Monday, December 30, 2013

5 Take-Aways from Blood Bowl Season 6: My Errant Clicking Finger

My time with Season 6 of my Virtual Blood Bowl League has finally come to an end. It actually came to an end some time ago, but my communications satellite was on the far side of the planet and until I now I was operating in a signal blackout.

But back to Blood Bowl.

I played humans, for the second time. I did not do well, but I did better than expected.

Here are my take-aways.

1) The humans are a pretty fun team.

After some investigation, I think the human team are the Skaven I've been looking for all my life. While the blitzers are super expensive, the rest of the team provides oodles of affordable enjoyment. The catchers are packed full of skills, and they are almost as speedy as their furry Gutter Runner rivals. While the basic Human lineman has to potential to do anything. Love the extra armor point.

2) Boneheaded is a terrible skill to have.

After this season, I hereby vow to never again hire an Ogre to my team. Rolling boneheaded is a disheartening experience. But the way the video game is set up, if you the player are slightly confused it is very easy to also lose a reroll. During one half of one game, I lost every reroll I had trying to reroll boneheaded rolls. I thought I was just really unlucky. But in reality, the computer was taking my rerolls and throwing them in the garbage.

The bitter taste in my mouth really gained an intolerable strength the turn my ogre rolled boneheaded, was knocked down, and then rolled boneheaded trying to stand back up again. And with his companion Loner skill, you can have this happy circumstance 1/6th of the time you roll boneheaded, so it was only a matter of time before it happened again.

3) Similarly, the apothocary is completely useless. Resuscitation in the Old World has always been a great matter of luck and hope rather than skill. I imagine a Blood Bowl apothecary as similar to the "igor" race from Terry Pratchett's Discworld. But without any of the supernatural stitching-together abilities. And the computer version of Blood Bowl makes the apothecary worse. There are several opportunities for errant clicking. In this case, the errant click means selecting death. You always get to pick death, even if your character didn't die the first time and only dies on the re-roll. And during the season, I always picked death. After a while, I enjoyed picking the dead result. The real crime is life, a famous judge once observed.

4) Style should always go ahead of substance. You aren't going to be an awesome Blood Bowl player. Very people are. So try to reach the goals you WANT to reach. Don't listen to people talk about rankings or victories. Reach your OWN goals. Build character (and by extension, characters!) in your team and try to tell a story.

5) A few really bad things can happen during the typical Blood Bowl game. One of the big things, and its going to happen and you just have to accept it, are unexpected injuries. When your team is suddenly taken mostly out of the game due to unlucky dice rolls, well it happens. Usually in the first half. When that happens, try to see the game from the point of view of your opponent. Because when the slaughter happens to the other team, it is seriously fun times. Try to see their fun times, and realize your dead and bleeding team is contributing to another person's memorable experience. Perhaps you were even slightly incompetent. It happens to everybody!

No one is good at Blood Bowl. Except for the people who come in first, of course.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

10 Games To Get Into Each Other's Business

Since my post on interactivity, I've been thinking a lot about player boards. Don't get me wrong, I love player boards set out in front of every person. I don't mind "multiplayer solitaire" style gaming either.

But what I'm doing here now is calling out games on the other side of the fence. Games bucking the individual player board, games focused on keeping the action to a central chunk of the table all players have access to. No mats. No tableaus.

This isn't exactly a "best of" list, except to me. There's probably better out there, but I sure haven't played 'em! All of these titles I've played personally. And they are awesome.

10) Carcassonne

Sure enough, a lot of board games I'm going to go over are typically listed as "family games" or "gateway" games. No matter how much the elite may look down on these games, no one can argue they aren't interactive.

Gateway games get you into the hobby. And its been my experience the more veteran gamers slowly move their tastes away from the single board. The hardcore economic machines like Agricola and Puerto Rico all have highly defined player areas. I think as knowledge and skill grows, there also grows a subconscious desire to optimize your strategy, away from the fickle interference of your fellow players. To prove your raw superiority. And I can't argue that there is some luck and uncertainly surrounding the central board, as you try to maintain control while opponents fight among themselves like a pack of half-starved feral hogs.

Speaking of half-starved feral hogs, the rulebook for Carcassonne bizarrely recommends you talk over each tile placement with your fellow players to determine the optimal play that benefits everyone. Sort of a social activity develop your relationship with your fellow players. Huzzah, what fun!

But my fellow Carcassonne players are no modern band of merry philosophers. These creatures hit the game hungry. Their bellies are empty, they have lost their capacity to hunt. So they turn on their own.

You pull a tile out of the bag. You place the tile anywhere on the growing board where it can fit. Towns must match up to towns. Roads must match up to roads. 25% of the time you will get a tile and find a way to directly help your position. 75% you will draw a tile of doubtful utility to yourself, and the quest becomes finding the place to wreck your opponent's scoring, in as permanent a way as possible.

Because everyone is building on to the same board, you can easily block your opponents dreams with a little thinking. For instance, a partially completed city can so very easily be foiled with the placement of a tile extending out the border in an unnatural direction. And if you can plop a cathedral down, the usual scoring result for that city is most likely a zero.

9) Settlers of Catan

Like Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan started out as some sort of happy little family game.

But if adults are playing (and probably some kids) thinks will get vicious after the first few turns. All the action in this game happens on a tiny little hex board. Much too small to be developed by 3 people without getting in each other's way, let alone 4.

There are 5 different resources, and they are all necessary for pursuing all the different avenues of development. Much thought goes into figuring out a way to get a least some access to all 5 of these resources with the initial 2 settlement placements. Because if you are ever completely cut off from a single one of these raw materials it can mean disaster.

And then the robber comes out. Sometimes, if you get boxed in early in the game, the only option left is to buy development card after development card. Most development cards are knights. Resulting in you robbing people, over and over again. You rob them…pull a card out of their hand…then chuck it in disgust because its not the resource you wanted. Next turn you rob them again. You will never forget the experience, and neither will they.

In a non-conflict version of Settlers, everyone would be able to settle exactly where they wanted to. The focus would be just on creating the perfect economic engine, whereas with the shared board the planning must also take into account getting there FIRST.

