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Boring fucking board game companies

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Let's take a moment to talk about game companies.  Specifically, let's talk about the boring ones, the ones that just can't seem to put out anything of interest.  Here's four game companies that just don't have any soul to their games.


Mayfair Games

Quick!  Name your favorite Mayfair titles!  Now, ask yourself a question.  When were they published?  Probably, you haven't mentioned anything that came out more recently than 2006.  And if you did happen to say something that came out after that, the odds are it's by Martin Wallace.  I'm right, aren't I?

Mayfair has come out with some amazing games, there's no doubt about it.  But they all came out a long time ago.  Tigris & Euphrates, Modern Art, Empire Builder -- these are the games that made Mayfair's reputation.  They've had a few games by Martin Wallace recently that have made a splash, particularly London and Automobile, but those first got their English releases as Treefrog titles, and it was only after they had made their initial splash that Mayfair picked them up.  Their last good release that they debuted in English was Pillars of the Earth, way back in 2006. 


Rio Grande Games

RGG is another game company that had some really great releases, year after year after year.  For a while, they were the company to look for the latest English releases of the hottest games from Europe.  But the market that they once monopolized has been taken over by another company.  Of the interesting games that are coming over from Europe, far more are ending up with Zev of Zman than with Jay of RGG.

Some people seem to love recent RGG releases, but I call Emperor's New Clothes.  I'll give them credit for Stone Age a neat little light Euro game.  It's probably the closest to the old school games that made Rio Grande's name.  But the other crap they turn out is just quick expansion gravy trains.  I'm not talking just about Carcassonne, the game that refuses to die, I'm also calling out Dominion and Race for the Galaxy as expansion fodder that get way more cred than they deserve for being fast, rather than really good.  Everybody plays them because they don't take much time, but they're also dry and themeless.



Queen games seems to specialize in beautifully produced games designed to appeal to families that have nothing to set them apart.  The releases that everybody crows about from Queen are intolerably boring.  Chicago Express, not even their own game, is the driest railroad game there out there, which is akin to naming a mall that has the flattest parking lot.  Fresco is the type of also-ran SDJ nominee that's destined to be consigned to Thurn and Taxis land and never see the table again after three years.  Alhambra is both old and yet another expansion gravy train.  Queen has a stranglehold on the pretty, but vapid eurogame. 

There are two Queen releases that seem to break the mold, and those are Shogun and Wallenstein, both basically the same game, with the cube tower mechanic that is ingenious, simple, and most oddly, has never been duplicated or appropriated by other designers.  Both games also have conflict, something Queen is usally allergic to in most of it's overly family friendly titles.  But, two releases don't save a publisher, particularly two releases that are practically the same game.  These two cool games are mostly lost among the same old stuff that Queen releases, year after year.

Played this week: Blue Moon: Buka Invasion, Löwenherz, Gnadenlos, Paydirt

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Ben and I pulled out an expansion I had gotten in FFG's holiday sale this past November.  I love me some Blue Moon, ever since the lovely Tara got it for me as an birthday gift way back when.  And I don't pull it out as much as I want to, because I've not managed to find anybody yet who likes it quite as much as I do.  But the new deck reinvigorated the game, at least for this session.  Unfortunately, I think that this deck is probably too good.  Way too good.  We played seven games, against several different decks, and this deck won every single one of them.  The deck sift, between the ships and the ability to bluff, is just way too high.  It's not like the characters are weak, eithere.  There's an awful lot of 4+ characters in there, with little imbalance toward earth or fire.  I'll probably pull this deck out for a couple more sessions, but if it keeps winning, I'll probably relegate it to the back of the collection, to get played only for curiosity's sake.  5/10


We also played a game of Paydirt.  Ben's Oilers won a game after dropping two straight.  He's now just out of the race for a first-round bye, as both the Dolphins (!) and the Seahawks (!?!) are having great seasons, and have only dropped two apiece.  Meanwhile, he beat the Cowboys, to help out my playoff aspirations.  If the Eagles drag themselves to the playoffs, I will be very proud of them. 9/10


Coincidentally, I played two Klaus Teuber games with German titles at WAGN this week.  I had played both of them a long time ago, but not picked them up in several years.  The first was Löwenherz, a game which I had been gifted recently by Rob J., after he realized it was sitting in his closet and that the likelihood that he would ever touch it was very low.  I remembered hating it, but figured I should give it one more chance before ditching it.  Turns out it's just as crappy as I remembered it.  It's now on the trade pile.  I also discovered, upon opening the box, that I had unwanted copies of Rook and Devil Bunny Hates the Earth (anybody want some free games?).  5/10


The other Teuber game was Gnadenlos, which worked much better than I remembered.  I'd only played it twice before, but remember it being rather lackluster.  The first game was good, and then the second ended way too quickly.  This session was the third game, and this one ended up with the vultures coming to roost to end the game, which is the first time I've seen that.  I think that may be a result of us all playing overly aggressively, and too greedily, particularly on the 3 gold cards.  But, that said, the session was fun.  I regret giving up this game... wait, no I don't.  6/10

Played this week: Here I Stand, Ticket to Ride, more

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It's an oldie-but-goodie week this week.  Nothing new to me, in fact, I've played every single one of these games more than 10 times before.  That, combined with the fact that this was one of those weeks where I got lucky and won just about every game makes this a pretty boring entry.  Sorry about that, I'll try to suck a bit more next week.


