters have an assortment of the smaller minion models and a building in them, and as far as I'm concerned that's perfectly fair play for a collectible game. But the single monster booster is, in my view, unfair. And it's why I won't even dabble in Monsterpocalypse even to the extent of buying a couple of starters to have a playable setup to demo for friends. I just can't get behind a decision that seems engineered to rip people off more often than reward them. This is Privateer's first attempt at a collectible game, but they've been in the business long enough that they should know better.
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6. Board Game Publisher: Flying Frog Productions
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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Since I missed their debut showing of the excellently themed zombie game Last Night on Earth at Gen Con 2007, you'd better believe that I made it a point to hit Flying Frog's booth early this year.

In addition to the expansion to Last Night and a new supplement for the game called "Stock Up" they were demoing and selling their next title, A Touch of Evil and an exclusive supplement to that game. All in all, a good follow-up showing after their debut last year for this young company. I expect even bigger and better things from them in the future.
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7. Board Game: A Touch of Evil: The Supernatural Game [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:507]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Looked
I wasn't able to get into a demo for Flying Frog's second game, although I observed the game in progress and talked a bit with designer Jason Hill and got a pretty good overview of the game. It seems to have similarities to Last Night on Earth in that a group of heroes work together to defeat an evil creature and save the village. As I understand it there's a competitve variant to the rules as well. Component-wise the game has similarities to Last night. The heroes each have a card with their stats, there are wound tokens to track their health and a timer track to countdown to the end of the game. I like that Flyng Frog is creating a signature visual style for their games - Touch uses the same retouched photograph technique on its hero sheets and cards. It worked great for Last Night in terms of setting a B-movie zombie invasion tone, and it works just as well for this tale of supernatural horror.
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8. Board Game: Last Night on Earth: Stock Up [Average Rating:7.30 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.30 Unranked]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Bought
Last Night on Earth was a surprise hit for me last year, one that I missed out on at Gen Con and luckily managed to snag a copy of at my FLGS shortly before it went out of stock everywhere for what seemed like months and months. Not wanting to make that same mistake I made sure to pick up this small expansion while on the exhibit hall floor.

Stock Up adds a handful of new cards (a few for both the hero and zombie sides) and a new scenario to the game. It also comes with a one-sheet rules addition and FAQ.

In other Last Night on Earth news, the Flying Frog guys said that they'd be resolving the mixed up coloring issues on the original run of the game (the tiles for the expansion didn't match the original games) by making reprinted tiles available for a "low price" on their website. I was happy to hear that, since I'm a game snob and the mismatched tiles were the only thing keeping me from buying the Growing Hunger expansion. I'll now be picking up a copy as soon as I can get a set of the recolored tiles.
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9. Board Game Publisher: SlugFest Games
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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One of my longtime favorite publishers, and always an early stop for me at Gen Con, Slugfest rolled out the sequel to last year's excellent Red Dragon Inn. Even better, they had plenty of copies on hand from the start so we didn't have to wait with crossed fingers this time (last year more cases of the first Red Dragon Inn arrived mere minutes before my group was set to depart). Also new was an expansion for Kung Fu Fighting. As always, the Slugfest crew was very friendly and you just get a strong sense that these people love what they do and are extremely happy to see you at their booth.
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10. Board Game: The Red Dragon Inn 2 [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:768] [Average Rating:6.93 Unranked]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Bought
As promised, Slugfest had the sequel to last year's immensely fun and entertaining barroom brawl game available at their booth.

Red Dragon Inn II is essentially the same game as the first, with four new characters and a few new drink cards. It gives you the ability to combine both games to allow for up to eight players, or to mix up the characters and drink decks however you see fit. It's both an expansion for the original and a standalone game in the same box. And since the first Red Dragon Inn was one of my most pleasant surprises at Gen Con 2007, buying this game was a no-brainer.
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11. Board Game: More Kung Fu Fighting [Average Rating:6.77 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.77 Unranked]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Looked
As much as I love Kung Fu Fighting, it just doesn't hit my gaming table very often these days. It's still one of the best light fillers with a group of gamer friends, but not my best option for family gaming time. I'm certain that I will buy this expansion in the near future just to have it, but I had Red Dragon Inn II to buy from Slugfest this year and more immediate options for my Gen Con budget.