8) Takenoko

I really wanted to find at least one game for this list I could describe as interactive, but non-competative. At least not cutthroat. I think Takenoko fits the bill. Each player has their own set of hidden objectives, and its hard to interfere with them for the most part. Unless its one of the really complicated ones, like the 4 stalks of 3 height bamboo which you aren't realistically going to grow at all unless the other players are for some reason concentrating the panda's attentions on the other side of the board.

You can also get shafted if someone puts a plot next to yours and stops you from making one of your plot objectives. But as long as you don't invest all your objective slots in plots you are probably going to be alright.

Maybe I just haven't played enough yet, but when Takenoko is over, you don't seem to really despise your opponents, even half-heartedly, and I think that fact is quite remarkable.

7) Rattus

Rattus has each player taking turns controlling the disease vector of a bubonic plague outbreak during the Black Death. People are getting a little worked up about Tomorrow, but Rattus does something very similar without the scary black future board.

All the action happens on a single map of Europe. Something like Risk, but with only civilian populations instead of armies. And then you murder those civilian populations.

You want to avoid taking too many roles (because you are more susceptible to the plague) while taking roles to grow your own population as fast as possible. Sometimes you can make the plague pawn land on a huge pile of your opponent's populations, and a huge slaughter begins. Other times, you will try to infect a smaller group of your own people, hoping the losses will be minimal which reducing the threat of future outbreaks.

Because of the shared board, you can use your opponents as part of your strategy. Big piles of your civilians aren't as tempting of a target when they are placed on the same countries as your opponents. And big losses on your side are ok as long as there is a nice juicy area next door ready for plague when your turn comes around.

The closest version to this without the map is probably the classic Nuclear War. A really fun game, with the best spinner ever created. But not a lot of tactics, other than mutually assured destruction.

6) Ticket to Ride

Another family game!

Much like Settlers, the Ticket to Ride board is really too crowded for all the players trying to build routes on it. So people are going to be blocked off, and being blocked off is TERRIBLE!

I have a confession. Until I played this game a bunch, I used to think the optimal strategy was to draw all your cards, and then start building your track only when you had every single route all lined up.

But this will only ever work if everyone else is working at a very sub-optimal level. This strategy can't even beat the "normal" A.I. on my Ticket to Ride phone app. And it certainly won't beat a skilled human.

Every time you choose to draw instead of play a route, you are giving your opponents one more chance to play exactly where you NEED your train to go. Because unlike Settlers for instance, a Ticket to Ride route can be placed ANYWHERE on the board, without warning, assuming you have the cards.

Playing a 6 length track out in the middle of nowhere is never a bad play even if it doesn't mess up your opponents. Heck, its worth 15 points. But you will probably mess them up, at least a little. You know what feels really bad? Spending 6 white trains on 3 two-train routes. The point difference is 6 vs. 15. And if you can prevent them from completing a ticket, the game is lost for sure.

Before you choose to take your next draw, make sure to contemplate the board thoroughly (although preferably on someone else's turn).

5) Rummikub

Invented by Ephraim Hertzano in Israel after WWII. Rummikub combines rummy with what looks slightly like Mahjong tiles. Most people associate Rummikub with games you only play with your grandmother. But believe it or not, this actually won the Spiel des Jares back in 1980.

Your grandmother is one smart lady.

Similar to other rummy games, in Rummikub you try to get rid of all your tiles by making sets. In this version, you can use other people's played tiles pretty much with impunity.

All the unwashed masses get so worked up about Texas Hold 'Em, when Rummikub does it even better. Every turn someone plays more tiles out on the board. These tiles are now basically your tiles, if you can find a way to use them.

Eventually, sufficient options are created and "going out" becomes possible. The last piece to the puzzle is played. The turn is passed. And you make all sorts of sputtering, squealing noises as you lay all your tiles out.

You might be tempted to hold on to your tiles as long as possible, so your opponent can't use any of them. But normally you are playing multiple "hands" of Rummikub, with the losers getting the "points" by adding up those remaining tiles.

And if your final play gets too complicated you might end up like me and forget exactly what you were doing in the first place. The penalty for leaving an unrecoverable game state is quite severe.

4) Belfort

In modern gaming parlance, Belfort is both a worker placement game and an area control game. You can purchase locations to use, and these locations are then represented on a central map. You can maximize your engine all you want, but at the end of the game you need to have the most buildings built in enough different areas to claim majorities and seal up the game.

At the beginning you might care about gardens or pubs because they give you more workers. Or banks/blacksmiths/other properties that give you more resources. But at the end you will care more about Guardhouses and Keeps, which give you more control over the big map.

This game is probably the closest in this list to the "modern euro". There is in fact a tableau of buildings you develop that only your guys can be placed on. Yet because these buildings also interact with the big map, securing you area in the town, I say it fits.

3) Troyes

A worker placement game with a difference. You play your workers in one of 3 districts: church, nobles or comercial. Your workers collect dice based on those districts. The dice, once rolled, are used to buy and affect other buildings you construct. Each player can buy into the different buildings. Buildings, districts, dice and NPC attackers are all on the central board.

Each player has to fight for space in the districts. You have to vie for position in the buildings, getting your guy in there before the opposition. And did I mention you can steal each other's dice? You have to buy them, but the "selling" player has no say in the matter and most often does not want to see them go.

2) Neuroshima Hex!

It has the exclamation mark right on the box. In Neuroshima Hex, players are trying to find strategic positions within a very tight hexagonal arena. When the arena fills up, or when someone plays a battle tile, the shooting and hacking starts. Machine guns. Snipers. Chainsaw warriors. It's a big dust-up. Then the shooting ends, the build up starts all over again.

Your brain has to think quite a few turns ahead, keeping all the pieces in careful initiative order. And all 4 races play very differently while also being very well balanced. There is some unfortunate consequences if you manage to draw some non-personnel tiles at the very beginning. But it all tends to balance out as the game goes on.

There's approx. a million expansions and new armies for this game, but the 4 that come in the original box are really all you need. A great game!

1) Mission: Red Planet

In the vein of El Grande, M:RP is an area control game. But instead of the bidding, each player has a series of role cards in their hand with powers similar to those in Citadels. Each player gets to move a few tokens around the large map of Mars, with majorities being scored at 3 different phases throughout the game.