Got my second game of Here I Stand in, in as many months.  This session saw me randomly get assigned the Hapsburgs, and I was able to roll myself to a military victory, mostly by getting a bunch of keys off the Hungarian empire when an ill-fated Ottoman assault was repelled, followed by John Zapolya in my hand.  I do enjoy this game, but this was a particularly abbreviated session, as I managed to overwhelm the French and be at peace with the rest of the world when the auto victory was threatening.

I love this game, but the victory seemed a bit hollow.  The Hapsburgs should probably not be at peace with most of the world like that, the Ottomans had some terrible luck rolling that allowed me to pick up the three keys from Hungary on the cheap, and then were a new player and foolishly agreed to peace with me when they shouldn't have.  The English, also, allowed me to sue for peace, and used their home card for marrying rather than trying to take a key from me, another major mistake.  I should have been ruthlessly torn apart, but folks just didn't pay attention to me.  Still, I'll take plays of this anytime.  10/10


The closer for our session of Here I Stand was Bohnanza, the Uwe Rosenberg game about farming that doesn't suck like another biggie I could mention.  It was a good fit for the situation, but I've played this game in and out and backwards and forwards.  Ain't nothing here that's new to anybody.  Sure, the bean farming is great, the trading is cool, and it finishes quickly so long as everybody keeps the game moving.  6/10


Pulled out Ticket to Ride for the first time in almost two full years. I had a wonderful ticket draw and coasted to an easy victory. I also exercised a pretty painful shutdown of Tara's routes when I was messing around in the endgame to try to rush the game end and also mess with the other players. She was Not Happy.

I don't think I'm likely to pull this out again soon, but it was perfect for a quick game with Tara and Mom. It's a bit too light for my taste, and I'd rather play Union Pacific almost any day of the week, but this was a nice diversion. Letting games like this age for a bit before coming back to them definitely improves them. I think I just was burned out by this game for a while. Too much play of a game this simple makes me really bored. 5/10


Mom loves Big Boggle.  Loves it.  Can't get enough of it.  And, well, she raised me from an early age to play it.  And when you teach your kid early on to do something you learned only as an adult, well, they usually get really good at it, and eventually surpass you.  I feel sad about that, for sure.  Poor Mom still likes to play, though.  We played about five quick games, and I won most of them  5/10


Finally, as a quick closer, we played a game of Outburst.  It's been a loooong time since I played this party game.  I actually really enjoy this one.  As far as trivia games go, this is my favorite, moreso than Trivial Pursuit.  We, of course, play the version where there are no teams, and no timer, and no stupid scoring system.  It's a lot more fun to play party games as an activity, after all.  5/10


And, of course, it wouldn't be played this week without Paydirt.  Ben and I continued our season.  Philadelphia pulled one out to pull back to .500.  Let's hope we can finish strong to get something better than .500 for the season.  9/10

Played this week: In the Shadow of the Emperor, Rattlesnake, Cathedral, Paydirt

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After wanting to play In the Shadow of the Emperor for a long time and not finding the chance, I got my third play in within one year, which is a pretty quick clip for me for any game that doesn't have a campaign aspect (see: Paydirt, Empires in Arms).  This game is standing up to repeated plays very well.  It's an ingenious little area-influence game, but one where the theme dictates the mechanics, rather than vice versa. 

Every time I play this, I wish I knew more about the politics of the Holy Roman Empire, because I'm pretty sure it's all laid out there for me to see, but I don't have the knowledge to see where the mechanics are all coming from.  But I'm sure that things like the elector privileges, the balance of aristocrats and knights, and many other region-specific items are all based on the real political and cultural properties of those regions.  And damn if it isn't fascinating.

