Friday, December 19, 2014

Animal Upon Animal - Unnatural Stacking Made Fun


"Not to go on all fours…that is the law. Are we not men?"
-- Sayer of the Law, "The Island of Dr. Moreau"

My ship, the Queen Elizabeth, sank far at sea. I and I alone, by sheer folly and random chance, found my way to a life boat before Neptune himself reached up and drew the listing ship down into his murky embrace.

After many days, both tepid water and stiff cracker rations totally exhausted, did I finally spy land and awkwardly navigate my desolate vessel towards a distant rocky shore.

I had seen only plant life during my approach. A palm tree, some gently swaying grasses transitioning to a pristine white sand beach. My lifeboat ran aground and I clawed my way to the wet muck at the edge of my salvation. I graciously thanked luck and mysterious benevolence at my landing.

It was not long, not very long at all, that I drew an audience from the native inhabitants.

First I saw a giant alligator. I was fearful at first. One snap of those huge jaws and I would be finished. In my weakened condition I had no hope of evasion.

But the mysterious reptile stopped its advance, and moments later a monkey (hidden from view until now) climbed up onto the alligator's back. Unlikely allies indeed.

Then more animals came! Another sort of lizard found room on the scaly surface. A hedgehog leapt on. A slithering snake. A huge-beaked toucan. Finally a dainty penguin found a spot near the very top.

Once I saw the penguin, I knew I was hallucinating. This wasn't a real island. I was still in the row boat, playing Animal Upon Animal. A fine way to die.

Mechanical Animals

You start with a handful of animals out of the box. The object of course is to get rid of all your animals after balancing them precariously on the back of the starting monster alligator. In many ways, the mechanics mirror the last HABA game I checked out, Rhino Hero. The pile keeps building up until you are sure it will collapse, but then usually people get a couple more animals in after that.

The player who bungles the stacking has to take all the fallen animals back into his or her hand, up to a maximum of 2 (extras are returned to the box). Which is a big benefit to folks who want to see a completed stack of animals at the end of the game. Lots of stacking games give you a hypothetical end condition, but really its about stacking until the structure collapses 99% of the time. Here you will see a pinnacle of unnatural animal transformation at the end of every single game.


BEHOLD!

Danger Die!

The die to decide the active player's action is one of the best things about the game. With this die, Animal Upon Animal shows the kind of innovation a simple dexterity game can make vs. the standard UNO-ish choices you see in a lot of kids games (skip, reverse, lose a turn)


1) 1 pip on the die (on 2 sides) - active player places 1 animal
2) 2 pips on the die - active player places 2 animals
3) crocodile - active player place one animal, but on the ground touching the crocodile and expanding the base of the animal pile.
4) the hand - Take that! Give one of your animals to an opponent and make them add the creature to the pile.
5) the question mark - It's you versus the MOB! The rest of the table decides which animal the active player has to place.

There is real thinking and strategy when you want it, but kids can also just do it without overanalyzing (if that's what you really want).

Also a Toy

Finally, for a kids game like Animal Upon Animal, you have to consider the game for its components. Not just how the game is for its rules, but how the pieces interact when used just as a toy.

Sometimes younger kids don't really want competition in their games. And they don't want to play by the rules. My daughter (who is 3) has yet to play a full real game. But she is incredibly familiar with all the animals from spending evenings stacking them. I would call that a success.

For adults and older kids (5-9ish) the game is serious business. Rolling the question mark elicits quite a lot of conversation, and building the next animal fixes everyone's attention on the pile. Animal upon Animal definitely falls under the category of a good family game to introduce to your extended family around the holidays.

Animals: Apocalypse Matrix

The Shifting Sands of Animals

Look at the way the hedgehogs lock together. Look at the way the toucan's bill fits into spaces to provide a solid lock for the layer above. Look at the way the frilled lizard grabs hold of pieces from multiple different directions.

As someone who has spent a fair amount of their life sitting at a table stacking Settlers of Catan pieces while waiting for his turn to come around, I can really appreciate the artistry of the pieces and just how awesomely they stack together. In typical HABA fashion (from what I've seen so far) quite a bit of thought went into the design of these wooden animals and stacking always elicits new surprises.



Thursday, December 18, 2014

DC Comics Deckbuilding: First Look at Forever Evil




Forever Evil, the name says it all.

Ch-Ch-Changes!

One of the marvelous innovations in Cryptozoic's release plan is making all of these different versions completely intependent of each other. This has allowed me to play many games of each version and enjoy the unique aspects of each. The designer (Matt Hyra) gets to really go off the rails, in completely different ways, for each game without having to worry about how the changes interact with what's already out there. I'm sure there ARE people who dump all the cards together, but those people are W-R-O-N-G. It is not the "Ultimate Throwdown" trust me.

The first big change, the one everyone already knows about, is players are now super-villians and the goons you defeat are actually Earth's Mightiest Heroes (wait, those are the Avengers, I have no idea what JLA's tagline is). 

In my first game, playing as Black Manta, I have to say…Black Manta had probably his best day ever among the surface dwellers. When you've bagged and tagged Flash, Superman, Batman and Constantine you feel like a pretty good super-villian. Unfortunately Aquaman evaded me…he wasn't even in the deck!

Initial setup. Good grief, who bumped these cards! Notice the crazy Bizarro Power super power.


The Places We've Been

In the first 2 games, Locations were allowed to have a common mechanical theme. in DC Comics "TOG" you drew a card when a condition on the table had been met. In Heroes Unite you reveal a card, and if its the type the location is looking for you draw it. Forever Evil goes different and has Locations not draw cards at all. They don't even share a mechanical theme this time around! A few cards allow you to trash specific types of cards, others give you bonuses depending on the types of cards you have in play. There might be more that do completely new things

Victory Point Chips

Taking inspriation from whatever Dominion expansion that was, Forever Evil makes it possible to acquire victory points without being attached to cards. Now certain cards give you a victory point whenever a certain action is done or condition met. A prime example is Forever Evil's version of Heroes Unite's "Manhunter".

Manhunter gave you more power depending on how many additional Manhunters were in the discard pile. Forever Evil has the Royal Flush Gang. The Royal Flush Gang gives you VICTORY POINTS (whoo whoo!) every time you play more than one Gang from your hand during a turn.


By the end of my first game, Firestorm was a: Punch, Vulnerability, Communication Device, another Punch, Blackgate Prison, Power Girl and Man Bat. All of these cards triggered when I played my last Firestorm.

