The Jaded Gamer

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When a hand shake is inadvisable

Alec Chapman
United Kingdom
Lincolnshire
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Retrospective 7: Dexterity Games
(Bausack, Villa Paletti, Jenga)

How obtained: All cash methinks, Villa Paletti was from France.

Board Game: Bausack

Board Game: Jenga

Board Game: Villa Paletti


Ah the wonderul world of dexterity. Beloved of people who don't drink a lot of caffeine, hated by those of us who live on the stuff because we work shifts and anyone without the solid as a rock musculature of a fighter pilot.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that I'm the sort of gamer who knocks over towers. A lot.

While todays youngsters are spoilt with Animal Upon Animal I think Jenga was probably the first competitive dexterity test I remember. Every time I play a game where the rules take two sentences...

Quote:
take a piece out and put it on the top. Don't knock the tower over or you lose.)


...I have a pang of longing that every game could start so quickly. Save us all from long rules explanations (VLAADA!)

In fact, the "one person loses" rather than "one person wins" approach is ideally suited to a more grown up pursuit - drinking games! So I do have a Jenga set now, but sadly this is NOT my legendary Jenga drinking game set, which I donated to the bar at the Roxy nightclub in Kolkata, India. I imagine they binned it the moment I left, since it probably stank of liquor and cigarette smoke.

 


The great thing about the Jenga drinking game (you knock it down, you do a shot) is that it parallels that Douglas Adams invention...

Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy wrote:
...an old drinking game that Ford learned to play in the hyperspace ports that
served the madranite mining belts in the star system of Orion Beta.

The game was not unlike the Earth game called Indian Wrestling, and was played like this:

Two contestants would sit either side of a table, with a glass in front of each of them.
Between them would be placed a bottle of Janx Spirit (...)
Each of the two contestants would then concentrate their will on the bottle and attempt to tip it and pour spirit into the glass of his opponent - who would then have to drink it.

The bottle would then be refilled. The game would be played again. And again.

Once you started to lose you would probably keep losing, because one of the effects of Janx spirit is to depress telepsychic power.

As soon as a predetermined quantity had been consumed, the final loser would have to perform a forfeit, which was usually obscenely biological.

Ford Prefect usually played to lose
I'm not saying Tequila is very similar in effect to that old Janx spirit telepathically, but it does tend to have an effect on dexterity gaming performance somewhat similar to that fictional libation.

I've always had a soft spot for a game that only works because of unavoidable production issues i.e. if it was perfectly made and on a perfectly flat surface, the first move would be a real terror.

Anyway, Jenga is still some fun every now and again, but it got totally ripped to pieces by Bausack when I got to play that game. It's a little like No Thanks! but instead of cards and chips you're talking about building blocks and diamonds.

The sort of default mode (there are several) is one of either trying to buy a nominated piece with your money, or paying money to avoid a nominated piece.

The big catch is, of course, that the pieces are not lovely regular blocks you can use to fill up a regular tower, but a horrid mixture of what appear to be door handles, model vases, an egg cup (even, horribly, an EGG) all of which you somehow have to use to build a stable structure.

All pieces after the first cannot touch the ground, so you have to be really, really careful you don't end up with a balancing nightmare too soon (rest assured you'll have a problem eventually) because the true joy of this game is the wild creations you'll end up with.

I've had amazing success with this one at non-game centric functions in the past and despite the odd frustrating moment it is usually a great fun time - particuarly if you can swing it so that the opposition run out of money first and cannot pay to avoid the pieces you pass to them.

Board Game: Bausack

This image is by user "Firepigeon"

I'm not sure it's a truly great game in terms of the rules (I mean any of the various versions included in the book), but the use of all the crazy pieces and the way you have to adapt your building and try and to anticipate what you'll be stuck with later (the egg is still there, so maybe I should keep my egg cup uncovered...) is the real fun. I don't think which rules you choose to use matters, in the face of the fun that gives you.

Moving on...

In a fit of holiday feeling, I discovered a new copy of Villa Paletti sitting in the back of a toyshop in Chamonix, France (sitting in the valley next to Mont Blanc, Chamonix is one of my favourite places in the world) - now, for some reason I was certain that this game was either very rare or out of print - so I picked it up, only to find that neither of those assumptions was correct. It's a lot of fun, although that is despite the fact I'm not really sure there aren't a lot of issues with the ruleset. Just like in Bausack this doesn't really matter, though.

If I remember correctly, each type of column is worth a different amount of points and the person with the highest number of points on the highest level of the tower is the current "master builder". Whoever is holding the "master builder" at the time the tower falls is the winner (unless that's the person who knocked it down).

Where it all gets a bit vague for me is the turn when someone proposes that no more pillars can be removed from below - meaning a new level can be placed. This seemed a bit unfair in multiplayer games since if you're in the wrong place in turn order there's nothing you can do other than risk pulling an extra piece to stop that lucky individual gaining a huge advantage. This is because the person who places the new level will obviously do so in such a way as to free up his own pieces and endanger others.

Board Game: Villa Paletti

this gorgeous picture is by user "richardtempura"

As with the other dexterity games mentioned, the rules being a little strange doesn't really matter, since the tension is all in the lovely moments when you try and rescue a pillar that may be non-supporting, only to catch the higher level on its way out and become a supporting pillar inadvertently. The game comes with a nice metal hook to save you trying to reach into the middle of a forest of pillars with your hand.

I've only seen this game reach the top once and that game definitely did not involve me!

I think all of these are great fun and will continue to hold onto them. If I was getting rid of any of them it would probably be Villa Paletti, but on reflection the few sessions it gets per year are more than worth the house room.

