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Best new-to-me of 2017

Martin G
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It's a tough call between the top two, which are at opposite ends in play time. But it's a long time since I've managed five months running of scheduling a games night specifically to play one game, so I'll give the nod to...

1. Time of Crisis
A great blend of a solid Euro deck-building/action-point mechanism with the randomness, drama and narrative of an AT/wargame. Our games took 3-4 hours but never dragged - even when another player was taking a complex 10-minute turn, I felt thoroughly involved as the players' positions are so intertwined.

It's also a long time since I last played a game 100 times in a year. In fact the last time was probably Race for the Galaxy, the big brother of...

2. Jump Drive
One regular opponent introduced this as 'Race in pill form' and that's perfect. It's (almost) pure solitaire engine-building, a genre I usually despise, but in a 15-minute hit it becomes really addictive. As with the original, the powers are expertly put together and it has the same thrill of trying to bolt something together from the spare parts the game throws at you. It was also the game that got my wife back into playing for the first time since our daughter was born.

I did a lot of 2p gaming with a friend at lunchtimes this year - along with Jump Drive and Crokinole, one of our favourites was...

3. Hanamikoji
An elegant 2p battle that Knizia would be proud of had he designed it. It has a basic structure similar to Battle Line, but is played much more inside the players' heads. I love the constant agonising choices it presents.

Rounding out the top 5 are two games that are perfect fits for my weekly 'tapas gaming' nights where we mostly play 30-45 minute, light to medium, interactive games.

4. Flamme Rouge
I played this 10 times, one of them a Grand Tour of three stages, and I still don't feel like I've got it figured out - which just leaves me wanting more! The dynamics of a cycle race brilliantly emerge from a simple rule set.

5. Azul
I only played this for the first time in mid-November but have almost hit a dime already and enjoyed it at all playcounts. Kiesling is a master of this kind of game but this might be his best yet - I love the way the placement rules, scoring and bonuses arise naturally from the geometry of the board. But the real highlight is the acquisition mechanism - most of these games limit the interaction to taking something your opponent wanted, but Azul lets you create something they don't want too!

I played five designs by mad genius Joli Quentin Kansil this year and I enjoyed all of them. Honourable mentions for 'psychic backgammon' Marrakesh and 'Mastermind with words' What's My Word? but the top prize goes to...

6. Montage
I love cryptic crosswords but didn't imagine you could make a game out of one until I played this. It's a partnership game in which you take turns thinking of a word that fits into the grid and coming up with a clue that you hope your partner will get before your opponents do. The completed words are entered in a grid in which an area-majority contest is taking place and crucially everything is done on a clock - there's no respite! I love Kansil's games because they feel like transmissions from a parallel universe - this one won't be for everyone but with four word freaks it's stunning.

Pssst, Knizia's back! My favourite designer of all time has come up with not one but two new releases worthy of my top ten this year.

7. Voodoo Prince is a 'why didn't I think of that' push-your-luck tricktaker. Mostly it's standard tricktaking but the brilliant twist is that once you've won three tricks you stop playing in that hand and score the number of tricks the other players have won at that point. So you want to hang back a while to take your tricks BUT don't wait too long because the last player left in gets screwed.

8. The Quest for El Dorado
I wasn't blown away by my first play but a recent run has swayed me. It avoids my usual downtime problem with deckbuilders with a 4-card hand, simple actions and the possibility of using all your leftover cards for cash. Enjoyed it much more than Clank as a deckbuilding race on a map.

I keep changing my mind about the last two places but I'll go with:

9. The Fox in the Forest - lovely 2p tricktaker combining a tense scoring system with some well-judged special powers

10. Throne and the Grail - another elegant 2p mind-game from Japan - not quite as perfect as Hanamikoji but still very good.

Other contenders include:
High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel - promising quick card-driven courtroom game but needs more plays to see how it holds up.

Insider and The Chameleon - two party/social deduction games that give you something to do rather than just have an argument.

Cobras, Spires and Bemused - more of my beloved clever card games.

Wibbell++ - a versatile new deck for various letter and word games.

Hit Z Road, Flip Ships, Ethnos - more 'tapas gaming' hits - short, simple and fun.

It's been a good year!
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Tue Jan 2, 2018 11:26 am
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Q4 2017 review

Martin G
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A final look at what I've been playing and buying this year.

Total plays: 155

Distinct games: 64

New-to-me games: 25

Dimes: 1 - Jump Drive (21)

Nickels: 5 - Azul (9), Throne and the Grail (9), Stroop (7), Eggs of Ostrich (6), Krakatoa (5)

The centrepiece was LoBsterCon in mid-November, this time without wife and baby! But plenty of regular games nights and lunchtime gaming too.