Firestorm Fever

Two of the most complex addititions to the deck involve the DC Hero Firestorm. Both Firestorm and the equipment Firestorm Matrix remove the top card of your own deck from the game. In the case of Firestorm, this removed card becomes part of the text on his card. So every time you play Firestorm, he adds another card to his collection and gets a little more powerful.

Firestorm Matrix is a little different. Cards removed by Firestorm Matrix are placed in front of you in a special zone. Any of these cards you can get the effect of once during your turn. 

Finally, the cards removed with Firestorm still count to your victory point total at the end of the game, while the ones removed with Firestorm Matrix don't, because it says so on the card.

Sound complicated? It is! I'm not sure I personally would have added something as "completely different" as these 2 isolated cards. But they do not break the game, and down the road (10 games or so) I'm sure they will feel perfectly natural.

Sifting through piles of cards

Forever Evil continues Heroes Unite's movement towards more cards to affect other zones other than "in-play" zone. Now, in Forever Evil, it matters what cards are in the destroyed pile. Cards like Power Ring want to see heroes, and give you extra power for every dead hero in the pile. "Super Heroes" like Superman and Batman (who you've captured and forced to do your bidding?) actually pull out super powers and equipment from the destroyed pile for you to use.

Even though I love being able to pull my own cards out of the discard pile and put them back in my hand, I can see why its an annoying mechanic. One of the most annoying parts of Heroes Unite is waiting for your opponent to finish digging around in his discard pile for the right combo of power-maximizing cards. Forever Evil takes it up to 11 by having you dig through your discard pile, sometimes your opponent's discard pile, and of course now the destroyed cards pile.

A pretty good hand to draw. This was before Man-Bat had been absorbed into Firestorm's ability

Pass your cards

Finally the part I thought I would despise, but instead love. A couple cards in Forever Evil allow you to pass cards from your hand into the discard pile of your opponents.

The reason behind the negative feelings is because it echoes the decidedly brain-dead "passing parties" seen in previous sets from super-villians such as the Joker and Brainiac. These otherwise cool Super-villians were saddled by a mechanic that took too much time and effectively did nothing in 99% of situations.

Cards such as Mallet in Forever Evil speed up the process (and make it seem like its actually DOING something)  by making the action asymmetrical. Only YOU are passing cards, and you get to pass one card out of your hand into the deck of your enemy. This is much more like destroying, and I was able to quickly move a punch or vulnerability from my hand into my opponent's discard pile and I got nothing in return much to my satisfaction.

Bizarro Hate Game

I was extremely pleased to see a return for Bizarro, who really didn't get a fair shake in the original game. There is a Bizarro super-villian you can play as, and special Bizarro themed super powers that actually hurt the person playing them. I loved the theme, but don't know if these cards are any good or not because neither of us were Bizarro. If you aren't Bizarro, they look absolutely terrible. So that will have to wait for another day to examine.

Bad Guys, Good Game

The theme of this game is excellent. You FEEL like a super-villain in many subtle ways. First, acquiring victory points feels like you are getting more powerful independent of your minions. Destroying cards and getting more powerful also feels very villainous. After the first play though, I want to give it a bunch more goes to see what else comes flying out of the stack. Next time hopefully I will get the opportunity to stock up on Bizarro Cards.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Finding Balance in Rhino Hero!



What is that? Is that a rhino climbing up the wall? INDEED! 
-- Rhino Hero Rulebook

The Pleasure of Stacking an Untrustworthy Structure

There is a basic level of fun before Rhino Hero even turns into a game. How often can you say that? At its most basic, the game starts as a card house. People already build card houses as an activity, because its deeply satisfying. The lizard part of your brain likes it. Each new layer of a card house almost subconsciously attracts the vested interest of every adult and child in the room.


The very setup of Rhino Hero works as an attractant, to even those people (perhaps in your extended family) who might turn their noses up at anything resembling Settlers of Catan.

But then you take the "framework" of a traditional card house, you add a few simple mechanics and you get Rhino Hero. Believe it or not even more addictive.

Everyone's Roof is Someone Else's Floor

Each player starts with a hand of cards, and by getting rid of all your cards you indeed win the game. Getting rid of cards is a grueling process because each card is a roof, and to add the roof you first have to build the walls using someone else's roof…which is now your floor.


Templates for wall construction come in all monstrous varieties. The nicest ones are shaped like a box. The meanest ones are a single wall in the center, shaped like a > sign. The most uncertain (you don't know how they'll behave) involve a crazy layout of walls finally punctuated with Rhino Hero, the demon prince of wobbly card towers, lurking somewhere on the card.

Flashy Powers on Every Corner

A close look at some of the roof cards shows most of them have some kind of special power. These powers tread a lot of familiar ground, and I'm not entirely happy with them.


From Left to Right:

1) Reverse: just like in Uno, Reverse makes the turn order go the opposite direction. According to the rulebook, this does absolutely nothing if your game just has 2 players.

2) RHINO HERO! This is the awesome one. When you play the Rhino Hero, the next player in line has to, in addition to building his/her room, also move the Rhino Hero meeple. Fishing your fingers into the gently swaying building structure of the tower to grab this guy and move him to a different level sets off all sorts of warning bells both from you and the audience of other players. This moment is where the wheat is separated from the chaff.



3) +1: makes the next player draw a card. Also somewhat boring, and basically lifted from Uno (or Crazy Eights or whatever).

4) Skip A Turn - Skipping someone's turn has never been very fun, especially for kids. But kids have just learned to accept it. Adults gnash their teeth.

5) Play 2 cards: I really like this power because it adds a little bit more strategy. Once you've got a group of seasoned Rhino Hero players who know how to build card towers, you can actually rat hole a 2X to the very end of the game and hopefully actually go out.

Rhino Hero is saved by the fact that these cards really don't have a lot to do with the overall game. You can even play without the cards doing anything special (only make sure to keep that Rhino Hero in!).

Ultimately this game is all about the stacking, and the amazing chaos lurking just barely at the threshold every time you gently set another card down on its perch.

The Excitement of the Room

Rhino Hero gets people worked up. You take your turn and all your opponents are suddenly your audience.


Rather than the strict rule set, this is more about the emotion. Emotion, but unquestionably ruled by the strict dictates of physics. Wobbly tables, sudden intakes of breath, loud noises they all play a part in the end game.

