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As I got deeper into this hobby, I quickly noticed there were no large board game conventions within driving distance of metropolitan New York, where I live, which is hard to compute as an entitled "I live in the center of the universe" New Yorker. They were all in Indiana, Ohio, Texas, or Germany -- all flying distance from me. As I got even deeper into the hobby, I discovered I was wrong, there was a convention in Niagara Falls, New York, called the Gathering of Friends. But it was invite only and I, naturally, had no hope of an invite. Niagara Falls is also eight hours away from me, despite being in my home state.
So last year, when I found out there would be a multi-day convention from the up-and-coming Granite Game Summit about a four-hour drive away in Nashua, New Hampshire, I knew I couldn't miss it. And the best part is that G2S, as the convention is called, is half as far as The Gathering of Friends, despite my having to cross a few state lines.
I arrived at the venue, a Courtyard Marriott, a little after noon on Friday, and things were already in full swing, with a very large main room filled with tables, and well-stocked with games, player wanted and teacher wanted flags. The space was not crowded, but it was not empty either. I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Corey Jr. and Molly in person before joining my What Did You Play This Week podcast co-host Jessica Wade in a game of Fleet. When that wrapped up, we joined Daniel Newman and Ruth Boyack to test out a prototype of Tony "Bearded Rogue" Miller's Back to Rth, which Dan had picked up at UnPub last month. During the game, Patrick Hillier arrived after a series of flight delays and other airport headaches. After Back to Rth, we took a few minutes to give feedback, which Dan wrote down and forwarded to Tony, and then prepared for Friday night's main event -- six-player Eclipse with all the expansions and promos.
Bill had been excited about running this game for what seems like months now, and was no less excited or daunted to have to teach three new players -- myself, Patrick, and Mike -- along with refreshing Ruth and Molly. While the set-up and teaching itself took almost an hour, and the game lasted six hours after that, Eclipse was an absolute highlight of G2S. That's simply because it was an epic event. While I can play most of the games I played at this convention at home or at my local game night -- not all in the same weekend mind you -- I cannot play a six-hour 4x game with five other people in the course of my "normal" life. Of course, the epic level of the game was enhanced by it being "Fancy Friday" at the convention, and I was battling against people in tuxedos, kilts, and fancy dresses. In the end, Patrick, looking like a casino blackjack dealer in a black dress shirt and tie, defeated us all, and won Eclipse.
With that wrapping up around midnight, and not tired enough to crash, I convinced Patrick to teach me one of his favorite games, Terraforming Mars, and we were joined by Matt Roy and Dan from Board Everyday for a four-player game. I picked up the game fairly quickly, no doubt aided by how light it felt after the Eclipse marathon, and managed to win my first ever play of the game, beating Patrick at one of his favorites. After this, I was exhausted, and headed back to the room for a short respite ahead of a Saturday's main event.
Saturday morning, Patrick and I were out of our room shortly after 8am, despite getting back so late the night before. We started the day with a game of Castles of Caladale over breakfast at the hotel's Starbucks. This game was perfect, as it was both short and easy to learn, and ended right about the time we finished our egg sandwiches.
Bolstered by coffee and sustenance, I sought out Bill, who agreed to teach me Chaos in the Old World. We wrangled Mike and a different Matt into joining us and played at the full four-player count. You can definitely see Eric Lang's inspiration for Blood Rage in this design, as it is a slightly clunkier version of Blood Rage with asymmetrical factions, with each player having different units, powers, and goals. After one play, I can say I am thrilled to own this now-out-of-print game, and would highly recommend any Eric Lang fans seeking it out before it gets too difficult to find on the secondary market.
On Saturday, Granite Game Summit hosted a designer alley with four tables, each rotating through four designers over the course of the day. While I did not get to meet most of these sixteen special guests, I did get to meet two. First, I met Chip Beauvais, designer of Chroma Cubes and Universal Rule, and was taught Chroma Cubes from the designer himself. I'd highly recommend it as an interesting take on a roll-and-write, where you are roll-and-racing to be the most efficient at coloring in a picture. Second, I got to meet Breeze Grigas, who had previously sent me a copy of A.E.G.I.S. that I'll be reviewing later this week, to get his elevator pitch and his thoughts on the development of the game and the upcoming Kickstarter, which should be live later this month.