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 11 - Star Cartel, Auf Teufel komm raus, Throne and the Grail, Voodoo Prince, Five Cucumbers, Res Publica, The Fox in the Forest, Stroop, House of Borgia, Krakatoa, Azul

Removed: 13 - New York Slice, HMS Dolores, Havana, Circus Train (Second edition), Diamonds, Sylvion, Castellion, Pax Pamir, Neanderthal, Greenland, Fauna, Navajo Wars, Imhotep

Owned: 177 (excluding expansions - down from 179 at end Q3)

Unplayed: 2 (Pax Renaissance, Res Publica)

And end-of-year splurge was countered by a big sale on Facebook (raising about £250).

Best new-to-me: lots of good ones! Two great tricktakers in Voodoo Prince and The Fox in the Forest and I really like Azul too.
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Sun Dec 31, 2017 4:31 pm
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New to me five years ago

Martin G
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Geeklist is up, please join the fun! New to you FIVE years ago 2017 => Has it stood the test of time?

I'm going to use a little web app I wrote to look at how much subsequent play the games I learned in 2012 have got, starting with the ones that have been played every year since.

Played in all five subsequent years

Hanabi (17/31/13/7/1/1)
I picked this as my game of the year at the time (with the next two close behind) and I've continued to enjoy it, though plays have tailed off a bit. It can be a little frustrating to play with new team-members as it's really more exciting when you've all got past the initial learning curve and can try out more subtle clues. Claims that it eliminates the alpha-player problem may be slightly exaggerated to

Love Letter (48/44/20/13/2/4)
Still my favourite microgame and, unlike Hanabi, one that is just as fun with new players as old hands. I've largely ignored the endless mutations in favour of my well-worn original Kanai Factory edition.

Pax Porfiriana (16/26/11/3/1/24)
This year's stats were inflated by deciding to log online plays but face-to-face it's still a must-play whenever I get together with my old London on Board friends. I was impressed by Pax Pamir's design but didn't find it as much visceral fun as the original, and still haven't even managed to decipher Pax Renaissance's rules.

Skull (6/6/2/4/1/1)
I didn't make much hullabaloo over it at the time, but this simple-as-can-be bluffing game still gets regular outings.

Spot it! (11/18/2/1/1/1)
And, along with Love Letter, this is one of my most reliable play-with-anyone standby games.

Played in four subsequent years

Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (11/12/9/2/1/0)
Two-player gaming with my wife vanished for a year after our baby arrived and has only come back this year with a ton of Jump Drive. Hopefully Agricola's little sibling will make a comeback at some point.

Las Vegas (6/1/2/1/0/2)
Another that I didn't rate particularly highly at the time but has kept coming back by virtue of its simplicity.

The Palaces of Carrara (2/12/8/1/1/0)
I played twice at Essen but it really took off when I got a copy a year later. It became one of my favourite Euros thanks to the way it's much more a race than an engine-builder. That does put some players off though and I won too much for it to get regular play with my group!

Timeline (7/1/5/1/1/0)
And here's another gem of simplicity. I recently acquired the Huddersfield promo so will hopefully be able to slip those in to a game!

Nickel and done

The Hunger Games: District 12 Strategy Game - the thematic gimmick of 'reaping' one player at the end of the game is brilliant, but other than that it's a very mundane worker placement/set-collection exercise.

Month by month new-to-me picks
January: MarraCash - I really like this old-school auction/incentive game but find it hard getting it played. Probably should have picked Crokinole which has got a lot of play at lunchtimes this year.
February: My Kind of Town - long eclipsed by snappier 2p battle games.
March: Hanabi
April: Triumvirate - only recently replayed this clever 2p tricktaker after years dusty. I'm surprised I didn't pick Divinare.
May: If Wishes Were Fishes! - decent but not good enough to buy so it faded away.
June: The first of my no-new-games months!
July: Ninety-Nine - brilliant standard-deck trick-taker but I could easily have picked Zendo, All Creatures Big and Small or Skull instead.
August: 1989: Dawn of Freedom - I get few enough opportunities to play this type of game and would prefer to stick to Twilight Struggle or Wir sind das Volk when I do.
September: Las Vegas
October: Love Letter - my only Essen trip to date produced a ridiculous bounty. Pax Porfiriana and Palaces of Carrara have already been mentioned but there was Coup, Sticheln, Kakerlakenpoker and Trick of the Rails too! Good enough for most years, let alone months.
November: Sleuth - good but dry deduction.
December: Was sticht? - good but weird tricktaker.