I've played some others - Riff Raff and the like, but nothing has really beaten this little selection. I can certainly point you in the direction of Bausack (or, as I believe it is now known, Bandu) as a great, slightly more thoughtful alternative to another game of Jenga this Christmas.
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Mon Dec 1, 2014 9:55 pm
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Breaking the code before breaking your brain.

Alec Chapman
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Retrospective 6: Code 777

Board Game: Code 777


I'm going to start this one by saying that my own little game design for a development of this system (and using a few elements from Hanabi) is still ongoing and delayed only by the fact that I am a mathematics moron.

From that you can probably work out already that my conclusion here is that Code 777 is a game that comes very close to being one I really, really like.

The problem I have with it is really only that it is almost TOO frustrating a puzzle at times. There is a lot of inflexibility in how it will play out and if you're desperately trying to find something specific out that will make the pieces all fall into place, the fact that you get absolutely no choices about what you can find out is infuriating at times.

To a certain extent there's nobody to blame for plays like this other than myself. As I have said, my logic and mathematics centres are a little deficient (bloody artists*) and I'm sure a lot of other players are in these binds a lot less often as a result.

Board Game: Code 777

Image is by user "evilone"

Nevertheless and with all these caveats in mind I think there's a bunch of good reasons to keep this game, or to try it out if you haven't already.

1. Abstract problem solving is actually something that can get those who wouldn't play regular, themed multiplayer games playing.

A couple of my family members who would never go near a themed game like Jamaica or Pandemic would still be interested in this - after all, millions of people play Sudoku and all the other word and number puzzles every day, lots of them competitively in newspaper competitions, so there's a niche being filled here. (cf. Ingenious)

2. The components work really well, with one caveat.

The tracking sheets are, for obvious reasons, printed in black and white and this is a little bit of an issue in terms of usability and introduces one point where unintentional errors can creep in - this isn't too big an issue because of the symbols used for colourblindness, but the question cards make no concessions towards colourblindness - surely you could have said "green circles" as easily as "greens"? In everything else Stronghold is their usual exemplary self - there's something so satisfying in working with tiles instead of cards (I WISH they'd do an edition of Tichu on Mahjong tiles) and the stands work great, with all the card stock being good too.

One thing I would like included in the game (this isn't really a criticism more than preference) is more copies of the list of questions. The box does include a single set of cards showing all the questions (and more importantly their reference numbers) that can be asked. Presumably this is to help you use the right hand side of the sheet with the spaces for answers... but passing those around to everyone every time they're running through their inferences from the answers given is such a pain that you tend not to bother doing this.

I'd rather have a single A5 sheet of paper each (and actually, keep meaning to make one) with all the questions on in lots of languages rather than a few cards. Perhaps others find this less annoying, but I really can't face how much longer the game would be if I was double checking my work every time I was making a guess rather than between turns.

3. It is, when you get locked into the mindset, pretty fun.

If you're the sort of person who enjoys those logic puzzle books (or did) then you know the most satisfying thing is wringing every drop of information out of a single revelation as you can. This game lets you do that in pretty much any way you can work out (before you ask, my ways all suck).

You do need to bear in mind that the primary feeling while playing this is infuriated frustration and the almost physical NEED to see what those bloody tiles are saying. It's a very different feeling to playing less abstract deduction games, but it's not bad for that.

It's mainly in the collection though because it's on of the rare games my wife will ask to play, as opposed to agreeing to playing. She's a huge fan of logic puzzles and deduction games - and this genre also appeals to her family more than, say, Ticket To Ride does. I am horrible at it, and as a result it may run a bit longer than I want it to, but if she's having fun then so am I.

Give a try and maybe let me know what you think.




*Bloody sweeping statements!
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Fri Nov 28, 2014 1:43 pm
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Ageing Duellists

Alec Chapman
United Kingdom
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Retrospective 5: Duel Of Ages
How Obtained: In gratitude for working on BoardGameGuru's website


Quote:
So my plan from here is to talk about virtually every game I've ever owned. I'm not going to slap the word "review" on those posts, because it'll be a completely subjective recollection of my experiences with each game, rather than a judgement on its merits or qualities from anything other than a personal history perspective. Are you reading this quote for the first time? If not, do you think I should stop including it?
Board Game: Duel of Ages Set 1: Worldspanner


I like rolling dice. Do you?

If you don't you need to run away from the first edition of Duel of Ages. That's what you'll be doing all game.

Man I've had some epic sessions of this - including one tight as hell game that was tied at bedtime and had to continue the next morning for another hour (ok, it didn't HAVE to, but we were having fun) as well as a game at LobsterCon in which a hugely powerful Spartacus killed off character after character of mine until meeting his match in the unlikely form of a character called Brad The Slacker...

In summary it's a light war game with strange time travelling mission elements.

Instead of this skirmish just being about killing members of the other team - for which you only gain one point (for ending with more members alive than your opponent), in fact you'll be getting most of your points from how you perform in the grandly titled "adventure keys".

These are mini boards acting as the scoring zones - featuring either set targets to complete on each space, or producing a changing target from cards, which will then have variable results based on how by much you beat or miss the target.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
Though you can win by wiping the opposition out of course this is much easier said than done when the characters are somewhat balanced (a draft helps here) and a powerful weapon is discarded after a single kill.


So, it's important to note that there are differences in how challenges are resolved between the first and second versions of this when taking into account my thoughts - I've only played the original with all its flawed production elements of bendy boards and tiny counters.