It doesn't hurt that the game is capital aitch Hard for me.  I've finished second, third, and third, in the three games I've played, at least six points (~20% of the usual winning score) behind in every game.  Allow me to be cocky for a moment in order to make my point.  I catch on to games very quickly, and I win much more than my fair share of games (a quick survey shows that I've won more than half of my last 20, 9 of them 3+ players).  But I have never even been particularly close to winning in this game.  And that's a lot of its appeal.  I haven't figured out how the strategy works, yet.  And I want to keep playing it until I figure that out.  It's pretty rare that I find a game where I am still grasping at the strategy like that after three plays.  And dammit, I'm going to figure it out.  Sometime.  8/10


You guys, magnets!  12 of them, in fact.  That's what you get in a box of Rattlesnake.  It's a children's/dexterity game from Fantasy Flight, and the idea is to use these ridiculously strong magnets and put them on this board without them clacking together.  And of course, it's impossible to do.  But you do get to experiment with magnetic fields.  Players of Polarity will have an idea what this is like, but where Polarity has a bunch of rules that are not particularly satisfying surrounding it, Rattlesnake cuts through the crap and just says "Play with these fucking awesome magnets, you juvenile little shit.  You know you want it."  That's what it says to adults, anyway.

I can't gush too much about Rattlesnake, because otherwise my gamer license will get revoked (joke).  Really, this is not a great feat of game design.  It's structured play with some really cool toys, though.  Just don't bring those toys near a laptop and you should be fine.  5/10


In the neverending quest to play every piece of junk that comes through a thrift store that looks even remotely interesting, I played a game of Cathedral.  And it's exactly what the rules led me to believe, which is a too-short abstract game.  It's like Go meets Blokus, and not really as appealingly simple as either.  Like most abstracts, it's designed to get a lot of play over a short amount of time, something that I don't really have the patience for anymore.  Variety is the spice of life, after all.  5/10


Yes, another game of Paydirt.  Ran into a really, really tough team in the 1990 Giants.  Between them and the 49ers, I'm realizing that the good teams are very, very good.  With a really ridiculous string of luck, and an overreliance by Ben on two offensive plays, I was able to keep the game within one score, but I have a difficult time seeing the middle-of-the-road Eagles pulling out a win.  I suppose, that's the whole idea.  After all, 13-3 teams should be able to handle the also-rans pretty easily.  But it does make me think that the true stinkers, the New Englands and Indianapolises of the teams, should be correspondingly easy to beat, but experience has not shows that to be the case.  9/10

Played this week: Cities and Knights of Catan, Through the Ages, Martian Rails

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No new games this week, or even relatively new.  In fact, two of these games are old favorites, and it was great to revisit them.

Cities and Knights of Catan is the expansion that turns the simplistic Settlers of Catan into a game that you can really sink your teeth into.  Unlike several of my recent plays, this one was far shorter, and far more pleasant and less prone to bartering.  This was the first time in a long time that I had played with only three players, and I think the game held up pretty well.  I do like the game more when there's four players, as it makes the map a bit more crowded and prone to competition, but when I get three players to play this, I'm going to play it.

And that's the oddest thing about C&K.  Nobody wants to play it.  Most gamers I know poo-poo Settlers of Catan, and even though C&K drastically improves the game, people still seem reluctant to play.  Heck, I love Settlers of Catan, at least as much as the light Euros that people seem to adore when I pull them out, like Bohnanza, Union Pacific, and Hollywood Blockbuster.  And for whatever reason, most gamers won't turn those games down, but they will turn down C&K, even though it's more strategic and not significantly longer.  I really am puzzled about that one.  Base SoC: 8/10, C&K: 9/10


Through the Ages got pulled out as well this weekend.  It was Ben's first time, and choosing baptism by fire, we leapt right into the full game.  He got crushed, of course, as is going to happen in pretty much anybody's first game when it's the full game.  But I'm hoping that I can hook him on this game, and maybe we can have a payoff of a bunch of two-player matches, when we really start to go head-to-head and explore strategies.  This is a really excellent game. 

Let's take a moment to rant about Fred Distribution, a.k.a. Gryphon Games a.k.a. Eagle Games.  Can they ever put together a version of this game that doesn't have ridiculous typos in it?  I was trying to pull out the 3+ cards from the deck, and I wasn't sure I got all of them, because even through three (maybe even four?) editions, these American publishers can't get their shit together enough to print all of the symbols on there.  And what's even worse, is that the first, European edition put out by Czech Games has no errors in it.  How does it take several printings to get these simple things right?  How do new errors creep into every edition?  Jesus, this is one of the few games I'm likely to play enough to actually care that I have a correct edition, and they can't get it right on the third published edition?  Ridiculous.  Anyway, purely based on the strength of the gameplay, this is a definite 9/10.


The game at WAGN this week was Martian Rails.  I guess I've never articulated my thoughts about the crayon rails series here, but it ultimately boils down to the fact that I think these are 90 minute games in 3 hour packages.  Sure, Martian Rails has some advantages, such as a cool board and lots of interesting events, but the theme just isn't there to maintain a 3 hour game.  I want to feel something from a 3 hour game, and with the rails series, it mostly feels like I'm crunching numbers.  6/10

Played this week: Pirate King, The VCR Quarterback Game, Sorry! Sliders, Paydirt

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Pirate King is another game I got for free in the same promotion in which I got Maccabees.  I wasn't expecting a lot, but I was expecting better than what I got.  I knew, from comments on BGG and from reading the rules, that it would be like Monopoly, but it sounded better than it.  It's marginally better, but only marginally.

