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Played this week : BSG: Exodus, Fortress America, others

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My playgroup is obsessed with Battlestar Galactica.  They are all fans of the TV series, but the real obsession comes with the game.  It gets played at fully half of the meetings of our group.  As a result, I'm actually surprised that it took me this long to play the Exodus expansion.  And really, my only reaction is "FINALLY."  As in, finally being a pilot doesn't suck.  Before, when I got dealt a pilot card, it was like "Well, I basically have no special abilities worth anything."  Piloting is so laughably weak in the base game as to make the whole ordeal pointless.  Why waste an action going into space when you could, instead, do something like move the civvy ships around, or even just draw a card?

Now, there's the everpresent Cylon fleet.  If you jump away, the fleet just jumps to the other board, waiting.  You really gotta destroy them, or else they keep coming back, again and again and again.  Guess what?  Pilots are now, contrary to the worst role in the game, very possibly the best.  Now, if they could make the president worthwhile, I would really be happy.  Base game: 8/10, Pegasus 6/10, Exodus 7/10

 

Also played Fortress America.  Although I've never seen Red Dawn, I've been told that this is the game version of that movie.  I am conflicted about the game.  On the one hand, the theme is abhorrent, espousing a ridiculous us vs. them mentality that sees the USA invaded from three sides.  What the US does not need is more glamorization of the partisan shack-dwellers in Montana, and to think that the Russians are going to come after us.  As long as everybody realizes the ridiculously infeasible nature of the game, and realizes that such an invasion scenario is pure science fiction, it's a pretty good game.  It's a 'dudes on a map' game, and there are three invaders, all trying to take the major cities of the USA.  A long game favors the USA, as the invaders units are gone once they are killed, but the USA also has to give up a lot of ground in favor of killing troops opportunistically where it can.  I love these kind of slow retreat games.  I like it in Bonaparte at Marengo, I like it in Axis and Allies: Battle of the Bulge, and I like it in A Victory Lost.  I am somewhat puzzled why so many wargamers poo-poo this title.  This is a great dudes on a map wargame.  Okay, you don't have combat factors, and there aren't chits, but do we have to dismiss the game just because it says Milton Bradley on the box?  7/10

 

Played a game of Modern Art as well, that old Knizia classic.  I hate closed and semi-closed economic games, but this game really breaks that rule.  I love it so much.  I love manipulating the market, I love gauging what the painting will likely be worth, and I love the midgames that go into the bidding.  Even the games shortness doesn't bother me like it does with most games.  I don't think I'll ever get tired of this little gem.  This is still one of Knizia's best games.  8/10

 

Got in another play of Tales of the Arabian Nights.  Worked perfectly for the group of mostly non-gamers that we played it with.  They adored it, and there was a lot of great storytelling.  Max killed an innocent girl for the sake of a wicked vizier, and Sam got to visit both the Dusky Lands and the Undersea Kingdom.  I had never heard anybody get to the Undersea Kingdom, so that was a special treat.  Several of us also got treasures, including me with a tunic with the embroidered face of my true love.  I still think this game is fantastic at what it does, which is to introduce nongamers to slightly more complex gaming without overwhelming them with choices.  8/10

 

My respect for Blokus is rising again, after being burned out on it shortly after Tara got it and we played it a lot in a short period of time.  I think I like it better as a four player game, as there is an element of chaos which isn't there with two players.  Max absolutely ate this game up, and asked to play three straight times.  6/10

 

Also played a game of the old favorite, Citadels.  I think I'm joining the masses who ask for this to be cut down to seven or even only six districts.  It's just too long for what it is, and particularly for the people who fall behind early, it becomes harder and harder to catch up.  If you get killed off a lot, by the last fifteen minutes of the game, it's just painful.  Still, I like the guessing of roles.  I think five is probably the perfect number for this game.  8/10

Maccabees, and how it taught me a lesson on review objectivity

No, I'm not talking about the Deuterocanonical books of the bible, I'm talking about the board game Maccabees.

This past NFL season, a small board game designer/publisher ran an NFL pick-em league, in which the goal was to pick the most winners correctly in any given week.  The weekly prize for winning was the user's choice of 10 geek gold (the virtual currency on the site, used for things like buying an avatar and the like), or one of five different games that this publisher had published.  I wasn't really that interested in the prizes, but I DO like pick-em.  This seemed like a good excuse to revisit pick-em leagues.  Who cared if I won anything?  I was just excited to play.

Turns out I had a pretty good year.  In week 5, I won, and I chose one of the free games, Pirate King, as my prize.  Pirate King was the heaviest of any of the five options, and although the reviews compared the game to Monopoly, they also talked a lot about how great the components were, and how the gameplay really was superior to that old standby. (I still haven't gotten it to the table, but I expect that to change in the next few weeks.  I have read the rules, and I expect it to be leaps and bounds better than Maccabees.)

Week 7 comes around, and again I manage to win.  Well, I had already gotten the one prize that most appealed to me.  There was very little information to be found about the other four games.  From what I could tell, all four of the games were based around the traditional Jewish game dreidel, which I didn't know how to play.  They had a level of variation that appeared similar to the difference between Ticket to Ride, Ticket to Ride: Europe, and Ticket to Ride: Switzerland, which is to say very little.

