Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide- Best Family Game

This is the easiest recommendation I've made in a while. Ticket to Ride Europe has consistently delivered maximum fun to a huge range of gaming friends. This game is simple and appealing to look at, it's non-violent but can elicit some excitement amongst competitive players, and it appeals as much to casual gamers as to aggressive D&D Munchkin types. The game plays quickly and there's very little player downtime which is important with younger players. Ticket to Ride Europe is not new, but it is my essential family and group game of 2010.

Monday, November 15, 2010

DBA Benefit Followup

The benefit tournament to support the Boston Food Bank was a great success this weekend and left me with a few thoughts. The first is that through Steve's work we managed to raise $150. In one sense that's not going to provide food for the Eastern seaboard but in another it's $150 more than they had a minute ago! I find it nice that by doing our hobby we managed to raise some money for a good cause when otherwise we might be eating pizza and talking politics. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

The second thought is that DBA is really a pretty fun game with a lot of depth. DBA (De Bellis Antiquitatis) is the creation of a group of game designers led by Phil Barker, another member of the spookily smart Barker clan (see Professor M.A.R. Barker for more Barker madness). In a game of DBA you control an army of twelve units in a tabletop battle. DBA features a very abstracted game mechanic. Barker's team felt that men with spears would behave the same in 400 BC as they would in 1200 CE. Likewise, they felt that "spears" and "knights" would have certain consistent behaviors and strengths throughout history. "Knights" are always prone to charge, "bows" are always a threat to mounted troops, etc. etc. DBA summarizes all pre-gunpowder warfare into contests between certain archetypes and provides simple rules for resolving the battles. Luck plays a role but certain units will always do better or worse against certain other units.

This results in a fast and realistic battle that usually reflects historical reality. Knights charge at every opportunity, Greek hoplites shove back and forth until one side collapses from fatigue. And barbarian warbands charge in to impact legionnaires either to sweep them away or self destruct. The armies always include exactly twelve units of troops so clearly you're not simulating a historical event. Despite the abstraction, however, DBA seems surprisingly realistic.

DBA has a lot to recommend it as a beginner's game. The armies are easy to assemble and twelve units can be purchased for maybe $20. The rules are quick and straightforward. And the game plays quickly on a two by two foot area. It's a great way to begin a miniatures gaming hobby.

DBA does have a downside. Phil Barker is so very very very clever that his rulebook is almost impossible to make sense of. He has expressed that any intelligent schoolchild should be able to read it. I would make the counterclaim that an intelligent pediatrician found it dense. That being said the DBA community has produced the Unofficial Guide to DBA to help the slower schoolchildren and pediatricians struggle through. Beginners can also turn to Fanaticus for more inspiration and information. Interested folks can find the rules through eBay.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gosu- the Wife Likes It!

I try and avoid getting caught up in the buzz that precedes some games. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail (as witnessed by the unplayed copy of Dungeon Lords in the hallway). When Gosu was released I struggled to be good and failed miserably. Fortunately Gosu has turned out to be a fun little game that probably deserves the hype.

Gosu stands for "goblin supremacy". The backstory is that several clans of goblins are battling and only one army will be supreme. More on the theme later. In a game of Gosu you lay out cards in rows. Each card has an illustration of some sort of goblin on it and each card has some effect- maybe an immediate effect, maybe something that can be triggered later. Each goblin card has a points value and the winner of a battle is the person with the most points of goblins in front of them at the end of a round. If you win a battle you get a victory chip and the first person with three chips wins the game.

Gosu turns out to be very exciting and challenging in play, even as it sounds deadly dull in text. Each goblin card has some effect on the game. One challenge is to play a card when it is most useful and to save it when it's not. Card abilities can be activated but you have limited activations in each round so you have to be careful to not waste them. Finally, some cards are useful right away and then waste space. You can exchange a goblin in a row with one from your hand at a price. Thus, a final challenge is modifying your rows of goblins to suit how the game is developing.

Gosu is a very lively game. Players can destroy or exchange goblin cards. Some goblin powers benefit a player with fewer victory chips thus keeping every player within reach of victory. I imagined my rows of goblins as being fairly static once placed but in play you're constantly adjusting or remodeling to suit circumstances. Goblin powers can also create sequences of effects and triggering off some elaborate chain of events is pretty satisfying.