I particularly 'enjoy' the unlisted set up section where we hunt for the right tokens for our characters after drafting them - many of which are quite similar. A good five minute task after I collected all the expansions!

In the first version you roll dice for resolving absolutely everything and the really thematic stuff has to happen in your head. If you're the sort of person who likes to read a lot of flavour text and really get the theme handed to you, you're not going to find this much more than a dice fest. If you're a fan of tightly balanced Euro type games exclusively this is going to irritate you a lot.

To give a feeling of what a game is like, I guess I can insert a game report here...

Board Game: Duel of Ages Set 1: Worldspanner

This picture is by user "Ravenhoe" but more importantly features me (I'm the one who hasn't done his hair and EVEN more rarely shows me without a beard which only happens very, VERY occasionally)

(I'm adding some extra notes here for additional context)

Quote:
Team White:

Sir Gawain, The Knight
Sgt. Gritt, The Sarge
Ace Cannon, The Quarterback
Matt Fade, The Escape Artist
Bladed Terror, The Deadly Life Form
Reaver MkVII, The Battered War Machine
Raygun Roger, The Gallant Space Hero
Mildred Stonegutter, The Battleaxe
(guest appearances by a Stingwhip, and by a Grizzly Bear and her Cub)

Team Black:
Gana, The Shapeshifter
Minx and Jinx
Sgt York
Geronimo
Frostdancer, The Graceful Warrior
Brad The Slacker, The Slacker
Mick The Lion
Camden Drake

Platters: Congo, Yazoo, Lithopolis, Painted Desert

Adventure Keys: Lith Alliance, Bases, Royal Tournament, LabyrinthsA difficult and hard to traverse map set up with a banishment zone south of the Congo, meaning the banished were out of the adventure areas for a long time.

The only easy route out was quickly covered by team white with the Stingwhip Sentinel (one of the in game static artillery units - in this case a particularly violent hedge), which led a charmed life and survived the whole game.

First Blood went to team black as, following an initial injury to Sir Gawain from Gana (a shapeshifter), who had shifted into his form, and from Frostdancer, he was shot to death by Sgt. York (WW2 soldier) a little later, who was packing the Seeker rifle.

Immediate retribution came for Team White from Mildred Stonegutter (the 1950s sexist battleaxe type), who took exception to Frostdancer attempting to walk away from her - braining him with her rolling pin.

Meanwhile The Bladed Terror (some sort of horrific beast from the future) was performing sterling work for team white, having won the skirmish at the royal tournament (presumably the entrance qualification criteria were reasonably full of loopholes), this creature of mass destruction then destroyed the enemy HQ, and then, with a little help from the Quarterback (yes, a quarterback), killed both Minx and Jinx, who were approaching white's base with a view to destroying the HQ and getting back on level terms.

In the late game, much of the board was being covered by York, who had grabbed the Sniper Rifle from his team's vault and took up a covering position over the royal tournament and both the ancient and colonial labyrinths.

During his time as vicious sentinel of the yazoo, however, he took out Raygun Roger (basically Flash Gordon) - not on his first two attempts when Roger was flying high on his jetpack and thus an easy target, but upon York's third attempt, firing through thick swamp. Showing off, much?

In response, Sgt Gritt (a different WW2 solder to Sgt York) risked his own neck to send the grizzly bear and cub after York (pets are a little bit like artillery, but they move), thought they never got close as York decided his time was better spent trying to get his team back to level scores in the labyrinths.

Sgt Gritt had already killed Brad The Slacker from long range using a scoped Model 1903, and repeated the trick on Camden Drake late on.
(I think there was a cheat here - pretty sure we failed to enforce the rule where you have discard a weapon that has killed someone)

Team white (me) was in the lead for most of the game, at one point leading 5-1, having taken an unassailable advantage in the lith alliance and destroyed Black HQ as well as doing serious damage to the opposition ranks.

Team Black (my brother) came roaring back late on with assaults on the Royal Tournament and the colonial labyrinth - only being thwarted in their attempts for a draw by three successive squeaks on the bar-room brawl challenge, eventually running out of time.

Scoring:

Thanks to sterling work from Mick The Lion, Team Black won the Modern Labyrinth easily.

Team Black also took a late control of the royal tournament, thanks to the cover from York's sniper rifle.

They also controlled the ancient labyrinth, which had been entirely ignored by Team White.

Team Black Scored 3 Points.

Unfortunately they had lost 4 of their members; Frostdancer, Minx and Jinx, Brad The Slacker and Camden Drake all never left the field of battle.

Team white on the other hand only lost two members - Sir Gawain and Raygun Roger.

The white team also controlled the future labyrinth thanks to Roger and Reaver.

Along with the destruction of the Black HQ and the lead in the Lith Alliance, Team White therefore scored 4 points.

The Colonial Labyrinth was tied.

Final Score 4-3 to Team White

An excellent fun game this time, that swung back and forth, despite a very difficult map set up to traverse.

Team White MVP: Bladed Terror
Team Black MVP: Mick The Lion
Board Game: Duel of Ages Set 1: Worldspanner

This image by user "tiredmind"

CONCLUSION


How do I feel about this game these days? Well, I've put it on the trade list so you would think I've gone off it, but actually it remains one of the more fun experiences I can have - I just wonder how much play I'm going to get out of it since it has

a. Unfashionable central mechanisms
b. Been replaced by a newer edition

I may play it once every two years - I'm trying to decide if that much play is worth it if I ever get an offer - I suspect given its general poor components vs high value of a complete out of print game means such offers will be few and far between and I can avoid having to make the decision at all, which would be pretty cool all told.