So, knowing that gameplay wasn't a deciding factor, I went with Maccabees.  Of the four, it had the most engaging theme, and it was appropriate to the season, no less, as the story of the game was somehow, in a way that is still unclear to me as I write this, relevant to the holiday.  (It has something to do with the menorah tradition, and having enough oil to have the lamp burn, or something.  Go look it up on Wikipedia.)  I figured I'd even give it to my token Jewish friend for the holiday.  I told the publisher that I would take Maccabees for my prize, and thanked him for his generosity in sponsoring the contest.  I also told him that I would try to write a review of Maccabees, to publicize it and get the word out.  I figured that it was the least I could do in return for him sending me out games for free.

I was excited.  I figured the game, though simple, would be a good fit for my Jewish friend, a non-gamer.  When the package arrived, I opened it and started reading the rules.  This is when the misgivings began.  Where was the story of the theme?  These rules were simple, yes, but they were also very unclear.  What's the difference between the pot and the bank?  Were these flimsy cardboard things that bent super-easily really the only way to track your amount of oil? 

When I played it, it was bad.  Really bad.  Roll-and-move gets a lot of hate for being a mechanic which doesn't allow choices in game play, but this was basically the same thing.  Instead of roll-and-move, this game was spin-the-dreidel and move.  There was very little decision making to be had, looking up what your roll meant got old quickly, and the theme was as pasted on as the theme on those games that your children get on their placemats at family restaurants, to distract them for 20 seconds while their food is being made.

Oh, how I regretted my promise to write a review!  I couldn't bear to tear the game to shreds.  There was so little information out there.  Three comments, and one very short review.  If I were to write a review, it would probably be the definitive review, despite being very harsh.That could do terrible things for sales of the game.  But then again, I couldn't write a positive review, because the game was worst-game-of-the-year-consideration level awful, and I didn't want to be a cheap shill. 

I took a weasel way out, which in hindsight might have been the worst choice.  Instead of writing a review, I decided to write a comment blasting the game.  As a bit of background for those not familiar with the site, BoardGameGeek has a ratings system, out of 10, and when you rate a game, you are free to write a small snippet, customarily anywhere from a few words to a paragraph or two about the game.  It's a way to encapsulate your feelings about the game without going to the trouble of writing a full review, and it's also really useful to take a look at all the comments for the game to get a large number of opinions summarized very quickly.  I take pride in my comments, and I write at least a short paragraph on every game.  Maccabees was no exception.  I wrote my comment, and I blasted the game.  I said exactly what I felt, and I definitely did not feel well-disposed toward the game, despite having gotten it for free. 

Although I hoped that would be the end of the matter, the publisher/designer checked the ratings, and he was unhappy.  To his credit, he handled it pretty well.  He found my earlier promise to write a review, quoted my comment in a private message to me, and sent me a sadface emoticon.  Yes, I'm sure you're busting a gut right now with laughter, but he got his point across, which is that he was disappointed. 

Because I was raised Catholic, I burned with guilt.  I felt that I had betrayed his generosity by writing a scathing comment.  I edited the comment a bit to make it slightly less harsh, but left it mostly intact, and also left the low rating.  In the end, I wanted my credibility, insignificant as it was to most people, to remain intact, even if it did mean that I would be hurting a publisher that went out of his way to treat me well.  I'm still not sure I made the right decision.

In retrospect, I wish I had paid for the game, or gotten it from any other method than gratis direct from the designer. My comment is still there, and although there has been another review added, mine is still the only rating below 6.  I can't speculate on how much my comment has reduced sales.  I don't think the average BGG user is the target market for this game anyway, but I do make it pretty clear that I don't think this game is really worth playing if you can at all avoid it.  Certainly that could have hurt sales for the game.  After all, a Google search for "Maccabees board game" has BGG as search results 1-3.

So, what should I have done?  Should I have kept my mouth shut?  Should I have taken a stand even further and reviewed the game and blasted it even more publicly?  Should I have whipped myself with a knotted rope dipped in brine to cleanse me of my sins?  I honestly don't know.  I don't think I made any bad choices, but things sure worked out shitty for everyone involved.

Ah, regrets.

Played this Week: Mansions of Madness, Union Pacific, Tribond, Paydirt

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It's pretty rare that I try a game I've never heard of, but I thought I'd give Mansions of Madness a shot after having it described to me as 'Arkham Horror meets Betrayal at House on the Hill.'  The description, while piquing my interest, didn't sell me on the game, as I am ambivalent about AH and have never played BaHotH, but don't really think it would appeal to me.

With that lukewarm commendation, I was shocked when I realized that Mansions was one of the best narrative-driven games I've played.  The writing is tight, the sense of discovery is well-paced and the whole experience has that ineffable 'feel' of sticking to the theme.  Mechanically, there's not much new here, but the game does do an excellent job with theme.

As an aside, the "D&D lite" genre seems to be swinging back to narrative-driven releases in the past couple years, back from several years of domination by combat-driven hack-and-slash dungeon/adventure games.  Tales of the Arabian Nights got a beautiful rerelease, Android and Mansions are both setting new standards for combining gameplay with story, and even the aformentioned BaHotH is getting a new release.  Compare to the mid 2000s, when we saw Descent, Runebound, Prophecy, World of Warcraft: The Board Game, and numerous other combat-oriented releases to scratch that RPG itch.  I, for one, welcome the change.  I enjoy the hack-and-slash genre, but even I was getting tired of the number of me-too releases. 

Yeah, I like Mansions a lot.Not sure about replayability, but with five different map setups, and promises of expansions down the line, as well as several different iterations of each map, this is a  7/10, with a good probability of going up to an 8+ if I play it and like it that much again.