End of year top ten at the time (not ordered)
1. Hanabi
2. Pax Porfiriana
3. Love Letter
4. Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small
5. Divinare
6. Sleuth
7. Sticheln
8. Coup
9. Ninety-Nine
10. MarraCash

Blimey, what a year! The top three were correctly identified and remain all-time favourites. If I was redoing the top 10 now, Spot It!, Zendo and Palaces of Carrara would definitely move up, probably at the expense of Sleuth, Coup and Marracash.
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Thu Dec 21, 2017 6:40 pm
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New to me November 2017

Martin G
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A bumper month, boosted by three days at the biannual LoBsterCon in Eastbourne.

Voodoo Prince - 4 plays -  8 
First Published 2017


Two of my favourite things in gaming are Knizia and tricktakers so imagine my excitement to see the two combined! This one has a typically Knizian 'why didn't I think of that' twist: as soon as you've won three tricks, you're out of the hand, scoring the total number of tricks taken at that point by the other players. But don't hang back too long, because the last player in gets screwed. Other than that, it's pretty straightforward tricktaking, with just a couple of simple special powers to add some spice. Excellent with 5, which is a boon when there are already so many great 4p tricktakers.

The Fox in the Forest - 3 plays -  8 
First Published 2017


And this is another nice tricktaker at a tricky player count - this one for 2. Like Voodoo Prince, it has 'standard' suit-following and trumps, enriched by a cliff-edge scoring system (you really want to take either 0-3 or 7-9 of the 13 tricks) and well-judged special powers. There are only six different powers and they almost all tie directly into the trick-taking, the effect being to make the 'guaranteed' winners and losers less of a sure thing.

Azul - 4 plays -  8 
First Published 2017


Yes, it's yet another 'get stuff from the middle to arrange on your individual board' game. But it's pretty, the individual board puzzle is interesting and crucially, the 'get stuff' mechanic allows serious interaction (helped by the other players' boards being easily readable at a glance). Some great exclamations of horror as players realise what they're going to get stuck with. So far I've played with 3 and 4; 3p allowed the screwage to become more calculated and I can see it being really nasty with 2.

Throne and the Grail - 9 plays -  7 
First Published 2016


A friend visiting Japan brought this back for me and it's great! Like Hanamikoji it's a tight 2p battle with a bit of bluff and it's also a little reminiscent of Coloretto and Ra. You take turns to either play a card from your hand into the central row or take the most recent 5 cards played. But you only get to take cards once per round, and still have to keep adding cards to the row afterwards. So do you take early, saving your bad cards to poison your opponent's choices? Try to tempt your opponent into taking first while holding back some good cards? All this is made more tense by the presence of an auto-win condition as an alternative to the endgame set/majority scoring.

Capital Lux - 3 plays -  7 
First Published 2016


I'd been hearing good things about this for a while and really liked it. It feels a bit like a fleshed-out version of Khmer/Elements. As in Khmer, you are trying to collect the biggest set without going over a limit set by the players, but in four suits at a time and with a mild dose of special powers.

Stroop - 4 plays -  7 
First Published 2017


A Dobble-style speed game based on the Stroop effect. Each card features a word written in one of four colours, upper or lower case letters and hollow or solid font. But what the word says probably won't be what the card is e.g. BLACK. In the first round you race to put down cards which are described by the middle card, so for the card just mentioned anything black would be fine (but not anything red!). In the second round you have to play cards which describe the middle card, so on the card above the legal plays would be anything saying 'big' (upper case), 'red', 'solid' or 'five' (the number of letters in the word). It appears that at least one player in each game will absolutely not be able to handle this shift, with hilarious effect

House of Borgia - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2017


A speculative buy in the LoB Dutch auction (£3) as I liked the 'Perudo meets Coup' elevator pitch. It actually doesn't feel that much like either but was enjoyable anyway. The setup is each player being secretly assigned a colour (as in Clans or Candy Chaser) and trying to take actions which advance your cardinal's position without being too obvious, since if a correct accusation sits in front of you at game end, you are eliminated.

The 5 actions are pretty simple but their selection is implemented Perudo-style. You have hidden dice with faces for each action (and a wild) and to take an action you state it with a number higher than the previous player's action. If it isn't called, you get to take it. If it is, the round ends and the incorrect side of the call loses a die. The game ends when one player's out of dice.

My worry is that it could outstay its welcome if players didn't jump straight to high bids. But with our Perudo-savvy group that didn't happen and it was good fun.