In any case, I reckon I need to play this again soon to give me a good idea how much I like it these days - mainly to see if I can play a fun game in 90 minutes rather than the 8 a side epics I've played in the past.

In any case, I like rolling dice - but I wonder if Summoner Wars has got the drop on this one for its (MUCH) quicker set up and easier accessibility for more casual gamers. However, it is even more abstracted and you lose that awesome time travel update where you can give Spartacus a baseball bat and launch a guided missile at Napoleon who is driving away as fast as he can on an ATV...

But once again writing about it has made me think how much I want to play it again, which has to be a good thing!

EDIT: I was interrupted by the return of my wife from work before I did my usual proof read, so have made some syntax corrections and tried to make the whole thing a bit more readable.
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Thu Nov 27, 2014 6:24 pm
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Star Truck

Alec Chapman
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Retrospective 4: Galaxy Trucker
How obtained: Cash

Quote:
So my plan from here is to talk about virtually every game I've ever owned. I'm not going to slap the word "review" on those posts, because it'll be a completely subjective recollection of my experiences with each game, rather than a judgement on its merits or qualities from anything other than a personal history perspective.
Board Game: Galaxy Trucker


This is one of those play it once and want it immediately games. I can't remember who taught me it but they did a fantastic job and we had a massive laugh watching our hard earned building blocks float off into space.

They must have done a VERY good job explaining it because the front loading for this game is crazy. If you don't know what any of the bits mean or - crucially - where they are allowed to go, your ship is going to fall apart on the launchpad.

While ripping illegally placed bits off someone's ship is hilarious if they're usually a good player and have had a brainfart, it's far from encouraging for a new player - so, as well as explaining what the most crucial systems do (I usually leave out the aliens for ship 1 with new players to save effort), you have to run through rules for placing engines, turrets and batteries AS WELL as simply telling them which connections are legal with which other ones.

Board Game: Galaxy Trucker

This image is by user "lukaszkuch"

It's a tough sell for even the most hardened gamer, I reckon.

That being said, I have a quarter century of plays for this game so it must have been loads of fun right? Well, yeah!

One of the most memorable moments of teaching my mum, for example, was when she built her ship and walked off (I think she was cooking - cos I am a really good son who insists his own mother multitasks) and we autopiloted her ship through the meteors and such.

Well... I say "through" but really it was "into". Her luck was such that when she returned at the next build phase (number 3 I believe) she had only two components left - an engine and a cockpit. I think she had one little astronaut left. "What happened?" she asked, crestfallen.

We giggled. My brother's ship had blown up entirely and even that wasn't half as funny as her combination of fascination and disappointment as we explained, captain's log style, how everything had gone so very wrong.

AUTOPILOT

The fact that we were able to autopilot her through the trip could be a criticism. It's a building game with a very weird scoring mechanism - not a space flying game. Decisions are pretty obvious, when you get to make any at all.

This doesn't really change in the first big expansion. at least, not if you aren't being VERY generous. I've not played with the second expansion (and don' play enough to warrant checking it out anyway)

Do I mind about that? No. I like the speed building, even when I screw it up and lose the whole saucer section of the notorious "Enterprise" configuration - and enjoy it enough to allow the occasional streaky game to pass without being too annoyed.

And there is an element of cruelty in the game. It is merciless!

Even the most secure looking ship can have its weaknesses. You may have stuck a bunch of armour plating and shields on your windscreen and be bristling with lasers, but taking a meteor up the jacksie on the first round can make things look very different.

This is particularly if it took out the single crucial bit of structure and half your ship is floating into a black hole as a result of rolling the wrong number.

There is a temptation to view a loss or victory as unfairly earned. I don't think that's very good as criticisms go, however, since the unfairness is fairly well applied to all players - I prefer the term "cruel".

Board Game: Galaxy Trucker

Image is by user "Artax"

CONCLUSION

It's been too long since I dug this out. I guess the teaching is a pain in the arse for me and I've done it at least six or seven times. I'm pretty sure I can remember the rules today - and BGG says I've not played it since four years ago, when tyhe game irritated one player so much he became extremely ill and had to bow out (or was already ill, I forget) - certainly the front cover of my rulebook got stuck to the table of the pub and lost half its printing. Sad times.

I like the game and this is probably why I haven't got rid of it despite the long time since I last played it. Every time I spot it on the shelf I think, "I like galaxy Trucker - I should play it more".

So... I like Galaxy Trucker. I should play it more.
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Tue Nov 25, 2014 3:48 am
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Crayon Rails (And how not to build them)

Alec Chapman
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Retrospective 3: Crayon Rails (Empire Builder, Eurorails, Iron Dragon)
How Obtained: Cash, Birthday, as a thank you for running the semi co-operative pub quiz

Quote:
So my plan from here is to talk about virtually every game I've ever owned. I'm not going to slap the word "review" on those posts, because it'll be a completely subjective recollection of my experiences with each game, rather than a judgement on its merits or qualities from anything other than a personal history perspective.
Board Game: Empire Builder
Board Game: Eurorails
Board Game: Iron Dragon


Opening note: For anyone stuck in Spain with the one copy of your crayon rails game that you did not put your dry wipe crayons in, I can say with authority that in order to get replacements, the word is "Plastidecor". You're welcome.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
This is going to be really helpful in that most unlikely of scenarios where you're in the situation above and yet still recall an obscure blog post from 2014...


for anyone who doesn’t know Empire Builder. It’s the one where you draw with crayon onto the board. Yes, directly onto the board. It’s the wanton pseudo-destructiveness of this that got Mrs C to try it the first time. Once you have your track you can run your very abstract pawn from town to town, picking up the goods they produce there and delivering them where your demand cards tell you, balancing the cost of building the required track against the income you will get from this and future deliveries. Repeat until rich.