 

Also played a game of Union Pacific, an old favorite.  This was, I think, the first time I have ever played it three-player, and it holds up pretty well, though I do think I prefer it with four or five.  You have more control with three-player, but it just feels very rich to have controlling interest in four or more companies on the board.  This was my official 10th logged play on Boardgame Geek, which doesn't count the 5-10 plays before then, putting it in a pretty exclusive group.  As I am a variety gamer, it's pretty rare that I get a game to ten plays, ever.  Most games leave my collection somewhere between 2 and five plays, so for a game to ring that number, it has to be pretty good.  9/10

 

Played a game of Tribond, a trivia game from the 1990s that focuses on finding out the common trait of three different things.  You probably know exactly what it's like from that description, but because I'm thorough, I'll give my commentary anyway.

As far as trivia games go, Tribond is neither the best nor the worst I've played.  (Different iterations of Trivial Pursuit hold those crowns, actually.)  The biggest problem is that the questions seem to vary from very easy to very hard.  There's also a roll-and-move mechanic, as well as a sort of irritating challenge mechanism to allow a player to catch up quickly.  But that's par-for-the-course with trivia games.  It's not tough to be as good mechanically as Trivial Pursuit, after all.  I do enjoy the lateral thinking that is required in this game, and the sort of brain-teaser-y nature of it.  5/10

 

I also got a play in of Paydirt.  Ben and I continue to make slow progress through our 1991 season, using 1990 teams.  Ben won another game to put his Oilers at 5-1 and in the driver's seat in his division in the playoffs.  I do hope that he manages to make the playoffs, as he has a better chance than I.  9/10

Played this week: Cyclades, Thurn and Taxis, Ironman Football

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Okay, actually it's played the last two weeks, but I was away on vacation, so rather than make myself write a blog post about only one game, I figured I might as well at least wait until two weeks to have some actual, y'know, content.

 

Got my second play in of Cyclades, the game with the unpronouncable name.  I have a choice of going with SIGH-cluh-dees, sigh-CLAY-dees, or I can butcher the Greek pronunciation by saying something like kick-KLAH-dess.  I tell you, not since Ys came along have I been this stymied.

The game is a good one, for sure.  Good enough that it got a mention as one of my favorite games of last year, despite having had only one play at that point.  This play basically confirmed what I already was pretty sure of after the first play.  This is a fantastic, fast, light game that ends as soon as you think you're about to get somewhere.  It reminds me a lot of an even shorter Mare Nostrum, that classic of the civ-light genre.  There's a similar kind of "stop him before he wins" dynamic, and the same "ignore combat at your own risk" military system.  8/10

 

For the first time, I finally played Thurn and Taxis, that already forgotten 2006 Spiel des Jahres winner.  I mean, has anybody heard anything about this game?  I guess I've heard a few people mention playing it now and again, but it's pretty well consigned to that heap of games that make you go "Oh, I forgot that won the SdJ."  I mean, there's not much here.  There's a pathing mechanism, which could get better if more of a structure was built around it, but it is mostly squandered as this game tries so hard to be the Platonic ideal of a Euro.    Complex, non-intuitive scoring system?  Check.  Theme that will drive most people away?  Check.  Lots of brown? Check.  Nice pieces with a bland presentation sure to offend nobody? Check.  6/10

 

And finally, there's Ironman Football, the game-that-never-was.  I heard about this self-published, some-assembly-required labor of love on the geek, and because the theme is the type of thing that makes me drool, I marked it as want-in-trade.  Somebody traded me their copy, and after much cutting and assembling, I gave it a try solitaire.  It is pretty painfully obvious that this was a) not extensively playtested, and b) released before the Euro revolution euthanised the (mostly terrible) non-wargames of the early 1990s.  Here's a fascinating topic, and lots of research, mostly wasted on an unimaginative dice mechanic that drags the game out way too far.  It really could use the Tyranno Ex treatment, which is to say for a new designer to come along, see the promise, and make a good game out of the same theme, but mostly new mechanics, much like Chad Jensen did with Dominant Species.  4/10

Played this week: Fucking everything

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Holy shit, guys, it's time for Saturday night drunk blogging!  And you all know what that means.  It means extra snark while I talk about boring shit!  This time it comes in 'Played this week' flavor, including all the stuff I played at the retreat this weekend that wasn't on my last post.  Hold on to your rectums, because this shit ain't happenin' but once!

 

Played a game of Struggle of Empires this Monday, with the rule additions that make it make sense, rather than railing Spain for no particular reason.  You know, the modification that says anybody can move anywhere in Europe.  For some reason, making Austria the power that is best in the game for no reason other than because it is geographically adjacent to the three highest point value areas seems stupid.  You know, when you think of the great colonial powers, you think, 'Yeah, like Austria.'  Um, fuck no you don't!  You think about British and French and Dutch up in those motherfuckers, probably because they had MORE THAN ONE FUCKING PORT.  Austria half-assed it's way through the colonial period until it finally got its ass kicked in WWI because it couldn't fucking build a fleet, and had to think about big brothers Prussia and France and Russia getting all up in its shit.  Would it kill Martin Wallace to put a little historical traits in for the different countries?  You know, that actually give the countries some actual differences other than retarded geographical ones?

But friends, I am being too harsh.  I really like this game.  In fact, I like it enough that I'm probably even going to keep it, an increasingly rare trait these days.  These days, with my shelves overfull, games don't get kept unless I had approximately the best time of the year with that game.  I'm cutting fucking 8's from my collection, people!  Shit is getting desperate! 