Anyway, More Kung Fu Fighting adds - you guessed it - more options to the base game. You can add finishing moves to your combo attacks and master stances to make them immune to weaknesses against other stances. There are new weapons like a ladder and bow. The quality and humor in the new cards is the same as it is in the base game, which is to say, it's fantastic. If you and your gaming group are fans of Kung Fu movies, you really need to buy this game if you haven't already done so.
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12. Board Game Publisher: SimplyFun
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Surprise
With my new focus on kid-friendly and family-oriented games, I spent a fair amount of time demoing and perusing the games at the SimplyFun booth. And it should come as no surprise that I bought more games from them than any other single publisher this year. They were a standout for me since everything they sell met my new criteria for purchase extremely well, and the decision of which of their games to pick up was a tough one.
 
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13. Board Game: Simply Catan [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:2584]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Bought
My original copy of Catan was due for a replacement, and this streamlined family- and time-friendly version fit my needs perfectly. It's also the best looking version of Catan I've seen, which didn't hurt. Simply Catan is the full version of Settlers with only one difference - rather than separate tiles for the hexes, it has five strips of connected tiles, and a board with the island shape cut out of it, making setup a much quicker affair than with the basic Settlers game. Yes, it reduces the amount of randomness, but since the tiles are double-sided and the number counters are still separate, you've still got plenty of setup options and a more family-oriented version of the game. Additionally, the game uses very nice sculpted plastic roads, villages and cities instead of the basic wooden sticks and blocks. The trade-off of simple setup and nicer appearance was worth the loss of complete randomness in setup for me.
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14. Board Game: Kayak Chaos [Average Rating:6.22 Overall Rank:6139]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Bought
This looked like a fun beginner game. It's got card play, tile laying and it's a race game. I figure if I start Claire out with games like this she'll be wanting to play Formula De and Moto GrandPrix in no time.

-Bought
I also picked up a game called Ribbit from SimplyFun. It seems that BGG has no listing for this game yet, so I'm lumping it in here. It's a very simple race game with cool wooden frogs from Dr. Knizia (I swear, I buy at least one Knizia game every year even if I'm not looking for one. I think the guy must design something like one out of every ten games published).
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15. Board Game Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Publisher of the Show.
Fantasy Flight really stepped up this year. You'll see my comments on some of the specific titles I looked at a bit later in this list, but I was very surprised to see the extent of their selection, and elongation of their booth, this year. They had several tables set up where demos of upcoming prototype games were being shown (Conan was the game that most intrigued me here) as well as demos for all of their new tites. Their acquisition of publishing rights to the Rackham line saw a big presence for the pre-painted non-collectable miniatures games AT-43 and Confrontation, and Mutant Chronicles made a big impact as well with its very large minis and striking designs.
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16. Board Game: Moto Grand Prix [Average Rating:6.34 Overall Rank:2830]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Played
You might notice that my avatar is a picture from Formula De. I like race games, and Formula De has been a favorite of mine for years.

Moto GrandPrix kills Formula De.

It kills it primarily in two ways. First, the modular board means that you're not locked into buying multiple boards to get different courses - you're limited only by your imagination and the plentiful amount of track pieces packed in the box. Second, the dice system for movement is much better than Formula De's one-die-for-each-gear setup. You always roll 2d6 and then usually have the option of flipping one or both dice to display the opposite face, so you can change a low number to a higher one or vice versa depending on your needs. This makes a huge difference and almost always means you've got options for staying in the race. In the demo I played, there wasn't a clear winner until the second to last turn when Anthony hit a straight with a big roll and flew out of a rough corner with a decisive lead.

The only reason I didn't grab a copy of the game at the show was that I know it won't hit my gaming table enough to justify the purchase. The rules are solid but still slightly complex for my current needs, although I do expect this one to join my collection at some point in the future.
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17. Board Game: Age of Conan: The Strategy Board Game [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:963]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Looked
As I mentioned earlier, Age of Conan was the upcoming game that most intrigued me at Fantasy Flight's booth. I didn't sit for a demo but I watched people playing it on a few occasions. If the prototype is any indication, the final game will be stunning to look at, with a very nice map of Hyboria and lots of plastic towers and warriors. I'm pretty sure there's even a figure that represents Conan himself, so it'll be interesting to see how he factors into the game.
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18. Board Game: Battlestar Galactica [Average Rating:7.83 Overall Rank:29]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Looked
As a fan of designer Corey Konieczka's StarCraft board game, I imagine that this game is probably well-made, but I couldn't get past the cardboard stand-ups for the characters and the very sparse-looking board. And, it's not a light enough game to make my buy-list this year anyway so I guess I'm secretly happy that it didn't grab me visually.