Unlike El Grande, the powers are pretty simple. Each of the 9 abilities involves adding tokens, removing tokens or moving tokens on the board. One role, the Saboteur, actually explodes a ship killing any tokens on board. Another role, the Pilot redirects a batch of astronaughts to a completely new section of the board. Good for both offensive and defensive purposes! For some reason I can wrap my head around these powers way easier than the bizzare randomly bid-on powers of El Grande.

Secondly, you fight over territory TWO different ways. There's the area control on the planet surface, but then you also have to fight for space on the rocket ships to get there! Delay your turn too long, and all the space on the ships will be taken and you will be out on the action.

Thirdly, M:RP has a very satisfying intelligence-collecting element. The "frontier" sections of Mars begin the game unexplored. You can use the "scientist" role to look at the hidden attibute of that space. It might be extra-bountiful. It might be full of radiation, killing all the astronauts at the end of the game before final scoring takes place. Only the person who used the scientist knows (unless someone else uses their scientist on the same spot). This opens up the game to a certain amount of bluffing and second-guessing.

Finally, Mission: Red Planet is the only game on this list that will be somewhat difficult for you to find. Unfortunately this game started out as a sort of flop. Then it got popular again after being stuck in the clearance rack for a while. So no likely reprint, plus now its a bit of a collector item.

Would I spend big money for M:RP? Not ever. You see, there were a couple issues with the manufacture of this game. The original French version (Planet Rouge!) had a neat circular mars board. When the game was printed over here in the U.S.A. for some reason they used this big floppy square board instead. Mars is in the middle, but the whole thing does not fold very well and tends to warp upwards unless you put some weights on the corners. Ship board is the same way. They also didn't include enough victory point markers to score an entire game, so you almost always run out at the end. Weird manufacturing decisions!

If you don't have M:RP, I would suggest another game that just game out called Triassic Terror. I don't know if its at all close to what you want. But it looks very similar to El Grande, only it has dinosaurs. That's what I would do if I hadn't already snarfed up this copy of Red Planet.

End Game

So this list took a lot longer that I thought to make. I have more respect than ever for guys like Tom Vassel who can make a list of 100 titles with ease. And thanks to Tom for inventing lists of 10 things, a technique I of course cribbed for this entry.

Have a good one I missed? Put it in the comments or send me an email.

My next list might not be for a while, but I'm leaning towards games that don't use a victory point mechanism for determining the winner. I'm curious what ones I can come up with.

Friday, October 11, 2013

King of Tokyo, No Expansion Necessary

King of Tokyo's basic mechanic is rolling 6 dice, with 2 rerolls. This concept is at least as old as Yahtzee, and probably older than that. But King of Tokyo makes it fun by attaching the rolling and re-rolling to the exploits of large mutated monsters.

With the proper results, you can gain victory points (stars!), heal yourself, gain energy (currency) or attack your fellow players.

I've managed to play this bash-a-thon a few times and can finally share some insights.

Attacks cannot be directed, and I think this is part of the game's way to keep those health levels under control. When a monster inside Tokyo attacks, the damage is done to all other monsters. When any monster NOT in Tokyo attacks, the damage is always done to the critter currently ruling the city.

Damage is always being dealt, and is almost impossible to avoid.

So unless you are trying to heal above all other considerations, your health will slowly be ticking down even if you aren't occupying Tokyo.

I almost never heal. Hearts get re-rolled to try for attacks, or energy to advance my position. Only when you look down and realize you have 4 health left do those hearts start to look better.

As the name of the game suggest, you will win if you can stay in Tokyo long enough. But the straightest path to victory does not always lead into the city!

My current problem is my desire to stay in Tokyo when the evidence is clearly against it.

Winning with victory points seems the obvious choice at the beginning of the game. But since health is always slowly trickling down the end game often switches to who can kill all the other monsters first.

If you have 12 victory points (winning requires 20) and your opponent is down to 4 health, the logical choice would be to abandon Tokyo the minute the opportunity presents itself. Your opponent will not be able to heal, and you can swing your claws with impunity. Maybe heal up a little.

But after fighting over Tokyo all game long, you get a little sentimental. You've gotten used to fighting over Tokyo. You want to be the King of Tokyo. But you probably aren't going to be.

The last game I played it was OBVIOUS to everyone around the table, including me, that I should abandon Tokyo to the other last standing player. But I did not. And continued to roll my dice. And failed to attack with enough power. And was subsequently destoyed by the much more calculating opponent.

So my final words of wisdom are this…know when it is time to leave Tokyo.

But then we have the expansion to talk about.

It's been mentioned in many places this expansion is almost mandatory.

But I have almost no interest.

I haven't played with Power Up! and maybe that would change my mind. I'm just making assumptions right now. And we all know what happens when we make assumptions. We make an ass out of the umps or something. And its bad!

But look at my evidence:

1) Magic: The Gathering (Revised Core Set)

Take a look through the collectible cards present in Revised Edition. This is the "revised" core set, after the infamous Black Lotus and its Moxen brethren were removed from the printing schedule forever.

The cards are still horribly unbalanced. I had no idea what I was doing back in high school, but at least I understood you could get more value out of a Black Vise instead of an Armageddon Clock.

2) King of Tokyo Power Cards

Included within King of Tokyo are some power cards you can "buy" using the energy you collect during dice rolling. Very similar to Roll Through the Ages' "goods" mechanic, except KoT's energy does not also spread disease.

These cards are just as bad. There are some really good cards. There are some really bad cards. And the energy costs don't really match up. Which is fine, this just means you have to understand how to value the cards. Grab the ones you want, or flush (which the game lets you do) the row and draw some better cards.

Now, lets examine Power Up!

The expansion gives each monster their own static "level up" powers similar to the mutation cards. Each particular monster has a list of abilities attached to them that you can power up by rolling 3 hearts during your turn. But looking at the previous two factors, I have no confidence these powers are at all balanced.

Right now you can pick your monster based on appearances. Functionally, they are all identical.

 I don't think I want to play a version of this game where one monster might be slightly better (or worse, MUCH better) than the others. This can only lead to arguing (especially among children) about who gets what and I don't need that.