Compact enough to fit in your work bag. I've armed myself with Rhino Hero for whatever the future of social engagement holds for me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Jape the Television


There is a lot of talk about theme lately. I got a chance to think about theme while deer hunting a couple weekends ago. While I seldom encounter deer, I did hunt down a great novel, Philip K. Dick's The Man who Japed.

I've said it before...I love Avalon Hill's classic TV Wars.

But something I have always wondered…what would TV Wars look like nowadays? And I don't just mean the mechanics of the game, what about the theme?

Because people don't watch TV is the same way they watched it during the "Rating Wars" and "Sweeps Week" programming eras. There are certainly more than 4 major networks, and most people don't have to wait for specific time slots to watch the particular shows they want to watch. You can usually even catch up with entire seasons of shows without any consideration to what the other channels are running at the same time.

Unless you do a historical theme set in the 70's-80's, but to tell you the truth its kinda been done…TV Wars LIVED IT.

I know of 2 different games currently in production to try to revive the "ratings war" style of TV Wars. One is Gil Hova's Prime Time, the other is by Elad Goldstein, also called Prime Time.

The Man who Japed isn't really a dystopia. People seem to have rights, even though Morec (which stands for The Moral Reclaimation) is kind of a dump.

The protagonist in this book writes "packets" which as the story goes along you realize are television scripts. Multiple semi-indenpendent agencies write these packets for sale to the government-run TeleMedia arm of the government. Who then produces them and thus educates (because television is for education!) the masses.

So in Morec-style TV Wars, each player would produce scripts.

Then there would probably be a judging phase where TeleMedia purchases whatever shows it thinks it needs.

But then, the fun thing about The Man who Japed, there is a phase after that where all the players get to annoyomously accuse each other of moral impropriety.

Because one of things Morec does to keep its values in power is allow each citizen to tattletale on other citizens in a weekly block meeting. Transgressions might involve swearing, or fornicating (outside of marriage), or excessive leisure.

In our game, the morals planted in the scripts themselves could be subverted and reinterpreted to make any of the other players look like they are trying to corrupt the system (which they probably are).

The world of Morec also seems pretty fair, in a twisted sort of way. 8-legged robot recorders called "juveniles" are always on the prowl to record people's transgressions. People can make all sorts of accusations about your conduct, but the only accusations to hold up in these block meetings involve evidence gathered from these spider droids.

Thus the morals of the packets can be debated, since there is little evidence of intent when it comes to an idea. In the story there is much discussion over a packet the protagonist writes about a colonist who plants a tree and it dies. The dead tree might mean the futility of human existence, or it could be a lesson to keep your treasure close to the moral center of the universe...Morec.

There are facist brown-shirted thugs called "Cohorts," however these guys are played for almost comic relief, and they certainly don't seem to be very good shots when it comes down to avenging slights on the founding father of the movement. I'm sure we can find a way to fit them in as well.

Anyway, there are very few sci-fi-ish board games out there that don't involve space ships. I like the idea of the Man who Japed, and I'm going to pin it to the wall in the back of my head for future reference.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Quick Look: New Bedford


After having a blast feeding the Montgomery Burns side of my personality in Le Havre I was tipped off to a new contender in the industrial worker placement genre with New Bedford.

I was tipped off to this new game by an extraordinary Dice Tower News brief, obviously written by an incredible genius and masterful journalist. Look at all the quotes and hyperlinks, like a carefully trussed filet mignon.

I have a cousin who's favorite novel (possibly ironically) is Herman Melville's Moby Dick. There are few Thanksgivings I have not heard of Captain Ahab's revenge-fueled whale-pursuing "circumnavigations".

Marry Moby Dick with the industrialized machinations for ultimate efficiency of Le Havre and I think you might just have New Bedford.

I must say one of the messier aspects of Le Havre is the ship-building. There is no point where you naturally feel the urge to build a ship, you just NEED to at certain points to artificially inflate your food production otherwise all your workers run out of fish guts to gnaw on. And then you ship resources and convert them into money…through a shipping lane "building" that can magically accommodate as many people as there are players.

New Bedford looks like it makes ship-building feel a bit more natural and part of the game as a whole.

I don't know for sure what resources you can gain, just by looking at the kickstarter. Wood and bricks for sure. I'm not positive on the timeline, but if coke production makes an appearance the game will be a shoe-in. Because who doesn't want to go on a coke-fueled whaling expedition?

No coke in sight

More details are posted by the designer here.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gravwell: Try to Escape, and It Pulls You Back

Before I talk about Gravwell, I need to talk about Star Trek.

In "The Void", the crew of Voyager find themselves trapped in a pocket dimension. Surrounded by the corpses of derelict ships similarly trapped long ago, they must use all of their resources to find the faint path back to their own universe. And of course, there are still living ships within this dark space to contend with. A great episode, and the first thing I thought of when Gravwell came out. A game in which you MUST escape, before one of the other players does the same.

Gravity is a Rubber Band

As you take the first turn, the simplicity of Gravwell is almost overwhelming. You play a card with a number on it. You move your ship that number. Easy as cake. Could be a kid's game. But then the feeling evaporates. Because after the first turn of movement, things get tricky in a big way.

Movement cards in Gravwell don't have a direction. They instead push you either towards (yellow cards) or away (purple cards) from the nearest ship.

If you are last in line (or its the first turn of the game and all the gravity is in front of you) movement is straightforward. Once the other players start flailing around, making big grabs for the escape route, the "closest ship" is incredibly unpredictable.  Moving takes serious thought if you expect to get anywhere.

All movement cards are played at the same time, then resolved alphabetically. Carbon goes before Florine for example. So in addition to predicting the distance your opponents are going to travel, you also have to predict the order they will move in.

Red Ship, Blue Ship and Derelict, together at last!
Bumping Robots

A long time ago, the best game in my existence was a multi-hour programmed movement game called Robo Rally. I went to a couple "game nights" where all we played was Robo Rally, over giant boards of obstacles to navigate.

The absolute best part of Robo Rally was when the robots ended up very close together. Bumping, bumbling over each other, with the greatest chance of something completely unpredictable happening. A robot might miss a step, or end up on the wrong conveyor belt, or get crushed because a single misstep was made.

In Gravwell, the players are always squabbling like that fleeting moment in Robo Rally…from the beginning to the end. Ships try to escape. But they are inevitably drawn back into the chaos by ill-timed movement cards and the incredibly heinous tractor beams your opponents insist on playing.