From this point on, I unintentionally switched from playing longer games with plastic miniatures to lighter Euros. One of my few regrets of the convention was not getting to play just one more of those dudes-on-a-map games in Cyclades, which I had brought with me but didn't make it to the table. But it's hard to complain, as Jessica and I got to learn Thebes from Ruth, I learned to play World's Fair 1893 from Patrick, along with Molly and convention organizer Kimberly Revia, and I learned Yspahan from Jessica along with Patrick. All three were really solid games that I enjoyed playing, but Yspahan was probably my surprise of the convention, as it wasn't even on my radar, and I liked it so much. As an aside, I was told if I like Yspahan at three or more, I should also look into Grand Austria Hotel, which has a similar dice drafting mechanism that works better at two players.
Late Saturday night, I changed into my Cookie Monster pajamas, for the G2S "Pajama Party," and rounded up Bill, Patrick, Jessica -- all contributors for the What Did You Play This Week podcast -- along with Dan from the Board Everyday podcast, and we recorded a live segment recapping our experiences at the convention. (That recording can be found on the latest episode of the WDYPTW podcast, at the 1:25:25 point.) I finished Saturday night with two more games -- Avenue and Great Heartland Hauling Company -- before another late collapse.
On Sunday, I did not have much time for games before my long drive home, but I did get in another breakfast game with Patrick, playing his copy of HUE from the Pack O Game with him and Mike, and then going into the main hall for one last game, choosing to play Ulm from the Play-to-Win display. Not only did I win Ulm, my last game of G2S, but I later found out I won the Play-to-Win -- the perfect end to a perfect regional convention.
I cannot recommend Granite Game Summit highly enough for anyone in the Northeast, or anyone willing to take a flight to a smaller, more intimate convention, focused on playing all sorts of games -- from Coconuts and Chroma Cubes, to Eclipse and Yspahan. One final thing I noticed is that while I played plenty of newer games, such as Terraforming Mars, World's Fair 1893, and Ulm, and even an as-of-yet unpublished prototype, I also got to play a number of older titles, such as Yspahan (2006), Thebes (2007), and Chaos in the Old World (2009). And there was just as much excitement for these older gems as the "new hotness" games, which was something I really appreciated, especially as someone that loves discovering hidden gem games from past years.
First, let me say that the title is rhetorical. I am not the kind of gamer that stores all my games the same way. Some bag everything, some put everything in Plano boxes, some make foamcore inserts for every game, some buy fancy custom inserts. I like to open a game, punch it, sort it, and figure out if it needs help with storage, and if so, what would the best solution. It does happen often enough that Plano is my solution of choice, though.
In a lot of cases, such as with many family games, the inserts are perfect as is. Examples I would cite here include Ticket to Ride, Takenoko, Jamaica, and Dream Home. The plastic insert fits everything well in each of these cases, and I see no reason to mess with any of them.
In the case of games with a lot of larger components, such as Millennium Blades' hundreds and hundreds of cards, or Castles of Mad King Ludwig's tons of irregularly shaped tiles, I have broken down and gotten custom inserts to help organize the games, as well as improve set-up and break-down time.
In cases where a game doesn't have a third party custom insert available, but has multiple odd-shaped components, I have even made my own foamcore inserts. Not often, but a few times, such as with DC Deckbuilding (with many expansions) and King of Tokyo. Here's a foamcore insert I made that I really like:
When games don't have a ton of components, but don't have an insert, I usually resort to bags, such as with Celestia, Patchwork, or Ice Cool.
But with many games -- mostly Euros -- there are a lot of different small tokens, chits, cubes and meeples. I could separate out each into its own bag, but then, when I play these games, I'll also need many, many containers to hold all these components (or a cupcake tray, which I have used in the past), or I wind up with messy piles of pieces all over the table. This is where I find Plano boxes come in.
Specifically, I find the Plano 3500 to be the perfect size and shape for most games. Measuring about 8.75" x 4.25" x 1.25", it fits inside most game boxes -- many of which without removing the cardboard insert. It also has adjustable dividers that can make as few as five and as many as fifteen storage spaces, and a "ProLatch" that snaps shut and keeps the box closed. Now sometimes it won't fit all of a games components, but if you pull out the player pieces and bag those individually -- which makes sense as you hand those out at the beginning of the game anyway -- will hold the rest. Here are some examples of how I have used the Plano 3500:
Above and Below
Of course there are games with too many components for the Plano 3500, or that need more dividers, and for these cases, I use the next size up, the Plano 3600. While this one doesn't fit in as many size boxes, measuring 10.5" x 6.85" x 1.625", it fits most games that require its extra storage space. Here are a few examples of games I have stored with the Plano 3600:
Castles of Burgundy
Order of the Gilded Compass
There is one other exception that neither of those Plano boxes can help with -- the small square two-player box. Now while most of the games in these boxes aren't very component heavy, some still are, such as the animeeple filled Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small. For this game, I found the following plastic box from SE, that measures 7.5" x 5" x 1.25", to be perfect.