I do have some caveats.

1. I like this game mainly because my wife does.
It’s a gentle, semi serious experience and not hardcore game fare by today’s standards until you reach the extremely experienced level of knowing the decks and best connections etc. I do not intend to reach there and the pickup gamer would not either as UI find the game is simply too long and repetitive for, for example, one hundred plays to be viable.

2. Whoever put six players on the box is insane.
With two players we’re talking two to three hours and with more players you can probably add on another hour for each. I’ve played it, in Eurorails form, with three and four with fun results, but by the end of the four player game I was flagging like a hitchhiker in a hailstorm.

3. Black and Yellow are poor choices for a player colour.
The yellow crayon only shows up in direct sunlight and given the potential playtime and time of commencement involved you will not stay in such light for the duration. At several points yesterday it felt like Mrs C was chugging along on invisible track! The black crayon causes problems of obscuring and looking like part of the board art. I used purple with the black counter. A much better choice.

4. Older versions just aren’t as nice as recent editions.
I have an older copy of iron dragon and its component limitations render it even less attractive – all white counters with pictures only and no words (fail!), poor cardstock and the old style card art is less user friendly and discourages me from even trying it at this point. I hate to be a snob about such things, but since I’m going to be looking at this functional board art for a long time the rest of the pieces being a bit more polished makes the latest editions of Eurorails and Empire Builder a lot more enjoyable – I would only purchase versions of this quality in future.

5. I bought great big washable crayons
This was for two reasons – first, trade value stays up if the original crayons are intact (this point is now moot since I dropped the games and they both sport major dings); second, they draw thicker lines and you can see them that much more easily. I recommend this approach wholeheartedly.

Board Game: Eurorails

This scrumptious image is by user "msaari"

Note - the above caveats are stolen, literally just copied and pasted, from an article I wrote a couple of years ago - and things haven't changed for me. I still like the game more than I thought I would; Mrs C has stopped taking back two or three builds at a time (GRRR...) as much as she did when we started playing; and the whole process is, for the most part, still fun.

I do think that we're into the stage now where the last few turns are a tedious race of counting mileposts to see who makes that crucial delivery first, which is pretty dull and anticlimactic - especially when I know she's won already (for which I suppose the opposite also holds true for her).

Like a lot of the games I own or have owned these are an acquired taste - I doubt the sort of gamer who loves worker placement or auction games will suddenly morph into a crayon rails fan, obviously.

However, for what they are I do not hesitate to commend them to your attention again - but only the newer editions. I would never even have touched this game in its earlier, ugly as sin editions - which I guess is shallow of me, but there you go.
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Sat Nov 22, 2014 11:57 pm
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The Little Panda

Alec Chapman
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Retrospective 2: Takenoko
How obtained: In trade for Wasabi!

ALGO wrote:
"So my plan from here is to talk about virtually every game I've ever owned. I'm not going to slap the word "review" on those posts, because it'll be a completely subjective recollection of my experiences with each game, rather than a judgement on its merits or qualities from anything other than a personal history perspective."
Board Game: Takenoko


While I would be lying if I claimed that Tabletop hadn't been the primary source of my spotting "the panda game" - my reasons for obtaining it were a bit more sensible.

Board Game: Wasabi!


Up until this trade I had been the "proud" owner of Wasabi!, that most awful of things - a game my wife enjoyed greatly, but that I absolutely despised. As a result I was trapped in that horrible space where she would want to play it and I tried not to throw up while doing so.

I'm not entirely sure what I have against Wasabi!, either. While it is in essence an abstract game with themed bits, everything sort of works within the theme so it doesn't feel entirely pasted on (well, aside from the Wasabi cubes themselves) and I don't mind abstracts at all. I enjoy them a lot, in fact.

In hindsight, I suppose the problem was that while on one level the system works, it still fails to either:

a. Make sense
-after all, you don't make sushi by lining stuff up and sharing the crossovers

b. Be fun
-and this is pretty subjective, but it felt pretty samey. You could try and complete your 5 ingredient recipe if you liked, but if so you had to be ready for a lot of tedious blocking and unblocking that felt far too rote to be enjoyable.

I don't have any issue with anyone who likes Wasabi! - it just isn't for me. If you do enjoy it, why not temper my harsh words with a comment below?

Having decided to kick the sushi game out of the door, I was faced with the irritating prospect of losing one of the games I was reasonably assured my wife would play if I wanted to get a game out of an evening.

At this point I was lucky enough to watch that Tabletop episode and, while recognising we weren't in the realms of high no-luck strategy games here was something that could easily capture her imagination.

Board Game: Takenoko

Image is by BGG User kevacoustic

Of course, the cute story and Panda help greatly - as do the incredible production values on display - each tile looks great, the bamboo is perfect (if a tad wobbly) yet retains enough clarity and symbology to make the game an absolute breeze to play. It also helps that the card drawing and risk/reward of trying to grow the garden towards them is similar enough to Wasabi! to retain a bit of familiarity when teaching - so I could literally say "just like Wasabi" when explaining the scoring cards.

The rest of it still proved a teeny bit tricky to teach, since doing one thing THEN two other things a turn isn't the most intuitive system for occasional gamers. There have been a couple of moments where doing things in a slightly different order has happened (i.e. the weather die gave an ability that would help in the MIDDLE of her turn) and the usual discussion about why I am such a nitpicker was had and so on.