More like "Jankarium"

Tractor Beams

Beside the yellow and purple movement cards, there are also blue "anti-movement" cards. The tractor beam does not move your ship, instead it sucks all the other ships in the game (including the 2 normally stationary derelict ships) towards the tractoring ship. This is akin to a lobster trying to escape a pot, only to have the other lobsters pull him back in, along with some lemon and seasoning salt.

This has to be the most hard-won "You Win" space ever.

Climbing out of a Hole

The feeling of attempting escape, and being foiled constantly in that attempt, is the heart of Gravwell. Often you will make progress in a single movement phase, only to have most of that progress erased in the next movement phase.

When I first started playing, I thought it would be easy to draft the cards I needed to stay consistently ahead. But what Gravwell is really all about is putting yourself in a good position as a part of the group.  Moving as a giant lump of ships going forward and back, ready to make the one mad dash for victory a split-second before anyone else.

You never, ever want to be in front. You want to be just behind the front ship…yet all the movement cards work to either shoot you back down into the hole or rocket you far into the lead where you will only plummet back again.

An Original Design

I love the originality and simplicity of this game. I can honestly say I have played no game "like" Gravwell. When I was rounding up opponents, I explained the game as "Candyland with space ships and the space ships are all chained together." Despite this, everyone wanted to play. The rules are simple, the game is fast.

Time for Lunch

Gravwell is a lunch break game. You aren't building an economy or maximizing victory points. In an hour long lunch break, you can spend the first 10 minutes teaching the game and playing the other 50 no problem. People who have never played modern games before can learn the rules easily. People who have played modern games before will still be interested.

The End Game

I think the only trouble with Gravwell comes from people expecting more than it is. There is randomness. Bad things will happen, and the very limited opportunities to make corrections during the turn (a single "emergency stop" card) will leave you with little option most of the time but to take your lumps.

Conflict with the other players is always turned on. The constant fluctuations keep all players excited and in the game. I find myself wanting to play Gravwell. And so far that has been easy to do.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Racing To the End Game

All games come to an end. But what about those games where you can control the time and place of the ending?

It feels like most games I play have a set number of rounds. A smaller number end after some other predefined condition occurs (like the deck runs out of cards). The last, most exclusive group are those that allow the players some limited control of the tempo of the game.


Firenze

A smaller game most people don't even know about. I can't count how many times I've been caught flat-footed by another player in this game. Firenze closes down once someone uses up their own limited supply of seals. Intially, when the game starts and everyone is on even footing it makes sense to score as many points for your towers (a finished tower uses up one of your seals) as you can to get the most value.

Once you score a big pile of points, inevitably another player will switch gears and attempt to spend his/her seals as quickly as possible. Because if they can run out fast enough, and eek out ahead of your big score, the game will end and they will win.


Puerto Rico

Shipping points, colonists and buildings. Any of these 3 elements can be "run out" by an enterprising opponent to end the game when he or she is in a position to win.

Puerto Rico is such a soulless game. And yet, there lives within its husk an incredible adrenaline rush when everyone's economic machines start working. If you are really screwing up your turn and bombing out on your developments…the game will at least be over quickly.


Dominion

I thought Puerto Rico was the most obvious one. But then I thought of Dominion. Every single game of Dominion has 2 parts: first players are building card engines and adding to their deck. Then the moment comes when the leap is made to scoring victory points. When that first province is grabbed, the game turns upside down and hopefully you have what you need to get some points of your own.


Race for the Galaxy

Sharing some development with Puerto Rico, Race for the Galaxy inherited some of the same racing end conditions. With a few more to make it play even faster. Add the 2 player expert rules, and you can lay down extra planets/developments each turn and really run out the clock if you have a plan. The dream scenario is 2 developments and 2 settlements in the same action phase…running out a full 1/4 of the game in the span of a single turn.

Woe be the player who chooses production, while his/her opponent sneaks out another card into the tableau to end the game!


Glen More

You can move your little guy around the rondel as fast as you want. Other players can take as many turns as they want until they catch up. Yet, the game punishes you for having too many tiles so surprisingly it doesn't hurt as much as you'd think to leap ahead quite a ways. Since the game ends as soon as the 3rd tile stack is depleted you can really make a run for it if you feel like you're in a good position.

I'm still trying to figure it out. It might sound like I'm continually campaigning for highly-interactive games that keep you on the edge of your seat. Yet there's something to be said for relaxing, laid-back games that let you kick back and plan your turn a little.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

3 Parents Play 2 Player Games

My last game day, there were three adults, plus a bunch of kids at various ages. For the majority of the day, we played 2 players games. I came away thinking it was a winning concept.

A World of Constant Distraction

Very few kids want to play board games for extended periods of time. So the first thing all of our kids did were book it out into the yard. Where they played well for the most part.

The 2 player idea came about just because that's what we happened to have. Here is what went down.


Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small

I've played Agricola.  I've played Caverna. All Creatures Big and Small focuses these classic worker placement games into a laser-tight beam. And the result is awesome. In fact, I had to sit back for a moment and try to figure out exactly what they had taken out. True, the game is only 2 players. But there is also no feeding or maintenance costs. This fits right into my narrative about Enjoying a Debt-free Existence in your Board Games.

Also, and surprisingly important, you are limited to the workers you start out with. There is no way to generate more workers, so you are confined to figuring out how to optimize things with what you have. Because I am constantly undervaluing (or overvaluing when it's too late) the "grow workers" spot in traditional worker placement games I felt actually competitive.

Finally, there are less buildings and upgrades. You still get a few different paths and ways to take your farm in different directions, but its not overwhelming.


Star Realms

Balancing a 2 player worker placement game was the latest deck builder on the block. The more I play Star Realms, the more I am amazed how much game fits into what is essentially a Magic: The Gathering starter deck box. Fast, direct, vicious. With surprising deck-building avenues depending on how the cards in the trade row come out. If you wanted to play a deck builder with me, I would suggest Star Realms every time right now. The only reason I continue to play stuff like the DC Comics Deckbuilder is the desires of other players. And you always need to remain in tune with the wants of the rest of your play group!

Fast and Furious

Playing these 2 games made it so there was very little down time for the odd adult out. Each game would take maybe 20-30 minutes and then opponents could be switched with ease. The odd adult out could handle kid requests, or just supervise the game and make sure people are doing it right.

I love to watch other people game, and 25 minutes is about the right sweet spot before I start to lose interest. Knowing full well the hot seat is coming allows me to think about the coming game and how I would play differently.