Unfortunately, some of the same principles that make Monopoly a bad game are carried over here, and some of the strengths don't even make it.  This game is filled with "fake" decisions, the types of decisions that seem like they might be relevant, but mostly aren't.  The winner of this game, invariably, is going to be the one who gets lucky early.  In our game, Katie built up fortifications on a couple spaces after getting a quick set, and when the rest of us landed on them four times in quick succession, she promptly (mostly) bankrupted us, and we then had to play out the rest of the game watching until she could buy enough properties to get to 12 points.  We did, admittedly play the rule wrong about getting new crewmen or cannons when turning in cargo, and we did not play with the advanced rules, but I am guessing that this will quickly get consigned to the trade pile, after one more play to make sure that I didn't just imagine how bad this game was.  4/10


The VCR Quarterback Game is the worst game I have played in a long time.  I wasn't expecting much, having picked this up at a thrift store in my quest to try every football simulation out there.  I had played this waaaaay back in the day, when my childhood Brian had a copy, but it certainly didn't become a favorite, despite the fact that we both liked football.  I suppose that should have hinted that the game wasn't that good.  Well, Tara was excited to try it, probably based on the campy success of Star Trek: The Next Generation Interactive VCR Board Game.

This simulation of football is a terrible one, the worst I've get played.  Yick.  Here's the entirety of the game.  Offense chooses whether they want to punt, kick a field goal, or run a play.  If they choose to run a play, the defense can play a penalty card.  If they choose to play a penalty card, then the offense can cancel that penalty card by playing one of the same value or higher.  Of course, you only get four penalty cards, and then that's gone.  Once the defense chooses not to play a penalty card, the offense then draws a card from a stack of either running plays or passing plays, and reads the result of the play.  Sometimes the card says VCR, at which point you unpause your VCR and watch some footage which is what happens in the next play.  Throw in some rules to cover how to handle special teams, and that's the whole game.  So, the only decision in the game, other than the laughable penalty cards, is whether to do a running play or passing play on offense.  The winner, of course, is definitely just going to be the person who got most lucky. 

It is worth noting that I did watch much the rest of the tape (though much in fast forward), which includes NFL films footage, including some classic plays from Super Bowls like Marcus Allen's big rushing day against the Redskins, and Joe Montana's cool downfield strikes against the Bengals.  There's plenty of old Vikings in there, from all of their Super Bowls in the 70s.  There are still some puzzling choices, as all the plays are done in slow motion, and narrated by the same commentator.  But you see a lot of classic personalities and plays.

I'm not sure if I need to keep this in my quixotic quest to own every football simulation out there, or whether this will be the game that finally breaks my need to keep all of these (ofttimes terrible) football simulation out of some sense of completeness.  3/10


Also pulled out Sorry! Sliders, which is basically poor man's Crokinole.  It is exactly what it is, and no more.  It's a dexterity game where you flick shit.  It is a lot of fun, despite no appreciable depth.  It's all in the flicking, which, golldarn it, is fun anyway.  6/10


And finally, you didn't think I'd let one of these go by without mentioning Paydirt, did you?  Yup, another game gone by.  We have officially passed the halfway point of our season, with my Eagles struggling to stay at .500, and Ben's Oilers sliding a bit, but still well on pace for winning their division, and making the playoffs.  9/10

Played this week: Here I Stand, Castle Ravenloft, others

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I will always and forever love Here I Stand. Played it this past weekend and was the English.  Every time I think I have this game nailed down, something comes along and surprises me.  One rule that was a big surprise to me was that, after the fall of Hungary, the Hapsburgs and the Ottomans can make peace.  I thought, like the other enforced wars in the game, those between the Hapsburgs and the Protestants, and between the Papacy and the Protestants, that it was permanent.  The strategy certainly raises a lot of possibilities for military victories for both powers.  Unfortunately for the Hapsburgs, they are probably going to lose this race.  I was doing really well as England, with a good chance to win on turn 5, when the Ottomans triggered their autowin condition by running over the Venice and much of Italy.  This is the second win in a row for the Ottomans on keys.  Clearly this is something I need to worry about.  Luckily I have another session planned for this month, so probably I'll have an opportunity to make sure that they stay under control this time.  10/10


Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game was rather uninspiring.  I played the mage, but the characters didn't seem all that different.  I think that, despite the fact that Dungeons & Dragons invented the dungeon-crawling genre, this board game adaptation suffered from not seeming creative enough.  It reeks of "fighter, wizard, cleric, and thief go into a dungeon, kill big baddie because it's there."  That was a really original idea for the original D&D, but at this time it's cliche in its simplicity.  The dungeon crawl genre changed, and this game didn't really keep up.