But since, as I said, I understand we're not in the realms of high strategy here I have let a couple of moments slide in favour of actually enjoying the process of playing.

I do think it's worth taking a moment to think occasionally about whether the process of a game is fun. For instance, when I recently learned Alchemists I wasn't so enamoured of the actual game after scoring as I was of the processes I used while playing it, especially the testing of potions using the app.

I'm sure Alchemists has been discussed at length elsewhere, so all I'll say is that the game seems to be won and lost by how you play the bit of it I didn't like very much - the publishing of theories; rather than the bit I did like - the testing of potions.

As a result, my memory of entering the end game was of frustration, despite loving the experience of playing it while it was happening - your mileage may vary of course.

However, in Takenoko while the end game and the strategy determined by your card draws is a lot simpler, probably, than in Alchemists - I didn't feel that moment of "well, I just wasted my time doing the fun bit" that I did in the other game. Neither did I spend the whole game hating the process of laying tiles and stacking or swapping them in a near-zero sum boredom fest as in Wasabi!

There's a few options and while they're not the most complex, they do all contribute to your scoring, and so long as you maintain some kind of flexibility you're not stuck up a blind alley or facing the next twenty minutes making up the numbers. I like watching the garden and bamboo grow and making "yum" noises when the Panda eats - probably the only dull move, for my limited definition of dull, is picking up irrigation (since you don't get to change the board unless you place it immediately). And you end the game, not with a horrible mish/mash of sushi related tiles slapped onto a board; not with a whole load of interesting sheets and deductions that don't matter any more; but with a colourful, cute little bamboo garden that has scored you a bunch of points.

It's not my favourite game by a ways, since it does have a limited range of experiences to offer - it is not variable in its set up and the only optional rule is not really much of a change (since randomness has such a big part to play the scoring card having to be qualified for again is just as arbitrary as it already having been completed). I have yet to work out if I can be bothered to try and learn the scoring card distribution to try and play it as a game of brinksmanship.

I think I will continue to use Takenoko as I have been. It's, at its lightest, a fun little activity and game that produces a few giggles and a little bit of thinking, as well as a pretty awesome looking result.
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Sat Nov 22, 2014 8:40 am
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The State Of Play

Alec Chapman
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Noting that my last three blog posts are entitled "Humble Pie", "Admitting Defeat" and "A Cautionary tale", I think it's time to stop putting myself down and call this one something more neutral.

As promised, if last night's post can be considered a "before" picture, here is the "after" one, being the state of my collection today (minus the ones on the trade/sell pile).

As you can see, there's been a lot of changes...

From gallery of ALGO


So my plan from here is to talk about virtually every game I've ever owned. I'm not going to slap the word "review" on those posts, because it'll be a completely subjective recollection of my experiences with each game, rather than a judgement on its merits or qualities from anything other than a personal history perspective.

So I thought I'd start, since it's easier this way, with a game that ISN'T in that picture because I have lent it to some friends of mine (still trying to convert the average person, after all this time)

Retrospective 1: Catan

Board Game: Catan


Back in what must be 2005/2006, I bought my family a game to play at Christmas because I wasn't there with them - I was with my new wife at her family's place instead. That game was Carcassonne, which I chose because it was well reviewed on Amazon yet still quite cheap, comparatively.

On my subsequent visit to their place at New Years, I asked if they had enjoyed it. To my surprise they had enjoyed it. Greatly.

Being much more a computer gamer, I hadn't considered it as anything other than a fun diversion after dinner (when we used to play Monopoly, but more on those horrors at a later date), but hearing how much fun they had had with it, my mum offered to talk me through it.

I had an absolute blast. There were no dice! I felt involved! Nobody was kicked out of the game halfway through. It was a Christmas gaming revolution.

So it was because of the new, intriguing experience that I found myself diverting to Hamleys (possibly the most expensive choice in England) during our shopping in the sales and having a chat to one of the staff there. They didn't have Carcassonne, he said, but why not try this one instead - and brought out Settlers of Catan. I bought it there and then and my journey into modern gaming (with the occasional Sid Sackson throwback) began.

At the time, the regular visitors to my house numbered three so I also invested, after a couple of times having to leave my wife out of the game (as the least interested party), in the 5-6 player expansion - which then became our most used expansion ever. I don't think we used the alternative rule where everyone can build after each trading phase more than once so I'm not sure I can talk about this expansion accuratley in terms of its impact.

All I know is that while many people have decided it's past its prime, Settlers is still a game I enjoy playing whenever I do. That's setting aside the fact that like so many games I have owned, I am regularly destroyed at it.

The fact that it is still the gateway game I use with total boardgaming novices is a testament to its satisfying nature. I've seen all manner of people become trading monsters within an hour of their first being explained the rules. It seems the instinct to wheel and deal comes more naturally in Settlers than in Monopoly, for some reason.

It's obviously better for playing reasonably fast, since the nature of random outcomes can make the odd game or so a bit unfair, but I reckon there's few better intro games - I generally prefer TTR or Carcassonne but the former turns off those prejudiced against train geekery (I know, I know) and the latter has its legendary farm scoring rules to explain - which I can tell you from bitter experience ALWAYS confuse the non gamer. I'm pretty sure they confused me, and I wasn't requiring convincing!

Anyhoo - i still own this and it still gets played. I lent it to friends in an attempt to get them enjoying it, but look forward to getting it back some day and sucking at it some more.