Sagrada - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2017


I need to write a blogpost comparing and contrasting this with Azul, as it crystallises what I've been thinking for a while about these 'get stuff from the middle to play on your own board' games.

In Azul, the acquisition mechanism is interactive enough and the other players' boards readable enough to make negative moves not just possible but potentially devastating. In Sagrada, you can 'hate draft' to some extent (and more with fewer players) but it still feels as though you'll get a decent score by taking what's best for you and working the individual puzzle well. Secret goals enhance that effect - I just took a bunch of high reds and crushed everyone.

If the puzzle's my main focus, I'd rather just go down the true multiplayer solitaire route (a la Take It Easy or Rolling America) and not bother with the pretence of interaction. This has the advantage of speeding the game up with simultaneous play. I felt that Sagrada's variable goals/tools/boards were a compensation for the lack of variability through interaction.

Morels - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2012


Compared to some of the wonderfully elegant 2p games I've played recently (Hanamikoji, Throne & the Grail), this feels a bit overwrought. It's really just simple set-collection and I'm not sure it needs all the extra bits.

Splash! - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2014


Miniaturised Bausack.

Pot de Vin - 1 play -  3 
First Published 2017


Just plain terrible. A trick-taker in which the symbols you're actually trying to collect (or not) are scattered round the suits and the trump changes randomly every trick (not round!) making planning impossible.
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Sun Dec 3, 2017 10:06 pm
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Text mining BGG comments - part 2 (the plot thickens)

Martin G
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In part 1, I explained how I retrieved the user comments for the top 2000 games and looked at the percentage of comments for a game that match a particular search term. My next idea was to look at how the use of terms changes over time, along the lines of the Google Ngram Viewer.

Unfortunately, no data is available from BGG on when comments were posted. But what I do have is the release years of the games. So I could aggregate the comments by year and look at how the frequency of a term changes with the year of release.

This isn't perfect -- I'm only looking at the top 2000, and the further we go back in time, the fewer games are represented. But from the mid-1990s on, there are enough to show some interesting trends.

Here's one showing the decline of one key mechanism and the rise of another:



and the same for designers:



Here are two notable recent trends rising in lockstep:



And this is an interesting one suggesting that the meanings of 'solo' and 'solitaire' have diverged:



Finally, any guesses what this is?

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Fri Nov 3, 2017 10:57 am
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Text mining BGG comments - part 1

Martin G
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User comments on games are probably the most valuable resource on BGG. You can quickly get an overview of the thoughts of people who loved, hated or were indifferent to a game, and you can create your own easy-access panel of trusted commenters.

Recently I've been doing some text mining at work and I thought it might be fun to try some things out on BGG comments. Using a Python wrapper round the BGG API somebody had helpfully created, over the course of several days I grabbed all the comments for the top 2000 games in the BGG rankings and saved a local copy.

As I was thinking about techniques to try, I happened on this excellent geeklist from a few years ago, in which Alison devised a simple but very effective way of looking at the text in comments. For a given word ('filler', 'dice' etc.) she found the percentage of comments which contained the word, giving a quick idea of the characteristics of a game.

I replicated her approach and started looking at some terms. Obvious mechanical and thematic terms produce unsurprising results:

Push your luck

title matches total term %
id
175117 Celestia 136 512 26.6
169654 Deep Sea Adventure 163 637 25.6
156009 Port Royal 226 918 24.6
149155 Dead Man's Draw 104 489 21.3
37759 Diamant 374 1997 18.7
632 Cloud 9 129 709 18.2
41 Can't Stop 412 2641 15.6
15512 Diamant 274 1784 15.4
150312 Welcome to the Dungeon 136 947 14.4
98315 The Adventurers: The Pyramid of Horus 57 422 13.5


Egypt

title matches total term %
id
35435 Nefertiti 22 398 5.5
150999 Valley of the Kings 27 523 5.2
5404 Amun-Re 106 2112 5.0
3931 Mare Nostrum 39 873 4.5
67185 Sobek 11 274 4.0
127023 Kemet 57 1463 3.9
58421 Egizia 30 812 3.7
175223 Valley of the Kings: Afterlife 6 167 3.6
12 Ra 129 4057 3.2
23418 Pursuit of Glory 4 128 3.1


but I found it interesting to look at some more nebulous terms and see how they are being used:

Opaque

title matches total term %
id
35285 German Railways 9 242 3.7
198953 Pax Renaissance 5 168 3.0
165401 Wir sind das Volk! 6 239 2.5
204 Stephenson's Rocket 14 651 2.2
132018 Churchill 7 336 2.1
75212 Grand Cru 4 207 1.9
31730 Chicago Express 26 1671 1.6
9215 Revolution: The Dutch Revolt 1568-1648 4 274 1.5
29937 König von Siam 9 623 1.4
75358 Paris Connection 7 489 1.4


generated a great list of games I love or am interested in trying, and

Unique

title matches total term %
id
80006 Mord im Arosa 44 306 14.4
150293 The Ravens of Thri Sahashri 19 136 14.0
139952 Clockwork Wars 12 87 13.8
192135 Too Many Bones 27 210 12.9
142830 Chaosmos 18 141 12.8
84889 Cave Evil 15 119 12.6
164265 Witness 34 280 12.1
380 Polarity 64 620 10.3
148319 Tragedy Looper 48 498 9.6
168433 The World of Smog: On Her Majesty's Service 13 136 9.6


is fun too.

Next I thought about looking for links between games by searching for the title of one game in the comments of another. My favourite game is Tigris & Euphrates so maybe I'd find some interesting games to look at?

Tigris

title matches total term %
id
127997 Qin 35 327 10.7
25674 Khronos 46 458 10.0
12962 Reef Encounter 93 1512 6.2
111 Rheinländer 21 451 4.7
145588 Citrus 5 145 3.4
23730 Gheos 18 562 3.2
42 Tigris & Euphrates 145 4913 3.0
9674 Ingenious 91 3131 2.9
3 Samurai 81 2971 2.7
204 Stephenson's Rocket 13 651 2.0


Not bad! Plenty of other Knizia tile-laying games, but also Khronos and Reef Encounter, the two names that often come up when anyone asks for 'similar to Tigris' games.

I then extended this to designers and looked at the games with comments most often mentioning Reiner Knizia. The top 60 (!) were all Knizia's own designs, but having excluded those I was left with:

title term %
id
107190 Flash Duel: Second Edition 9.7
118418 Divinare 3.4
3800 Himalaya 3.2
78954 Mousquetaires du Roy 2.5
35435 Nefertiti 2.5
21380 Conquest of the Fallen Lands 2.2
42910 Peloponnes 2.1
145588 Citrus 2.1
154443 Madame Ching 1.8
181796 The Prodigals Club 1.7
128554 Völuspá 1.7
19363 Havoc: The Hundred Years War 1.6
38863 Hab & Gut 1.3
1261 Medina 1.3
38194 Cheaty Mages! 1.2
34373 Tiki Topple 1.2
91873 Strasbourg 1.1
140934 Arboretum 1.0
56692 Parade 1.0
3267 Pizarro & Co. 1.0
158600 Hanamikoji 1.0


A pretty great list of games that either have an obvious Knizia link (Flash Duel having controversially reimplemented En Garde) or a stylistic similarity.

This was a fun start, but I had lots of ideas for other things I could try using this great data set. More posts will follow soon...
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Thu Nov 2, 2017 3:47 pm
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New to me October 2017

Martin G
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When choosing the monthly winner, I often find it hard to pick between the game that has delivered most fun already and the one that offers more promise for the future. This time I'll go with the former as it's the only game I played more than once.

Flip Ships - 3 plays -  7 
First Published 2017


If 'co-operative Space Invaders dexterity game' sounds fun to you, you'll like this - simple as that! Waves of alien cards approach Earth, some with special powers, and the players must flick (into the air rather than along the table) their tokens to land on and eliminate them. In order to win, all aliens must be eliminated before the Earth takes too much damage, but you must also land a sufficient number of tricky shots into the 'mothership' (a chunky box located behind the alien cards).

To spice things up, the players' ships have different powers - so one player might specialise in targeting the mothership while another can take out the trickier 'double hit' aliens. And as the Earth's health declines, the players get to flip more ships each round, which tends to produce a dramatic finish. There are also plentiful options for tailoring the difficulty level to the players' dexterity talents.

It's not a game I'll want to play every week, but it delivers on its premise perfectly and has provided some great laughs.


Star Cartel - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2017


This one's the game with potential to be this month's long-term favourite, after a promising first play last night. It's a stripped-down market manipulation game that feels very Knizian and also reminds me a little of Traders of Carthage.

Over the course of the game, players draft goods of five types from a sliding central market to load into their ships. Each time a ship is full, you make a delivery and this is the crux of the game. The biggest set you deliver boosts the value of that colour on the market board, the smallest set reduces the value of its colour, but you don't get to keep either of those sets - only a set of a third colour if you've managed to collect one.