I would still love to try the RPG sometime.  It sounds like a lot of fun, and having a bona fide adventure, facilitated by a dedicated GM, and with a great party who are willing to get into the story could be a great thing.  I consider it the biggest gap in my gaming lineage that I've never managed to play an RPG with a dedicated group.  Sure, it sounds like an elaborate game of let's pretend, but it still sounds so cool.  But this sanitized version doesn't cut it.  6/10


Speaking of elaborate games of let's pretend, we also played The Big Idea, an old Cheapass Games release that revolves around pitches for imaginary products.  It's basically a party game with a bit of structure, and it's extremely group-dependent.  This session was prettty good, with my favorite product being an empathic toaster, that actually toasts bread to the darkness you want, the first time.  My favorite pitch was something about some kind of durable obelisk.  I didn't know what it did, but it did something, and the pitch went here and there and back again.  That's the whole point of the game, though.  6/10


Also played the rest of the Field Commander: Alexander extended campaign.  My thoughts on this game are a lot like Rommel, though I think this has a less fluid feel on the board.  I just don't think there's that much replayability here.  Still, for a trade, I got around five hours of good play out of it.  I consider that good enough for me.  It's up on my trade list now, though, waiting for some Alexander lover to embrace it.  6/10


And yes, there was more Paydirt.  I include it here, as always, for the sake of completeness.  It's awesome, still the best football sim I've played, though I have both APBA and Statis-Pro now sitting on my shelf, so we'll have to try those out.  I'll be shocked if they dethrone this, though, the king.  9/10

A brief history of how I got into hobby games

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When non-gamers see my collection for the first time, I frequently get the responses "Where do you get all these games?" and "I didn't know this many games existed." Well kids, one day your old grampa gamer was like that too. It's time to take a trip, to 2000, back in the days when one war seemed like more than enough for the US, the Dreamcast was a pretty cool system, and Justin Timberlake was just another member of N'Sync.

Christmas of 2000, I'm a senior in high school. Three friends and I spend pretty much every waking moment we can together, kind of like if the title of the show was Beavis and Butthead and Butthead-er and Beavis-er. We've played some games in the past, notably a ton of Risk, as well as all the scenarios in HeroQuest and the Kellar's Keep expansion. For a while in grade school, I hung around with a kid whose parents owned Dark Tower and the Dragonlance board game, but we never played those games enough to get really enthralled with them. And like every good group of nerds, we flirted with Magic: The Gathering for awhile. The gamer gene is latent within us.

Christmas eve comes, and I unwrap a gift from my Mom, and it is a game. Settlers of Catan. Never heard of it. Sounds interesting, though. My interest is piqued, and after we're done opening gifts, I break the shrinkwrap. This looks.... pretty cool. The board is something that can be different every time. There's dice, but they aren't used for movement or combat. There's resources, and trading. After what seems like an interminable wait (looking back, I'm sure it was like 2 days, tops), my friends get back from their respective Christmases, and we pull out the game. It's amazing. This is unlike anything I've played before. This is like those rare video games that are strategy-based, which are few and far between, but which I really like. And, even better, it allows me to play with my friends, rather than being the rather solitary experience. And my friends like it two. Ricky and Robbie, the brothers, instantly use this as an excuse to deepen their familial rivalry, and love denying each other the resources that they need. Ben likes it too. Mom, where did you get this game? A store called Games by James? And they have an expansion for this game? Where is it? Man, Minneapolis is two hours away. But it's Christmas vacation, we have time on our hands, and a car as well.

One four-hour round trip later, we have Cities and Knights of Catan in our dirty grubbies as well. And it's just as awesome, only more so. The game is more complex, but still dynamic and quick-moving, and adds a whole extra layer onto the game. This becomes our game of choice for a while. But now we know that there are game stores out there, and that there is a whole world we haven't explored...

We do some research on this fancy thing called the internet. There's more out there, games on all kinds of topics. We decide to place an order on this site we find, We're going to pool our order to get cheap shipping. I'm in for Seafarers of Catan, the others opt for stuff off the most popular sellers list. Seafarers gets a few plays, as does Rob's copy of Guillotine. Ben strikes out with the gawdawful Pirateer, but his games of Citadels and Bohnanza are real hits. Bohnanza is the afterthought game that put us over the shipping limit, and it's the one that gets the most play. More trading, more screwage, and with some ingenious hand management that means that sometimes, no matter how much that little fucker Rob is busting my balls over that red bean, I just have to suck it up and give him a wax bean for free anyway. But don't think he won't pay!