Fantasy Flight did have a teaser box in their booth for an upcoming expansion to StarCraft (titled after the PC game expansion, Brood War) and that will be one I'll definitely be snapping up upon release.
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19. Board Game: Descent: The Tomb of Ice [Average Rating:7.91 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.91 Unranked]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Looked
I think I might be done with buying new stuff for Descent, at least for a good while. It's not that there's anything wrong with the game, it's easily the best dungeon-crawl on the market and the production values are through the roof. It's just that I've already bought two base game expansions and the Road to Legend campaign setting since the game came out and I haven't ever gotten through all of the scenarios from the main game yet! I will say that this expansion has a really good looking dragon miniature as one of the obligatory new monsters.
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20. Board Game: World of Warcraft: The Adventure Game [Average Rating:6.21 Overall Rank:1956]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Looked
This game was pretty high on my list of titles to check out at the show. I own the big WoW game that FF released a few years ago, but that thing is just so damn bit-heavy and unwieldy that I never take it out anymore. I even bought the expansion for it last year at Gen Con and have never played with it! I like the game - it captures the WoW flavor very well and despite the initial awkwardness I'm a fan of its very unorthodox combat system as well. It's just that setup and takedown on the game are full-time jobs and playtime with six people is - minimum - five hours. With the expansion I can't even imagine the playtime on it.

So, the idea of a shorter-playing WoW game definitely had appeal to me. But, when I wandered over to watch the demo game in progress, the first thing I noticed is that while WoW:TAG doesn't have as many components as the big game, it still has an awful lot of bits. Games with piles and piles of cards is something I'm trying to move away from right now. I'm sure I'd probably enjoy this game if I played it (I'm a sucker for all things WoW) and its exactly for that reason that I didn't play it. I'm a big impulse buyer and I almost picked this one up on more than one occasion during my visit to Gen Con. And I'm pretty sure it's going to end up on my shelf before the end of the year anyway.
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21. Board Game: Red November [Average Rating:6.38 Overall Rank:1118]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Looked
This is a game I wish I'd looked at a bit closer, and maybe even gone ahead and picked up. One of the guys I went to the con with bought it, and I was hoping to get him to teach us how to play it but time constraints would not allow it. I almost went back on our second day and grabbed a copy but I had other priorities and money was getting short at that point.

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22. Board Game Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Disappointment
WotC, in years past, has dominated the Gen Con real estate space, with a booth that created constant and insane amounts of foot traffic and usually had some of the biggest displays of upcoming wares in the whole exhibit hall. This has changed. As with last year, Wizards occupied a smallish booth in a back corner, and their presence can best be described as minimal. They did have some merchandise that was debuting at the show, and this created long lines in the morning hours, but they brought a surprisingly small amount of the product and word from my friend Anthony, who waited in line to buy some of it, was that they were running out of product quickly and turning away lots of P.O.G.s (pissed-off gamers) who had waited for an hour or more to reach the cashiers.
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23. Board Game: Humans!!! [Average Rating:6.01 Overall Rank:3902] [Average Rating:6.01 Unranked]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Bought
-Surprise

Twilight Creations is always good for another in the seemingly endless tide of Zombies!!! expansions, but this year I was surprised by their new offering, which is a twist on Zombies!!! that lets players take the role of the undead and try to eat and infect hordes of humans. Even better, the game can be combined with Zombies!!! to make it even more competitive than it already is (if that's even possible). Twilight stepped up with the miniatures as well - each player gets a handful of unique zombie figures instead of the multi-colored but generic shotgun guy that everyone plays in Zombies!!!.
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24. Board Game: Zombies!!! 7: Send in the Clowns [Average Rating:6.15 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.15 Unranked]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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And speaking of the latest Zombies!!! expansion, Twilight Creations has hit upon something even scarier than masses of brain-hungry undead - masses of brain-hungry undead CLOWNS. The expansion adds a zombie-clown infested big top to the ever-growing Zombies!!! city.
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25. Board Game: Straw [Average Rating:6.15 Overall Rank:2523]
Patrick Reynolds
United States
Vermontville
Michigan
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-Bought
This simple card-based counting game features very nice artwork and some clever gameplay. I liked it because it's great for teaching basic addition and subtraction as one of the requirements on each turn is to announce the new sum total after playing your card. The objective is to strategically play your cards so as not to be the player who exceeds the poor camel's weight limit.
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