There shouldn't be a "optimal" monster someone can prove mathematically is better than the others.

Instead we just grab out monsters and start rolling, and I like that.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Galaxy Trucker: A Different Sort of Game Entirely

And now for a horse of an entirely different color. The horse refers to board games. And the color, of course, is Galaxy Trucker. What a way to screw up a metaphor. And a Wizard of Oz reference.

With Galaxy Trucker, you get 2 games in 1. How fortuitous! The first half of the game players are madly trying to assemble their space ships from a communal pile of parts in the middle of the table. Eventually, if you are really lucky, you might end up with something like THIS.

Believe it or not, this is a spaceship.

And everyone looks at each other's ships and tries to nitpick any illegal tile placements. It pays to be fastiduous. If a faulty connection has been made, the usually result is pieces falling off the affected ship during launch, hurting them from the get-go. You always want to do that.

Here is the central board, which exists merely to keep track of everyone's order in line. This is not actually a race track. You might be startled at first when everyone starts flying backwards, but this is a normal occurence. All of the events you draw use up time and cause your ship to go backwards. Unless your adventure comes up with the "Open Space" result, there is very little opportunity to advance. If you manage to lap anyone, they are immediately removed from the game, which sounds awesome but I have yet to see happen.

Galaxy Truckin'

The cards are divided into hazards. You might encounter pirates. You might fly through a meteor shower. Your ship might become infected by disease. These hazards will hamper your ability to take advantage of the occasional good result…the abandoned space station or the rich planet you might be able to trade with.

Flying through space is solitary.

The competition in this game really happens at the start with assembly. You are constantly hunting through the stacks for just the right piece while your eyes dart furitively around looking for an already-turned-up piece you can snipe from out of your opponent's clutches.

When you get to the flying stage, it's basically time to kick back and let whatever happens, happen.

Do not skimp on lasers.

Do not skimp on shields.

But if you do, you are better off skimping on engines as well and building just a big solid block of cargo bays and crew compartments. Because the last thing you ever what to be is unprepared and rocketing towards the front of the line.

The guy in front is going to catch all the crap first.

If you are lazy enough, and hang far enough behind, dangers have a way of being taken care of before they get to you. Pirates are defeated. Smugglers are shot. All you need to do is put up a strong defense against the meteor showers and hopefully have enough cargo space to loot the leftovers your companions leave in front of you.

My son actually uses this strategy successfully all the time. His ships tend to be art projects rather than successful pirate-fighting designs. He loves batteries, but sometimes forgets to include anything that uses them. But he is getting better. And he still almost always wins because my ship gets torn apart in hails of laser fire.

The other way to succeed at Galaxy Trucker is the route my wife chooses. Technical Perfection.

Build your ship with the maximum laser capacity allowed in the front. Build your ship with the maximum engine capacity allowed in the rear. Add 1 purple alien. Add 1 brown alien. Maximize your crew and cargo carrying capacity.

When my wife is bored, she plays the type of "casual" games you used to see on Facebook but now come in a broad range of delivery systems generally attached to mobile platforms. She plays these games with a religious fervor. She stacks blocks and rescues pets and rotates patterns and what have you.

As far as I can tell, they have all trained her to be a living DEMON during the Galaxy Trucker assembly phase. A place for everything. A thing in every place. And the first place token, thank you very much. A demon of perfection and grace.

My only way to challenge this technique so far is try to talk her up to some of the more difficult ships, notably good old IIIA.

There are a number of bottlenecks on the IIIA you never want to see hit by anything. If a meteor or laser should strike just the right location, the ship can easily snap in half, forcing you to choose which broken twisted pile of metal you want to continue piloting to your destination.

Otherwise it's hard not to despair when her credit totals come back and leapfrog past mine by a magnitude.

If you decide to get Galaxy Trucker for your own collection, know that this game goes well with a New Year's or other holiday celebration. When you are slightly inebriated, the ship designs really "click" together in a satisfactory way, even if the end result offers less than ideal performance in space.

Kids really like building ships too, and will give you a run for your money even if its not the technically best ship because of the benefits described earlier to hiding in the last place position.

And the rounds go by quick enough you never become overly disgusted, even when your ship blows up and you are left rocking a big zero at the end. 10 minutes later you are going to be building a new ship anyway.

I've been talking about interactivity and good game design lately, and Galaxy Trucker seems to throw all my points and suggestions out the window. I love playing it, and it has almost no identifiable attribute I would promote in another game. Something to think about…if you can't do it the conventionally right way, do it in a way that makes your game difficult to measure by the normal standards. And people may love it anyway!

Because Galaxy Trucker's going to be on my shelf for a long time.

EDIT: for a quick review of some of the expansion tiles, check out here.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Table Talk Back 4: The Slow Player

How many of these Talk Back videos are there? Lemme look…NINE?!!!

OK, I gotta hustle.

Luckily there aren't very many slow players among the people I play with.


Although if it's anyone's fault…and someone should probably take the blame…it should probably be me. I am the guy steering these big dumb hands when my turn finally swings around.

That's real problem I am facing…the turn swinging around.

I think a lot. I spend a lot of my time thinking. And especially if I begin to understand how a game works, I want to make the right play. And the problem is that I focus too much and I don't notice when it becomes my turn. So my problem is NOT that I am a slow player, I just don't know WHOS TURN IT IS.

This can also happen if I am patiently waiting for my turn, decisions all figured out, and someone asks me a complex question and I have to discard all my thinking and immediately respond to them. Then its my turn and I'm talking and I'm the one who looks like a jerk.

Carcassonne is a particular problem. In Carcassonne we pass a bag of tiles. This runs into its own problems, because the bag of tiles tends to get out of sync with the turn progression. People like to hold their tile and think about tactics before their actual turn comes around.

I am a veteran with this particular condition, however. There are a few coping mechanisms.

1) A "your turn" player token. Really, this could all be avoided if someone would just fashion an oversized YOUR TURN token. And it doesn't have to be a token. A gold-finished amulet hung from a suitable lanyard. A mug full of chits. A magic wand. A squirming, kicking hamster. Something you can hold in your hand to remind you any time you start wondering who's turn it is.