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small
While I admit that Plano storage isn't perfect, as components can occasionally be difficult to remove from the Plano boxes, I do think the sheer amount of tiny bits that can be easily separated and sorted into one case, that a) keeps them logically sorted in the game box and b) makes them easily accessible at the table, make up for the minimal downside.
I hope this post was helpful for anyone struggling to store any of their games, and feel free to let me know in the comments if there are any other useful Plano sizes I've neglected.
The phrase "solo gaming" often puts a puzzled look on the faces of those unfamiliar with it, followed up with a variation of the question "you mean, like video games?" But no, I don't mean like video games, and the thing is, almost everyone is familiar with the most basic solo game -- Solitaire (as well as its cousins, FreeCell and Spider Solitaire). These games are so popular, they've been pre-loaded onto computers for decades. So I guess, technically, the video game question isn't too off base, but I digress.
Getting back to the point, while Solitaire is a good tool for getting others to understand the idea of playing a tabletop game solo, it's not a good game, anymore than Monopoly is a good modern gateway game. Solitaire is far too random, with too many starting set-ups that are impossible to win, and the choices are mostly obvious, leading to a game that usually plays itself to its predetermined success or failure.
But what if I told you there is a solo game that uses one-third the amount of cards to make an exciting, updated version of Solitaire? One that serves as an excellent gateway into solo gaming, is a great quick-to-play puzzle, and has the added benefit of fitting easily in one's pocket? Would you be interested? Of course you would.
That game is Pentaquark. Published by wallet game publisher Button Shy Games and designed by solo savant Mullins, who previously worked on solo variants for Bottom of the Ninth and New Bedford, Pentaquark combines Mullins' love for science with his passion for solo design.
In the game, players will struggle to contain the elusive pentaquark -- a very particular configuration of five quark cards -- while battling annihilation cards. It plays as a mix of set collection and deck building, although unlike most deck building games, the deck gets worse instead of better, as each shuffle adds more annihilation cards. Pentaquark plays in about ten minutes and takes almost no time to set up at all.
The game plays similar to Solitaire in that it is only played with cards, which then get separated to different areas in order to achieve an end goal. It also plays similar to a modern solo card game, Friedemann Friese's Friday, in the way that negative cards are added to the deck with each shuffle. But the strength of Pentaquark against both is that it packs its game play into less cards, and has a smaller table footprint. It also has a much larger decision space over Solitaire, and has less accounting to track than Friday.
I'd highly recommend Pentaquark as both a gateway into the solo gaming hobby and for experienced solo gamers looking for a quick solo fix. For anyone that may need a little help learning this new type of solitaire, Button Shy produces playmats that lay out exactly where the cards should be played. And for the more experienced gamer worried about getting bored, the game has a number of variants that are easy to add in, with more quark cards that have their own quirks, and alternate colliders that change the win condition to alternate card combinations, such as the tetraquark.
Tue Mar 21, 2017 10:35 pm
Every year, I like to set myself a board game challenge. Two years ago I successfully completed the 10x10 challenge. Last year I (mostly) completed my challenge of playing all of my games, leaving about five of my games unplayed.
This year, I'm not going to set a goal dictating which games I'm going to play ahead of time. I'm going to play whatever I'm in the mood to play, and just enjoy my collection. The spirit of enjoying the collection I've already built is exactly what inspired the challenge I'm going to attempt this year.
So with that said, my gaming goal for 2017 is to limit my retail purchases to twelve games over the course of the year, and not to Kickstart anything (although I am going to make exceptions for the expansions for The Networks and Raiders of the North Sea). I don't need to constantly be acquiring new games, because I already own a ton of great games, and more than a few games I've yet to play. I also don't need to use Kickstarter to get games 12+ months later when there are so many great games available now.
Noble intentions aside, I expect this goal will be tough, because there are already a few games I've been looking to purchase once they're released, including Charterstone and Victorian Masterminds. Again, I'm giving myself a pass on expansions, in the event the Jamaica: The Crew expansion is released. I also have been looking for a copy of Bruges for months, so if I find a reasonably priced copy -- new or used, I won't hesitate to pick it up. Add to that the two games I already picked up this year, Concordia and Belfort, both of which are either out of print or just generally hard to find, and I haven't left myself a lot of leeway for additional purchases this year.