Not all clichés are undeserving of their ubiquity.
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Sun Nov 16, 2014 10:24 pm
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A cautionary tale

Alec Chapman
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So I found this picture in my gallery from 2008 - it's of my burgeoning collection at the time and I remember being very fond of it, it showing, after all, the first flush of my collecting frenzy (perhaps two years in)and the perhaps overly ordered way I had arranged it in an IKEA Billy bookcase.
Share my nostalgia:

From gallery of ALGO


So out of interest I decided to take a look at that picture again and see how many of those games are still in my collection. I was shocked!
In the picture below you can see games that are already gone (in red) and games on the for trade list (in green). It's shocking to realise just how many games I used to think I'd play all the time and was so wrong about I couldn't even give them house room any more!

From gallery of ALGO


So out of all the games I had so studiously collected for my enjoyment, I still own only the following

Go - still got two sets, still don't really play enough for that to make sense.

Citadels - which I found I still had during a clear out but I think I'll keep since its house room is pretty small.

Arkham Horror - which has bred, as evil creatures are wont to.

The Lord of the Rings - Which fell apart. I'm pretty sure I have the parts in that brown box on top of the bookcase, now, but the miniatures got destroyed when a guest sat on the box!

Carcassonne - still one of my favourites, though I have been enjoying it more after I removed most of the expansions and now use only Carcassonne: Expansion 1 – Inns & Cathedrals in addition to the base game

Puerto Rico - still one of my faves, I still suck at it.

The Fury of Dracula - Which I can't bear to part with. I should see if it is complete and whether I can shift it for the same sort of money I got for the rest of the old Games Workshop stuff.

Tigris & Euphrates - though the one I have now is actually a different copy to the one pictured, ironically!

Agricola - still a favourite

Catan - though this is out on loan

SIMPSONS MONOPOLY and even SCRABBLE are still here for goodness' sake!

Power Grid - still a favourite

Subbuteo - which only gets played at LoBstercon!

What does this mean for the reader of this blog? Maybe nothing, maybe something. I'm pretty sure at least some of these purchases were made from a pure desire to expand the collection and get the big games at the time. Certainly now I would never have bought my own copy of Race For The Galaxy.
I certainly wouldn't have bought Tannhauser in hindsight since the two plays I had were far from being worthwhile - I was still in that crazy "maybe my wife will like it" stage of the hobby, at that point. Why I thought if Descent had too many fiddly bits for her, Tannhauser would be better, I have NO IDEA at all.

For Tannhauser I believe I got Twilight Struggle in exchange which has seen far more plays - if not with my wife (though I did teach her 1960 last week, perhaps one day...)

Do I regret wasting my time buying all these games and the money I spent on postage when trading them? Yeah, if I'm being honest with myself I have to admit this picture makes me feel a bit silly. Yeah, I think so.

I feel more silly that those shelves are even MORE full now. More on that later...

One thing I have been inspired to do is work my way through all the games I own now and write something about them. too subjective to call a review, but may be an entertaining read on each - so as a result I think it would be fun to take another picture (the Billy is still there, though groaning under the weights a bit more in its old age, I think) as the comparison will be interesting.

It's scary to look back sometimes, but hopefully this could be a cautionary tale, inspiring people to do what I have always encouraged them to, which is THINK CAREFULLY BEFORE YOU BUY.

A

P.S. Seriously? This is before I even owned Shadows over Camelot? Crikey that feels a long time ago!
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Sun Nov 16, 2014 2:44 am
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Admitting Defeat

Alec Chapman
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It was always a little tongue in cheek, but wow did I ever underestimate how little I would game in the last two years and how that would affect my playing of the 10 games I wanted to push up.

While it's almost certain I passed 100 plays of the Tichu app - I'm probably nearer 500 - I never got anywhere near that mark face to face and none of the others managed to break through the 50 barrier since my last post almost a year ago (until Cosmic finally did so last weekend) and almost all my plays have dried up, right down to the level where my solo plays of games outnumber face to face ones.

Groups dissolved, my work became night shifts, friends moved away or lost interest...

So... screw it all - I gave up.

Do I think the whole endeavour was dumb? No, not really. If I was playing even half as much as I was at the time I came up with the idea, I'd have been done by now.

Anyway, we had a lot of interesting conversations, a lot of people were very nice about my writing and I got to play games I already loved a lot more. So I call that a win/win - but, eventually, I had to break down and trade stuff overseas.

The trades were:

TZAAR and DVONN- I finally found someone willing to send these to me and now I am the proud owner of all 6 "core" GIPF titles. Yay, I guess (though they remain unplayed). And I got them for Defenders Of The Realm which had been replaced in my gaming life by Pandemic anyway (for why, see my last post: Humble Pie)

Takenoko - the little panda came into my collection in exchange for Wasabi!, which was a game that I found tedious and hated playing, despite the fact my wife enjoys it. I got the panda because I thought (and I was correct) after watching the Tabletop episode in which it featured, I would play it more than the sushi meets connect four game.

I also traded my completely unplayed copy of Alien Frontiers for a new, nicer Mahjong set (with Arabic numerals to stave off complaints!)

So for the most part those have been positive changes, meaning unplayed games for games that will get played - the only true **** up I have made in trading is in bringing in Mansions of Madness to replace my Android and Through The Ages - which has turned out to be replacing one unplayed game with another paperweight so if you're looking for a copy, make me an offer!

However, I have still only actually bought a couple of things with my own money since Feb 2012.