2) Is the room strangely quiet?

3) Covertly checking to see if everyone is looking at you. Are they? It's probably your turn.

4) Asking "is it my turn?"

Better to ask if it is your turn then to continue sitting in silence when the fact is obvious to everyone else and be proven something something.

But, yes Rodney, I am a slow player. And you better not get stuck behind me in game of Ticket to Ride, because this train is going to be at the station ALL DAY.

But I know its a problem. And knowing its a problem is the first step in may situations!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Interactivity: Where is it?

These little wooden circles are INTERACTING!

A couple months ago, I read this review of Alhambra.

Alhambra is a pretty good game, but there's an aspect of it that really sticks in my craw. This is a game where player interactivity is really going out the window.

I feel like more and more of traditional euro-style games are going in this direction.

What happened to a central "board" where all the action takes place? Nowadays we all have our own little boards we play on. We might place workers on a center board. We might bid for reasources off a central board. But the actual action for the game is going on in our own little bubble universe while our friends do the same things.

Who is to blame?

The Internet? Violent Video Games? Heavy Metal Music?

At some point, we all need to reign in this crazy individual player board phenomenon, struggle back to a central board, dudes on a map, building a city, whatever. And we need to sit down and actually COMPETE for space and position again.

A great game that came out before Alhambra was the old faithful Carcassonne. A game so awesome it forced me to learn how to spell its name properly. In Carcassonne you play your meeple all together on the center playing area slowly being created bit by bit by the placement of tiles.

What about worker placement? Try Caylus. In Caylus, you buy buildings and put them in places where your opponents were hoping to play THEIR buildings! And then you make them pay you commission to use those buildings! Or you can bulldozer down the house they were planning on using and build a residence instead. Which does NOTHING!

How about dice games? I love The Castles of Burgundy. But after a while, don't you wish you could step out of your stupid little player board and actually go interact with your opponents?

Troyes is a great game where you fight for the same buildings, the same occupations, and you can even kick other players out of their places, out into the dirty gutter where they cry for the rest of the turn. And then you steal their dice! What a concept!

Like I said, Alhambra is a great game. But what would make it even greater? If you could reach down, grab a tile out of your friend's city, and throw it in the garbage. Might get his attention, right? Too often, people are stuck rearranging their little tiles, gazing off into la-la land and planning their next acquisition regardless of what the other players are doing. And I am sick of it!

Coming soon: Top 10 Games Where Everyone Gets Into Each Other's Business

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Table Talk Back 3: More Games or More Often?

Do I have too many games? Watch it Played Table Talk Episode 3 brings up a good point.

Rodney asks: do you prefer to play fewer games more often, or more games with less frequency?

Here are the facts:

1) Games have to be purchased with real money.
2) Gameplay fills a finite length of time othewise used for a variety of purposes. Includes time with children, wife, extended family and friends, work and sleeping.
3) Most games, at least the good ones, provide a higher level of entertainment after many plays. The strategy tends to get deeper, and things are more interesting when you not only understand your choices but also understand the choices of your opponent.

There are 2 types of board game "aficionados." The first are collectors. The second are players. And unbeknownst to them both, the 2 types almost entirely overlap. The majority is a combination of both.

There was once a time when I would pretty proudly say "I am not a collector."

I said this to signify my departure from the typical mono-games. Magic: The Gathering. And before that Warhammer 40K. And before that Warhammer. And before that Magic: The Gathering for the first time.

Board Games represented an escape from a cycle of buying I had experienced during more of my teenage and adult life. In theory you just buy the box, learn the game and then play the crap out of it for the rest of your life. Only a little bit of investment with a huge payoff in entertainment.

But after making my initial purchases, I saw I had once again swapped one world for something not entirely different.

Board Games do carry some benefits. You only need one set of pieces, and its easy to get people to play with you since they don't have to accumulate an army of guys or a long box of cards first.

Finite cash expenditures is NOT a benefit, however. Because collecting does really seem to be a part of the experience.

I started by trying to grab a title that would each fit into as specific "category" of game. I wanted an economic game. I wanted a war game. I wanted a set collection game. I tried to spread out my interests. But there are some big problems with a small collection that even just tries to cover the bases.

If you spend every waking moment of your life studying board games: the classics, the eurogame invasion during the 90's, the maturation of the industry during the aughts, to today's hybrids, you might know about every game.

But then you aren't playing with any of them.

So you do a little bit of research.  You grab a couple titles using the free shipping $100 option just about every online store uses. And then later you find out there's something else that's way better. And then you hear something else might be even better!

A board game is a complex possession. You open up the box and get that first whiff (highly cancerous!) of new board game smell. You punch out the pieces. You unwrap the cards. You unfold the board.

But underneath it all is an entire ruleset that must be processed. Hopefully before anyone comes over to your house to play it.

So I have to force myself to get more out of the games I already have. There is a sunk investment of time and energy that must be recouped before I move on to the next shiny thing. And there are some awesome games there that really need to be played more often.

And finally, I have discovered when you play the same game over and over again you actually notice the PEOPLE around the game a little more. Gone is the rules searches and game analysis, and what is left are people's individual actions within the worlds of the game.

So my brain wants to own as many games as I possibly can. But my heart wants to play any game, as long as its with the people I care about.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Takenoko: A Better Deal for Victory Points

After being burned by the calculator monster, I am somewhat refreshed by playing the decidedly smooth Takenoko.

There are still victory points. But they are earned in exactly ONE way…through the play of objective cards. You are tasked with growing specific areas of land, specific dimensions of bamboo, or feeding the wandering panda.

Cards grant a single digit victory point quantity. And the game is over as soon as some plays their eighth victory point card, so the end total remains in the lower double digits. A quick scan of the table can tell you how everyone is doing.

At first play, the game seems incredibly random. You and your fellow players play a mean game of tug-of-war with both the gardener and the panda, maneuvering these high-value figures to where they will help fulfill your objectives.

However it is evident some skill is involved, since the experienced players I encounter end the game with almost twice as many victory points as myself.