The Learning Game

Playing multiples of the same game also threw my slow-paddling game-learning brain into overdrive. I am champing at the bit to play my next Uwe Rosenberg worker placement monolith because of the hard-core resource allocating and farm building I was doing on All Creatures Big and Small. Deck building with Star Realms has me ready to take on my frothing-at-the-mouth workplace game opponent over my next lunch break. He's been coming coming in ahead on far too many games and honing my deck building skills might just be enough to tip the edge.

The Fun-ening

Overall, instead of 1 giant game possibly interrupted several times by upset children…It was my child, I admit it!…we instead had a lot of fun several times over in quick, easy-to-digest bites. At the end, we even got 2 of the older kids together and introduced them to Star Realms. I can tell you as a parent this is the most wonderful feeling in the world when you can legitimately get your offspring excited about something you yourself are interested in. Rarely, rarely can you ever expect this.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Spoon Wars: Dueling Dexterity with Monster Bake


Finding games to play with my 3 year old presents a special challenge. She's not super interested in following complicated rules. Or achieving far-off objectives (the kind that might not happen for an entire turn!).

To a board gaming fan who watches all the reviews and sees all the news popping up over at boardgamegeek, it might seem like little kid games are the farthest concern.

They are out there! Today we take a break from grown-up fare and look at a primo little kid game I stumbled across. HABA's Monster Bake!


Note: my household had quite the discussion on what to call this game. The official English name is "Monster Bake" however as the rulebook clearly calls out, the monsters are certainly not baking they are DECORATING.

The listed age on the box is 5-99, but my 3 year old was happy to jump right in. She seemed to comprehend everything just fine. My 9-year-old son played along to make her happy, but would certainly never play this if she wasn't involved. My wife got extremely competitive, and will no doubt be the reigning Monster Bake champion in our household, probably forever. So the right adults can find something to like here, too.

Sorting Marbles

The objective of Monster Bake is simple. We played the game a couple different ways (true to a 3 year old's idea of fair play) but all the ways were close to the actual rules. Essentially, you flip over a card and the card shows the kinds of marbles you need to sort out of the middle and place in your bowl.


The objectives range from 4 marbles of different colors, all the way down to 1 (for instance, a single red marble). There are no objectives showing multiple marbles of the same color. The single and double marble cards are really nice for younger kids, who sometimes need to catch up if the game starts moving too fast.

Spoon!

There is a trick to using the spoon. Approach a marble too slowly, and the smooth wooden sphere tends to roll off the sides instead of ending up in the middle. What you have to do instead is jerk your spoon towards the target and try to get the marble to bounce up and in. And least, that's how it seems during the 50 or so times we've played so far.

Once you've grabbed your marble, just carefully navigate it over to your bowl and drop it in. Hopefully no one will try to knock the marble back off your spoon, which sometimes happens in more cutthroat sessions. Vicious!

Need for Speed

The most important goal when playing with younger kids, and the part Monster Bake meets and exceeds, is keep the action moving along.

Filling your bowl with the correct marbles takes half a minute. Then the objective is completed, and we are ready to move on to an entirely new objective. Meeting the requirements of each card was actually the most important part of the game for my daughter, rather than her competition with me.

In fact after quite a few competitive games, the variant she prefers puts me in the role of the game, turning cards over for her and telling her when to go, and allowing her to fill the order by herself. I end up being a referee and game master for what is essentially a solo game.

How it stacks up

The closest equivalent to Monster Bake in my collection is another game I bought for my daughter…Think Fun's Roll n' Play. Remove the giant plush die (which my daughter does anyway) and you have a bunch of simple objectives for kids to perform.

Monster Bake is a step up in complexity, changing the objectives from simple "touch your nose," "jump 3 times," style body awareness exercises and focuses attention like a laser beam into a challenging dexterity puzzle. If your little one wants to start out using their hands to help guide the marble onto the spoon, don't blame them because this can be HARD even for an adult!

Cheating!

As a kid, they are going to get the hang of it pretty quick.

Now I'm in the process of analyzing the rest of the HABA catalog. If you want to do the same, check out their web site or see some really awesome videos showing kids in action.





Thursday, October 30, 2014

Designing, Reviewing and Promoting

Just read a blog post I responded to in depth. Hopefully I actually responded to it, reading the blog certainly sparked me to write the following. But I am reposting it here on my own blog.

Here we go:

As we all go deeper into the hobby, we quickly find the world is filled with more games than we could possibly ever play. We play a tiny fraction of the games. We play good games, we play bad games. And then we will try to figure out the difference, because sometimes seemly good games aren't any fun and we start to wonder if the rest of the world is crazy or if its just us.

Reviewers spend all their time trying to figure out what makes a game good. Much like literature, or movies, you can spend a great deal of time clinically analyzing what is good only to find an example that breaks every rule you just made and is obviously good (maybe just to you) in ways you would never expect.

Board game designers take all of this creative analysis and use it to fuel the design of games. What they like, what they don't like, maybe what they think other people like/don't like. The kinds of things reviewers flail around about on the Internet, the designer I think pushes it inward into the creative process. So you don't see it, you just feel it when you play the game.

Indeed, for a board game designer, the search for what is good must be a tempest of insanity. Ideally, a designer wants only to make good games. Yet looking back on the games I like the most, I can't find a single designer who creates games I universally admire. Usually there is one game I really like, and the rest of their catalog I could take or leave.

So I think the truly good games these designers produce are about 66% intense effort on their part, and 33% blind luck that the games they make match up to whatever my brain wants a good game to be. How frustrating!

And this isn't some conscious, thinking part of my brain. Infuriatingly, Its a weird itchy lizard part in the back somewhere.

So reviewing is a process of answering a question which is ultimately unanswerable. And if it was answerable, it would probably only apply to myself. But again, by happy (or unhappy depending on how you value my opinion) coincidence my own internal turmoils match up to a small fraction of other people in the world.

And so I find the same with other reviewers I watch, read or listen to. Much of what they say actually applies only to themselves. Yet occasionally they can be a beacon to point me towards where I should be allocating my limited time and attention.

And yes, we should place admiration on the designers above reviewers. Because while the reviewer is shouting into his or her megaphone around the Internet, the designer is having the same struggle, hidden, silent, and using it to fuel his or her own creation.