Each time you deliver you get a new higher-capacity ship and the game ends after all the ships have been filled, with scoring based on the cards you've managed to stash multiplied by the final value of their colour. You'll only get to make 5 or 6 deliveries in the game, so making the most of these limited opportunities to stash and boost is crucial.

The game felt a little aimless to start with, but as players began to build up their stashes, the decisions became trickier. The card market gives you some ability to plan ahead, but since you can only pick from the bottom row of cards, other players can stiff you with a bunch of bad choices. Some of the ships have special powers that let you get round that though. The tension really ratchets up in the last few rounds due to the market crash mechanism - if a good surpasses its maximum value of $9 it goes all the way back down to a ruinous $1.

It's labelled as a 3-6p game, but I think it's one that will play best towards the lower end of that range, more players only adding downtime and chaos.


Ethnos - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2017


Friends will be shocked to hear that I enjoyed a game with orcs in it! But beneath the lazy pasted-on fantasy setting is a stripped-down old-school Euro with a dash of modern variable setup and special powers.

There are a number of similarities to Ticket to Ride: each turn is a simple choice to draw a card from a display or play a matching set of cards; playing a set allows you to play markers on the board which may score later, but you also score directly for the size of sets you play. But instead of route-building, the board-play is pure area majority, and to add a counter to a region, the set of cards you play must be larger than the number of counters you already have there.

So far so simple, and the turns move pleasantly briskly (in fact the biggest problem was players not realising it was their turn again already!). But there are a couple of twists. At the beginning of the game, 6 races (this is where the bloody orcs come in) are randomly chosen from 12. When you play a set of cards, you also choose one of them to be the leader and get to execute the special power of the associated race. Some give extra scoring opportunities; some get round the restrictions on adding counters to the board; and some help you mitigate the other big twist...

Unlike Ticket to Ride, there's a hand limit and when you play a set, you have to discard the rest of your hand into the face-up display for the other players to pick over - in fact, this is the only way the display gets replenished. This helps with the briskness because you can only really focus on one objective at a time, but it also generates the biggest complaint about the game. Often the display will be empty and the players are reduced to drawing blind, hoping to add to a set.

Opinions on the game in our group were divided and I suspect this was correlated to the amount of luck in drawing the right cards from the deck. Time will tell if it was due only to my good fortune, but it was a good first impression for me.


The Cousins' War - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2017


There has been a rash of 'meaty microgames' lately and this one certainly packs a lot in to 17 cards, a handful of cubes and a tiny map. It pits two players against each other as York and Lancaster in the War of the Roses, each aiming to instantly win by dominating all three areas of England or by dominating two at the end of five rounds.

The cards offer players the familiar choice of spending ops points or using a rule-breaking event, familiar from Twilight Struggle/1960 and more recently 13 Days/13 Minutes. Indeed they also have events that will trigger for your opponent in the right circumstances. Both the ops and the events generally let you move cubes between the various areas in the game - from your supply to your usable reserves; from your reserves to the board; between areas on the map and so on.

Easily the most fun part of the design is the battle that occurs at the end of each of the five rounds. This is resolved with a Liars Dice style bluff-off. The attacker rolls three dice in secret and then declares 'three fours', 'two threes' etc. The defender can either accept the call and try to outroll it or challenge. If the attacker was bluffing, they lose a unit; if not, the challenger takes the hit.

I have two concerns about the game. One is that the events are rather samey which detracts from the theme - besides the more interesting French Alliance/Betrayal I don't really remember what any of the events were called. The other is that it seemed too easy to get all your cubes on the map, which left us rather awkwardly trying to pull them back off again just to have something to do. I ended up feeling that most of my actions might have amounted to busywork - just shuttling cubes around until the final round where the game was decided.

There's nothing to be done about the first criticism (which I had of 13 Days/Minutes too) but I'm hoping that subsequent play will disabuse me of the second because it's a neat little game and the battle mechanism is such good fun.


Downforce - 1 play -  6 
First Published 2017


Downforce is yet another iteration of Kramer's card-based racing system that dates back to the 80s (including Top Race, Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix and Daytona 500). It's a nicely produced edition and adds individual special powers for the first time - seems to be a common theme this month!

The racing itself is great fun - most of the cards move more than one car by differing amounts of spaces, which you can use to trap opponents' cars in the pack while speeding yours ahead.

But you also have the opportunity to bet on other cars at three points during the race and I'm not sure I like what this does to the game. Suddenly everyone might be rooting for the same car which just isn't as interesting, and it was disappointing when our game was won by a player who'd simply bet on his own car three times with a very strong hand for it.