So with just over eleven months to go, I want to limit myself to ten more purchases, and none on Kickstarter. Let's see if I can hold fast to this goal.
As I did last year, let me start this off with a few quick caveats.
First, I haven't played even a fraction of the games that were released this year, especially anything that released at Essen or after. Second, I am leaving expansions off this list. Finally, I'll reiterate that my preferences don't make a game objectively good or bad, these are just my opinions based on my tastes.
So that all out of the way, these were my favorite games from 2016 (in alphabetical order):
I really enjoyed this dice placement, tableau/engine builder, despite the very thin theming. It hit a sweet spot for how easy it was to learn, how quick it played, how many decisions there were to make, and how much luck was present. The variability right in the base box, as well as the great insert, also helped make this game a stand out.
A perfect family game. It has cute artwork and a non-threatening theme that will draw in grandparents and children, but maintains gameplay that can be surprisingly tense and cutthroat. It was easy to learn and teach, but not so simplistic as to become boring after a few plays. Also, the components and insert were both top notch.
I've been a big fanboy of Ryan Laukat and his Red Raven publishing company for some time, and Islebound has done nothing to change my opinion of either. The art, as always, is vivid and evocative of the fantasy world this game shares with Above and Below and the upcoming Near and Far. But more than just being a pretty presence at the table, the game play really engaged me in this game of archipelago exploration -- managing to be simultaneously thinky and breezy.
This past year may not be the best ever year for games, but it's among the prettiest. This game of simultaneously building a paint studio and creating a panoramic picture features stunning artwork by Jade Mosch and spared no expense on theme, coming with a bamboo playmat. But it was also designed by Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier (who also designed Abyss together), so the game play lives up to the game's lofty aesthetics.
One of my all-time favorite blends of theme with mechanics, and likely my favorite game of the year. The Networks is approachable, intuitive, has great pacing, a great decision space, scales well, and doesn't overstay its welcome at the table. The graphic design of the game's multi-faceted cards, by Heiko Gunther and Travis Kinchy, is also notable for its elegance and utility.
This thoughtfully designed Kickstarter game from Far Off Games and designer Cody Miller features an interesting card-based push-your-luck mechanism to simulate a surfing competition. It has a nice player count range, playing from one to six players, and scales up well due to simultaneous card play. It also contains an array of well designed components, including custom dice, that help sell the surfing theme.
I also have a few honorable mentions, the first because I enjoy playing it with my kids, but wouldn't bring out with adults, the second because it is a redesign of an older game, and the rest because I haven't played them enough to call them favorites.
If this was a list of top games to play with kids, this game would top the list. It's unique box-in-a-box design has a great table presence, and sets up and breaks down a lot quicker than other flicking games, such as Flick 'Em Up or Rampage. But there is not a lot of depth to the game, and it plays a bit more like an activity.
Order of the Gilded Compass
This re-imagining of Alea Iacta Est is another great gateway/family game. This dice-allocation game draws comparisons to Yahtzee when teaching to new players, but has more in the way of decision making, as well as a variable set-up to increase replayability, and finally, a fun -- if thinly presented -- theme. Since I lauded a few of the other inserts on this list, I do feel compelled to mention that this insert is garbage. As in it literally got thrown out because it wasn't functional in the least.
This collectible card game simulator doesn't make my list solely because I've only gotten to play it at two players, which, due to the two-player rule changes, leaves me feeling as if I haven't gotten to experience the complete game just yet. I expect to remedy that this year, especially with the Set Rotation expansion on its way to me shortly.
One Deck Dungeon
This is a game that I only got to play once, as the Kickstarter delivered during the December holidays. I would like to explore this more, both solo and with another player, but I was very intrigued by my one play.
I enjoyed my one solo play of this deck-building game very much -- to the point I opined that it could replace Marvel Legendary for me. And it might, but before I go making any grand pronouncements, I need to play it more to test its balance, and with other players to make sure the game is equally challenging at different player counts.
It's been a while since I've written anything here, but I have kept busy reviewing a number of games over the last few months, which can be found on this geeklist for anyone interested.
And while I do plan to discuss my favorites of 2016 in my next post, I figured first it would be fun to look back at my 2015 list, for two reasons. First, to see if my feelings have changed about any of the favorites I'd listed, and second, to see what I would add to the list now that I've played more games from 2015 this year.