I wonder if maybe one job of the reviewer/promoter is to talk more about the designers of the games. But then what exactly would we talk about? While a game has many interesting rules and components, designers are people, and this can be quite a challenge to talk about. Would we talk about a body of work?

It's much harder, but it definitely needs to be done.

This is something I will think about in my own writings in the future.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Dungeon Petz are a lot of hard work


Dungeon Petz looks like a light and wacky fun-filled game.

Raising "Petz." Entering them into shows. Finding them homes among a group of eccentric pet-fancying dungeon denziens. The game has the theme of a casual browser game on Facebook.

And yet when you open the box what jumps out instead is harsh, unforgiving, even tedious at times. Much like a real pet there are plenty of chores before you get to the good stuff.

The setup phase

The first thing you hit in Dungeon Petz is a brutal setup phase. The board requires much maintenance at the beginning of each turn before the fun can begin. Some unlucky player eventually gets press-ganged into the role of banker, and must go through a process where 6 different resources are managed (gold, vegetables, meat, artifacts, cages, add-ons and new petz). Plus income is generated for each of the players. And if you have less than 4 players, you must also move the 3-4 dummy pawns around the board to block various spaces. (sarcasm on) Because wouldn't that be horrible, if people could just pick any old space, whilly-nilly with no extra blockers? It would probably ruin the game for everyone. (sarcasm off)

Shopping

Shopping is where you hopefully get all the stuff you need to make your pets happy. There's one big innovation in shopping I love, and its the method for placing the workers. Your imp workers can be placed in multiples to put them ahead in turn order, 3 imps always gets to be placed before 2 imps and so on down the line. Cash counts as extra imps, so you can really make a glorious pile to decisively win the one single spot you must have to suceed in the coming turn. Or you can place the imps individually, and nab the less popular spots no one else seems to be going for. Whatever strategy you want.

I find this bidding far, far superior to the "turn order" spaces found in most worker placement games. Probably because I lack the forward thinking to use them. So no worries about who places first, in Dungeon Petz you just pile on more imps.

Satisfying needs

"Needs" fufillment is Dungeon Petz crazy time. All the hand wringing from not having enough of something to satisfy all your petz happens right here.

Fufilling needs is random, full of unexpected twists you really just have to hunker down and accept. Similar to Galaxy Trucker, you know the kinds of things that might happen, but you are never prepared for all of them. Colored needs cards are dealt out, and then you must carefully assign them to your pets and of course at least one of your animal projects is probably going to have a miserable, miserable time.


You might know your gorilla (or is it buffalo?) esque pet is prone to violent outbursts. But the red "aggression" cards you are dealt may very well have magic, play, eating or something else as the actual need you need to solve.

You will have cages fill up with poop. Or diseases. Or play needs you just don't have the imps or cage enhancements for. You are going to make your petz very sad. The negative difference of a single point in any category means the difference between happiness and adding permanent suffering tokens. And beyond one or two points lurks the even greater penalty of losing your pet permanently.

Exhibitions and selling

Finally, Dungeon Petz caps off each round with something I absolutely love in board games: a judging phase. You've been grooming these petz and now its their turn to shine. And not only is there judging, but usually there is 2 different judging rounds! First, a general "pet show" exhibition for earning victory points, and then another judging round where prospective petz owners try to find a match to their sometimes esoteric interests.

Judging, like in a lot of games, can either get you a magnificent pile of victory points, or almost zero if you are in the lower ranks. Luckily, you can happily pass on selling your pet if you feel the victory points are worth it…with the knowledge your pet will grow and possibly be worth even more points in the next turn's judging rounds.


Ebb and Flow

The first part of the game is like going to the dentist. Many small tasks must be performed. None of them are particularly enjoyable.

But the reason I will keep playing the game is the second portion, with the feeding and judging. Here is where the emotions of the game come to roost, and where all the tension builds up or drips out.

I don't think anyone goes into this game planning on winning either, and I think that's pretty unique. Much like Pret-a-Porter, the enjoyment really ends up being running your machine and watching the business function. if I have a couple good judging rounds and create some unique stories I have all I need for a good time.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Minneapolis Board Game Marathon (October 12th)

Writing about things on the internet can be a lonely gig. or a hobby in this case. I got som really top quality time in some board gaming this last weekend and it really recharged my batteries. One night with my friends, but then another entire day with complete strangers at the Minneapolis Board Game Marathon.

The post about game night (will feature Rex and Dungeon Petz) is still perculating.

But I can kick out a few thoughts on the "Marathon."

First off I have never been much of a convention guy. Conventions are typically ok, but the ones I have experience with are 90% vendors. And once you are out of spending money, there's really not much else to do.

What this little conference room, about 20 people total when I showed up, provided was a cornucopia of game playing pouring everlasting (or at least until 10:00, when the hotel needed the coference room back). I felt welcome and among my peers.

A place you can sit, drink coffee and play board games: sounds like heaven to me.

So on to the games!


1) Tragedy Looper

It took a long time for me to wrap my head around this game. The teacher was patient in what, looking back now, must have been an avalanche of questions from my corner. Constantly interupting! But he persevered and eventually I got it.

In Tragedy Looper, a crime is going to be comitted. Or multiple crimes. You kinda know what's up by way of an informational sheet you are handed at the start of the game.

You look on the board, and you see various character cards who move about the board. One of them might be a killer, one of them is the person you are trying to save. All the players cooperate to solve the mystery and stop the events, except for one. One player is the evil mastermind who wants the events to happen, and he has a full arsenal of tricks in the form of cards he can play.

Eventually, and probably sooner rather than later the person you are trying to save will die. And you will gain some info based on what happened when he or she died. You will know this person had some importance in the story. And then the game rewinds (loops!) to the beginning and you start all over again.

You go through these loops, but you don't go through them forever. If the group fails to prevent the crimes, eventually the mastermind player is awarded the victory.

So after the first loop, you and your fellow time agents huddle up and try to suss out who the bad guys and good guys are in this little puzzle of a story.

One of the more satisfying things our group accomplished was getting one of the bad guys to kill one of the other bad guys, and hence reduce the level of the stuff you are trying to avoid considerably.

And the entire time we deliberated, the mastermind at the table was trying to figure out how to sneak around our suspicions, and juse any of our false assumptions against us. I can only imagine its an intense experience.

I played the introductory scenario, which is about half as long as the normal game. And comparing it to the info sheet given out for the full version, half as complicated too as far as characters and plots. But at the tend I had invested my mind entirely on the task at hand, and I found the conclusion very satisfying. Would play again.