For a game that combines racing with betting, I still much prefer Knizia's Winner's Circle/Royal Turf.


Five-up - 1 play -  6 
First Published 1959


This is the closest BGG entry to All Fives, a traditional dominoes game. It'd make a decent pub game and the aim of getting the ends of the line of dominoes to total multiples of 5 gives it a bit of a Cribbage feel.


Rhino Hero: Super Battle - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2017


The biggest disappointment of the month as it seems like such a waste of great components. The original Rhino Hero was a simple Jenga-like affair of building up a tower. This one expands that to a whole precarious city block. But unfortunately the fun building part of the game is almost entirely unconnected to the winning part of the game, which essentially revolves around rolling high numbers. Odd.
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Wed Nov 1, 2017 3:15 pm
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New to me September 2017

Martin G
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Spires - 3 plays -  8 
First Published 2017


I'd read a bit about Spires so was pleased to hear a friend had picked up the Kickstarter. It's a neat hybrid of the action selection of Basari and the set collection/avoidance of Coloretto. One card per player is put in the centre and players simultaneously indicate which one they'd like to take. Any uncontested cards are taken immediately into your tableau, while contests are resolved by blind bid of hand cards. The winner gets the card in the middle plus all the cards that were bid.

The twist is that you don't necessarily want cards. Up to three of a colour is worth 5 points each, but go over three and it's -1 point each instead. There are a couple of other complications - a few special cards and three majority scorings for symbols spread across the suits. Quite often you want to deliberately choose the same card someone else is after just so you can lose the blind bid and spike them with a card they really didn't want.

I've played three times, twice with 3p and once with 4, and enjoyed it even more each time. There's a fair bit of subtlety to the way the numbers and symbols are distributed across the six suits and a healthy dose of dickishness too.

The Chameleon - 2 plays -  7 
First Published 2017


This is a social-deduction game by Rikki Tahta (Coup) that plays a bit like a cross between Spyfall and Codenames. There's the familiar set-up of one player who isn't in on the secret - this time which of 16 words related to a topic ('zoo animals', 'jobs') has been chosen. But instead of the conversational charade of Spyfall, each player is restricted to saying just one word. After some discussion, the players try to identify the Chameleon, who if identified can still win by identifying the word correctly.

The Codenames piece comes in in the word-choice - you need to be just indirect enough to confirm yourself as being in the know but without tipping off the Chameleon. And that indirectness is what gives the Chameleon the chance to remain unidentified too. It's fun! More in the breezy spirit of Insider and Fake Artist than the 'coherent lie' of Resistance or ONUW.


Bemused - 1 play -  7 
First Published 2017


Bemused manages the clever trick of reviewing itself in its own title. We were all quite puzzled by it but curious enough to play more. The setup is that the players are muses to virtuosi in various fields - the painter, the dancer, the poet and so on. You want to send your virtuoso's rivals insane or kill them, but you also secretly have some kind of relationship with one of them, so you might want to spare them.

The play is reasonably simple - draw two cards, play one and discard - and the cards don't have special powers, they just let you add 'doubt' or 'dread' to a target virtuoso. If you receive enough doubt and become insane, your choices get randomised and if you die, you come back as a 'fantasma' and can still win by killing off the other players! It's pleasingly different from anything else I've played and very much a social game. Looking forward to trying it again.

Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure - 1 play -  5 
First Published 2016


Clank has some fun elements but still suffers from my usual problem with deckbuilders - downtime. There just isn't enough happening on other players' turns that affects me so it feels like it can take an awful long time to come back round. I also feel that push-your-luck works better in repeated short bursts than just once over the length of a whole hour-plus game.

Steam Park - 1 play -  4 
First Published 2013


Real-time dice-rolling to select your actions for a turn is clumsily bolted on to an individual-board optimisation Euro that's too fiddly for its weight class. And despite being way overproduced, the players' finished theme parks still look disappointingly barren thanks to the unusually restrictive placement rules. Much preferred Barenpark for a 'build your own park' game

Noch mal! - 1 play -  4 
First Published 2016


I did not enjoy this roll & write dice game much at all. It's got that irritating level of interaction where you would definitely benefit from knowing what other players are doing, but that would involve poring across the table at small writing on their individual note sheets. It also has the undesirable property of getting less interesting as it goes on (it becomes hard to fill anything in as your choices get constrained) and we were all ready for it to finish well before it did.
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Sun Oct 1, 2017 7:41 pm
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Q3 2017 review

Martin G
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Just a quick look at what I've been playing and buying so far this year, and a comparison to last year.