Anyway, Struggle of Empires is pretty much awesome because it's mostly grounded in history.  Even if the countries aren't really differentiated, you're still doing the same colonial shit they did, in all its native-raping, resource-stealing glory/debauchery.  I mean, at least this game makes you have a ship in Africa to claim a slaves counter in the new world.  There's no glossing over or glorification here (I'm looking at you, Puerto Rico), this actually makes you know that you're taking black people from Africa and making them work for your profit.  Yes, it's morally repugnant, but that's not going to stop you from trying to gain a bit of wealth, is it?  This game, while depicting colonialism and slavery, makes you cognizant of what happened, and that is a good bit further than most games go with it.  And it packages it in a game with lots of decisions.  Always a pleasure.  9/10

 

What's more awesome than getting called Puuj?  Getting called Puuj by the guy who played Gowron on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  And that's exactly what Star Trek: The Next Generation: A Klingon Challenge: Interactive VCR Board Game: An Adventure in Colons is.  Okay, I made that last subtitle up, but there are more colons in that title than the old Star Trek joke about the Enterprise.  Wait, you don't know it?  Allow me to present the best thing I learned in seventh grade (just kidding, Mr. Haeny!).

Q. What do the Starship Enterprise and toilet paper have in common?
A:  They both fly around Uranus looking for Klingons.

The Star Trek VCR game is not for gamers.  It's not for Star Trek fans who take the series seriously.  In fact, it's for pretty much nobody, because it is AWFUL.  But as with anything truly awful, it's interesting to play because it's simply a train wreck from start to finish.  It's best if you try to ham it up at least as hard as Johnathan Frakes does, and make sure to call out every time you notice an obvious budget-cutting move.  Yes, this is the game you play when you are watching Grave Robbers From Outer Space, because it has a similar amount of camp.  I can't say it's a good game, but I definitely can say it's enjoyable.  5/10

 

Got in a third play of Chaos in the Old World, and unfortunately am liking it less with every play.  Khorne seems to be the clear winner, and needs to be ganged up on by the other players.  This time, the Khorne player tried to win on points, and then still won on dial advancement, while still leading on points.  Isn't that kind of unfair?  You know, I like a player to actually have to try to win a game to actually win it.  When they don't, the title of the game is Candyland, and it's played only by 3 year olds and long-suffering parents.  The owner of the game was big on the idea that it probably happened that way because of the event cards, but if so, that is a very fragile design.  I want to like this game, I really do, but Khorne is cutting into my enjoyment more with every play. 7/10

 

Played my second game of Daytona 500.  Won this one, despite finishing in last and dead-fucking-last-you-loser in the second race.  I mean, I was done with that second race before the first turn even came around.  I was so far behind that I couldn't even sense the other cars' exhaust.  And then I managed to place high with both my cars in the third race, and made all of my points up.  That sort of confirms my suspicion, that there's some weirdness going on with the scoring system, and that there's a major advantage to running more than one car.  Don't get me wrong, I really like the drafting mechanic, but I think there's really just too much chaos here to really satisfy me.  6/10

 

It has been a long time since I have been in a session as disappointing as our foray into Android.  There's a good game here, or at least a good narrative, but there is some serious cardboard getting in the way.  I had read the rules ahead of time, but I was still lost when we finished punching the game.  We thought we might get the game done in three hours, to which the gods of science fiction went 'Hah!' and promptly mixed their metaphors like I just did.  We were besmoten for our arrogance, or what ever the hell archaic formulation of 'smite' I was supposed to use there.  We got all of two turns done, out of six,  Not quite sure why a week is six days, as this is still supposed to be on Earth, but my suspicion is that seven days is a bit too hard for the game designers.  That, and even God rested on the seventh day, that lazy unionist bastard.

I'm pretty sure there's a game in Android, we simply didn't find it in our time allotment.  I really did feel connected to my character, despite him being a cliche straight out of a Raymond Chandler novel who inexplicably traveled to the distant future.  The writing is good, the story seems like it could be great, and it could be one of those ingeniously unique games that blows my mind, in time.  But for now, it's just another confused mess of rules until I can get it to the table again.  6/10

 

Shit, guys, my fingers are getting tired, which means that everybody who is likely to read this blog post has definitely given up on it by now.  But I got more games to go through, like Perikles, which remains the most euro design of any Martin Wallace game I've played.  But it works, oddly.  You know, you have to get past a few warts on the battle system, but really, every Wallace that's worth playing has those types of oddities, and those are what differentiates it.  Wallace isn't afraid to leave some clunky stuff on his games, which keeps it from both a) being released by those hacks at Alea and b) being boring as all hell.  You know, back to that history thing I wrote about when I was talking about Struggle of Empires about sixty paragraphs ago.  Well, Perikles isn't Wallace's strongest effort, but it is underappreciated.  It's a good game that happend to get ignored, for reasons that puzzle me.  7/10

 

Finally, we come to my final entry, and not a moment too soon, as I can already tell than a bunch of you slackers in the back have nodded off.  Quicksand is really nothing more than filler posing as a gateway game.  There's not much to say about it, except that it deserves to be forgotten with pretty much every half-hour game out there.  It is sort of like that game that got a mass-release once way back one, and that your aunt and uncle love because it has a smidge more strategy than the usual mass-market crap like The Game of the Life You Wish You Had Back When the Economy Wasn't in the Toilet or similar, but that still isn't enough strategy that you would bring it to your game group.  Quicksand has a couple very simple mechanics that make it a bit more than your usual roll-and-move, but mostly it's just another too-light offering competing for your gaming dollar.  Other than Citadels, I have not been impressed with Fantasy Flight Games' Silver Line.  6/10

Played this week: Twilight Struggle, God's Playground, Tichu, Paydirt

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The WAGN retreat was this past weekend, but since my Played This Week officially goes from Friday to last Thursday, I won't include anything other than the first day's gaming.  You'll have to wait until next week to see what else I played at the retreat.