2) Caverna

This is an incredible game in its scope and complexity. I was told it is similar to Agricola, and I have no reason to doubt it. I was reminded somewhat of Le Havre, only there were many workers with the obvious, always-in-demand family growth spot. You harvest crops. You collect stone and wood. You breed animals.

Despite the magical dwarves and cave dwellings, Carvena felt a lot like real life. Your house is never big enough. You work all day collecting resources. Then just as you think you have enough to finally put that gold-tinged victory point room in and earn a bunch of rewards, feeding time comes around again and all your carefully acrued good stuff gets gobbled down.

The other 3 people at the table were seasoned pros. And it was interesting to look over in contrast at their experience.

Making the rought moves, in the right places allows an incredible number of different strategies. You can get lots of points for animals, for vegetables, for rooms, for rubies, or just earning lots of victory point chips.

There are a lot of things to upgrade. Forests can be cleared for fields and pastures. Pastures can be fenced in for animals. Caves can be changed into to mines, and mines can be turned further into ruby mines. Rubies are really nice to have.

I wasn't doing much of any of this. But the stuff other people were doing looked really cool. I might start to get into Caverna if I play it about 3 more times. But those 3 extra times I predict will be the same mad scramble for just enough food to subsist off of...until everything finally clicks in my head.


3) Fresco

Ahhh! The game of the conference room! This is more of a family-level game and learning the rules leaves you with a clear idea of the strategy. You can see what you have to do right from the start, and you just bang everything out. All the victory point goals are right in the middle of the board. You can see what you have to do and you just have to do it.

The mind-blowing part...since Fresco is about painting all the resources are colors of paint. You know what colors you have because they are the same colors as the cubes. Creating new, better resources is as simple as mixing 2 colors of paint together. And of course the king color is brown. You have to mix a lot of colors to get brown, and consiquently painting things brown get you a lot of victory points.

Placing all your workers happens on a little card you hide from other players at the beginning of the turn, and then everyone reveals at once. You hope to grab certain paints, paint certain areas of the fresco, grab certain special powers and more but your oppents are trying to get there first. So the tactical action gets intense if someone does something you weren't anticipating.

Finally, at the end if you are like me you end up with a bunch of primary colors you never got around to mixing. And most of the fresco is done. And the game ends and everyone had a good time. This is the kind of game I immediately want to go buy the first time I play it. Or find someone else who has a copy. Again, a real winner.

A pretty good time

I really want to go back next time they do one of these. Perhaps even on a Saturday/Sunday type experience so I get the whole deal. The coffee is hot, the games are there and the people are friendly. What more could you want?

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Taste of Crushing Debt

From the "Game of Life" rulebook

There are many games where debt is an important part of the action. I like lots of games with debt. 
You might think debt always works the same…Louis C.K. had a really good comedy bit (I will look it up if I remember) about the only thing worse than having no money is having negative money.

But games (at least the ones I've played) actually fall into 2 different camps on debt. And the "camp" your game falls into can have a dramatic effect on what your decisions should be during play.

1) In some games, debt is a punishment. Back when we were all playing Monopoly, the end game condition for most players was running out of money. But in our more enlightened times, designers never want a player to be kicked out of a big multi-hour economic game so they came up with debt.

Punishment debt is Louis C.K. style debt. You can't actually buy anything. You still have to pay upkeep costs. And the penalty for not getting out of your punishment debt is even more punishment. But you still get to play the game!

2) In other games, debt is an opportunity. If you have played around with punishment debt enough, you  will initially avoid opportunity debt like the plague. But opportunity debt has a fundamental difference, its debt you acquire before you go broke. It's debt you might even WANT to have. Be on the lookout for this!

Opportunity debt allows you to borrow extra money at the beginning of the game. The proper thing to do with this money is to buy more money-making stuff earlier in the game, pay off whatever the inerest on the opportunity debt is later in the game, and eventually make more money than if you had never taken out the opportunity debt.

Example I have played with punishment debt: 7 Wonders (with the special debt expansion).
Example I have played with opportunity debt: London
Example I have played with both: Pret-a-Porter

What about a game with NO DEBT OPTIONS at all? Now that's what I call a fantasy game!

Dungeon Petz, Lords of Waterdeep, Puerto Rico, Galaxy Trucker, none of these games provides the option of accumulating a negative account balance. If you don't have the money, you just can't buy stuff. And there's probably a worker space or role card to give you a little cash for next turn.

Or in the case of Dungeon Petz, you just bid more imps, since cash is more like extra workers (I really need to do a review of that game).

If you are designing an economic game, or if you are just a connoisseur of economic games, its easy to sit at the table expecting debt to be a given. You're so used to it.

But its possible to make a simpler choice, and often the game is more elegant (certainly the decisions can be just as difficult) in the long run.

And surprisingly, it is really refreshing to play a game where there is no option to subject yourself to crushing, soul-destroying shell-of-a-man debt. Merely not having enough, and knowing how to get a little more, can be just as interesting.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Space Punching into Galactic Submission with Star Realms


Not all of Star Realms is excellent, I concede. But most of it is extremely excellent.

Setup: exactly the same as every other deckbuilder you have played

Getting Star Realms ready for your first game is a textbook display of non-innovation. Each of the 2 players (there are only ever 2 players) start with a 10 card deck. 8 of the cards are worth a gold coin (universal credits, trade points, whatever). 2 cards are worth a damage point. You buy cards from a river of 5 random cards drawn from the trade deck. 


When you pull the cards out of the box, you can easily separate them into 3 piles. Explorers, Starter Cards, and the Trade Deck.

What is interesting about this non-interesting setup is just how simple it is. There's nothing to this game other than a single deck of cards and another pile of 20 starter cards to make the 2 initial player decks. No counters or markers or spaceship miniatures or anything.

Innovation: Direct Confrontation

More than any other deckbuilder I have played…Star Realms is a quick, mean game. Across the great history of deckbuilders, games like Ascension (and Thunderstone before it) may have thematically been about fighting things. But Star Realms is an actual fight between 2 players.

Pow!

In Star Realms there are no victory points. No victory points on cards, and no victory point chits. The cards themselves are worthless.

Instead of earning your sweet little VP's, you are reducing your opponent's health each time you attack. And so the only victory in Star Realms is to crush your opponent as fast as possible, preferably before they get a similar death engine constructed on their side.