The others don't like Citadels as much as I do because it has a bit too much doublethink, a trend which will continue for the rest of my life. But I get really into it. Not only does the theme appeal heavily, but the structured guessing game appeals to me as well. "He might have taken the Assassin, and he wants to murder me. My best play is the King, but he knows I have lots of gold buildings, so I could go for the Architect. He'll never expect me to take the Bishop though. Augh! How did he know to kill the Bishop?" This is my favorite game of the order.

Alas, all good things come to an end, and eventually we all go our separate ways off to college. My gaming goes into a slow burn, with a game every month or two. College is simultaneously a great time to find new games, but also an introduction to how hard it can be to get other people to play games. People enjoy Settlers, but don't want to play it that often. I play my first game of Apples to Apples with the Macalester Gaming Society at the first meeting, but don't really feel like I fit in, so never go back to a meeting. Ryan, a friend from college, decides to come to my place for Thanksgiving break first year, rather than spring for a plane ticket home. I end up going to the Mall of America with a bit of work-study income to buy myself a game, something to play during the break with the old pals. Ryan says he's heard good things about The Lord of the Rings cooperative game.

Lord of the Rings is a great success. This becomes the first thing to be a real challenge to Settlers with Cities and Knights for our gaming attention. We play it a bunch over Thanksgiving, dying several times and winning several times. And we play it all the time when we are all home on breaks. During the summer after first year, we play a lot of games. Thanksgivings and Christmases after that also often see us pull out a game.

Meanwhile, at college, a few of my other friends have other games that we play. Over the years of college, I get introduced to more games that other people have played in the past, including Diplomacy and Advanced Civilization, games that will remain in my mind enough that I will eventually buy my own copies, and become all-time favorites for me. Risk 2210 makes an appearance, as does Republic of Rome, although the one time it gets pulled out is so abortive that I have no clue what's going on, and we give it up after a brief rules explanation and part of a sample turn.

As college passes, the friends from home and I pool resources and do an order again, and then I do an order on my own. I've heard good things about Axis and Allies, so I convince Ben to get that, though it flops miserably. History of the World also fails, and I realize that long, conflict-driven affairs are not for this group. Union Pacific turns out to be a lot of fun. Carcassonne is boring as hell, and cutesy and doesn't appeal at all to us. It feels like we're playing Rivers, Roads, and Rails, a game I had outgrown by the time I was eight years old. It's also at this time that I discover, and promptly try Puerto Rico. I hate it, as does pretty much everybody I play it with. What is this slavery imperialist bullshit?

I've also started regularly visiting game stores. I pick up my own copy of Diplomacy when a Wizards of the Coast store is going out of business, and also pick up Fist of Dragonstones and Kingmaker, although I really don't care for the last two. A Game of Thrones board game is a big hit with my friends from college who have all read the books. I try some Cheapass games, and am mostly unenthused.  My opinon of wargames drops precipitously when I try Scotland the Brave, and it is terrible.  I later learn that this has more to do with the fact that it is an Avalanche Press game than the fact that wargames are boring.

I eventually graduate from college, and I start dating Tara. She is actually interested in games. We play a bunch. I buy copies of Bohnanza and Citadels for myself, as well as a copy of Twilight Imperium: 3rd Edition, a game which I am not sure I will ever play. I also pick up a game of Elfenland, which mostly goes unappreciated, but also pick up Memoir '44, the first time I have played a two-player game that I really liked. From there, Tara supports me in buying a bunch of new titles, something which accelerates when I get a lucrative job as a programmer with a lot of disposable income. Eventually, I realize that I am having a really difficult time juggling all the different people who want to play games, and so I get a crazy idea. I start a game group, and I name it WAGN, for Weekly Area Game Night.  And the rest is history.

That's all for tonight, kids. The history of WAGN can be its own post. Now shaddap and let grampa gamer get to the bar!


Played this week: World of Warcraft: The Boardgame with The Burning Crusade, Paydirt, Bingo

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Played World of Warcraft: The Boardgame this week with Tara.  I do love this game.  Munchkining out your character has never been better.  I have given up on the competitive version of this game, as I don't find it adds that much, although if I ever get 4+ people interested in it, I may give it a try again.  This was the first time I had played with The Burning Crusade expansion, and we also added The Shadow of War, which we always play with.

The Burning Crusade is pretty great, particularly the dungeons.  I already knew the board was extraneous, and that getting into battles together was more fun, but this really increases the density of combat, which is really appealing.  There's a lot more interesting interaction with the other player, and it's just cool to take down these bosses together.  No more is it "Go here, beat a Murloc" but now it's "Go to a dungeon, try your luck, and push it if you feel okay with it.  That seemingly little tweak increases the cool combat part of the game and takes away the boring travel part.   I think I will make a genuine effort to develop a boardless variant for the next time I play.  Without the competitive part, the board is just intensely boring.  WoW:TBG: 9/10, Shadow of War: 6/10, Burning Crusade: 7/10