Played a pair of games of Twilight Struggle, both with Ben playing the USA to my USSR.  I am damn pleased that Twilight Stuggle has gained the #1 spot on BGG, the first time a game I like has held that spot since I started following the site sometime in 2004.  (I revile Puerto Rico for both apalling theme issues and boring gameplay, fail to find the fun in Agricola, and Tigris & Euphrates time as the #1 game was before my time.)  I tried using the new edition's Chinese revolution rules, as well as the optional cards included with the game.  I think that, together, they do a much better job at balancing the Soviet advantage than simply giving away VPs at the start of the game.  I was able to beat Ben out both of these games anyway, but I think that had more to do with better knowledge of the deck, good cards, and hot die rolling than an inherent advantage.  The deluxe game makes the experience a lot better.  It's good to know that GMT is finally stepping their production up a notch on games like this, which can appeal to a wider audience than their normal titles.  It's about time.  9/10

 

Also got in a play of God's Playground, the Wallace that caught my eye because of theme.  I like Wallace's themed games a lot.  Many times they provide a very revealing glance into history, much like many wargames, but they do them with a multiplayer twist.  While I usually wait to see if I can play other peoples' copies of these games, the theme of the dissolution of Poland in the 18th century caught my eye.  Ever since going to Krakow a couple years ago and realizing that there's far more to Poland than sausage and Polish jokes, I've had an affinity for Poland.  I mean, heck, who doesn't root for the underdog, right?  It was particularly interesting to me to try to figure out why it didn't manage to hang on as a cohesive country, after having some of the best mounted soldiers, and even becoming the heroes of the Siege of Vienna when they drove the Turks off.

Turns out that God's Playground has lessons about this dissolution in spades.  Although the three players are working together to defend Poland, there's only one winner.  It's more of the classic medieval nobility conundrum.  Sure, the nobility wants to do what's good for their country, but it's much more important to do what's good for their family, and if that means their country gets the short end of the stick, so be it.  Eventually, whole regions of Poland were just overrun to the point that it was no longer worth it to us to defend it, as our holdings would be wiped out instantly.

The rules of this game were unfortunately opaque, as Wallace's rules often are.  As a result, it's very, very difficult to get a concrete understanding of strategy.  It's tough to say if that's simply because the rules are just too difficult to comprehend, or if it is reflective of a deeper flaw in the game.  I won this game, but it was more backing into the win than as a result of any kind of grand strategy.  I am guessing we undervalued military and going out to fight the adversaries outside of Poland, and probably that was what made the difference.  I really look forward to trying this game again, hopefully with the same group.  7/10

 

In what's becoming a weekly tradition, Ben and I played a game of Paydirt, continuing our season.  I blog about it here mostly for sake of completeness.  Things are looking up for my Eagles, who have now won three in a row to bring them to 4-3.  Maybe I have a shot at the playoffs after all.  9/10

 

I never made a big effort to play Tichu, but I had held out hope that it was good, because there are a lot of gamers who seem to really love it.  You know, the same gamers who turn their noses up at Hearts, Bridge, Poker, or any of the other games played with a standard deck of cards.  Turns out it's just as bad as the others.  The bidding of trick taking games like 500 is still there, but there's an even dumber mechanic in the resolution phase, and this time it is a climbing mechanism.  I'm trying really hard to see why BGG slobbers so much about this game, but I just don't see it.  I'm beginning to think there is a not insignificant bias for games that are primarily played with something other than a standard set of components, even when it's a minor variation (see also: Lost Cities, Liar's Dice, Telestrations).  Regularly, these boxed sets, even when having only a very minor upgrade in components over the public domain version, seem to do much better in the rankings.  I suppose it would be the classic psychological trick of "I paid for this, so it must be good."  Well, there's no fooling me, this game is definitely crap.  4/10

 

Picture courtesy arnaudel on BGG.

Played this week: Samurai, Dixit, Bohnanza, Paydirt

Boys and girls, I'm going to read you a book today.  The book is titled "Tara and the the Awkward Board Game."

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Tara who worked in an office.  One of the people she worked with was named Grant.  Grant was a jovial character, and Tara and Grant quickly formed a work-friendship, which is to say, the type of friendship that revolves around camaraderie and telling stories to one another, but not actually spending time together outside of work.  Tara and Grant seemed to be okay with this kind of relationship, and everything chugged along nicely for a long time.

Then, one day, Tara and Grant were swapping stories as usual, when Tara told Grant that, now and again, she would play boardgames.  Tara said this with certainty that Grant would have no idea what she was talking about, as most people thought board games were for children, and never played them anymore.  They would say things like  'Oh, like Monopoly?' when Tara told them about board games.

But Grant was different.  When Tara said "I play boardgames," Grant said "I used to play boardgames too!"  Tara was very shocked by this.