Each play starts with 50 life points. During the first few turns, this seems like a lot. With only 2 damage cards in your deck (Vipers), each only capable of shaving off a single life point, the war feels like it will go on forever. But it won't. Things in Star Realms escalate quickly.

Combo Damage!

These ships you are buying eventually start hurting your opponent. But to lay down the real hurt, you need to get a couple cards together of the same faction. Because there is often an "ally" ability that will also trigger, ramping up the effect of the card considerably. Play a few allying cards, draw into some more and things explode.

In the DC deck-building game, you often get to watch your opponent engage in elaborate combos of cards as they slowly collect enough power to sweep the board and defeat the current super-villian with ease.

If your opponent in Star Realms gets a long combo going, you are probably dead. A well-developed deck can do 30 or 40 points (theoretically even 50) of damage in one hand if lucky. So if your opponent gets lucky, you are probably dead.

Then you shuffle up the cards and start over again.

Together these 2 cards cause a whopping 10 points of damage, plus makes your opponent discard 2 cards. All for 4 trade coins…a good investment! And you have 3 other cards in your hand.

The Lucky Strike

I mentioned getting lucky. After playing a few games of Star Realms you might expect battles between 2 experienced players might come down to who can get lucky first.

An important way Star Realms tries to mitigate this is by making "trashing" in your deck easy and ubiquitous. Almost all cards of the "Machine Cult" faction can trash your starter cards for you, and many of the cards in other factions trash themselves as an extra ability. You might want to do this if you find your factional flavor switching, thanks to the vagaries of the random card selection.


2 players, working to get rid of their starter cards, will come down to who buys the best collection of cards in the meantime.

All your star bases

We haven't even talked about star bases yet. Star bases are the artifacts and enchantments of Star Realms, deploying and remaining on the board while the rest of the hand gets shuffled back in.

If you can get a star base of a relevant faction, you can easily ramp up the power of your cards since there will always be an ally in play.

Of course, your opponent can attack these star bases, choosing to do direct damage to them instead of to you. You might want to do this if the synergy between the base and the player's deck is sufficiently high.



But then there are other bases marked as "outposts" and these cards MUST be attacked before the player can be damaged. During beginning plays, I came away thinking this effect was inconsequential. But through a skilled player, a couple bases together can create an impenetrable wall…turning a death strike from your armada into a sneeze.

Impressions

Like your games short and brutal? Like to get rolling on the next game right away without a lot of card sorting? This is what I am feeling with Star Realms. There's probably more to it, and I will certainly post secondary impressions later. Until then, beatings will continue. In space.


Friday, October 3, 2014

The Lords of Waterdeep Paradox




"I love completing tasks with clear, uncomplicated goals that don’t require resource conversion."
-- The Game of Wife

In days long gone, while the folks at TSR were busy running Gary Gygax out on a rail, someone in the building was simultaneously dreaming up the Forgotten Realms universe. No doubt Waterdeep was inspired by the ancient phrase "still waters run deep". Popularized in this modern age by a man named Snoop Dogg.

Lords of Waterdeep turns issues I have raised in other games on their ear. Because everything I don't like in these games, I love in Lords of Waterdeep.

This is why ultimately (and remember this for future posts)…

I truly know nothing about nothing.

Very Zen, very Zen.

But back to Lords of Waterdeep.



A million different places for your workers to hang out

LOD offers up a bunch of worker placement spots, and they all basically do the same thing. As in the majority of spaces involve the collection of various resources: either different colored cubes or spiffy gold coins with holes in the middle.

Traditionally, I find this annoying because it adds up to a whole lot of micro turns with someone holding their head in their hands while the other player looks for the optimal move.

In fact, I just got done singing the praises of Le Havre because it offers up only a single worker with which to do things with.

If Le Havre is on one of a worker placement spectrum, Lords of Waterdeep is on the complete opposite end.

There are so many spots, and they are so similar, that you never really get completely "blocked" by an opponent. So you don't HAVE to prioritize before each "micro turn" you can just check off things on your grocery list knowing sooner or later you will eventually get to them.

And as the game progresses, you gain additional workers automatically instead of the more normal fight for the worker reproduction spot (gross). Less worry and less hassle.

Then each player builds MORE buildings, offering up even more spots with which to collect the required resources. And you have even more options.

Finally, what are we doing with these resources? We are converting them into completed quests, which in turn are worth victory points. Delicious victory points, or as they used to say in the old days…points.

So the game itself offers up hardly any innovation. It appears to be a by-the-numbers worker placement game. But the "by-the-numbers" in this case are so incredibly streamlined and minimalist that the game moves through some sort of negative zone dimensional gate and back out into INTERESTING again.

Instead of boring, I find it relaxing. And while all the different spots give you lots of options, each option is slightly different and keeps your overall plan for advancement flexing like a reed in a stiff wind. You might have to pick a different space. You might get paid for someone using your space. The situation changes every so slightly with each worker placement I can keep up without having to rework the entire equation in my head.

No Upkeep

Here's a big selling point for the game: there's no upkeep! You don't have to send in your taxes, or feed your workers, or come-up with a mortgage payment at the end of the month. You will never default on a loan.

Le Havre is partially enjoyable to me because if I forget about my workers (or just choose to ignore their physical needs), there is usually some sort of gruel I can cook up at the end of the round using floor sweepings and leftover uncooked fish fillets.

Lords of Waterdeep, you don't even have to do that! Your agents are on their own for physical sustenance, and every building comes to you free and clear without any secret property liens from Waterdeep Ordinance Enforcement.

This is another reason the micro turns aren't bad…because you spend zero time thinking about what you NEED to do, and all the time figuring out what you WANT to do.

Quest Cards

Probably the biggest area of tension in the game is the scramble for quest cards. There are quest cards worth 25 points, and quest cards with 5 points. See the difference?

So while you and your buds and cleverly bantering and sliding workers across the table you will all be eyeing the row of quests for when a Sweet Opportunity comes out of the deck. True, most of the lesser point cards also give you special abilities, but at some point you have to be concerning yourself with victory.

And then there is one last true screw-you moment in the game and that is Mandatory Quests. If you are lucky enough to draw one of these, rest assured you will be able to significantly hamper your opponent with a quest he or see must fufil before moving on to the bigger point scoring opportunities.

Conclusion

So after looking at four worker placement games, the only single takeaway I can really offer is

1) I like to play board games

(sounds of things getting thrown off a desk)

Let's see if I can come up with anything else when I do the next worker placement study.