If there's one criticism to Gosu it's that it has little to do with goblins. The cards could just as easily have illustrations of French nobility, factories, or DNA components. I enjoyed Race for the Galaxy because it seemed less abstract (to me, others feel otherwise). It would be a mistake to see Gosu as a fighting or war game, it's really a management game with goblin illustrations.

I was very happy with Gosu and so was my poor, tolerant wife! She enjoys systematic, logical games and liked the idea of managing a big hoard of goblins. I'm sure that's no commentary on our children but it does suggest that this game has decent crossover potential for teens and younger players. I think it certainly has good replay value and I believe there are a flood of expansions planned. I would recommend it and advise beginners that a real sense of the game play may only come after a test game.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Use Me- Science Fiction Skirmish Gaming

There are times when a player wants to set up ten to twenty miniature soldiers on a table and have them blaze away at each other in a quick game. Using small numbers of figures is called skirmish gaming, as opposed to using hundreds of miniatures over a six hour span. Owing to the explosion of great 15mm minis available I thought it might be fun to find a simple skirmish rule system and have some games.

As it's going to be "cheap gaming month" for a while here at Game Night I looked for something affordable and easy to learn. I was happy to discover Use Me for sale at 15mm.co.uk and a week later received a package from another continent with my game rules in it. For three and a half pounds (anywhere from fifty cents to forty dollars depending on the mysterious world of currency) I had already had my money's worth in terms of excitement- a package from across the ocean!

The British do have a lively sense of humor and "Use Me" is an acronym for Ultra Simple something something etc etc so it's quite a family appropriate game. The book itself is the size of your hand and is simple engaging and readable. The summary for miniature gaming beginners is that this booklet gives you simple but realistic rules for playing out small battles on the tabletop between science fiction forces. Those Star Wars plastic miniatures sitting in the sandbox? Playmobil figures? Plastic astronauts and martians? All fair game. There are rules for vehicles and artillery as well. You need ten or more figures, some plastic trees or houses, and maybe some tanks or saucers and you're ready to go.

For the folks interested in the specifics Use Me borrows some nice elements from AT-43 and Iron Ivan's Disposable Heroes line. Troops are rated by training and better trained units will act first. Firing between squads is slightly abstracted to speed up play and there is a simple d6 roll to hit and to penetrate armor, both with a few modifiers. Use Me has no defensive fire or morale rules. I miss those aspects but then again, this is intended as simple and fast. The booklet includes points values for various troop and vehicle types allowing you to brew up your own forces and balance them.

I'm very happy with Use Me. It's simple but not overly so, it's very inviting in that after you read the game you're enthused to play, something that I didn't experience with, say, Warhammer 40K. There are a wealth of 15mm science fiction figures available now and this is a great way to put them to use. Of course, the system is appropriate for bigger minis as well. In summary this is a very affordable set of rules that delivers a lot of fun for the buck. Plus, it's a great way to get younger beginners involved in a fun hobby.

Coming up- my Blue Moon 15mm miniatures arrive, I swallow my pride and paint up some 1/72 scale plastic figures, and then we mix them together with some Hot Wheels I picked up in the bargain bin!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Battle Against Hunger DBA Event

The fellows at Hobby Bunker (but actually mainly one very nice guy named Steve) are hosting a benefit tournament to support the Boston Food Bank. It's called Bellum Obviam Ieiunium, which I am told means War Against Hunger but could just as easily mean War Against Lemurs, so if it does my apologies in advance to lemur advocates. The BAI event will feature several rounds of a medieval miniatures game called De Bellis Antiquitatis, or DBA.

DBA is a classic and extremely successful miniatures game. It lets you play out tabletop battles with miniature lead soldiers quickly and fairly realistically. I think it's one of the few miniatures games that's played across the globe fairly consistently. Whether you go to Athens or Albuquerque you can probably get a DBA game going.

I would certainly recommend that readers in the area with DBA armies stop by and join in. Interested folks who would like to see a simple and elegant (and inexpensive!) miniatures game in action should consider popping by as well.

Crazy or No?

This weekend a group of friends are going to a luxury villa on Martha's Vineyard to play non-stop Dungeons and Dragons. I'm not going largely because their style of play drives me batty.

For some time now I've tried to convince myself that a weekend in Yankee heaven playing D&D is a lot more fun that doing dishes and looking for work. That being quite true I still can't get excited about playing if it's in a way I don't like. Gamers chime in- will you turn down a game or event on grounds of style?