Grant continued. "I have this board game sitting in my house.  It's an old board game, and I love it very much.  It's called Samurai.  I used to play it, and love it, and raise armies in feudal Japan."  But then Grant got very sad.  "But now I never play it.  All of my friends who played with me moved away to other neighborhoods.  Nobody plays Samurai anymore, or loves it, or raises armies in feudal Japan."  He sighed heavily.  "In fact, I want you to have it.  You will probably play it!  Then it will be played, and loved, and you will raise armies in feudal Japan!"

At this, Tara was very frightened.  Grant really loved Samurai!  What if she did not like it?  Board games had changed very much since 1983, and she was not sure that a game that was good in 1983 would still be good today.  But she had to take the game, or else Grant would be very sad.  Not only would she have to take the game home, but she would also have to play it in order to be nice to Grant.  But what if she did not like the game?  What if she played it, but did not love it, and did not like raising armies in feudal Japan?  What would she tell Grant then?

She took the game home.  She showed it to her friend Paul, who played games with her.  "Grant gave me a game," she said.  "It's called Samurai.  Grant used to play it, and love it, and raise armies in feudal Japan.  I am worried that we will not like it."  Paul was a game snob, and did not like many games. 

Paul went and looked up information about the Samurai on Board Game Geek.  "It's called Samurai?  It sounds very similar to Kingmaker, a stupid game that I played once.  I think it will stink.  We will probably play it, and not love it, and hate raising armies in feudal Japan."

Tara was very worried.  Paul was very picky.  How could she get Paul to play this game, and love it, and raise armies in feudal Japan?

Then, suddenly, she had a brilliant idea!  She would invite Grant, and they would all play the game together!  Grant would teach them the way of playing Samurai, and loving it, and raising armies in feudal Japan!  And Paul would like it too, as Grant's enthusiasm would be contagious.

But then she remembered something dreadful.  She had never seen Grant other than at work.  Oh, there were so many bad things that could go wrong if she invited Grant.  What if he wouldn't want to come over?  What if he smelled bad on weekends?  What if Paul was right, and Samurai really was bad?  What would she do then?

She became nervous, and she fretted, and she worried.  But finally, she made up her mind.  She would invite Grant anyway.  So what if it turned out poorly?  At least she had tried, and trying was all she could do.

The next day at work, Tara found Grant.  "I am going to play Samurai, and love it, and raise armies in feudal Japan.  "Great!"  Grant said.  "I am so happy that you will play it."  Then, Tara continued.  "But I would like you to play as well, and love it, and raise armies in feudal Japan.  I think you will help my friend Paul appreciate it as well, as he is quite stodgy and not given to new things." 

Grant seemed taken aback by this.  "I have never seen you outside of work before.  Do you smell bad on weekends?"

"Nope," Tara said.  "In fact, I usually smell better on weekends, because I bike several miles to get to work, and I get much sweatier then."

"Well that's good," said Grant.  I would be very sad if you smelled funny.  "Do I have to know the rules?"

"No," Tara replied, "we will read them and teach them."

"Very well then," Grant said.  "I will come over to your house."

The big day came, and Grant and Tara and Paul (and their friend Matthew, who hasn't appeared yet in this story for narrative reasons) all played Samurai.  They played it, and loved it, and raised armies in feudal Japan.  The events of fate deprived first Tara of her army, then Matthew, and finally Grant.  Paul had won as the last man standing.  But they all agreed, Samurai was a very good game.  It was fun to play, and they loved it, and they enjoyed raising armies in feudal Japan.  It was not as bad as Kingmaker.  They would have to play it again sometime.  And they all lived happily ever after.  6/10

 

 

And now, breaking away from that story, I also played Dixit.  I am not a big party game player, but I thought I'd give it a try, as it had won the Spiel des Jahres, and got a lot of bona fide gamers excited.  We played it with the Dixit 2 cards mixed in.  Color me unimpressed.  I like my party games to be loud and raucous, and there's just not enough of that here.  It's a little too staid, and the everybody votes mechanic is very stale for me at this point.  I will stick to Taboo or Pictionary for my party game fix, thank you very much.  4/10

 

I also got a play of Bohnanza in, after making a bit of a fuss about playing Dixit for longer than I wanted.  I felt a little bad, but I wanted to play something else for the evening, and not have a bad taste in my mouth.  I know Bohnanza forwards, backwards, and inside-out at this point, so there's not much to surprise me.  I did manage to win, despite being the last player in a six-player game.  I still suspect that the person who cashes in the most rare beans will win.  But I enjoyed it.  7/10

 

Also played a game of Paydirt, continuing my season with Ben.  We're going to finish it eventually.  I'm not going to bother writing about it, as I'm sure you're more than sick of hearing about it by now.  But it was fun, as always.  9/10

Played this week: Field Commander Rommel, Power Grid Brazil

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Sirs, I am falling behind on these posts, and for that I apologize.