My original list of favorites from 2015 contained, in no particular order: Artifacts Inc., Burgle Bros, Codenames, Flick 'Em Up, and Tiny Epic Galaxies, with an honorable mention for Steampunk Rally. I still stand by the list as far as it being a diverse list of very good games, but looking back now having played so many more, it seems woefully incomplete. And of course, even with the additions below, I'm sure I'm missing a ton of great games.
As for the games mentioned above, two have lost a bit of their luster to me -- Codenames, because I've played it over fifty times, which is just natural after so many plays, and Flick 'Em Up, because of its extensive set-up time and general fiddiliness for a dexterity game. I think I was positively biased on Flick 'Em Up in part due to my first play being on the giant-size board at GenCon, an experience I would highly recommend if Pretzel Games is still bringing it to conventions. I'd also add that while I'd still happily play a game of Tiny Epic Galaxies whenever, I'm not interested in the expansion at all. It just looks to overly complicate a game that is so good because of its ease to teach and play.
My favorite games from 2015 that I've first played since making that original list include, again in no preferential order, 7 Wonders: Duel, Above & Below, Blood Rage, Champions of Midgard, Food Chain Magnate, Gold West, Isle of Skye, Raiders of the North Sea, Trickerion: Legends of Illusion and Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization.
I won't go into too much detail here on these games, as all of them have gotten a good amount of coverage in the board game world, but my list does illustrate two things (in addition to my enjoyment of thematic games, worker placement games, and lighter Euro games).
1. 2015 was a great year for board games of every type. From lighter games like Tiny Epic Galaxies to heavier games like Food Chain Magnate, from two player games like 7 Wonders: Duel to party games like Codenames, from storytelling games like Above & Below to minis-heavy games like Blood Rage, it was a remarkable year for basically every type of game -- even seeing two new games, Pandemic: Legacy and Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization, take over the top two spots on the all-time BGG list.
2. Take all the best of 2016 lists you're no doubt seeing now with a grain of salt. Many, if not most, of the content creators making them haven't yet played so many of the worthy games (myself definitely included).
So far, the 2016 games I've played don't match up to this banner year of 2015, despite many stand outs. But, with so many 2016 titles still unplayed by me -- like most of what came out at Essen -- it is definitely too early to pass any sort of judgement just yet.
As a Samgung Galaxy owner (Specifically the Galaxy S6, and not the new exploding model, thankfully), I don't have all the app gaming options of friends that have Apple devices. So no Agricola, Cyclades, Dice Town, Kingburg, Lords of Waterdeep, Puerto Rico, Ra, Twilight Struggle, or many others, for me.
But over the last few years, board gaming options on Android have improved greatly, and there are a ton of great titles available for my Android smartphone and tablet. Here are my favorites, measured as a combination of how much I like the game and how much I like the digital implementation:
This Tetris-esque tile laying game is one of my favorite two-player games, and this app implementation from Digidiced is one of the best I have seen -- although I will note the artificial intelligence could be more challenging on the most difficult mode.
Castles of Mad King Ludwig
Another great tile laying game, this one from Ted Alspach and Bezier Games, with a smooth, intuitive app that features a campaign mode with different challenges that quickly ramp up in difficulty, but lacks online play.
Ticket to Ride
Days of Wonder's best known title is also the gold standard of app implementations. It features a multitude of maps, including Asia, India,and the recent Pennsylvania map (although each map is an additional in-app purchase). It also features online play.
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small
Another solid Uwe Rosenburg implementation by the Digidiced team, which also features online play. It will work fine on a smartphone for those familiar with the game, but will probably be better on a tablet for anyone that isn't, at least at first.
This elegant entry-level tableau builder translates well to the digital medium, but also suffers from the artificial intelligence not being difficult enough -- although the app does let you choose the AI's behavior tendencies, from balanced, specialized, opportunistic, random, and secret. It has recently added an online play mode, however.
The classic role selection / multi-use card game from Ravensburger Digital has a solid interface, and includes a tutorial, three levels of AI to play against, and online play.
Mr. Jack Pocket
The quick two-player pocket version of Bruno Cathala's asymmetrical deduction game translates well to digital. The app has a tutorial, lets you choose from both the inspector and Mr. Jack roles and from three levels of difficulty, and unlike a lot of these app games, is hard on the more difficult modes.
This city building game is the second Bezier adaptation on the list, after Castles of Mad King Ludwig, and this one also does not feature online play. Although this app has suffered some minor glitches in the past, it is a good adaptation overall, and the added single-player campaign mode has some nice challenges in addition to the base game.