Gotta put my nose to the grindstone…err…bamboo!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Rise of the Casual Try-Hard

I've found few labels to apply to my level of MTG interest, but "caual try-hard" might be one of them. Magic pro coverage is pretty fun to watch. But I never suspected casual magic might just be even better, provided the personalities involved have the verbal jabs, witty comebacks and general goofballery to make it interesting.

Tabletop (Wil Wheaton's show) has been great to watch for 2 solid seasons. Now this "Day 9" guy is doing something awesomely similar with Magic. I already checked Youtube, there does not appear to be any earlier Days, Day 9 is the first.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Glen More could have been Glen Less

In the past, I've gotten fed up with the constant pursuit for victory points. After playing quite a few games of Glen More, my mind now travels to some of the same places.

Glen More starts out simple enough. You and your fellow clan members are trying to amass territory and produce resources. Every time you play a tile, you get to activate all the surrounding tiles. This generates more resources, or victory points or whatever.

The tiles are pulled from an every-changed rondel. Grab a tile and a new one shows up at the end of the line. You want to have the fewest number of tiles at the end of the game, so there is a push/pull between sucking up the less valuable tiles your pals didn't want and zooming ahead to grab the really juicy tiles everyone is eyeing.

To stir the tile rondel up a little, there is a little gremlin who steals tiles randomly in the 2/3 player game. This is the fastest and most streamlined "dummy player" I've seen in any game yet and I like the extra chaos it adds.

Finally, there is a cool little market where you can buy and sell your resources. When people buy a certain resource, the price of that resource in the market goes up. When people sell that resource, its price automatically goes down. I like that too!

To get even cooler…one of the tiles you can pick up is a Refinery, and you can activate it to produce whiskey.

How can you not like a game where you spend some of the time trying to out-race your opponents in whiskey production?

The answer is, you can't. I love activating tiles in Glen More. I like making the market go up and down. And I love distilling whiskey. I even like raising cattle and sheep. But the shine is definitely starting to wear off. A lot of the subsequent dullness has to do with the many, many victory point calculations you have to do during the game.

In each of the 3 scoring rounds (yep seen that one before), victory points are awarded by comparing

1) number of chieftains (meeple you reserve off the board)
2) number of tam o' shanties (these are magic hats that also count as chieftains)* 
3) number of whiskey barrels
4) number of unique location cards
5) number of tiles in your tableau (you get negative points for having more tiles than the lowest player)
6) and probably other ones I've forgotten about

You also get victory points during the round by activating buildings like taverns, butchers, markets and such.

And you get victory points AT THE END of the game thanks to special unique location cards.

The end result: Glen More makes you really think in order to figure out who is actually winning this game. And much like 7 Wonders, you probably want to download some kind of "App" to calculate your score so you don't have to.

Sometimes I really miss Settlers of Catan. Roads, Soldiers, Villages, Cities, (does he possibly have a victory point card?), and you are DONE!

Glen More also suffers from another disease epidemic in eurogame circles…the individual player board. Other than competing for tiles, there is nothing you can ever do to affect your fellow players. Each person builds a Alahabra-style kingdom in from of themselves, and just tries to figure out the optimal moves from there.

There really needs to be a game where your tableau has to fight other players tableaus. Then you'd really build them to last! 7 Wonders had wars, so you at least had to watch army build up from your 2 neighbors. Galaxy Trucker is probably the closest, because your tableau is under constant attacks from meteors, slavers, space pirates and the occasional random explosion.

So you can definitely enjoy Glen More, but it could have been so much more without all these victory point conditions hanging out everywhere. It doesn't make the game any more "fun" and it kinda makes my head hurt.

Glen More could have been Glen Less. And even better, it could have been Glen Ross.

Check it out online and see for yourself at!

*ok the tams go into the same pile as the chieftains, but its still confusing!

Great Moments in Board Game Advertising

Hasbro's been chasing me around Facebook for quite a while, and I think they finally have my number. The cat lady next door has rebuffed game night in every case up until now, but the classic game of real estate bankruptcy finally has the "catnip" I need to resolve the situation.

Monopoly fills the cat-shaped hole in my heart.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

London: Martin Wallace Superior, I am Inferior

I had the opportunity to play London a few weeks ago.

To protect the names of the innocent, I will use aliases.

On my left was Rygar, on my right was Brod.

Ahead of me lay the city of London, smoking still from the ravages of the Great Fire. The city must be rebuilt! But buildings and districts are never cheap, and the stink of poverty whiffs around every corner. My poverty stunk worse than most.

Each turn you can do one of 3 things:

1. build buildings
2. run (activate) buildings
3. buy territory


You have a hand of cards in front of you which represent potential buildings. You need a pair of the same color to build a building so there is some collection aspect to the game. The starter buildings are free to play (as long as you have a pair) but the further along you go the most expensive (and more powerful) the buildings in the deck become.

Buildings might earn you money, reduce poverty, win victory points and more. But to get their benefits they must be activated.

Running the Town (Activating)

Instead of building, you could instead "run" your existing structures and use their abilities. Many of the buildings are one-time effects. After you run them they flip over permanently and you can then build on top of them next turn. Other buildings cannot be flipped (and so you gain their benefit for multiple turns) but also provide a much smaller effect.

Money is an odd sort of duck…most of the buildings that generate money represent a one-time windfall. You activate the relevant building, gain a small pile of mega-pounds and then flip the building over, never to see it again.

Its a big step in a different direction from most games, where you are revving up an economic engine as the game moves forward. London gives you money in fits and spurts, and then sends you back to zero when your fishmonger gets paved over to build a school.

Then, at the end of the "run," you get to calculate how much poverty your little slice of london dumps into your lap. Poverty in this game is an ever-present thing. Much like pollution in other games, poverty is a natural byproduct of running your city.

Poverty is calculated as (number of your buildings) - (districts owned) + (cards in hand). You don't want to have a bunch of cards in your hand when you decide to do business!

Finally, the game lets you buy territory. Territory costs a fixed amount of cash, and awards both cards and victory points. And as previously mentioned, territory helps soak up the poverty constantly leaking out the back end of your industrial production.

How the game is supposed to be played:

You are dealt a hand of cards to start with, so everyone starts building first thing. You don't start with enough money to buy a district, so the next thing you will probably do is activate your buildings. But don't activate your buildings until you have gotten rid of most of your cards!