These were:

Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island – Voyage of the Beagle (Vol. 1) - I fricking love Robinson Crusoe after I got it for a birthday gift - even solo - and holy cow when I heard they were releasing a Charles Darwin (my hero) expansion... well, I had to have it. I've not played it yet and still have four scenarios to play from the original box, but I know that either alone or with others (I taught the original game 4 times at Lobstercon 7 despite suffering Laryngitis) it will get played.

Sentinels of the Multiverse is probably a less excusable purchase. In terms of slipping off the wagon it's a big fall (I have a whole bunch of extras in the box) but I console myself with those fateful words "it is being played" whenever I feel too bad. Mainly I bought it becaue even if I'm on my own, I love playing a new combination of heroes and trying to make them work (even if Parse and Setback are still causing me trouble)

So - there we go. I'm not the man to get this done after all.
I'm not perfect, and I'm not playing that much these days, despite Lobstercon finally pushing me over the 50 games played of Cosmic, so I'll happily pass the mantle on.

I'm also going to have a big clear out of games soon, which will hopefully offset the money spent on the new games and make me feel a bit better about that. (I've still got a War of the Ring with its expansion if anyone's looking.

A
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Sat Nov 8, 2014 12:39 am
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Humble Pie

Alec Chapman
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A game I repeatedly sneered at for years is Pandemic.

The central problem of any co-op game is not, as some would say, the alpha gamer (which is a problem with the gamER, not the game) but instead the difficulty in balancing the solvable puzzle parts of the design with random elements, forming something that isn't too obviously one or the other.

Simply put, I didn't think Pandemic did a good enough job hiding the maths from the players - in its original form (which I played a few times) it seemed to me that it was solitaire with a scoreboard. I was enough of a snob to point out that really your win or loss was already determined by the shuffle at the start and you were just going through the motions.

That is, obviously, still the case if you were to somehow play every game optimally - the deck can still be set up in an impossible way. The mistake I made in my earlier gaming days, was to think this actually matters.

As I have grown into a less dogmatic gamer I have come to accept that the real goal of gaming is to have fun, not to achieve some indefinable sense of every game being beatable with the right approach. This has led me in time to reinvestigate Pandemic, finding that it actually has a lot going for it.

1. Theme
There aren't a lot of untapped themes in the world of gaming and it's great to have a theme that is so universally inoffensive (very few people want to see diseases win) and without the super geek baggage that sci fi and fantasy themes have. The artists have also done a good job of showing gender and racial diversity in the cards.

2. Teaching
When the hardest things to learn in a game are the movement rules, you're probably onto a winner from this point of view. I still regularly forget the "discard the card showing the city you're in to move anywhere" move myself, which may well be why I lose so much. Usually it can be taught to brand new players in about ten to fifteen minutes, max. Less if they're happy to be talked through their first game.

3. Size
For a long time I preferred Defenders of the Realm because it had dice; it has models; It has nice cardboard sheets. However, it's also too big to take anywhere without large logistical considerations, meaning I never actually played it. Pandemic in the new edition and even with both expansions may be heavy, but fits into a messenger bag with room to spare. This means most importantly....

4. It will actually get played
The combination of the three factors above means that unlike Defenders of The Realm or Arkham Horror, which have more rules, are harder to transport and have geekier themes, I actually play Pandemic far more regularly that either of those. It is obvious from my other blog posts that I view a game that gets played as more valuable than one that doesn't, making this a huge consideration.

and finally..

5. (Mostly) great expansions.
My main complaint with Pandemic's expansions are that they contain an awful lot in which I have no interest.

The bioterrorist from On The Brink looks utterly pointless; the Team Game seems a waste of cardboard; the solo card is just a bizarrely unnecessary variant. All of those explore design space that is just more interesting in a dedicated game or, in the case of the solo card, by picking two roles!

This doesn't mean those bits are bad, but I just will never use them. However, the addition of the new roles, virulent strains and purple disease in On The Brink and then the far more thematic cure mechanism from In The Lab are exceptional.
They make it possible to exprience more interesting stories and unexpected events in each game in a way that I always felt was lacking from "vanilla" Pandemic.
The large number of extra roles means that there are more interactions to discover and exploit and while some are more useful than others, all of them can be great!
e.g. I was less than enthused by the idea of the contingency planner. Then I saw him in action.

Also, I'm shallow enough to know that new players will love the petri dishes and cure vials - increasing the "oooh what's that?" factor of the game (see 4, above)

There is still one thing that niggles me no end - and its the player pawns.
Why oh why oh why did they ever think they needed to release a new pawn for every single new role?

It is unnecessary, and if you pick two with very similar colours then you're totally screwed and have to use a proxy in any case. This is also exacerbated by the need to swap your pawn when using the role changing event card. Just an unnecessarily fiddly bit of component design.

Take a quick look at Flash point: Fire Rescue for what is undoubtedly the best method. You need only five pawns. Each player gets a card with their pawn colour on it, and roles are uncoloured. Sorted. I'll be making my own colour cards for the future, since it's hardly expensive to do so, but the way Pandemic has approached this has pushed the costs and fiddliness up unnecessarily, I think.

I think by removing things like the pawns, the bioterrorist and the team game, a single combined expansion of the rest would be better value for your money. I do realise that In The Lab didn't exist when On The Brink came out, and firms can make money however they want, but... er... that would be what I would do.

So in summary, this post is my apology to this well designed, accessible game that has already been a huge hit for me with gamers and non-gamers alike. Even better than that, my wife enjoys it too.

I was wrong. I have humble pie in the oven, for dinner.

A

PS: I also prefer the new artwork. I know many don't, but I do.
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Mon Dec 16, 2013 1:03 am
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