Played yet another game of Paydirt with Ben.  My Eagles ran into, and got ran over by, the 49ers.  Wow, that team is a powerhouse.  Even with my relatively strong defense, they were scoring at will in the first half until Ben started relying on the ground game to take away more of the clock.  My offense was pretty inept, which didn't help the situation.  It took a garbage time touchdown to even get me any points.  Probably the most lopsided game of Paydirt that we've played.  9/10


Shit yeah, played Bingo at Liquor Lyle's.  I'm not exactly sure what the deal is, but this guy seems to somehow make a living roving from bar to bar doing bingo, kinda like a karaoke host, but with Bingo.  And his schtick is that he's 'Mother Pearl,' only he's got a robe that is somehow connected to Crown Royal.  Not sure when Crown Royal started giving out nuns' habits with their logo on it, but apparently this guy found one.  And he gives away buckets of liquor-related schwag like t-shirts that say 'Cinco de Mayo 2007' and pins that say 'Make this St. Patrick's day special with Jameson's'.  And sometimes he'll give away a free bar tab.  Yes, the bingo spirit is alive and well in Uptown, and it's at my favorite bar.  Bingo: 4/10.  Bingo at Lyle's: 7/10 

Played this week: Merchants and Marauders, Finca, Field Commander: Alexander, lots more

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Well, I finally made back to the monthly Board Game Marathons for the first time since November.  My game plays for the week, naturally, also got a lot higher.  Add in the fact that I was gone last week, and didn't have a chance to blog about playing last week, and you have a lot of games here, some new, some old.  Buckle your seatbelts; this is going to be a long entry.  Feel free to skip around to the games you want to read.  The Finca entry is pretty funny, and Sid Meier's Civ has some interesting comments on strategy, so you may want to check those out first.


Merchants & Marauders is the new hotness from Zman.  The designer, Christian Markussan has been very active on BGG about trying to get this game published for several years now.  He had found a publisher in Eurogames several years back, before Eurogames got out of the game publishing business and dropped his game.  I was pretty bummed at that point, because every pirate game I had ever played had sucked balls.  Well, then good news came along that Zman was going to publish it, which ultimately probably was better for the game anyway.  The components are gorgeous and well made.  The board has that particular kind of matte finish that I'm not a big fan of, the same one as from a lot of other Zman games like Pandemic and Duel in the Dark, the one which I think shows wear too easily, but other than that minor quibble, the cards, art, cardboard pieces and plastic ships all look great.

And, finally, somebody has put together a pirate game that doesn't suck.  Yes, I'm calling you out, Pirateer, Pirate's Cove, Armada, and every other pirate game out there.  Blackbeard is the only major one that isn't on my shit list, as I still haven't had a chance to try it.  Merchants & Marauders, however, has finally managed to take a pirate theme and make a good game out of it.  I can't give it a wholehearted stamp of approval yet, because the game we played was kind of anticlimactic, and I managed to win without even upgrading my ship.  But I bet that if the other players had attacked me like they could have and should have, I would have lost most of that gold that was the major source of my Glory Points, and there would have been another winner.  I won't be buying this one based on the strength of that one play, but I would be happy to play again to see if I want it.  7/10


Finca. Oh, god, Finca. It's been a long time since a play of a game left me with this much revulsion. I'll just copy what I wrote over on BGG, as I don't think I can improve on it.

"Holy boring repetitive crap, Batman! Finca is pretty much exactly like a million other games, only this one has different art and a different title like all the rest of these cookie-cutter boring pieces that seem to still sell despite my fervent wish for them to die. In this one... well, you're on Majorca, which is obvious because... because... because there's fruit. That you have to deliver to a market. But there's very specific way to harvest this fruit, which is wandering around on windmill blades with your farmers. And when there's a lot of farmers on one windmill blade, they want to go really far. And when there's a lot of farmers on the blade they're moving to, that means they have a great harvest. And when the farmers pass 90 and 270 degrees on a windmill blade, a donkey and cart fall out of the sky and patiently wait to deliver the fruit to market.

If it's somehow not obvious to you already, this is another game that has absolutely no connection to any kind of theme, much less the theme which is put on there. Some joker thought of an interesting mechanic, used the random page finder on Wikipedia to find a theme, and then convinced a publisher to put nice art and components with this soulless mishmash. And now it's Uncle Set Collector's Game of The Month for people to play and forget about by the time Essen rolls around again." 4/10


Got in another play of Fantasy Flight's newish Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game, one of my games of the year last year.  This was my third play, and I decided to try an economic victory.  I won in a landslide, and I have some suspicions now about the strength of that playstyle.  Not only do coins give you a viable way to win the game, they also give you a great tech engine, which means you can keep up militarily and fall back on a military or tech strategy to win the game.  Compare with the military or cultural strategies which rail you into one path, and make it very difficult to deviate from that path.  I'm hoping that this session was an aberration due to some combination of luck and inexperienced opponents, but if I can manage to pull this off consistently against the Civ vets in my group, then I'm going to have to put a house rule in there.  Word on BGG is that limiting the coin gathering techs to only three coins alleviates the problem.  9/10