This is one of the newest digital implementations available, and is still a bit rough around the edges, and lacking a detailed tutorial as well as online play. But the core mix of word and deck building works well on the app, and is a very different experience than the others listed here.
The Star Realms app, while lacking some of the elegance of other apps on this list, is a very functional implementation of the two-player confrontational deck builder. It features online play, a fun campaign mode, and has expansion content available (as an additional in-app purchase).
Honorable mentions that I don't personally like for one reason or another:
The app could use a little more polish and a better tutorial, and the game, which is a very social experience, loses something digitally without other players to play against. Still not a bad experience, overall.
Carcassonne and Small World
The app versions of both of these game are solid, but while I could be coerced into playing either of these games by others, I just don't love them enough to play digital versions of them by myself, not with so many other options available.
Le Havre: The Inland Port
This is another great app implementation by Digidiced -- no surprise there. But this game makes me feel like I am doing math homework, so I don't enjoy playing the digital version of it.
Recently, Twitter has been abuzz with everyone's #Top9 and #MyTop9 lists of games. When I made mine, I realized how popular a lot of my favorite games are. But I also had a few outliers, and I think those are much more interesting to discuss, as nobody on BGG needs to be convinced that Blood Rage, Codenames or Power Grid are games worth trying. So here is my list of my top nine games outside the BoardGameGeek top thousand.
Red Dragon Inn (Ranked #1044)
My suspicion is this game is not higher because of its casual nature, levels of take-that and randomness, and drink-until-you-pass-out theme. But none of those criticisms negate the fact that the game, played with a group of friends that likes to imbibe alcohol and doesn't mind random take-that games, is a ton of fun to play. Plus, with five big-box sets and numerous other characters, there is a ton of variability and customization available. My personal favorite is Red Dragon Inn 4, which adds four buccaneers and the Sea Event Deck.
Quick, if I ask you to name a game by designer Scott Almes, what's your answer? I'll bet whatever game it is, it starts with the words "Tiny Epic," as he's already published four games in the popular series, and has an expansion and fifth game on the way. But Almes also designed another tight, small-box game that would probably be better known if it was called "Tiny Epic Shipping Magnate," although I grant that name doesn't have a very epic ring to it. Getting back to the point, Harbour is a really good micro-economic market game and an interesting distillation of worker placement, where each player gets a singular worker.
A cattle wrangling game by Bruno Cathala, with gorgeous art by Vincent Dutrait, this game also has some mechanical similarities that hint at a later, larger Bruno Cathala design -- Five Tribes. It is my favorite two-player game that does not feature direct conflict (e.g. Summoner Wars, Star Realms), as it packs an interesting, thoughtful puzzle into a short gameplay experience. I'm not sure why this is ranked so much lower than Mr. Jack Pocket, a similar two-player puzzle-type game designed by Cathala, except for the obvious answer that the latter carries the Mr. Jack name.
Cheaty Mages (#1762)
Another overlooked game from a well known designer -- this time Seiji Kanai of Love Letter and BraveRats fame. In Cheaty Mages, there is a lot more depth packed into a slightly larger box than with his popular microgames. Detractors of randomness won't love this game, but it fits the theme of betting on, and then manipulating, monsters that are fighting in an arena. Gambling, in general, is underused mechanic, and I love the way it is handled here (it is also very well executed in Camel Up).
Battle Merchants (#2892)
I'm not sure if it is the fantasy arms dealer theme, or the marketing (or lack thereof) by Minion Games, but this game has never gotten the notice it deserves. It's a solid mid-weight economic game with an interesting theme that plays smoothly and intuitively in about two hours, so it resides in a sweet spot for a lot of gamers. Maybe the game will see increased interested now that designer Gil Hova is getting a lot of notice for The Networks? It should, at any rate.
Warmachine: High Command (#3290)
I say this as someone that is ambivalent to the intellectual property -- never having played any miniatures wargame, let alone Warmachine specifically -- this is a very good game that blends deck-building and area control, with players fighting over locations using unique asymmetric factions. The steampunk mech theme and corresponding art didn't hurt, either.
It's got to be the off-beat theme that doesn't speak to a large percentage of gamers, right? It's not like designer Cody Miller is an unknown, not after Xia: Legends of a Drift System. It's certainly not the production, as this game is flat out beautiful on the table, both the art and the corresponding design. And I doubt it's the game design, either, as it's well reviewed by those in the BGG community that have played it. Maybe it's the strange sounding title of the game, that doesn't make it clear it's about surfing? I don't know, but if you like surfing, or games with quirky mechanics, it's worth checking out.