Anyway, another light week of gameplaying.  First game I played was Field Commander Rommel.  Whoof, the D-day scenario is dispiriting.  FC:R is a solitaire game, meant to simulate the high-level strategic/operational level decisions that Rommel would have been faced with in his career.  Of course, this being D-day, the Germans have already lost the war in the east, and the shattered remnants in the west aren't going to be enough to hold up to the Allies' overwhelming invasion force.  So, of course, the scenario rewards you not for whether you win, but for how long you manage to hold out before the allies grind your forces into dust.  I think I like this scenario better than the other two in the box, North Africa and the Ghost Division (invasion of northern France in 1939).  The other two have a steamroller effect, where if you do well on the first several turns, the Allies are too piecemeal to ever put up a good resistance.  It's the other way around in D-day, and that makes the scenario much more satisfying.  I thought I had the scenario well in hand after the first turn, with a broken through center, but lots of panzers gobbling up units on the edges.  Then the Allies launched an operation on the right flank, ground my main force into dust piecemeal, leaving me to hold out on the left flank for as long as I could with delaying actions.  It wasn't very long, as they soon got every single piece on the board, and it took a bit for them to cross the map, but they quickly eliminated my infantry holding out in St. Lo.  6/10

 

I also played a game of Power Grid, this time with the Brazil map.  Hooowee, the Brazil map is resource poor.  They imply that garbage is the way to go, but we found it still a rather poor choice.  Coal was so limited after the early phase that it quickly got bought out completely, and then garbage went the same way.  Oil was okay, but Matt M. cruised to victory on a lot of green power.  I do NOT like that the resource market can tap out completely in this map.  I've never seen that happen in any but the most groupthink of situations before, and usually on maps that are predicated on one resource being extremely scarce.  Sure, if it's expensive, I don't mind that, but simply not being able to run your power plant because there is NO material out there?  It leaves a lot of gamesmanship available to screw your neighbor by buying resources that you really don't need, just so they can't run their plant.  Make the extra resources ramp up like Uranium or something, but don't make them flat-out unattainable.  Base game: 7/10, Brazil map: 4/10

Played this week: Battlestar Galactica, Apples to Apples, Sid Meier's Civilization

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Actually, it's played over the last two weeks, because I didn't play much over the holidays, and I certainly didn't get much of a chance to write about it.

Played a game of Battlestar Galactica while in New Mexico.  This was our gift to Tanya and Mitch for Christmas, as they seemed to enjoy it last year, and there's no need for me to own my own copy of this, as I have two friends who each have their own copies, as well as both expansions, and show no chance of getting tired of it.  Both sets of Tara's parents joined us for this game, and although they aren't gamers, they took to it pretty well, though the ones who had played Shadows over Camelot prior seemed to prefer the medieval predecessor, perhaps because it's a bit simpler. 

I am increasingly certain that six players is not the best number for this game.  I really think it's probably best with five, maybe even with four, as you get to be more engaged with the decision-making process.  Not as much waiting around for your turn, and more chances to play cards in skill checks makes it a little bit better with fewer.   7/10

 

Played a game of Apples to Apples while waiting for the game of BSG to start.  Ye Gods I loathe that game.  Every once in a while, it's worth playing games you hate to see if you still hate them.  Or that's the excuse I'm going to use for why we chose that game.  Tara and Tanya rode the mother/daughter mindmeld to victory, as seems common in that game.  2/10

 

Got another play of Sid Meier's Civ in on New Year's Day, playing off the hangover.  I was the Chinese, and cultured my way to victory.  Those culture cards are pretty powerful, and the additional ability to get great people easily also helps significantly.  I'm certainly not sad that I picked it for Game of the Year for 2010.  This baby's got some serious legs.  9/10

 

And, one game that I conspicuously did not play was The Price Is Right boardgame.  Based, of course, on the TV show of the same name, Tara and I nabbed a thrifted copy of it and gave it to Tia, a diehard Price Is Right TV show aficionado.  It looked like a great little treat of camp and silliness, and it looked mostly untouched, but alas, our time in New Mexico went too fast for us to get a chance to play.

The Best of 2010 New-to-me Board Games

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Because this is my blog, and because I am a fucking special snowflake, I'm going to post one of those intolerable year-in-review posts.  Actually, I'm going to post three of them, one about games, one about movies, and one about books.  And you're going to have to read all of them.  Sucks to be you, reader!

If you're half-retarded and can't figure it out from the title, I'm not restricting my chronicle of board game consumption for 2010 to only include 2010 releases.  There are too many old games I play that are new to me, and some of those are so mind-erasingly awesome that they must be talked about at the end of the year, which is when our country puts down its 30 fat gram egg nog for three seconds to talk about that crazy fucking shit that happened to us that one time since the last time the earth was in this place in its elliptical orbit.

There's a three-way tie for game of the year this year, by three games that are about as different as they could possibly get, unless I lose my brain next year and pick Uncle Wiggly, Empires in Arms and Klaus Teuber's Recycled Euro Adventure.

 

Game of the year (tie)
Republic of Rome (originally 1990, but rereleased 2009, which is the version I played.)

Let me float a concept by you.  Let's pretend, just for a few moments, that politics is fun.  "Hogwash!" I hear you antiquatedly cry.  Well, they managed to make it cool.  You know, dickering over which of the pretty much identical dudes in the Roman Senate gets to go get crushed by Hannibal this year is actually fun.  It's a delicate balance of giving a little, holding a little, and trying to make out just a hair better than your opponents.  And there's shit like seductions, assassinations, and subjugating the lesser civilizations, in the great Roman tradition.  This game did its homework.  All the great Roman offices are there to be assigned, like Censor and Dictator.  You can even go apeshit like Julius did and declare yourself Imperator if you have the balls, but you better believe the rest of the gamers are going to forget their petty squabbles, and form an unbreakable coalition to rip off your testicles, feed them to an asp, then force it up your rectum in the most undignified way before they dump your dismembered corpse into the Tiber.  If you like negotiation games, but can't quite do Diplomacy, this is probably perfect for you.  A truly unique game, I know of nothing like it.