Also at the marathon was Kaivai, which apparently is rare and/or has a new printing, or is somehow exciting to people who get into heavy Euros. Certainly the signs seemed to point in that direction, as I played it with Adrian, who is so wired into the cult of the new that he burned out on Agricola before it was even published in the states, playing with his homemade copy. And Kevin, too, said something about the game being rare. This is a decent game, and totally not for me. The gameplay is overly tight and unforgiving. I didn't get caught out in the cold, but a couple of other players did, and the game is pretty long for being able to be functionally eliminated in the first two turns. The theme is about polynesian island colonization, and it's cool, but I didn't really feel like I learned anything from the game. It's just too mechanics-focused and dry. 6/10


After playing Field Commander: Rommel several times, I decided to obtain a copy of Field Commander: Alexander, as the theme appealed more to me, and it would at least be worth a lark before trading it away when I was finished.  It's fine, if not exceptional.  The same solid system is reproduced here from FC:Rommel and I think some of it doesn't work as well in this period, but as an overview of the conqueror's life, it is alright.  I think once I play through this one, I will trade it and likely not return to the series again unless there's a medieval themed one of some kind.  Still, the game is good, I enjoy it, it just isn't good enough to keep around or play through more than once.  7/10


Also tried another solitaire game I had recently acquired, Patton's Best. This is an old Avalon Hill game, and one I had gotten along with a slew of others when a couple local gamers were getting rid of a lot of their old games.  I definitely enjoyed this, and even played it twice in a row, a real rarity for me.  It's still not as good as stuff I'd play with 2+ players, but I will probably keep it around for a few more plays.  I'm a little concerned about it getting very same-y over many plays, but it certainly taught me a lot about tank warfare.  8/10


Auf Achse is a Wolfgang Kramer game, a spiel des Jahres winner from 1987, back in the days when Kramer did stuff other than just tile-laying action point games like Tikal and Hacienda.  It's a good game, although the cartoony style really turned me off.  I think there's a game here, but I couldn't help feeling like I was playing with playmobil toys the whole time long.  It's also a little shorter than I like, and a little bit drier.  I suppose it's worth a shot if you want to play a pathing game with your kids.  6/10


My second play of Kingsburg was this weekend.  We played with the king's reinforcement variant from the To Forge a Realm expansion, though that's it from that box.  It was more fun than I remembered, though not exactly earth-shattering.  I felt like I was getting crappy rolls all game long.  I don't think I once rolled above a 13, which was intensely frustrating.  I don't think I'll ever own this, but I enjoy it on a once- to twice-per-year basis.  Base game 7/10, expansion 5/10


Bermuda Triangle is a gimmick game worth playing once, and no more.  Actually, let me revise that.  It's worth playing half of a time.  By the end it has overstayed its already limited welcome.  BT is a glorified roll-and-move from the 70s.  The storm is a big plastic piece with magnets in it, that if the spinner dictates, will sweep over your magnetized ships and suck them up, never to be seen again.  The gameplay is a narrow sliver above terrible, with decisions present but mostly meaningless.  3/10


Played Vegas Showdown at WAGN.  Rob had bought it off of me about a year ago, but had never gotten a chance to play it, so it was a first time for him.  I do enjoy this game, and this is one of the first times I had ever wondered if I had made the wrong decision in selling a game, before reflecting that I had never missed it until I played it, and I am still able to play it frequently as there's a couple copies floating around in our game group.  VS has this interesting feeling of being a light game, while actually having a lot of depth to it.  That's my favorite type of Euro, one which you can think about, but doesn't scare off the lighter gamers.  I think this is still one of the better ones of the genre, worlds better than the drier mechanical predecessor Princes of Florence.  7/10


For the first time in almost three years, I played Through the Desert.  Tara's jaw just about hit the floor when I suggested it.  It's time to put it away for another three years, as it was pretty much exactly how I remembered it, which was far too abstract, and obsessed with a tempo.  I lose interest in the game pretty quickly, and want it to be done after the first few moves.  I feel like, after the setup, I'm mostly just playing out my setup, and responding to threats rather than playing proactively.  Not my cup of tea.  5/10


And finally, finally we are onto the last game I played, which was everybody's favorite bite size game, Dominion.  We played with a few cards from Seaside.  This session overstayed its welcome, as I often find with Dominion.  Once people start building decks that draw all sorts of cards and give new actions, gameplay bogs down quickly.  Curses also slow the game down pretty significantly.  I always feel kind of dirty when I'm done with this game, like I could have done so much better, and this session was no exception.  Base game: 6/10, Seaside 4/10

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