Brewin' USA (#5269)
Now I'm at a total loss, because I can't think of many things that go better with board games than a good craft beer, and I know I'm not alone in that. Maybe Brew Crafters stole all the thunder by getting to market first? Or maybe it's because this was the first design by Adam Rehberg? Regardless, this game is a fun and thematic blend of auctioning and area control that plays in under an hour, and the component design using modular board segments that look like coasters, bottlecaps as markers, and actual microbrews on the cards really put it over the top.
Wizard Dodgeball (N/A)
This game may be the most hidden gem on my list, despite being a contender on the first season of Tabletop Deathmatch, as it was only available through Print and Play Games after it twice failed to fund on Kickstarter. It's a chaotic, lightweight two-player sports game that plays in about half an hour, with mages casting spells and hurling dodgeballs at one another until one player's team tags the other five times. I'll never understand, with the beautiful cartoon artwork and family friendly magical sports theme, combined with its interesting, quick gameplay, how this didn't fund, especially the second time around with the streamlined design and lowered goal. Crowdfunding truly is a fickle thing.
Honorable Mention: Artifacts Inc., from Ryan Laukut and Red Raven Games, which is ranked at #949.
I've previously blogged about the games I play with my daughter, but another important gaming partner I have in my house is my wife. Although she is not crazy about the hobby like I am, she still plays all sorts of games with me, and with our kids. But here, I'm just going to focus on games we play as a couple.
DC Comics Deck-Building Game
While this is probably not what most people would expect at the top of this kind of list, this is the game my wife and I most frequently play. Its streamlined deck-building design, with no restrictions on how many cards you can play per turn and only one kind of currency (power), make it simple to teach and play, and the expansions have given the game new life more than once for us. Our favorite iterations are the base game, the Heroes Unite expansion, and the Teen Titans expansion. However, we did not care for the Forever Evil expansion, which was a bit too cutthroat, or the cooperative Crisis expansion, which took us way too long to play.
Ticket to Ride
While I readily admit that Ticket To Ride is a tighter and more tense game with more than two players, it becomes an enjoyable zen route-building experience when I play it with my wife. The lack of blocking becomes a positive, where my gamer friends see it as a detriment. Like with DC Deck-Building, expansions have helped keep this game fresh for us, from the small-box USA 1910 card expansion, to the India & Switzerland and Asia & Legendary Asia map expansions.
Unlike the previous two games, my wife and I prefer the base game when we play Carcassonne. The simplicity and elegance of the standard game trumps the additional options of the two expansions we have (which is why we don't have more than that). Part of the charm of the game is seeing the countryside we created together, although this isn't just an idyllic and pastoral pastime for us -- we're pretty competitive when we play one another.
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small
Where Agricola is far too heavy and time consuming for my wife's liking, this game is a lot less complex and still has a good weight and feel considering its shortened length. Especially considering you only take twenty-four total actions (three per round over eight rounds). The thirty minute game length makes this a good choice for us on weekday evenings. I'm also fairly certain the cute animeeples raise my wife's opinion of the game a bit.
This tableau/engine builder is another game we get to the table fairly often. Where some people find this game's design a bit too stripped down, I think the streamlined design, as well as the relatively short play time at two players, is why my wife enjoys playing it with me.
Honorable mentions: In addition to the games above, there are some games my wife and I like to play with more than two, usually with one or two other couples, including Codenames, A Fake Artist Goes to New York, Camel Up, and Brewin' USA.
Finally, the following two games are frequently recommended couples games that just didn't work for me and my wife.
This is the game I most commonly hear people recommending for couples over the last two years, but there was something about the spacial aspect of placing the tiles on a quilt with a finite number of spaces that my wife struggled with. While I love this game and still play my copy with others, as well as on the Android app, it's not something we play as a couple.
Another frequently recommended couples game, especially for word game lovers, this also fell flat with my wife, who is a fan of Scrabble. The mix of deck-building and word building just didnt gel for her, and I wound up trading this away, despite enjoying the game myself.
All in all, I consider myself very lucky to have a partner that -- despite not fully understanding my obsession with this hobby -- will sit down and try out all sorts of different games with me, as well as accept my growing collection of board games without complaint, and frequently let me escape to gaming events and conventions.
With most of my posts, I am speaking as an opinionated, enthusiastic, and fairly well-informed hobbyist. However, as a career financial journalist who has been writing about the U.S. equities market for over a decade, I can confidently say, about this particular topic, my insight is far more valuable than any enthusiastic and opinionated guesswork. And my opinion on this matter is as simple as it is pessimistic:
Asmodee's recent string of acquisitions is wholly bad for both the larger board game industry and the consumer. The only entity this benefits, other than Asmodee itself, is French investment company Eurazeo, the private equity company that owns a 79.4% stake in Asmodee.