Once you've earned some money, buy territory. You get a bunch of cards when you do this.

Then, build more buildings. Then activate them. And so forth until the game ends and you could up your victory points. This is what Ryan and Brad did, and they earned many many beautiful victory points rebuilding the city of London.

The horrible things I did instead:

Once I have it all typed out, the play of the game seems pretty simple. But when I started it did not seem as such. What you have to watch out for is doing any of the previous activities too early. If you activate your cards while you still have cards in your hand, many different calamities happen. You get more poverty. You get less money. You get less of any ability you could have possibly played. And you still have cards in your hand to get rid of! You will never get that chance back to use your cards quite as effectively.

I was tempted to avoid adding too many buildings to my tableau since each built building adds to your poverty score. But since cards in hand also does the same you should get rid of your cards ASAP. And since each building uses 2 cards to be put into play, you are reducing potential poverty just by playing the cards.

Because I played fewer cards at the beginning, I received less money. And as the game progresses, my perception was that it became harder and harder to earn any money. The big cards you find towards the bottom of the deck all cost a lot of money. And I didn't see as many effects to award much money back into my coffers. So I should have saved, saved, saved!

The single most card I didn't really use to good effect was the Hospital. These cards allow you to copy the effect of another building card once, essentially getting the same benefit twice. If you can find a big enough benefit, the Hospital can be HUGE.

At the end, I had a mitt of 9 cards (the maximum) and no money to play any of them. And at the end of the game, I got 9 more poverty points added to my total because of this, resulting in a poverty score that was actually off the handy chart printed on the board.

When the dust settled, I had 3 points. Rygar had over 60, and Brod had over 50.

Playing London, I am most reminded of my previous plays of Pret-a-Porter. You have to understand the economic system ahead of time, otherwise you will bomb out as you explore its many rules. Of course, both of the other players picked it up pretty easy. But that's neither here nor there! Also like Pret-a-Porter, there's NO forgiveness once the ball gets rolling. Missed opportunities not only punish you for missing them, they further punish you in your ability to develop your city on subsequent turns. Don't do anything wrong, ever.

But in spite of all this, I will call London to the mat if I ever see it available to play again. After sleeping on the situation I had a couple of epiphanies I would love to someday follow up on.

1) Don't be afraid to take out loans! Loans are terrible, it is true. You have to pay them back by the end of the game otherwise you get a 7 point penalty. And you have to pay 50% interest when you DO pay them back. On the other hand, they can sometimes be the least terrible option you have open. They are WAY better than ending up with a bunch of cards in your hand you can't use. Unused cards earn you poverty points and probably provide ways to eliminate poverty, or at least gain some victory points. The absolutely worst thing to do is do nothing.

2) Don't build structures that don't "turn over" early in the game, or build them but don't get too attached to them. Feeling like you are unable to pave over a building hampers your further development, prevents you from getting rid of cards and thus increasing your poverty. Keeping a Street Light that can remove 2 poverty points is insignificant if you can play 2 cards to pave over it with something else that will ALSO get you some benefit, reduce your hand by 2 cards, and prevent 2 extra poverty from being ADDED to your pile at your next activation.

3) Save your money! So many things in this game cost money. And money is always in such sparse supply. You almost never have continuing income. It comes in little windfalls that you need to HOLD ON to until the exact right thing to invest in. You will need cash in the late game to play most of the high victory point cards, and it will be difficult keep your accounts filled until they come around.

Lodon is a don't-mess-around board development game. Don't enter this arena without your thinking hat on, and turned up to level 11. But I still had fun, and I want to play again.

Friday, August 23, 2013

To Court the King

Thomas Lemann. First game that comes to mind is Race for the Galaxy. But a lesser known title came up a little while ago on and I've been playing it like gangbusters.

To Court the King is a yahtzee style game at its core. The closest relative I've played is Roll Through the Ages with its dice rolling and advancement acquiring.

But unlike "Roll", strategy for Court the King is NOT about rolling the "action" you want. Instead you want to roll as many of the same number (usually not caring about what number) on an increasingly large pool of dice.

In Roll Through the Ages, sometimes you want goods, sometimes workers, and usually a little food on the side so your cities don't starve.

Courting the King involves rolling the dice once, looking for a number you've rolled multiple times (hopefully a large number) and then attempting to roll the rest of your dice in a progressively shrinking pool to match.

The simplicity of this action is complicated by the mind-blowing number of special powers you gain from courting all the folks surrounding the king on your way up the ladder.

The Joker is of course for suckers, acting as a booby prize for the folks who can't roll anything good. Being a frequent slow-starter, that doesn't stop me from picking him up :(. Once you have a couple cards in your posse he should never be a problem again so just watch yourself the first round or so and aim for the Handwerker if the dice seem to be misbehaving on your path to Bauer Town. If you start rolling good, skip the Bauer altogether…there are plenty of better dice-aquiring abilities further up the ladder.

You always want to be aiming for cards that give you an extra die, since you will eventually need a huge hoard of them. But since the King wants a whopping SEVEN of a kind, you will also need some other cards that help you modify the dice.

If you don't win the King first, you will get the chance to steal him during your next turn, so developing an effective engine of dice manipulation is better than just getting lucky once.

Once the King is "courted" the game finishes in a showdown where everyone tries to roll better than the king-owner…so you can still actually win if you have more dice and better modifiers.

I'm appreciating the dice rolling and tactical thinking. To Court the King is also a fantastic game for asymmetrical on-line experiences like yucata. There is no interaction during your turn for opponents to have to respond to, and you get to do a lot of rolling so its a pretty meaty turn every time it comes around. Unlike others I've encountered.

The rule book is written in the typical jibber-jabber, similar to what I experienced reading Race for the Galaxy the first time around. No where does it tell you "you should be trying to roll a series of matching numbers" instead it talks elusively about "matching card costs".

Looking at the actual "card costs" during game play makes the latter pretty clear.

 The game is pretty easy to figure out as you go (although you are going to bomb it the first game you play, for sure). Just start rolling and it will all become apparent in the end. I spent very little time confused, and now am embroiled in figuring out the finer strategy!