Total plays: 153

Distinct games: 53

New-to-me games: 19

Dimes: 2 - Jump Drive (55), Fuji Flush (11)

Nickels: 3 - Crokinole (9), Polterfass (9), Marrakesh (5)

No special events this quarter, just a nice regular pattern of Tuesday games nights, lunchtimes with Joe and a lot of Jump Drive with Sarah.

And now a look at the collection.

Acquired: 3 - Wibbell++, Marrakesh, The Chameleon

Removed: 0

Owned: 179 (excluding expansions - up from 176 at end Q2)

Unplayed: 1 (Pax Renaissance)

Nice acquisitions - a weird 1970s hidden gem that I've been looking out for for ages and two great games by friends I met at LoB. Hopefully I'll finally get to play Pax Ren at Eastbourne in November.

Best new-to-me: two plays of Time of Crisis were a highlight, Marrakesh lived up to my expectations and Spires is a very neat card game.
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Sun Oct 1, 2017 2:27 pm
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Explosive fun - an analysis of dice in Time of Crisis

Martin G
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I really enjoyed my second play of Time of Crisis on Saturday night and so did my fellow players (see their write-ups here and here!). As an analyst/statistician, my mind turned to probabilities and the expert way they're handled in the game. I wanted to highlight one aspect of that in this post - the dice-rolls for the 'place governor' action.

Replacing another player as the governor of a province is a key move in the game. To succeed, you need to gain a target number of votes equal to double the support level of the province plus one for each military unit in the provincial capital. This will usually be a number from around 2 to 8. The votes are paid for with Senate action points, which are provided in values of 1-4 by blue action cards.

One way to implement this would have been to simply give one vote for each action point spent - a deterministic process in which I'd just check how many votes I needed for the province I wanted to control and spend the cards if I have them.

However, politics is rarely a sure-fire thing and the designers wanted to add some element of randomness. Instead of buying a certain vote, each blue action point instead lets you roll a die, with rolls from 2-6 counting as votes and ones as failures. This threshold means you can mostly count on a vote, but will get the occasional surprise.

This adds an element of risk. If the target is 6 votes, you still have to spend at least 6 points, but that might not be enough. In fact, rolling 6 dice turns out to only give you a 1 in 3 chance of gaining 6 votes. The distribution of number of dice rolled versus probability of success looks like this:



So far, this isn't massively interesting. If you want to have a reasonably good chance of succeeding, you just have to spend one or two extra action points. Effectively, this just raises the cost of the place governor action while adding the occasional frustrating failure.

Enter 'exploding sixes', a device often used in RPGs. Each six rolled not only counts as a vote, but also allows that die to be re-rolled for another potential vote. If you keep rolling 6s, you keep getting votes. This makes failure a little less likely with high numbers of dice but more interestingly it makes success possible with low numbers.

For an attempted 6 votes, the probability now looks like this:



There's a better-than-even chance of success with 6 dice, but even with 5 it's 1 in 3 and it's not impossible to succeed with 4 dice.

What this means is that even when a player has a couple of Senate points left over in their hand that couldn't buy enough votes to take a province at 1:1, they still have a shot. And these risky successes provide some of the game's most dramatic moments, like Joe's accession to Emperor with a single action point.

Sadly I turned out to be the victim of not-so-risky failures. In the last turn I split 12 action points between two 6-vote provinces and failed both. At least carrying out this analysis has shown that I wasn't that unlucky - roughly the same odds as rolling a 6 on one die.

Exploding sixes are also used for the combat rolls in the game, but with quite a different feel. Rather than choosing how many dice to roll at a fixed target, the number of dice are fixed and you see how many hits you can get. The long tail of the exploding dice distribution produces some befittingly unpredictable results there, like the hardy Barbarians who rolled up 7 hits from 2 dice, almost taking out four powerful Roman legions.

Mathematical aside for the interested

I was interested in working out the average number of votes from one exploding die and it turns out to have a rather nice result.

If we let E be the average of a non-exploding die and E' be the average of an exploding one then:

E' = E + 1/6 E'

because we get exactly as many hits as we would have got before, plus a one-sixth chance of rolling 6. How many votes does that exploding 6 roll add on average? Well, by definition that must be E'.

So rearranging the formula:

E' = 6/5 E

Exploding sixes always increases the average by 6/5. Since one non-exploding die with hits on 2-6 gives 5/6 votes on average, an exploding one must give exactly one vote on average.

Note: I generated the distributions above by adapting the code kindly provided here.
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Mon Sep 11, 2017 4:44 pm
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