 

Game of the year (tie)
Paydirt (originally released 1972, though I played the 1990 version)

There might be a better football sim out there than Paydirt, but I have a hard time imagining it.  I've tried quite a few football games, looking for one that I felt simulated the game, and like Goldilocks with Baby Bear, this gets it juuuuuust right.  It's got all the agony of watching your favorite team on TV.  You can kick yourself wondering why your corner didn't bother to cover the wideout with a 17-13 lead with 1:20 to go in the game.  And you can watch as Joe Montana coolly leads the 49ers down the field.  Again.  And best of all, you can do this in a simple, intuitive fashion.  It's not so dirt-simple that you wonder why there are any decisions at all, like Pizza Box Football, and it's not burdened with the overcomplicated chart referencing of Strat-O-Matic.

 

Game of the Year (tie)
Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game (2010)

Speaking of great simulations of non-board-oriented experience, this game took the computer franchise and made a board game that feels exactly like it.  Exactly like it.  Creepy, probably-they-just-ground-up-the-game-discs-and-pressed-them-into-cardboard-and-isn't-that-shit-toxic-if-you-breathe-it kind of duplication of the computer game.  Ignore the military at your peril.  Woe to those who get out-teched.  But don't focus on only tech, or you might find that somebody cultured their way to victory.  In other words, you are pretty sure you're doing great until one of your opponents points out the gaping flaw in your strategy, and you are left spasmodically twitching.

 

Now it's time to cut to the truly boring part of the article.  The part where I drone on about trends I noticed, almost all of which are probably irrelevant to anybody buy me, or are a result of selection bias, or both.

 

Everything old is new again
1776 (1974)
The Legend of Robin Hood (1979)
The aforementioned Paydirt (1972)

This was the year of me discovering that old Avalon Hill games still can hold up well, even when they are obscure and have about the same chance of getting a reprint as I do of witnessing a gryphon battle a unicorn without the benefit of hallucinogens.  There's a culture in boardgaming that old = outdated and clunky, but I found, to my pleasant surprise, that it wasn't the case.  Sure, the games are older, but many of them are still really good.  And they feel very fresh to me.  1776 could have been released this year by GMT, and Robin Hood is only a few very small component changes from being a Fantasy Flight Games Silver Line title.  There are a LOT of good games out there more than 15 years old, and it's worth taking a look when one catches your eye for theme.

 

Fresh out of the Mechanic Ovens

Cyclades (2009)
Gosu (2010)
Revolution! (2009)

There's nothing wrong with the new ideas, either.  Several 2009 and 2010 releases caught my eye.  Yeah, I know, 2009 was longer ago, but these two both came out late enough in the year that only the truly obsessed played them before 2010 rolled around.  Cyclades breathed new life into the plastic dudes-on-a-map genre, with an auction system that actually works, Revolution! brought a whole new feel to blind bidding and groupthink with a go-where-they-ain't bidding system that is stupidly simple, but very, very complicated to feel out.  You play the players and not the game.  Perhaps freshest of all is Gosu, the amazing surprise card game that didn't feel like a rehash.  Hell, I even played it twice in a row, and I don't play anything twice in a row.

 

All It Takes Is a Strong Historical Theme and I'll Even Like Euros
Heads of State (2008)
In the Shadow of the Emperor (2004)

Both of these games are another mishmash of not-particularly-unique mechanics, and they share a thin theme laid over the top of European history.  But something about them really gets me.  In the Shadow of the Emperor has a certain dynastic feel of Holy Roman Emperors rising and falling, and Heads of State simply feels like negotiating the courts of Europe.  Well, they really don't feel like that at all, they actually feel like area majority games in which.... ahhhh, nevermind.  I probably will be the only person who cares about these games in 10 years, but they are still damn cool.  They just have a feel about them that's right.  Kind of like Imperial.
 

 

And for good measure, here's a list of everything else I played that was new for me.

Age of Napoleon
Alea Iacta Est
Alien Frontiers
Arkham Horror
Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer
Beowulf: The Movie Board Game
Ca$h 'n Gun$
Catacombs
Cavum
Chill: Black Morn Manor
Clash of Monarchs
The Climbers
Cloud 9
Conquest of Paradise
Conquest of Paradise Expansion - Random Events Cards
Daytona 500
D-Day Dice
Dice Town
Dominion: Alchemy
Dominion: Intrigue
Dominion: Seaside
Dominant Species
Doodle Dice
Downfall of Pompeii
Dungeon Lords
Dungeon Twister
Dungeon Twister: 3-4 player expansion
Dungeons & Dragons computer Labyrinth Game
El Capitán
Endeavor
Field Commander: Rommel
Fireball Island
Founding Fathers
Fresco
Ghost Stories: White Moon
Glory to Rome
Goldbräu
Hansa Teutonica
Heroscape
Imperial 2030
Iron Dragon
Jambo
Last Word
Lifeboats
Lord of the Rings: Battlefields
Louis XIV
Maccabees
Martian Rails
Medieval
Monopoly Deal
Mykerinos
New York Central
NFL Strategy
Origins of World War II
Pax Romana
Pro Football Franchise
Quarto
Red November
Shipyard
Sorry! Sliders
Speed Circuit
Starbase Jeff
Successors
Sword & Scepter
Tales of the Arabian Nights
Talisman
Talisman City
Talisman Dungeon
Talisman Timescape
Tammany Hall
Thunderstone
Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements
Tikal
Titan
TransAmerica
TransAmerica Expansion: Vexation
TransEuropa
Vegas
Warrior Knights: Crown and Glory
Washington's War

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