I will have you, King!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Lovin' Blood Bowl for All the Right Reasons

Blood Bowl 3rd Edition was my introduction to this illustrious game. For a short time, my friends and I played this game constantly. All told, 3 complete copies of the game were purchased and pitched games were played at all hours of the night across kitchens, dining rooms and finished basement entertainment areas.

That said, I think the current video game format you can enjoy on steam might be a little better. Worse in some areas too…but overall a really enjoyable experience I've been sucked into for multiple seasons now.

Here are the three great benefits I see to the video game.

1. Acquiring the miniatures.

If you are a Warhammer/Warhammer 40k player you probably have a basement full of miniatures. But for the entry-level non-GM-addicted human being, finding enough models for your team was originally a pretty annoying endeavor. The old Games Workshop starter boxes usually gave you a good selection of minis to START your team, but certainly not enough for a full roster, or to account for every weird combination of players a person could come up with. So you had to use ugly proxies.

A typical Skaven team can field WAY more rats than this. And there's only 1 thrower.

Plus you had to paint. My painting skills around this period were immensely bad. It took a lot of time, and my miniatures looked bad after investing that time. It was a lot of time…and I felt BAD afterwards! My painting did get better. But not in time for Blood Bowl!

In the video game, you get all the players you want pre-painted and ready to rock.

It's also pretty easy to switch teams. There's no physical element pushing you to play the same type of team season after season. Back in the kitchen, I originally played Skaven every season because I had forked out $40.00 for the pewter team and by God I was going to use them! Eventually I spend another $40.00 on a Chaos Team…and then I had two choices.

The video game lets you play any crazy thing you want. Goblins, halflings, ogres, no problem.

2. The Timer

There are a lot of variables in Blood Bowl. When calculating your block, you have to take into account all the players in the 4 squares surrounding the action, adding or subtracting assists. When calculating a dodge, you have to consider all the controlled squares you are attempting to enter or depart.

In the real dice rollin' version you are going to spend a lot of time watching your opponent scratching his head and considering all his options. Get an egg timer! Waiting for your opponent to "optimize" every potential move for each of his players can easily turn what should be a 1 hour game into a 3 hour game.

The video game is great because all the timing is taken over by the computer. After 2 minutes is up, your turn is automatically over. You don't even have to be the bad guy! It's that rotten computer's fault, I wish I could have given you the extra 15 seconds or 20 minutes or so you needed to optimize your turn to perfection.

3. Illegal Procedure!

1st and 2nd edition Blood Bowl evidently had a major problem with people forgetting to advance their turn marker. In 3rd Edition most-enlightened designer Jervis Johnson saw the perfect solution. Players would receive a penalty…if you didn't more your turn marker as the very first action of your turn, you lost your turn! "Illegal Procedure!" being yelled at the top of someone's lungs was something you could expect to hear at least once during any Blood Bowl match.

With such a draconian penalty you would think people would learn fast. But they did not.

Now to the negatives:

1. The Unforgiving Computer

I love the unforgiving computer when it makes my opponent take his turns fast. I hate the unforgiving computer when I misclick on my player and force him to dodge into 6 tackle zones instead of blocking like I wanted to.

Many of the shortcuts that speed up the game versus the tabletop version can also hurt you, real bad. No take-backs!

The computer likes to "auto path" player movement using the shortest path possible, even when it takes you through a gauntlet of tackle zones and enemy players eager to pound your runner into the ground. You can manage this by choosing each space individually, but sometimes the human mind is weak. And sometimes the click-y finger attached to your mouse is TOO STRONG!

Blood Bowl: The Video Game also has the annoying habit of dropping the network connection. When this happens, it almost never returns. So far, each season my group has seen at least one game become completely irrecoverable due to some lame network error. In which case, get ready to play the whole game over again!

2. A Name for My Pain

Back in the pencil and paper days, it was a simple matter to give your different players cool nicknames if they turned into a real star after a couple of games. For some reason, the video game doesn't let you change the names of your players. Ever. You can give them goofy names right at the beginning, but never again afterward. So its good to be feeling creative on the day you build your team.

This Year

If you read my blog regularly, you should know I really suck at Blood Bowl. I've started doing goofy teams, and I think its really helped out so far with my enjoyment of the game.

I made a human team for what is turning into Season 6 of our blood bowl league. Humans were never a big draw during all the years I've played up until last season when I played my first human team.

Here is why Humans are awesome:

1) They are cheap. Much like the Skaven, you can get a pretty healthy roster early on into the game.

2) They are tougher. Not very much tougher, but an armor value of 8 is much better than 7.

3) They have cool throwers and catchers. Catchers can run fast, with a movement of 8. They have the catch skill. The throwers have the pass skill.

4) They have cool blockers. The Blitzer has a decent movement of 7, and comes with the block skill. If one of my Blitzers ever die, I can buy a new one and he will be ready to fend off blocks with his starting block skill, game one.

5) Relaxed attitude. Because humans are a "second tier" team, there really is no pressure to win with them. I don't struggle with the most optimal choices in skills when my team members advance. I don't have to stress out when someone breaks a collarbone and loses a permanent strength point.

Here's an example: I gave one of my catchers Guard. He rolled doubles and could get a strength skill. Why would a catcher want a strength skill? I decided to try Guard because its one of the few strength skills that doesn't really benefit from having a good strength. Instead I can offer up assists to my other players trying to block. And because he's a catcher, he's probably going to be up in the action, anyway.

here's another example: I had a blitzer roll doubles for his skill, and I gave him the unusual agility skill Sneaky Git. This is a terrible skill, especially for a blitzer to have. I'm not sure what I was thinking, other than it was late at night and I must not have been. If I had a time machine, that skill would be Dodge, no contest. But instead of gnashing my teeth, I just played it out. My blitzer is usually standing next to a downed player at least a few times during each game, and he usually tries to foul. He has never been caught by the ref, yet!

So far this year I have tied, 1-1; and won, 3-0.

I spend a lot of time fouling the opposing team. I run my guys around. And I just try to capitalize on any opportunities I see as the game progresses. And I have fun doing it! My team really doesn't have much to prove, and they probably won't as the season goes on.