First of all, decreased competition leads to increased prices for the consumer. This is why antitrust laws exist. Of course, the consumer is free to boycott a publisher that raises prices, but that becomes a lot more difficult when that publisher controls Asmodee, Ystari, Space Cowboys, Fantasy Flight, Days of Wonder, Catan Studio, and is close to a deal to acquire F2Z Entertainment -- a conglomerate that owns Z-Man Games, Filosofia Editions, Pretzel Games, and just itself acquired Plaid Hat Games.
Furthermore, my increased price hypothesis isn't even a theoretical threat. Asmodee already changed its pricing policy this year, a shift that went into effect back in April. The policy change not only effectively raised prices, but limited U.S. distribution to five distributors, as well as limiting sales of Asmodee products to authorized retailers. But most importantly, it eliminated online sales for stores that have a brick-and-mortar presence. This change was somehow managed under the guise of helping brick-and-mortar stores. Now, with Asmodee even larger, the retailers must all hold their breath and pray Asmodee "does not alter the deal any further."
Second, decreased competition also significantly and negatively affects both quality and customer service. Without many other competitors for consumers to switch their business to, Asmodee will be left with no financial reason to go "above and beyond" and provide higher quality components or give excellent customer service. It wouldn't surprise me to see more quality control issues and a tougher time getting replacements for anything that was defective (Did you buy it at an authorized retailer? Was it within the last 90 days? Do you have the receipt? etc.). If you don't believe this argument, go talk to someone that is a Comcast customer and then report back to me.
Third, consolidation strangles creativity and originality, as larger companies make safer bets with their investments. The most obvious parallel here is the movie industry, which churns out sequels, prequels, reboots, and re-imaginings of existing well-known properties instead of pushing boundaries with innovative, untested ideas, which aren't worth the risk proposition. In a similar fashion, this GenCon, Asmodee's Fantasy Flight announced Game of Thrones: The Iron Throne, which is based on the Cosmic Encounter game system, while Pretzel Games (whose parent company F2Z acquired Plaid Hat, the maker of Dead of Winter, and is in talks to be acquired by Asmodee) announced Flick 'em Up!: Dead of Winter. This is a lot of energy being spent on intellectual property reskinning. How much is at the expense of announcing and promoting original material?
Fantasy Flight, by the way, is no stranger to intellectual property reskins, with Star Wars: Imperial Assault being an updated Descent, and Star Wars: X-Wing being an updated Wings of War. While I am not knocking these games, I am concerned we could be shifting to a market where new versions of existing games, in addition to expansions for existing games, will be the majority of new releases.
Along these same lines of thinking, Asmodee could also halt, delay, heavily edit, or otherwise intervene if a title at one of its brands is too similar -- thematically or mechanically -- to a different game at another. And in cases like this, it is not hard to imagine that the game with either the most famous designer or the hottest intellectual property would trump the other game, regardless of game quality. This, of course, is a more speculative (and as-of-yet unfounded) concern, as to my knowledge, Asmodee has not interfered with any of its brands.
Finally, let me rebut one popular argument I have seen in favor of industry consolidation -- the "rising tide" argument. This argument states that as Asmodee's goal is to grow its revenue, it will use its larger presence in the market to grow the hobby as a whole, which will help all publishers, designers, etc. in the industry. While I do agree with the sentiment of this argument, I fundamentally disagree that Asmodee's attempts to grow the market will succeed, and this situation leaves the entire industry contingent on their business acumen and self-serving interests.
Asmodee's success is now paramount because it controls almost every modern gateway game (with the notable exception Rio Grande's Dominion). Their umbrella includes Ticket to Ride, Catan, Pandemic, Carcassonne, 7 Wonders, Small World, and countless others, which means the future of the games that brought most of us into this hobby is now almost entirely in one company's hands. I, for one, do not welcome our new corporate overlord. Will new gamers just entering the hobby?
I'll leave you with this quote from Mechanics and Meeples from February 8: "When you go through BGG's top-votes list, it's obvious that Asmodee only has one major rival among these games of ours: Z-Man Games (F2Z Entertainment). If you hear word of an Asmodee / Z-Man merger (A to Z!), that'll be the sign of the eurogame apocalypse, but for now there's still some healthy competition."
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