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BGTG #126 - A Few Geeky Games

Mark Johnson
United States
Santa Clarita
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That's a Palm Pilot on the left, and a pink iPod mini on the right. Yes, I've been doing BGTG that long!

Mark wrote:

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It was good to get the opinions in the previous podcast off my chest, and the comments from listeners have been intelligent & polite...even when they disagree with me.

That's all well & good, but nonetheless I feel compelled to share some geeky games I do happen to enjoy. Do these poke holes in my earlier arguments? Perhaps. However, you'll notice these are all shorter games, and that's significant. I can more easily enjoy any game that doesn't hog the entire game night, and 1-hr games let me dabble in just about any theme and still have time for something historic and worthy of post-game Wikipedia research.

Magical Athlete is a Japanese design that's a decade old, but I just learned about it. Apparently Z-Man brought this to English-speaking audiences back in 2010, but it still flew under my radar. At it's core it's a series of roll-and-move race games along a simple (simplistic) linear track. What makes it a worthwhile game, however, are the movement-based special powers for each character, the way those powers interact, and the fact that the characters are drafted by players before the races even start. That permits a little bit of strategy, a fair dose of luck, and some silly interaction. If you're surprised I like a game with fantasy/manga theming, so am I. It's the gameplay that wins me over, much more than the theming (though even I got a kick out of the character artwork).

By now you've probably heard quite a bit about Richard Garfield's King of Tokyo, and for good reason. This is one of the best games of last year. Just like the last title rose above its humble roll-and-move origins, King of Tokyo takes the familiar Yahtzee mechanism of rolling a bunch of dice, freezing some during two re-rolls, and does something great with it. Starting with the theme of giant monsters destroying the city, the game uses fantastic artwork to cause instant fun. Though each player's monster looks different, they play the same until acquisition of special powers cards causes some differentiation. However, the core of the game is a finely tuned combination dieroll mechanism, where everyone can score points on their turn, heal damage, store up "energy" to buy more special cards...or inflict damage on the other players. That can happen to the point of wiping someone out--player elimination! And yet, it's so darn smooth, no one minds. In fact, it's fun to stick around for the ultimate outcome of a game in which you died. I've done that. The game had limited availability last year, but I understand that's improving now. Also, Garfield has an interesting expansion in the works, which you can hear about on his interesting podcast.

Finally, Mission: Red Planet is a steampunk-themed game about colonizing Mars in the Victorian era. Though the game mechanisms include some bits about that subject, it's the game's story told through its amazing artwork that really delivers the theme. Spaceships that blend Jules Verne's Nautilus with Buck Rogers deliver British aristocrats and soldiers to different territories on the Martian globe, with help and interference from other saboteurs, scientists, spaceship pilots, femme fatale, and so on. It's an area majority game merged with role selection, all wrapped up in that steampunk Mars setting that reminds me of the Space: 1889 (Original edition) rpg. Even though my real-life job is also focused on Mars, our spacecraft don't have these sleek and retro lines. Our vehicles have metallized fabric insulation, thrusters at odd angles, and a rover that looks like a Swiss army knife exploded. That's because it does so many things, we design for function over form, and it's all about optimizing mass & volume for the scientific mission. As of this writing, Curiosity landed in Mars' Gale Crater a few days ago, and all of us at JPL are tremendously excited. So, it seems, is everyone else. The goodwill is amazing!



Mark Johnson's occasional & opinionated podcast about family strategy boardgames
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